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Dog Pregnancy Guide: What to Expect and How to Prepare

dog pregnancy

A new litter of puppies can bring happiness and joy into a household! Yet, before you can welcome the new brood, you need to make sure their mother is well taken care of.

Today, we’re sharing what you can expect before, during, and after a dog pregnancy so you can prepare accordingly. With the right steps, you can ensure a safe and successful delivery and post-partum experience for your pet and her new pups. 

When Can My Dog Get Pregnant?

While it can vary by breed, most dogs reach puberty, or sexual maturity, by about six months of age. Smaller breeds may come into heat or have their first estrous cycle at a younger age, though it can take a little longer for large or giant breeds. Most dogs have had at least one heat cycle before they turn two. 

From there, they’ll usually come into heat once every six months, or roughly twice a year. However, this isn’t a very rigid timeline and also varies by a dog’s breed and size. 

How Long Are Dogs Pregnant?

Dogs are usually pregnant for about 62 to 64 days, or around two months. Again, this can vary with breed size. The number of puppies in the litter also affects the length of the gestation. 

During the first month your dog is pregnant, her fertilized eggs will travel to the uterine horn. At around the 15-18 day mark, they’ll embed themselves in the horn’s lining. These early stages of pregnancy are filled with rapid growth, and most veterinarians can detect a fetal heartbeat by around 30 days!

Embryo development speeds up after that, and most puppies are ready to be born by the end of the second month or the start of the third. 

How to Tell If Your Dog Is Pregnant

If you suspect your pup is carrying a litter of puppies, your veterinarian can confirm this for you. However, there are also little hints she might be giving you at home. Some of the most common dog pregnancy signs include:

  • Increased fatigue 
  • Vomiting 
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Swollen belly
  • Changes in behavior (e.g. more affectionate or more irritable)
  • Pronounced mammary glands

While these signs could point to a pregnancy, others (such as vomiting) could be a sign of an illness or infection. That’s why it’s still smart to bring your dog in for a veterinary evaluation. Your vet can perform a few different tests to check for pregnancy. Let’s take a look at how each one works. 

Abdominal Palpation

About 28 to 30 days into the pregnancy, your veterinarian can perform an abdominal palpation on your pet. At this stage, each puppy is surrounded by a fluid-filled sack that has a defined, round shape.

In larger breeds, the sacks will feel like golf balls. In smaller breeds, they can be tinier and softer. Around the two-month mark, the sack will begin to lose its defined shape, so it’s important to time this test precisely. 

Hormone Test

At the 25-to-30-day mark, veterinarians can also measure your dog’s hormone levels via a simple blood test. When they review the results, they’re looking for a special hormone called relaxin. Dogs only produce this hormone during pregnancy, so its presence can confirm that she’s expecting!

Ultrasound

If you’d prefer an ultrasound, your vet can also perform this procedure during the same stage of pregnancy (about 25 to 35 days into gestation). Most vets can detect fetal heartbeats at this time, which can also give you insight into how many puppies your pet might be carrying!

Puppy heartbeats can be up to two times as fast as their mother’s, which helps vets distinguish the two. 

X-Ray

Of all the tests your vet can perform to check for pregnancy, an X-ray is among the most accurate. However, it’s best to wait until the later stage of pregnancy (around the 55-day mark) before performing this procedure. Before then, the puppies’ skeletal systems are still developing and they won’t show up clearly. 

Caring For Your Dog During Pregnancy

Once you know your dog is pregnant, it’s time to do all you can to make sure these next few weeks are comfortable and safe for her. Here are a few pregnant dog care steps to keep in mind. 

Dietary Considerations

For the first two-thirds of her pregnancy, your pup can continue to eat the same quality dog food she’s been eating, unless your veterinarian gives you other dietary instructions. However, you may notice that you need to give her a little more to eat toward the final stage. 

During the last few weeks of pregnancy, her appetite and weight will both begin to gradually increase. At this time, you can slowly increase her food intake, allowing her to consume up to 50% more than her usual amount. Be sure to make this change incrementally, feeding her multiple small meals instead of big ones to avoid upsetting her stomach. 

