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Dog Pregnancy: Signs, Symptoms, and How to Care for Your Pregnant Pup Safely

Are you trying to breed your pup or afraid there may have been an "oopsie" with the neighbor dog down the street? There are plenty of canine signs and symptoms to watch for in a pregnant pup. Read our complete guide to dog pregnancy below!

How to Tell if Your Dog is Pregnant

Is your sweet doggo rapidly gaining weight? More tired than usual? Plenty of pregnancy signs are common symptoms for other health conditions, too, and they don't exactly make ClearBlue puppy pee sticks for an at-home dog pregnancy test.

Do dogs have periods?

Not in the exact way that humans do. Instead, they experience a heat cycle every 6 months or so, a 3-week range in which a female dog's ovaries release eggs, allowing them to become pregnant.

At this time, they usually have a pinkish discharge that is lighter than a human's but may still require a diaper to keep the mess off your furniture and floors. 

Here are a few early signs of pregnancy in dogs to watch for if you suspect a pup might be pregnant - from there, you can head to the vet for a proper exam and diagnosis. 

Signs of Dog Pregnancy

  • Sudden increase in appetite.
  • Sudden weight gain.
  • Increase in nipple size, sometimes along with a deepened color.
  • Swollen abdomen.
  • Low-energy and tires easily.
  • Nesting behavior, like shredding bedding and looking for a birthing spot.
  • More affectionate than usual.
  • Irritability or sudden mood changes.

Diagnostic Tools - Testing for Canine Pregnancy

There are a few different tools in a vet's toolbelt that can help them to determine if your pup is with-child, or with-pups, in this case. 

  • Palpation. If you know an approximate date that your dog may have bred, the vet can perform a physical exam that indicates pregnancy 28-30 days after insemination. Tiny puppy fetuses are encased in fluid sacs, which feel like tiny ping-pong balls or cherries, depending on the dog's breed and size. The sacks only last until the 30-day point, so vets can't do this test for later-stage gestation.
  • Ultrasound Tests. Your vet can perform an ultrasound on your dog's abdomen similar to that of human pregnancy testing. This test is most effective on pups between 25-35 days pregnant to measure fetal heartbeats and give an approximate count of dogs in the litter. 
  • Hormone Tests. Between the 25-35 day mark, your vet can test your doggo's blood to measure their hormone levels - if your dog's blood contains the hormone relaxin, she's pregnant!
  • X-Ray Tests. X-ray tests can determine pregnancy in late-stage pregnancies at 55+ days and offers the most accurate puppy count.

How long are dogs pregnant?

  • The total length of the female dog gestation period is approximately 63 days, though it can range much like human pregnancy. Most dogs will give birth between the 58-68 day range. 
  • Predicting the delivery time of any individual doggo is a difficult guessing game, as a dog's breeding date will not always match the conception date or dog pregnancy length, and the size of the litter plays a factor, too.
  • Most dogs give birth to litters of 6-8 puppies, though larger breeds may have more, and smaller breeds may have as few as 1 pup in a litter.
  • During the first stage of pregnancy, the fertilized eggs make their way to the uterine horn and embed themselves in the dog's uterine lining.
  • A dog fetus grows much more rapidly than a human's, doubling in size every week during pregnancy.
  • The fetuses have a heartbeat after four weeks, and during the second month, the embryos develop into puppies. 

How to Care For a Pregnant Dog

While dogs might not have pickle and ice cream cravings like us (well, not more than usual at least), they need some special care while they're growing tiny pups inside their bellies. 

Get your pup tested as soon as they start showing signs of pregnancy so you can create a solid care routine that will help your dog stay strong and healthy during this short period.

