Nothing is as rewarding as welcoming new life into the world, especially if that new life happens to belong to a litter of puppies. The prospect of a new litter is exciting, but just like human pregnancies, dog pregnancies can be confusing and stressful. If your dog is pregnant, or if you are planning on breeding your dog, there is so much information that you need to know, from the signs of pregnancy in dogs to caring for your pregnant bitch.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, you’ve come to the right place. Here are the answers to your questions.
How Long Are Dogs Pregnant?
When planning to breed your dog, you need to know the length of the gestation period in dogs. Knowing how long your dog is pregnant for will help you plan for things like veterinary checkups, emergencies, and most exciting, whelping.
Dogs are pregnant for approximately 63 days, or about two months. A lot happens during this short span of time. During the first month, the fertilized eggs travel to the uterine horn, where they embed themselves in the lining and start to develop. By the end of the first month, a veterinarian can detect a fetal heartbeat, and the development speeds up into the second month as the embryos develop into recognizable puppies.
By the end of the second month and the start of the third, the puppies are ready to be born, which means you need to be prepared for their delivery.
How to Tell if Your Dog Is Pregnant
Dogs don’t have the option of picking up a pregnancy test kit from the pharmacy, which means we have to rely on other methods to determine if a dog is pregnant. The most accurate way to tell if a dog is pregnant is through diagnostic testing.
If you know the date your dog was bred, your veterinarian can perform an abdominal palpation starting at approximately the 28-day mark to see if your dog is pregnant. At this stage in the pregnancy, the puppies feel like little golf balls, or grapes depending on the size of the dog. These “balls” are in fact fluid-filled sacks surrounding the fetus. Abdominal palpation is tricky and should not be attempted without the assistance of a veterinarian, as it could damage the pups. The sacks lose their distinct shape after one month, which is why the timing of this test is so important.
Alternatively, your veterinarian can do an ultrasound between 25 days and 35 days of gestation to determine if your dog is pregnant. An ultrasound can also detect fetal heartbeats, giving you an estimate of the number of puppies the bitch is carrying.
After 30 days of gestation, you can have your veterinarian measure your dog’s hormone levels to see if she is producing the hormone relaxin. Relaxin is only released during pregnancy, making the test relatively accurate.
X-rays are probably the most effective way to determine if a bitch is pregnant. However, you need to wait until around until at least day 45 to 55, as the puppies’ skeletal systems don’t show up on an x-ray until then. It is preferable to wait until day 55. Waiting to perform the x-ray until day 55 gives you an accurate count of the number of puppies in the womb, which lets you know how many to expect during delivery.
Signs of Dog Pregnancy
Diagnostic testing isn’t the only way to determine whether a dog is pregnant, although it is the most accurate. There are other signs of dog pregnancy to look out for, as well, including:
- Increase in appetite
- Weight gain
- Increase in nipple size
As the end of your dog’s pregnancy approaches, you will notice a significant enlargement of her breasts and nipples, and might even detect some milky fluid. Her abdomen will increase in size, and may sway a little as she walks. At the very end of the pregnancy, you might even be able to see or feel the puppies moving around inside the mother.
As exciting as a potential pregnancy is, it is important to remember that there are other conditions that can cause changes in appetite, weight gain, and a swollen abdomen. To rule out a more serious condition, take your dog to the veterinarian for a prenatal checkup.
Caring for a Pregnant Dog
Once you have determined that your dog is pregnant, there are some steps you should take to make sure she stays healthy throughout her pregnancy.
One of the most important things you can do for your pregnant bitch is make sure she receives proper nutrition. If your dog is already on a good quality dog food and is at a healthy weight, you won’t have to make any changes to her diet for the first part of her pregnancy unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian. As her weight increases in the last five weeks of her pregnancy, the AKC recommends increasing her food intake gradually, until she consumes 35-to-50 percent more than usual. Increase her intake slowly and feed her small, frequent meals, as large meals can cause discomfort.
Visits to the Vet
Regular veterinary visits can help your dog stay healthy during pregnancy. While you are there to confirm her pregnancy and check on the puppies, your veterinarian will also examine your dog for signs of illness and discomfort. If your dog became pregnant by accident, this is also a good time to discuss taking precautions in the future, like spaying, to prevent any more surprise litters.