Exercise

Your pup can exercise as normal throughout her pregnancy. However, once her belly starts to grow, you may need to adjust her routine a little. During the last trimester, avoid strenuous movements and instead, focus on shorter, more frequent activities, such as walks around the block. 

Vaccinations

It’s best to avoid vaccinating your dog during pregnancy. Instead, try to make sure she’s up-to-date on all of her shots before she becomes pregnant. 

However, if she’s missing her core vaccines, specifically the combination of distemper and parvovirus, your veterinarian may decide to administer them. This is because newborn puppies don’t have an immune system, and rely on their first full day of nursing to give them all of their necessary, protective antibodies. 

Parasite Prevention

If you suspect your dog could be suffering from internal parasites during pregnancy, let your veterinarian know. They will need to check a fresh stool sample immediately, as the parasites could spread both in the womb and through nursing. 

If they find an infection, they’ll prescribe you the proper medication. Avoid over-the-counter deworming treatments while your dog is pregnant or nursing. 

Preparing Your Dog For Puppies

In the final few weeks of pregnancy, it’s time to prepare your pup and your home for what lies ahead. Here are a few guidelines to follow.

Physical Signs Labor Is Near

In the final stage of pregnancy, your pet will begin to show signs that she’s about to give birth. Some of the most common signals of dog labor include: 

  • Enlarged breasts and nipples
  • Milky fluid coming from milk glands
  • Increased abdomen size
  • Visible movement in her belly

When you notice any of these signs, it means puppy birthing, or whelping, is around the corner!

Gathering Whelping Supplies

The whelping space doesn’t need to be overly big or elaborate, but it should be comfortable for your dog to nest in and offer her a degree of privacy. 

Most people use a whelping box for this purpose. Make sure yours is safe and secure, and place it in a warm, dry spot. You can purchase a ready-made box online, or make one yourself using a small baby pool lined with towels. The key is to ensure the mother dog can move around it, but the pups shouldn’t be able to crawl out. 

Planned Cesarians 

Some breeds aren’t usually able to whelp on their own. These include short-nosed breeds such as French and English Bulldogs. 

In these cases, planned caesarian sections are often required. If your breed needs a planned C-section, your veterinarian will work closely with you through each step. 

What to Expect During Labor

Once dog labor begins, you’re only a few moments away from meeting the newest, tiniest members of your family! Here’s a quick look at what to expect. 

Different Stages of Labor

Most dogs go through three distinct stages of labor. 

In the first stage, their bodies are preparing for birth. Their cervix will relax and they’ll experience contractions. Your pup may get a little sick to her stomach and refuse to eat. This first stage can last up to 12 hours. 

In the second stage, her contractions will intensify and become more frequent, eventually leading to the birth of a puppy! In most cases, puppies are born every 30 minutes to one hour, after about 10 to 15 minutes of straining. 

The third stage is the afterbirth. This is when your dog will pass all of the fetal membranes. This occurs about 15 minutes after the birth of each puppy, so mother dogs often travel between the second and third stages of labor. 

Caring For Your Postpartum Pup

Once all of the puppies are birthed, place them along the mother’s belly so they can nurse. Watch to make sure each puppy gets the chance to eat within a few hours and ensure all puppies are nursing and breathing normally on their own. If you notice any complications, contact your vet immediately. 

Ensure a Safe, Successful Dog Pregnancy

Experiencing a dog pregnancy can be a rewarding journey! Yet, you don’t have to go at it alone. It’s important to have a trusted local veterinarian by your side at each stage, so you always have someone to turn to with questions and concerns. 

At All Animals Veterinary Clinic, we’re proud to be that resource for you! Our veterinarians have decades of experience managing all aspects of dog care, including pregnancy! Request an appointment today to learn more about the services we can provide!

The All Animal Vet Clinic is here to help guide you through the journey of owning a new puppy.

Contact us to schedule an appointment in our Lebanon, Indiana Clinic.