- Confirm your pet is indeed pregnant — Once you’ve checked off the telltale signs, consult your veterinarian to confirm the pregnancy and seek advice about to expect for the two months ahead.
- Prepare for whelping — You’ll need some supplies to prepare for canine labor and delivery, also known as whelping, including a birthing box.
- Labor and delivery may take anywhere from one to 24 hours — Potential complications may lengthen or shorten the whelping process.
If you just found out your dog is pregnant, understanding the basics of canine labor and delivery, including care before and after the new babies are born, is vital to ensure a safe and responsible birth.
Signs of pregnancy in dogs
Look out for these indicative signs of pregnancy in dogs and give your vet a call.
- Increased appetite. It’s common to notice increased appetite in pregnant or nursing female dogs, but this can also be a sign of illness if accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, or seizures.
- Weight gain. Dogs will normally gain 15%-20% of their normal weight during pregnancy with noticeable changes around day 40.
- Enlarged nipples. A female dog’s nipples will begin to swell as the due date nears. This is a sign she is preparing to nurse.
- Swollen belly. A swollen belly may be a result of pregnancy, but it may also be a sign of something more dangerous, such as free fluid in the abdomen secondary to heart failure, a large abdominal mass, or bloat.
- Low energy levels. It’s common for a female dog to become fatigued and spend more time napping when pregnant.
- Nesting behavior. If a dog is pregnant and preparing for puppies, she may gather materials (and even shred blankets or other items) to build a nest. This typically occurs about 48 hours before birth.
- Irritable moods. Your dog will likely become moody and irritable as she nears birth, and may retreat for alone time.
How to confirm your dog is pregnant
Though there are certain telltale signs of pregnancy, some of the conditions listed above may be related to life-threatening problems. Your vet will conduct one or more of the following to confirm whether your dog is indeed pregnant.
Palpation is the traditional method of pregnancy detection and is best conducted between weeks three and five of the pregnancy. During palpation, your vet will use their fingers to gently press on the surface of the dog’s abdomen and feel for swelling indicative of developing puppies. However, this method is only viable in cooperative dogs. If a dog is nervous, their abdomen will become tense and the vet may have trouble feeling the uterus.
Abdominal ultrasound is ideally used to confirm pregnancy and detect puppies’ heartbeats after day 30 of pregnancy. Though it is considered the most reliable way of detecting and monitoring pregnancy, an ultrasound may miss signs of pregnancy if your vet does it too early.
Hormone tests, such as those with the hormone Relaxin, can diagnose pregnancy between days 22 and 27, though your vet will likely repeat tests after seven to 10 days following a false negative. Relaxin levels in pregnant dogs tend to be high throughout pregnancy and then decline toward the end.
Abdominal X-rays are another common way to detect pregnancy during the final trimester of gestation usually around day 47 as the skeletons of the puppies will be developed enough to view on an x-ray.
👉 Costs associated with pregnancy typically aren’t covered by pet insurance, but it’s a good idea to explore coverage if your family is expecting new arrivals. More dogs may mean more expenses — Find the right pet insurance for you based on your pet’s breed, age, and location.
How long are dogs pregnant?
Dogs are typically pregnant for an average of 63 days, but it can be difficult to predict the time of delivery if the breeding date doesn’t match the date of conception. Pregnancy length may also vary depending on your dog’s breed and litter size.
Dog pregnancy timeline
Vets often examine different stages of canine pregnancy the way obstetricians and gynecologists approach trimesters in human pregnancies.
In the first 21 days of your dog’s pregnancy, you may notice increased appetite, weight gain, vaginal discharge, increased urination, possible morning sickness, and a more cuddly pup.
During the second trimester, your dog may experience increased urination, a swollen belly, an increased appetite followed by a decrease in appetite, mood swings, and vaginal discharge. Puppy development also begins and rapidly increases during this second trimester, particularly around day 30. This is when an abdominal ultrasound may detect heartbeats. Around day 40, puppies will develop organs and eyelids, and soon after, the skeleton and coat.
Around day 50 of gestation, you will likely be able to find out how many puppies there are. Your dog may experience loss of appetite, decreased body temperature, and restless behavior. You may also notice movement inside the abdomen as puppies graduate to the birth canal to prepare for whelping.
Caring for a pregnant dog
When you have a pregnant dog in your care, it’s essential to keep them and the new puppies safe and healthy before, during, and after whelping to limit complications and ensure a successful birth.