Emergencies happen during pregnancy. While you are at your veterinarian for a prenatal checkup, ask your veterinarian about what to do in the event of an emergency and set up a plan with your family and pet sitter.
Preparing for Puppies
You want your dog’s whelping to be as comfortable as possible and as hassle-free as possible for you. The best way to do this is to set up a whelping box. Whelping boxes offer a safe, warm, comfortable, easily cleaned location for your dog to have her puppies. Ideally, set up the whelping box away from all other dogs and in a quieter area to give the mom privacy.
Once you have purchased or built your whelping box, take some time to get your dog accustomed to it. Dogs look for warm, safe places to deliver their puppies. If you don’t introduce her to the whelping box beforehand, she might decide to deliver someplace else—like your closet.
If this is your first time breeding your dog, talk to your veterinarian about your role during labor, and read and inform yourself. Unless you plan to have an experienced breeder on hand, you will need to be prepared to step in when necessary during the whelping process.
You will want to assemble the necessary whelping supplies ahead of time, so that you have them on hand when your dog goes into labor.
Whelping Supply Checklist:
- Newspaper to line the whelping box during delivery for easy clean up
- Non-skid bath mats for bedding after whelping is done
- Dry, clean towels to clean the puppies
- Paper towels to help with clean up
- Thermometer to check your dog’s temperature before whelping
- Unwaxed dental floss to tie off the umbilical cords
- Clean scissors to cut the umbilical cords
- A heating pad or hot water bottle to keep the puppies warm (be careful of it not being too hot)
- Iodine to clean the puppies’ abdomens after the cord is cut and dab on the end of the cut umbilical cord
- A baby scale in ounces
- Your veterinarian’s phone number and the number of a nearby emergency clinic
Keep these supplies in a clean, easy-to-access location. When your pregnant dog’s time approaches, watch out for the warning signs of labor in dogs. Pregnant mothers may stop eating a few days before whelping and may also start trying to build a “nest”—hopefully in the whelping box. Many pregnant dogs start to pant heavily, and her temperature will drop from a normal temperature (100-to-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit) to 99 degrees or even lower shortly before going into labor. Approximately 24 hours after this temperature drop, she will whelp, and you will be the proud owner of a new litter of puppies.
Unlike humans, dogs generally give birth easily and do not require assistance. Your role is to assist when necessary. Each puppy is born enclosed in its placental membrane. In most cases, the mother tears this membrane off, sometimes eating it. If she does not, you will have to remove it, as puppies cannot survive for more than a few minutes before their supply of oxygen runs out.
The bitch should also sever the umbilical cord as she cleans her pups. If she does not, it is up to you to snip the cord and tie it off with some unwaxed dental floss. You should wipe the abdomen of all of the puppies with iodine to prevent infection from entering through the umbilical cord. The cord should be tied and cut about 1-2 inches from the puppy.
You must also keep track of the number of placentas. A retained placenta can cause problems for the mother, so observe her carefully, and while you are at it, keep an eye on the pups to make sure they are all breathing normally and nursing.
Possible Dog Labor Complications
Sometimes during delivery, things go wrong. Most dogs deliver with ease, but it is crucial that owners of expecting dogs know the warning signs of labor complications.
- Labor is uncomfortable. However, it should not cause your dog extreme pain. If your dog is exhibiting symptoms of severe discomfort, call your veterinarian.
- If more than two hours pass in between the delivery of puppies, or if your dog experiences strong contractions that last more than 45 minutes without a birth, call your veterinarian.
- Trembling, collapsing, or shivering are warning signs of serious complications that could put both the bitch and the puppies at risk.
- It is normal for dogs to deliver a dark green or bloody fluid after the first puppy, but if this happens before the first puppy, call your veterinarian.
- Some dogs are slow to go into labor, but if your dog shows no signs of whelping 64 days after her last mating, you need to call your veterinarian to see if there is a problem.
Pregnancy can be a stressful time for dogs and owners, but it doesn’t have to be. The more you know about dog pregnancy ahead of time, the better prepared you will be to care for your dog. For more information about dog pregnancy, consult your veterinarian.