Welcoming newborn puppies into the world is a joyful experience. Before that, you need to know how to handle dog pregnancy. Here’s our comprehensive dog pregnancy guide to help you prepare.
How do you know if your dog is pregnant?
How long after mating can you tell a dog is pregnant? Dog pregnancy signs usually appear a month after mating. During the early stages, the signs are barely noticeable to dog owners. So stay sharp and watch out for these signs of pregnancy in dogs:
Dog Pregnancy Sign #1: Lethargy
Dog pregnancy causes significant changes in a dam’s hormone levels. This commonly results in a sudden decrease in energy. For this reason, most pregnant dogs also sleep a lot.
Dog Pregnancy Sign #2: Changes in appetite
Some pregnant dogs commonly experience morning sickness during their first few weeks of pregnancy. This leads to appetite loss. However, other expecting dogs may experience the opposite and become ravenous eaters.
Dog Pregnancy Sign #3: Changes in behaviour
Apparent behavioural changes often occur during dog pregnancy. It can be attributed to the hormonal changes they undergo. Some pregnant dogs will be very attached to their owners. They become distraught if their human companions leave them by themselves.
On the other hand, others pregnant dogs easily get irritated when around people. They prefer to seclude themselves in a quiet area of the house.
Dog Pregnancy Sign #4: Vaginal discharge
Generally, this occurs when a pooch is one month into pregnancy. Vaginal discharge amidst dog pregnancy is not a cause for concern unless it has a brownish colour or smells bad.
Dog Pregnancy Sign #5: Changes in the nipples
This is one of the most evident signs of dog pregnancy. Pregnant dogs will have swollen and dark-coloured nipples around day 40.
Dog Pregnancy Sign #6: Milk production
The changes in the nipples that pregnant dogs experience are in preparation for lactation. Milk production happens during the last stage of gestation. Note that some female dogs will not lactate until they start nursing their puppies.
Dog Pregnancy Sign #7: Enlarged abdomen
Around mid-dog pregnancy, the “baby bump” of a dam will gradually appear as her unborn puppies continue to grow and develop.
False pregnancy may happen in some dogs. This is a condition wherein female dogs exhibit signs of pregnancy but are not pregnant. It should never be ignored, as it can be an underlying symptom of serious health problems such as canine mastitis.
For this reason, if your pooch shows signs of dog pregnancy, let her undergo diagnostic tests to accurately determine whether she is having puppies or not.
How does the vet diagnose dog pregnancy?
Vet clinics offer several dog pregnancy tests to find definitive signs that a dog is expecting puppies. Below are some of the dog pregnancy tests the vet may run on your pooch:
Dog Pregnancy Test #1: Abdominal ultrasound
Examining a pregnant dog using abdominal ultrasound involves sound waves to create an image of your dog’s womb. It is a non-invasive and safe way to find out if she is carrying puppies.
Abdominal ultrasound can also detect signs of dog pregnancy, such as heartbeats of puppies, three weeks after mating.
It cannot accurately determine the number of puppies during the early stages of dog pregnancy. Thus, it is a good idea to wait about day 55 after breeding for a dog to have an abdominal ultrasound.
Dog Pregnancy Test #2: Abdominal palpation
Can you feel puppies in pregnant dogs? Yes, you can. Abdominal palpation is a dog pregnancy test that uses this kind of technique.
This dog pregnancy test should be performed three weeks after mating. During the test, the vet will carefully feel your dog’s stomach with their hand to figure out if there are puppies in her uterus.
Pregnant dogs that easily get nervous are not ideal for abdominal palpation. Their anxiety can cause their abdomen to tense. As a result, the vet will have a hard time feeling the uterus.
Do not do this dog pregnancy test without the vet’s help if you are not experienced. Otherwise, you might accidentally hurt the dam as well as the puppies when you prod the stomach.
Dog Pregnancy Test #3: Relaxin dog pregnancy test
This type of dog pregnancy diagnostic test requires running a blood test. It is done to measure the relaxin levels of your dog.
A pregnant dog will have the relaxin hormone, which is produced by the canine placenta. It is recommended to use this dog pregnancy test on days 21–28 after mating.
Dog Pregnancy Test #4: X-ray
It is one of the most effective ways to detect pregnancy in dogs. The X-ray can also precisely figure out the number of puppies in the womb.
This dog pregnancy test should be carried out after six weeks of gestation or around day 42 to day 45. That’s because, at this time, the skeletal system of puppies can be seen on the X-ray machine.
Some dog owners have reservations about getting their pregnant dogs diagnosed through X-ray. They believe that this test produces harmful radiation that can negatively affect unborn puppies.
How long is dog pregnancy?
Human pregnancies typically last for nine months. For dogs, the duration of their gestation period is around 63 days, which is a little over two months. Dogs go through 3 trimesters, with each trimester numbering 21 days.
However, gestation periods may vary from dog to dog. Thus, determining the exact day of conception is difficult to do.
