Dog Pregnancy: Everything You Need To Know
Breeding your dog is a huge responsibility and, even though there's nothing as rewarding as welcoming a new litter of puppies, dog pregnancies are often stressful and confusing. There's a lot that you need to learn, including the recommended health tests as well as the best way to raise healthy puppies. Most importantly, you need to know everything about dog pregnancy & delivery and how to take care of your pet during this period.
We have compiled a comprehensive guide to help pet owners throughout their dog's pregnancy, from how to tell if a dog is pregnant, the gestation period, how to care for them, and signs of labour.
Welcome to the ultimate guide to dog pregnancies!
How Can You Tell That Your Dog Is Pregnant?
Unlike humans that have instantaneous pregnancy kits, determining whether a dog is pregnant is not that easy as you have to visit your veterinarian so that they can conduct diagnostic testing. It's also important to note that all the dog pregnancy testing methods are time-sensitive, which is why it's advisable that you let your vet know the exact time when your pet was bred or an approximate time estimate.
There are 4 main ways you can tell whether your dog is pregnant:
This is the best way of determining pregnancy in dogs during the early days of gestation, and vets recommend that you take your pet for an ultrasound when they're only 25 to 30 days into their pregnancy. The best part about this method is that it can also be used to approximate the number of puppies that the dog is carrying and rule out the possibility of them having uterine distension. Veterinarians also use ultrasounds to determine whether the fetus is alive by listening for the heartbeat; it tends to be faster than that of the mother.
2. Hormone tests
Once the 30-day gestation period lapses, your veterinarian will most likely conduct a blood test to check for relaxin levels. Relaxin is a hormone that can only be produced during pregnancy as it is excreted by the dog's placental tissue. Even though this test is usually accurate, it can't be performed before 30 days are over, or you may have a false negative.
X-rays are the best way to determine the number of puppies your dog is expecting. They are, however, only effective in the later stages of pregnancy as the fetal spine and skull only become visible from the 42nd to 45th day of pregnancy. Veterinarians, however, recommend that you take your dog for an x-ray after the 55th day as this also allows them to determine when and if they should have an elective caesarean.
This is often the most convenient and affordable way of determining pregnancy in dogs. It, however, only works if you know the exact time when your dog was bred, as it has very strict time frames. Palpation is done between the 21st and 35th day of gestation, and the vet conducts a physical examination to check for grape size or tennis-like sacs on the dog's abdomen. These sacs, which often feel like balls, are usually filled with fluid and surround the fetus. They, however, lose their shape after one month of pregnancy and can be confused for pyometra or fat.
How Long Are Dogs Pregnant?
The dog gestation period ranges between 57 and 71 days, but the average period is 63 days or roughly 9 weeks. It's difficult to determine the time of delivery as the date of conception and that of breeding don't always match. This is because the dog's eggs can stay fertile for up to 2 days while the sperm can remain inside them for several days.
What Are the Stages of Pregnancy in Dogs?
The gestation period in dogs is short and takes approximately 3 months. Fetal development is very rapid, especially during the first month, as the diameter of the sac doubles in size every week.
During this month, the embryos make their way to the uterine horns within 7 days and embed on the walls around the 16th day. They only start taking shape by the 22nd day, and by the 30th day, your veterinarian should detect the fetal heartbeats using an ultrasound.
Fetal development in dogs is much faster compared to humans, especially during this month. The fetus begins forming eyelids by day 32, toes by day 35, and claws by the 40th day. The skeleton and the coat are formed by day 45, and by the 50th day, an X-ray should reveal how many puppies your dog is expecting.
By day 58, fetal development should be complete, and your dog will start looking for a comfortable place to nest. During the final days of pregnancy, the puppies start moving into the whelping position.
What Are the Main Dog Pregnancy Signs?
While diagnostic testing is the best way to tell whether your dog is pregnant, you could also watch out for the pregnancy signs. Here’s a week-by-week account of dog pregnancy symptoms.
- Week 1 and 2: most dogs don't show any symptoms, and their weight is still stable, but they may start experiencing morning sickness.
- Week 3: the dog's appetite increases, her nipples become slightly enlarged, and they may start showing affectionate behaviour.
- Week 4: their physical activity decreases, and they may start having a clear vaginal discharge. This is the best time to schedule a vet appointment for an ultrasound.
- Week 5: the dog's weight gain becomes more noticeable, there's increased urination, and you may start noticing behavioural changes.
- Week 6: the abdomen becomes enlarged and firm, and there's visible puppy movement. Some dogs experience a loss of appetite, so it may be advised to start scheduling smaller meals spaced out through the day so that they can eat.
- Week 7: the appetite loss continues, and the waist becomes slimmer as the puppies make their way to the birth canal. This is the best time to start preparing a whelping box.
- Week 8: the dog starts lactating.
- Week 9: the dog is ready to give birth and is restless & more irritable than normal. Before labour begins, they may experience a drop in body temperature.
