Breeding a dog is a big responsibility, and if it is something you’re thinking about or are worried that you may already be in this situation, then there’s a lot you will need to learn.
Welcoming new puppies can be overwhelmingly rewarding.
Having bundles of puppies in our arms is a cuteness that most of us only dream about, but having a pregnant pooch is incredibly stressful, consuming, and costly.
If you are wondering about some of the signs to look for when you think your dog might be pregnant, you have come to the right place.
Keep reading to discover more about accurately determining if your dog is pregnant and how to best care for your dog during this time of her life.
What Should You Know About Canine Pregnancy?
Dogs are pregnant for three trimesters, with each only lasting roughly 21 days.
It can be difficult to notice any signs that your dog is pregnant in the first few weeks, but if you expect as much, it would be a good idea to take your dog for a check-up.
As dog pregnancies are so much shorter than humans, your dog may be quite far along before you even notice she is pregnant.
It is a good idea to know what signs and symptoms to look out for.
How long are dogs pregnant?
Dogs are pregnant for between 62 and 64 days or roughly two months.
It can be challenging to determine exactly when your dog got pregnant as the breeding date does not always match conception.
The size of the dog and the number of puppies she is carrying can also affect how long she is pregnant.
How long does it take to notice that your dog is pregnant?
In the first 15 to 18 days of pregnancy, the fertilized eggs will travel through your dog’s uterine horn to embed themselves in the lining.
During this time, growth is relatively rapid, and the eggs will double in size every week.
Until the eggs have settled and hormones are being produced, there are no physical differences between a pregnant and a non-pregnant dog.
From about 21 days onwards, you may notice hormonal changes in your dog, such as vomiting and swollen nipples.
You may only notice that your dog is pregnant towards the third trimester when she starts getting bigger and her abdomen becomes swollen.
What are the First Signs of Pregnancy in Dogs?
Unfortunately, we can’t just make our dogs pee on a stick like we would to determine pregnancy. That means you have to look for other clues to see if your dog is pregnant.
While diagnostic testing is the most accurate way to determine pregnancy in canines, there are also some tell-tale signs to watch out for that could indicate your dog is expecting.
1. Changes in Appetite
Your dog’s appetite will change throughout her pregnancy.
Some dogs may start eating more due to the hormones immediately, while others may only start to get more hungry as the puppies grow bigger in the later stages of pregnancy.
The reverse is also true in that some dogs may feel nauseous or sick during pregnancy and so might not want to eat at all.
This can also fluctuate throughout the pregnancy, with sometimes your dog leaving her food on her plate and other times seeming like she can’t get enough.
2. Sickness and Vomiting
Like humans experience morning sickness, some dogs may vomit or feel ill during the first weeks of pregnancy due to the change in hormones.
Don’t force her to eat if your dog is throwing up, although you can tempt her with some homemade dog food.
Most dogs won’t skip a whole day or two without eating, but if your pup hasn’t eaten for more than 72 hours, it’s good to get in touch with the vet.
3. Weight Gain
Most dogs won’t start gaining weight until later in their pregnancy; however, if you see your dog’s abdomen begin to enlarge, she might be pregnant.
The amount of weight your dog will gain depends on her breed and size and how many puppies she is carrying.
4. Breast Development: Changes in Nipple Size and Color
Your dog’s nipples will swell during pregnancy as her body prepares for feeding her puppies.
You may also notice that your dog’s nipples are slightly darker or redder than usual, indicating increased blood flow.
This can be quite a slow change to notice; however, it is one of the most apparent indicators of puppies aside from diagnostic testing.
5. Swollen Belly
As the puppies grow in size, it is evident that your pet’s belly will swell in size.
However, enlargement of your dog’s abdomen often occurs later in pregnancy, so if this is the first sign you notice, you might want to take your dog to the vet soon as she could be further along than you think.
6. Fatigue and Decreased Activity
Like humans, dogs can become incredibly tired during the first few weeks of pregnancy. This is because producing all those hormones leaves the body wiped out.
During this time, your dog may not want to exercise and may nap more than usual. Once the growth of the puppies begins, your dog’s energy levels should return to normal.
7. Nesting Behavior
Towards the end of your dog’s pregnancy, she will likely display nesting behavior, although some pups can do this earlier.
During this time, your dog will try and find a comfortable, warm space where she can deliver her puppies. This may also be a sign that your dog is ready to give birth.
8. Behavioral Changes
The hormones secreted during pregnancy can alter your dog’s mood and behavior.
Some dogs may want more cuddles, while others will want to be left alone and can even become aggressive.
