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Dog Pregnancy: Signs, Care, Checkups

Nicole Cosgrove

They say a dog is a man’s best friend. It goes to a whole new level when the same dog welcomes a new litter of puppies. When this happens, it becomes friendship coupled with responsibility. Taking care of a dog’s young ones is not easy; it is cost and time-intensive.

So, if you are considering breeding a dog, you need to equip yourself with as much relevant information as possible to help you raise healthy puppies. You must also learn to identify a pregnant dog and how to care for the pregnant bitch.

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How Long Are Dogs Pregnant?

dogs_stanarchy93_Pixabay
Image Credit: stanarchy93, Pixabay

Puppies are fun to have around, especially if you are new to breeding. The good thing is that the gestation period for dogs is shorter than in humans. But let’s uncover exactly how long a dog lasts in pregnancy.

Reproductive Cycles in Dogs

You must first understand a dog’s reproductive cycle. A female dog goes into heat roughly every 6 months and lasts for 18 to 21 days. The heat cycle comprises four main stages that breeders use to decide when to begin breeding the dogs.

The four distinct stages include:
  • Proestrus

Females attract males for 9 days, but they don’t give in to the male’s advances until stage 2. Proestrus signs are bloody discharge and swelling of the vulva.

  • Estrus

This period can last from 3-4 days or 7-11 days. The bitch is now receptive to the male. Veterinarians take blood tests and vaginal smears during proestrus and estrus to ensure the breeding of the dogs at the optimal time. Proestrus signs are a decreased discharge that is light in color, with a soft and enlarged vulva.

  • Diestrus

Diestrus happens around the 14th day. The vulva returns to normal, the discharge becomes redder, and the bitch declines any more mating. As soon as all the signs of a swelling vulva or discharge are gone, the heat is over.

  • Anestrus

Describes the period between heat cycles and lasts for 6 months.

A clear understanding of the heat cycles is crucial in determining the pregnancy time frame. A breeder should monitor the heat cycles and breeding period to enable the veterinarians to perform a pregnancy test to help calculate the conception dates.

How Can You Tell If a Dog Is Pregnant?

Australian Stumpy Dog_Yana Tinker, Shutterstock
Image Credit: Yana Tinker, Shutterstock

There are no instantaneous pregnancy tests for dogs. A breeder has to visit a veterinarian’s office to know if the dog is pregnant or not. Considering all dog’s pregnancy testing techniques are time-sensitive, you should tell your veterinarian the exact period the dog mated.

Here are the main methods that vets use to determine a dog’s pregnancy.

Hormone Tests

A veterinarian can perform a blood test to see if the hormone relaxin is being produced. Relaxin production happens only during pregnancy, making it an accurate test of a dog’s pregnancy. The dog must be 25 to 30 days into the pregnancy for the test to be accurate.

Ultrasound

A vet can perform an ultrasound on the dog at any point between 25 and 35 days of gestation to determine if the dog is pregnant. This form of imaging can help detect fetal heartbeats, allowing you to know how many puppies the dog is carrying. Ultrasounds also help the breeder know the fetus’ gestational age.

Palpation

If you are looking for a cheap and effective way to test for pregnancy, this is it. The veterinarian can conduct a palpation 28 days into gestation. At this stage, the fetus feels like golf balls. The ‘balls’ are the membranes that develop around the fetus to form fluid-filled sacs. Only a veterinarian should do an abdominal palpation to avoid damaging the pups. The sacs lose the distinct shape after a month, so the timing for the palpitation must be right.

X-Ray

X-rays are an effective way to test for pregnancy and determine the number of puppies to expect from the dog. An X-ray will only give the desired results 55 days into the pregnancy when the fetal spine and skull are visible. It could help you plan for an elective cesarean for the dog.

dog X-ray_Halfpoint_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Halfpoint, Shutterstock

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Gestation Period: How Long Are Dogs Pregnant?

Dogs are pregnant for around 63 days since conception, approximately 2 months. But predicting the exact time of delivery is not always easy because the breeding date sometimes differs from the date of conception. Breed and litter size also determine the gestation period.

If you want a more precise gestation time frame, a veterinary officer can conduct hormone measurement. The process involves using blood tests and vaginal smears to keep track of the reproductive hormones during the breeding process. This will help you know the appropriate time to breed the bitch, the gestation time frame, and the potential delivery date.

dog and vet._LightField Studios_Shutterstock
Image Credit: LightField Studios, Shutterstock
An accurate hormone measurement shows the following gestation time-frame:
  • 56 to 58 day from the beginning of diestrus
  • 64 to 66 days from the initial rise of progesterone
  • 58 to 78 days from the time breeding began

Dogs have a much lower gestation period than humans, just 9 weeks, and every day counts. Knowing the pregnancy time frame is vital for the bitch’s health and the puppies for nutrition monitoring and veterinarian care.