How to Take Care Of Pregnant Dog
The only way to ensure that your dog has a great pregnancy experience is by taking care of them during the 3 months gestation, at birth and the following weeks. Here are the main steps you should take to give your dog the best chance of a safe and healthy pregnancy.
1. Regular veterinarian visits
If you're planning on breeding your dog, it's important that you keep her up to date on vaccinations and schedule a vet appointment for a prenatal checkup. During this visit, the vet will check for intestinal parasites through a faecal exam and probably deworm them before they mate. If your dog is already pregnant, the vet will check for any complications that could interfere with the pregnancy and whelped litter.
You should also use this time to consult your vet on the best pre-pregnancy care and practical tips for handling emergencies during the pregnancy period. If the pregnancy was an accident, you should discuss future precautions such as spaying your dog.
2. Proper nutrition
It's important that your dog receives proper nutrition during the gestation period. If you're already on a healthy and nutritional diet, you don't need to change anything not unless directed by the vet. Avoid increasing the amount of food they regularly consume at this stage because it can be harmful. If the dog gains too much weight early on, they risk suffering from dystocia (obstructed labour/ difficult delivery).
You can gradually increase her food intake during the last weeks of pregnancy until she finally starts eating around 35 - 50% more. Keep in mind that large meals may cause the dog discomfort, so it's advisable that you feed her small meals regularly.
3. Regular exercise
Before you breed your dog, the vet may recommend that you limit strenuous physical activity for the first 2 weeks. This is meant to enhance embryo implantation. However, once the dog gets pregnant, you should resume normal activity until its belly becomes enlarged. You should then reduce the exercise during their last trimester and limit it to frequent short walks. At this point, the dog needs the energy to carry the pups.
Top Signs of Labour in Dogs
There are 3 main stages of dog labour;
This first stage of labour is often not noticeable and can last between 12 to 24 hours. Even though the contractions in the uterine walls increase gradually both in frequency and strength, they aren't visible. Here are the top signs a dog is going into labour soon:
- Reclusive behaviour
- Refusal to eat
- Clear vaginal discharge
- Intermittent nesting
- Change in disposition
This stage can last between 1 and 24 hours and is when the puppies are delivered. Dogs deliver one puppy at a time, and whelping takes between half an hour to an hour. It could take 2 hours in some instances, but it's important that you know the number of puppies your dog is expecting. This way, if your dog is facing challenges during delivery, you can call the vet.
At this stage, the placenta is delivered. You should note that stage 2 and stage 3 are usually concurrent, but this stage only completes after your dog delivers all the placentas. If your dog is in labour for over 24 hours or is delivering puppies more than 2 hours apart, you should call your vet immediately. This is a sign that they're facing serious complications, and their life and that of the puppies could be at risk.
How to Prepare for Puppies
When your dog is in the last month of pregnancy, it's important that you begin preparing for whelping (puppy birthing process). Start by getting a whelping box which is a warm, safe, and clean place for your dog to deliver their puppies. You can either set up this box yourself or buy one from your local pet store. Ensure that the whelping box is easy for the dog to get in and out of, whilst still able to keep the puppies inside. It should also preferably be in a quiet area of your home that you have easy access to. Don't forget to get your dog accustomed to this box by introducing it to her before she delivers; otherwise, she may choose to deliver elsewhere which could make the birth more difficult for both you and the dog.
What Should You have Prepared for the Birth?
Some of the items you should have before your dog gets into labour include:
- Non-skid bath mats. They make great beddings once your dog delivers.
- Black bags and newspapers for lining the whelping box and ensuring a quick clean-up process.
- A baby scale to measure the puppies’ weight.
- Paper towels for the whelping box clean up.
- Dry, soft and sterile towels to clean up the puppies.
- Heat lamp to keep the puppies warm.
- Iodine for puppy clean-up after the umbilical cord is cut.
- Sterilized scissors for cutting the umbilical cords.
- Dental floss or a thin string to tie the umbilical cords.
- Thermometer to keep track of your dog’s temperature.
Don't forget to have your vet's number available.
If this is the first time your dog is pregnant, talk to your vet for advice on your role during labour. You may have to assist during whelping, but it's advisable to have an experienced breeder with you. Puppies are usually born with their placenta membrane enclosing them, and the dog licks it vigorously until it tears. If they're unable to break it, you'll have to do it yourself because puppies can only last a few minutes before they suffocate. You may also have to snip the umbilical cord if the dog is unable to.
What complications can occur during your dog’s labour?
There are instances when whelping goes wrong. Here are the top signs to watch out for:
- A significant rectal temperature drop for over 24 hours without labour starting.
- Bloody fluid that’s sometimes dark green during delivery of the first puppy.
- Shivering, trembling or collapsing.
- Dog exhibiting signs of extreme discomfort.
- Over 2 hours between each whelping.
- Failure to deliver all placentas.
- Puppies failing to nurse.
Dog pregnancies are often stressful for your pet, and it's important that you make sure they're as comfortable as possible. Keep in mind that whelping is only the first step, and once your dog delivers, you should start working towards raising well-socialized and healthy puppies.