Nutrition

  • In the first month of pregnancy, your dog can eat a similar amount of food to their pre-pregnancy diet.
  • Calories, however, should be upped by about 35-50% over the last four weeks of pregnancy in dogs, as those puppies begin to grow exponentially, needing more extensive nutritional requirements. 
  • Consult with your vet to guide you through the best over-the-counter dog food to buy - there are plenty of formulas made specifically for female dog pregnancy. It's crucial to use this food as your dog is pregnant and through the weaning stages, as lactating and feeding pups require more energy output and more calories.
  • During pregnancy in dogs, their uterus expands, leaving less room in the abdomen for the usual stomach expansion that accompanies big meals. Try to feed your pregnant dog smaller meals more often throughout the day, so she still gets a sufficient calorie intake. 

Take a Stool Sample and Have a Prenatal Vet Visit

  • As soon as you know your dog is pregnant, take a stool sample to be checked by a vet, as your dog may have intestinal parasites while showing no symptoms. These parasites can spread to pups in utero or through the nursing process. 
  • While it's unsafe to use the over-the-counter deworming medication if your pup has parasites, your vet can help you find the proper medication to take care of the problem without affecting the pregnancy.
  • A pregnant dog can't be vaccinated, so if you're planning to breed, get your dog's vaccinations up-to-date first and have a prenatal exam.

Make a Birthing Plan

Depending on your dog's body size and litter size, you can speak with your vet about whether natural or cesarean birth is the best. If this is the final litter you want your pup to have, build a spaying plan for the future. 

Exercise Needs

Some vets recommend limiting strenuous exercise during the first 2 weeks of pregnancy and the last trimester. Try shorter, more frequent walks as your doggo pregnancy moves further along, making them less comfortable. 

Help Your Dog Navigate the House

In the late stages of your dog's pregnancy, your dog is going to be very uncomfortable and not nearly as mobile or agile as usual.

Consider a bed ramp for dogs that can help your dog make their way around the house and onto their favorite furniture without stressing their body. 

How To Prepare For Birthing and Pups

Near the end of your dog's pregnancy, you'll notice some other physical changes along with your growing dog's belly. 

Your pup's abdomen will, of course, grow and sway from side to side as they walk. A dog's nipples tend to enlarge, and may release some milky fluid. 

Set up a Whelping Box

Build your dog a whelping box to offer your dog a safe, clean spot for birthing and caring for her little ones in the first few days and weeks. 

You can make one yourself or purchase one specifically meant for whelping purposes. You want the mother to freely come and go while keeping the puppies contained to one spot.

Consider the placement location - some mama pups prefer a quiet, private area, away from a busy household's hectic pace. 

Introduce the box to your dog before they give birth so that they can become more comfortable with it. 

The Birthing Process

Once you begin to notice some signs of labor in dogs, the whole process takes 6-12 hours, on average. 

Puppies aren't born all at once but typically 45-60 minutes apart from each other. 

  • First, some contractions start in your dog as the cervix relaxes, though they usually aren't yet noticeable. Your dog may be restless and vomit. 
  • During the second stage, you'll notice frequent contractions leading to puppy birth. Expect 10-30 minutes of hard straining before each pup is born individually, around 1 hour apart. Some pups will come out tail first - this is normal and okay! If your dog strains for more than 60 minutes, take her to the vet. 
  • Once a puppy is born, the membrane around its mouth needs removing - if the mama doesn't do this, you'll need to assist. 
  • After birth, the mama pup will pass the placenta - get rid of that ugly greenish black mass!

Final Notes: After-Birth Care For The Mama

If all goes well, mama and pups will both be resting well after all of that work. Keep an eye on your doggy in the days and weeks to come to ensure she's recovering adequately from the process. 

Look for these signs of a potential problem:

  • Overly bloody discharge that has a bad-odor or looks like pus (some bloody discharge is normal)
  • A fever that doesn't go down after 48 hours post-birth
  • Fever, lack of appetite, lack of milk, lack of interest in the puppies may be signs of an inflamed uterus
  • Eclampsia, or calcium level issues, with symptoms like restlessness, muscle spasms, or even seizures
  • Infected breast tissue that's hard, red, and painful (some nursing soreness is normal)
  • Lack of milk production

If you notice any of these issues in your doggo, contact your vet for an appointment ASAP. 

Good luck to you and your pup on the pregnancy and birthing journey!

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