Although this is quite an objective measure to determine pregnancy, it should be considered alongside some of the other symptoms mentioned here.
9. Morning Sickness
Some dogs can vomit during pregnancy, although actual morning sickness only sets in around the third or fourth week when the hormones are at the highest.
Some dogs can also experience morning sickness without actually vomiting.
These dogs that feel nauseous may stay away from food, and feeding them smaller portions more often can help.
10. Vaginal Discharge
Vaginal discharge usually only happens from the fourth week of pregnancy onwards.
Even then, discharge can be a sign of an infection, so you should call your vet if the discharge is bloody, very heavy, if any color is anything other than clear or slightly cloudy, and if it smells terrible.
What are the Accurate Ways to Tell If a Dog is Pregnant?
Of course, the most accurate way to determine if your dog is pregnant is to take her for diagnostic testing at the vet.
When your dog is around 28 to 30 days pregnant, a veterinary professional will be able to perform abdominal palpation.
They will be able to feel the puppies which will be like little golf balls or grapes in your dog’s stomach, which is caused by the fluid-filled sacks that surround each fetus.
While your vet knows how to feel for the puppies safely, you should not try to perform abdominal palpation yourself at home as you could injure the puppies.
After one month, the sacks will lose this round shape, and your vet might not be able to perform this test as quickly.
By the end of the first month of pregnancy, a vet will be able to detect a heartbeat from the puppies, which are two to three times faster than the moms.
He will do this using ultrasound at between 25 and 35 days gestation.
From the ultrasound, your vet should also be able to determine how many puppies are going to be in your litter.
3. Hormone Test
Alternatively, at 25 to 30 weeks, your vet can also do a hormone test by drawing blood from your dog.
If your dog is producing sufficient levels of the hormone known as relaxin, she is likely pregnant.
The most effective way to determine pregnancy is to perform an x-ray.
That said, the skeleton of a puppy might not show up on an x-ray before 55 weeks, and by this time, you will probably have already determined if your dog is pregnant.
However, an x-ray will be able to give you a clear indication of how many puppies you can expect.
How to Care for Your Pregnant Dog?
If your dog is pregnant, there are several things you need to do to care for her during this time.
The first one would be to provide her with adequate nutrition. The best dog food for your pregnant dog is high in calories with a good level of protein and fat.
However, it is only essential to change over to this type of food towards the last trimester of your dog’s pregnancy.
At this time, you might also want to increase the amount of food you give her and break it up into frequent smaller meals throughout the day as she will be expending a lot of energy growing those puppies inside.
It would help if you also avoid strenuous exercise during the first weeks after breeding your dog in order not to put any extra stress on the embryos.
After that, regular daily exercise is acceptable and even recommended until your pup’s belly is enlarged and it becomes uncomfortable for her to move too much.
At this time, shorter walks more often would be better for your dog.
Of course, you will also want to schedule regular visits to the vet for your pregnant dog.
Before breeding, your vet will want to check she is up to date on her vaccinations, perform several prenatal checks, and make sure she is dewormed and free of any parasites.
Regular check-ins with your vet during pregnancy will also help you confirm that the puppies are developing correctly, that your mother dog is healthy, and prepare you for any complications.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How to prepare for the birth of a litter of puppies
Your mother dog will be huge at the end of your pet’s pregnancy, and her nipples will begin to swell. She may even excrete some milk.
Now would be a good time to invest in a whelping box if you haven’t already done so, giving your dog a warm, comfortable space to nest and give birth to her puppies.
You’ll want to regularly introduce your dog to the whelping box to get her accustomed to it as somewhere that she feels safe.
Even then, your dog may decide somewhere completely unexpected in your house to give birth when the time comes.
Some other supplies that you will need for the birth process include paper towels, bath mats, bedding, a thermometer, towels, sterilized scissors and dental floss to tie and cut the umbilical cords, iodine, a hat lamb, a bulb syringe, a baby scale and of course, your vet’s emergency phone number.
As your pregnant dog enters her third trimester, your vet may also recommend deworming tablets to decrease the possibility of the puppies getting hookworm or roundworm.
Your vet will also talk to you about the options for the birth of the puppies in terms of natural birth or cesarean section and advise on any anatomical concerns that could lead to problems during the birthing process.
As it nears the birthdate for your puppies, you should also speak to your vet about setting up an emergency plan should your dog go into labor unexpectedly or if there are any problems in delivery.
What is whelping?
Whelping is the process of birthing the puppies. Pregnant dogs may stop eating a few days before labor and begin nesting as birth approaches.