Mating is not a reliable way to measure gestation as the male dog’s sperm can live for days inside the female. Moreover, the egg cells of the female dog can remain fertile for up to 48 hours.
To know the exact length of dog pregnancy and its due date, the help of a vet is required. Some breeders use hormone measurements to know the precise gestation time frame.
It is also common for breeders to use blood tests and vaginal smears. These help in keeping track of the reproductive hormones of female dogs. Doing so aids in determining how long her pregnancy will be and her due date.
How many puppies can a dog have?
The number of puppies a pregnant dog can have will mainly depend on the dog breed’s size. Generally, the average litter size of medium and large pooches is around 6–8 puppies. Some bigger dog breeds can give birth to up to 15 puppies.
In comparison, smaller dog breeds have smaller litter sizes. Toy and miniature dogs often have 1–5 puppies. In some rare instances, they can give birth to 6–8 puppies.
How to Care for Your Pregnant Dog
Reminder: Please note that the pet advice about dog pregnancy in this article should not substitute the sophisticated methods and advice of a veterinarian. Always check with a vet.
Nutrition during Dog Pregnancy
A pregnant canine’s nutrition is not so different from her pre-pregnancy needs. However, slight feeding changes need to be carried out as the pregnancy progresses to keep the dam and her unborn puppies healthy and safe.
Here are some dog pregnancy feeding tips that you should keep in mind :
Dog Pregnancy Feeding Tip #1: Feed your dog normal amounts of food 6 weeks into pregnancy. When she reaches the last 3–4 weeks of pregnancy, the rapid growth of the unborn puppies will occur.
A pregnant dog’s energy requirement is 30–60% higher than normal adult dogs around this period. This mean’s your pregnant dog’s appetite will greatly increase.
To provide adequate nourishment for your pregnant dog and the unborn puppies, you should gradually increase the amount of dog food. It is also advised to feed her high-quality puppy food packed with protein, carbs, and minerals.
Introducing this type of diet should only be done before the last trimester of dog pregnancy. Doing it earlier than that can lead to unhealthy weight gain and obesity. It can complicate your dog’s condition when she’s in labour.
Dog Pregnancy Feeding Tip #2: Dog pregnancy causes your pooch’s stomach to have lesser space for food. Make sure to feed her frequently but in small amounts.
Be warned that overfeeding as well as underfeeding may cause adverse effects in your dog’s pregnancy. Work with the vet to come up with a healthy portion of serving for your pooch. It is also a good idea to monitor her weight weekly to prevent unhealthy losing or gaining of weight.
Dog Pregnancy Feeding Tip #3: Do not give your pregnant dog vitamins or dietary supplements unless advised by the vet. Unnecessary supplementation can lead to dog pregnancy complications, including birth defects.
So long as your pregnant dog has a balanced and nutritious diet, her body and unborn puppies will be strong and healthy.
Medications and Treatments during Dog Pregnancy
Giving your dog veterinary medicine is not recommended when she’s pregnant. Hence, before breeding her, make sure that she is fully healthy and free from any underlying diseases. It is also important to understand a female dog’s heat cycle to know the exact day to mate her.
If your dog is afflicted with a health problem, then you will need to talk to a vet to ascertain if breeding your dog is safe or not. Also, take note that vaccinations should be done before breeding.
Be careful when it comes to tick and flea treatments. Most of these products are not safe to use during dog pregnancy. Always consult the vet before administering any tick and flea treatments on your pooch. The same applies to deworming.
As for heartworm treatments, they are safe for pregnant dogs. Thus, keep up with the monthly application.
Exercise during Dog Pregnancy
Here are some pointers that you should keep in mind when it comes to your pregnant pet’s physical activity:
Dog Pregnancy Exercise Tip #1: You may need to reduce or change the amount of exercise that your dog is getting. This depends on the status of your dog’s pregnancy and what the vet will advise.
Dog Pregnancy Exercise Tip #2: If possible, restrict her time spent outdoors to lower the chances of contracting illnesses and parasites that can endanger her pregnancy.
Dog Pregnancy Exercise Tip #3: Regular walks will help increase muscle tone and keep off unnecessary weight.
Dog Pregnancy Exercise Tip #4: Low-impact exercise reduces the chances of injury during dog pregnancy.
Dog Pregnancy Exercise Tip #5: Always take short breaks during walks since pregnant dogs often tire easily.
Tip: Postpartum (within 24–48 hours of giving birth), mother dogs should first concentrate on their pups. Don’t force your dog to go out for a walk with you, even if it’s a short one. Do that after 48 hours, but only to encourage your dog to eliminate.
Take this chance to examine your dog for swollen nipples, which are a symptom of mastitis (inflammation of the breast). Mastitis will make puppy nursing painful, so be sure to check with your vet if your dog has it.