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Signs of Pregnancy in Dogs

dog food_Mat Coulton_Pixabay
Image Credit: Mat Coulton, Pixabay

Diagnostic testing is the most accurate way to tell if a dog is pregnant. But there some observable signs you can note in your dog as well. However, these signs can also be symptoms of certain dog illnesses, so if you think your dog is pregnant, bring her to a veterinarian.

Here are the signs you should look for.

Change in Appetite

A pregnant dog’s appetite changes based on the dog and the pregnancy stage. Halfway into the pregnancy, you will notice less eating and vomiting. But don’t be surprised if, at other times, she eats more and never gets satisfied. These fluctuations are due to the changing hormones in the present dog.

Decreased Activity

If the dog’s activity level decreases and the dog spends more time sleeping, that may be a sign of pregnancy. These signs are easy to notice in a typical energetic dog and hard to detect for dogs that enjoy dozing all day and have low activity levels. For such a dog, keep track of how quickly she gets exhausted when taking walks.

Increased Nipple Size

Dog’s nipples are normally small but enlarge significantly during pregnancy’s early stages. The flat areolas become rounded. The nipples also become slightly dark red due to increased blood flow. In later stages of pregnancy, the nipples may start to leak milk.

Unusual Behavior

Behavior change is another sign of a dog’s pregnancy. A pregnant dog tends to spend time at the owner’s side trying to get some attention. However, she also may seem depressed or irritated every time you want to give her attention. This varies depending on the dog.

Weight Gain

The abdomen enlarges in size as the puppies grow in the womb. Most times, this is the surest sign of a dog’s pregnancy. Weight gain usually occurs a little later into the pregnancy.

Nesting

As the gestation period nears its end, the dog begins to create a nest. She also becomes easily irritated and secluded. At this stage, it’s better to limit her interaction with the children during this time.

dogue de bordeaux_Jan Steiner_Pixabay
Image Credit: Jan Steiner, Pixabay

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Caring for a Pregnant Dog

Once a dog’s pregnancy test is positive, there are some steps you need to take to ensure the dog stays healthy throughout the pregnancy.

Proper Nutrition

You must see to it that the bitch receives proper nutrition when she is pregnant. Unless directed by the veterinarian, no dietary changes may be needed the first two-thirds of the pregnancy period if she is already feeding on quality dog food. Also, note that excess food can be harmful to the dog.

As she gains weight in the last weeks of gestation, it is recommended that you gradually increase food intake until she consumes 30%-50% more than usual. You should feed her with small and frequent meals throughout the day compared to single large quantities to avoid discomfort.

Exercise

Exercise for the pregnant dog should not be strenuous, especially during the first 2 weeks of pregnancy. After two weeks, normal exercise may resume until the dog’s belly begins to enlarge.

As birthing nears, the dog must stay away from other dogs and animals. Limit exercise to the indoors only so that she does not contract diseases that may be detrimental to her and the puppy’s health. It will also limit her exposure to canine herpes, a condition that leads to still-born puppies.

Veterinarian Visits

A prenatal checkup is essential before breeding your dog; vaccinations must also be up to date. A fecal exam helps rule out any intestinal parasites.

Regular visits to the veterinarian are advised during the gestation period. You should also inquire from the veterinarian what to do if an emergency arises during the last days of pregnancy. After the veterinarian confirms pregnancy, they should do a mechanical or anatomical examination to determine anything that may hinder a normal whelped litter.

The veterinarian will then advise on the best method of delivery. If the dog got pregnant by accident, this is a good time to discuss the appropriate precautions you should take in the future, such as spaying, to prevent unplanned litters.

Ensure that you deworm the bitch on the 40th day of pregnancy and continue until 2 days after the birth of the puppies. This protects the puppies from getting worms from the mother after birth, allowing them to grow into healthy dogs.

dog at vet_ESB Professional, Shutterstock
Image Credit: ESB Professional, Shutterstock

Potential Dog Labor Complications

A dog’s delivery may not always go according to plan. Call your veterinarian immediately If you experience any of these:
  • If 64 days after her last mating, there are no signs of whelping.
  • The dog’s rectal temperature decreases with more than a day to go, and labor is not beginning.
  • Failure to produce a puppy after 20-30 minutes of contractions. Ensure you carry the already born puppies with you if the veterinarian recommends surgery.
  • Bitch passes a green vaginal discharge, but still, no puppy is born within 4 hours.
  • More than 2 hours pass and the bitch only has weak contractions between pups, yet there are more inside.
  • Serious trembling and collapsing are indications of a complication that could put the dog and puppies at risk.
  • All placentas are not delivered.
  • If puppies fail to nurse.

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Final Thoughts

The pregnancy period can take a toll on you and the dog. That’s why you need to learn about a dog’s pregnancy beforehand so that you are better prepared to care for your animal. When the pups are born, your work will be well cut out for you. You must be fully ready to raise healthy and well-socialized dogs. It’s a big responsibility, but you will hack it.

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Featured Image Credit:  Ezzolo, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.