Your dog may also pant heavily just before whelping, and their temperature will drop significantly.
The whelping process typically takes as long as the number of puppies your dog has, so six puppies should take six hours.
What are possible dog labor complications?
There usually is more than one puppy in a litter, and sometimes the mom will give birth to each one in quick succession, or there may be a break in between.
If it has been longer than two hours between puppies and your mother dog is still experiencing contractions, you must contact your vet.
You’ll also need to make sure the number of placentas correlates to the number of puppies born as a placenta that does not come out could cause problems for the mother.
Here are some other complications to look out for during the labor process:
- If your dog’s temperature dropped more than a day ago, but labor still hasn’t started
- If your mother dog seems to be in pain or extreme discomfort
- If a green discharge is passed. Green or bloody fluid is expected after the first puppy but not before.
- If your mommy dog experiences contractions for more than an hour with no puppy birth
- If your mom is shivering or trembling or collapses
- Your dog’s rectal temperature dropped more than 24 hours ago, and labor isn’t starting.
- The mother is exhibiting symptoms of severe discomfort if she doesn’t deliver the first puppy 2 hours after contractions begin, especially if she has passed green discharge.
- More than 2 hours pass between the delivery of puppies, or your dog experiences muscular contractions for an hour without birth, or if the mother seems exhausted.
- If the puppies aren’t nursing.
What should you do with newborn puppies?
As your dog enters labor, she will have contractions just like humans do, and each puppy will be birthed in an individual sac which the mother dog will remove.
She may need some help from you to do this if she cannot do it herself. This needs to be done quickly as the puppies cannot survive in this sac without oxygen.
If your mommy dog does not cause severe the umbilical cord herself, you may also need to step in and help here, first tying the cord with some floss before cutting it and dabbing with iodine to prevent infection.
Once you are sure that all the puppies are breathing correctly, you’ll want to place the puppies on the mother’s belly as soon after birth as possible so that they can start nursing.
What is the weaning time for dogs?
At around three weeks old, your puppies will start eating solid food gradually.
This can be increased until the dogs are about eight weeks old, at which point they should be fully weaned from their mom.
At between eight and ten weeks old, the puppies will be ready to go to their new homes.
How do you find a new home for puppies?
While you may want to keep all the cute little puppies in the litter, this isn’t very practical, so you’ll need to find new homes for the puppies.
Before you send them off with your new owners, you should take them for their first vaccinations and perform any necessary health checks.
One of the best ways to find a new home for the puppies is to speak to the breeder where you got your dog, as they may already have a list of people that would be interested in taking on your dogs.
You can also speak to a local rescue organization or shelter that will assist you in putting the puppies up for adoption and finding a suitable home.
What is the difference between a false and a real pregnancy in dogs?
If your dog experiences the signs of pregnancy like vomiting but doesn’t seem to be pregnant, it could be experiencing a false pregnancy.
The signs for a false pregnancy are virtually the same as a real one, although they generally occur between four and nine weeks after a heat cycle ends.
In contrast, real pregnancy signs should start occurring within two weeks after a heat cycle.
How do you avoid dog pregnancy?
If you don’t want an unexpected litter of puppies, you need to make sure you spay your female dog and neuter your males.
Spaying your dog can also help improve temperament, reduce aggression and even prevent cancers.
If your dog is not spayed, you should keep a close eye on her when she comes into heat. During this time, your dog is fertile and could fall pregnant.
This usually lasts around three weeks, and male dogs will be very interested in your bitch during these weeks.
When your dog is on heat, it can also get quite messy, so you may need to put a cloth diaper around your dog to keep her clean and protect her from any advances by unwanted dogs when out on walks or at the dog park.
So, How Will I Know My Dog is Pregnant?
As you can see, there are various early signs that can indicate your pooch might be pregnant.
These include many of the same symptoms experienced by human mothers, such as a loss or decrease in appetite, vomiting, swollen nipples, and lethargy.
The most accurate way to tell if your dog is, in fact, pregnant is to get her checked out by a veterinary professional.
However, many of the diagnostic tests performed at the vet, such as blood tests and ultrasounds, can only be done from about 25 days onward.
As dogs are only pregnant for around 63 days, this doesn’t give you a lot of time to prepare for the arrival of the puppies.
However, if you want to avoid your dog getting pregnant in the first place, there are things you can do to avoid pregnancy, such as getting your dog spayed.
Have you ever had a pregnant dog? What were the first signs that helped you determine your dog was pregnant? Let us know in the comments below.