Whelping: Preparation for a Dog to Give Birth
These are what you need to do ahead of the delivery day:
- Prepare an enclosure for your dog to give birth, called whelping box—the single biggest item on your list.
It can be a cardboard box or a wooden box. Just make sure that it will provide enough space for your dog to lie and stretch and enough room for the puppies. It is a good idea to set the whelping box in a quiet and safe location.
- Gather the necessary whelping supplies, such as a heat lamp, whelping pad, and liners. All these will help keep newborn puppies warm until they can regulate their own body heat.
- Monitor your pregnant dog’s temperature a few days before your dog is scheduled to give birth. You can take it through her ear or rectum. Start taking your dog’s temperature 2 times a day, every 12 hours.
The normal temperature for a pregnant dog ranges from 100–101 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature is expected to drop to 97 degrees (for 2 consecutive readings). When this happens, it signals impending labour within the next 24 hours.
Tip: When taking your dog’s rectal temperature, you should ask for assistance from a second person. The person should be someone your dog also knows and likes. The thermometer should be shaken well and coated with petroleum jelly.
Gently insert in a twisting motion until it is 1–3 inches in. Hold it in for about 2 minutes. Wipe the device after taking it out and before reading the temperature.
If you are using a traditional thermometer, the upper column of mercury will end on the figure indicating your pet’s temperature. You may also use a digital rectal thermometer.
What are the stages of dog pregnancy?
There are 3 stages of pregnancy in dogs: pre-labour, active labour, and postpartum. Read on as we will walk you through what happens in every stage of dog pregnancy:
Dog Pregnancy Stage 1: Pre-labour
- Your pregnant dog will feel restless and lose her appetite to eat anything at all.
- She will exhibit nesting behaviours such as taking blankets or clothes to a certain spot or digging on the floor. It is time to place her in the whelping box.
- Dilation of the birth canal starts.
- Smaller contractions occur as her uterus and cervix get ready for delivery.
- The vulva starts to swell in preparation for your pooch to give birth.
- The duration for this stage is around 24 hours before the 2nd stage begins.
Dog Pregnancy Stage 2: Active labour
- Your pregnant dog will start pushing out her puppies out of her womb. This stage can take approximately 3–12 hours minimum. However, for some pregnant dogs, it can take up to 24 hours.
- Strong contractions will happen, and then clear fluid will come out of your pooch’s vulva. In the next 20–40 minutes, a puppy will be delivered.
- It is normal for dams to take a break whilst giving birth. Her resting phase can last up to 4 hours.
- Some puppies are born tail first, and that is normal. Just be careful not to roughly tag their tail as this is very fragile.
- Always monitor your pregnant dog closely as she gives birth. During her breaks, she may need to go potty. Go with her since she might give birth to the next puppy and requires your assistance.
Dog Pregnancy Stage 3: Delivery of the placenta or postpartum (after delivery)
- The placenta, which looks like a dark bubble, is delivered after every birth of a puppy.
- Generally, this takes place 5–15 minutes after delivering a puppy.
- Each puppy has its own placenta. Ensure that all placentas come out as it can cause health problems if it remains in your dog’s womb.
Dog Pregnancy Postpartum Aftercare
Do not attempt to break the placenta until the newborn puppies are out. In most cases, dams will immediately lick their puppies to clean them and remove their placenta. As much as possible, do not let your dog ingest the placenta because it can cause digestive upset.
If the puppies are out, but their sacs didn’t break open, or the mother did not do so, you must break the sacs yourself. Once the sac is open, wipe off any mucus or liquid on each puppy’s muzzle.
You may notice a navel cord attached to each newborn puppy—this is their umbilical cord. Mother dogs have the instinct to sever the umbilical cords on their own. However, if your dog fails to do this, you need to intervene by tying the cord off using a thread.
Make sure you tie the thread an inch away from the pup’s body, then cut the cord between the knot and the placenta or the sac.
Dog Pregnancy Emergency: When to Contact the Vet
Dog pregnancy can be nerve-wracking for dog owners. If you are worried about how your pregnant dog’s birthing of puppies is going, it is always a good idea to contact a trusted veterinarian.
Below are the common scenarios that need immediate vet consultation:
- Your pregnant dog rests for more than 4 hours whilst in labour.
- She is straining for more than an hour, but no puppy is coming out.
- It takes her more than 1 hour to deliver each puppy.
- There is a lower number of puppies delivered than expected.
The Monitoring Continues
It takes a lot of work to see through your dog’s pregnancy until all of her puppies are born. However, your responsibilities as a dog owner do not end there.
It is crucial that you continuously monitor the mother dog. That is because she will continue to discharge blood after delivery, which should lessen in amount daily.
As part of the postpartum care, make sure to take the mother dog and the puppies to the vet within 24 hours. This is to see if all the placentas are out.
Watch out for signs of illness and infections, such as a foul green discharge and temperature going over 102 degrees Fahrenheit. When these happen, take the dog to the vet immediately.