Keep proper nutrition in mind — Good nutrition lays the foundation for a successful pregnancy and birth, and this is especially necessary to address before pregnancy if your female dog is overweight or obese. Weight problems can make whelping more difficult and result in decreased milk production. Note that weight loss is not recommended during pregnancy. Underfeeding your dog to help her lose weight can result in abnormal development, stillbirth, and other unfavorable outcomes. A general rule of thumb is to feed your pregnant dog the nutritional recommendations of a high-quality young adult dog during the first two trimesters before switching to a more digestible product geared for puppy growth and development in the final trimester.
Consider daily exercise — Experts recommend non-strenuous daily exercise, such as a short walk or a light game of fetch, for pregnant dogs to avoid lethargy, especially if the dog is overweight or obese.
Schedule routine vet visits — While your dog is pregnant, they’ll need regular vet visits for deworming, heartworm prevention, flea control, and other general care.
Prepare for labor and delivery — Plan for the whelping process by learning about the various stages of labor and delivery, as well as what to do if potential complications arise. You’ll also want your dog to become familiar with the area where they will give birth before labor, as unfamiliar surroundings may adversely affect maternal instincts.
👉 Pet insurance may cover some pregnancy-related complications, such as an emergency C-section, which can cost up to $4,000. Read your pet insurance policy so you know what is and isn’t covered.
Know the three stages of canine labor and delivery
Whelping can be divided into three stages, and it may take anywhere from one to 24 hours. Potential complications, such as hyperglycemia, may lengthen or shorten the labor and delivery process.
Stage 1. In the first 12 to 24 hours, your female dog’s cervix will begin to dilate and they will have contractions, though these will not become visible until the second stage. It’s common for dogs in this stage to appear restless and refuse to eat. You may also notice heavy panting, vomiting, and clear vaginal discharge.
Stage 2. During stage two, which can potentially last up to 24 hours, your dog’s contractions will become visible and she will deliver the puppies in intervals of approximately one to two hours. Your dog may alternate between stages two and three, the latter of which involves the delivery of each puppy’s placenta.
Stage 3. During the third stage, your dog will deliver each puppy’s placenta, sometimes together with the puppy and sometimes separate
Common complications during canine labor and delivery
Dystocia, or abnormal labor and delivery, can occur when contractions are either too weak or infrequent for adequate delivery and may lead to prolonged labor. To treat dystocia, a veterinarian may inject calcium or oxytocin to help weak uterine contractions. In some cases, a cesarean section may be performed to remove the babies. Other complications include stillbirth or maternal distress.
A supply list for labor and delivery
You’ll want to speak with your veterinarian or a reputable breeder for recommended supplies. Below are some general tips or items to invest in to ensure a smooth labor and delivery.
- Emergency contact information. Always have your veterinarian’s phone number and contact information for a nearby emergency veterinary clinic.
- Assistance. It’s good to have at least one person with you to assist during the process.
- Birthing box. Get your dog comfortable with a safe, draft-free, pre-made whelping box or DIY birthing box. The box should have soft but not overly plush bedding (towels or disposable whelping pads work well) and should be situated in a secure area with accessible food and water for the mother . An exercise pen or even an empty small children’s plastic swimming pool could work.
- Cleanup items. For easy cleanup, line your box with newspaper and plastic garbage bags, and keep paper towels nearby. Dry, clean towels can also be used to clean puppies after birth.
- Digital thermometer. Buy a digital thermometer to keep track of your dog’s temperature before birthing.
- Disposable exam gloves. Wear disposable exam gloves before, during, and after whelping.
- Surgical scissors: Use sterilized stainless-steel surgical scissors with blunt tips to cut the umbilical cords.
- Unwaxed dental floss. Once the cords are cut, you can use unwaxed dental floss to tie off the umbilical cords.
- Iodine. After birth, wash the puppies’ abdomens with dilute iodine and clean, dry towels, and cut the umbilical cords.
- A suction device. You can use a suction device like a bulb syringe to clean puppies’ noses and mouths.
- Warmth for puppies. Use a heat lamp, hot water bottle, or heating pads to keep the puppies warm, but keep the heat low at all times to prevent thermal burns, as newborn pups are very sensitive to heat.
You may also want to keep a dog first aid kit nearby, as well as a scale (in ounces) to record puppies’ birth weight.
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Make sure your dog is eating and drinking well, and keep her clean. You will also want to keep her confined with the puppies to encourage nursing. However, if she tries to injure them or doesn’t let them nurse, you may need to bottle feed the puppies with pre-approved powdered milk.
Please consult your veterinarian before bottle feeding and especially if you notice the mother dog has a fever, loss of appetite, lack of interest in puppies, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, or decreased milk production. Common health problems associated with mothers after whelping include metritis, eclampsia, and mastitis.
Frequently asked questions
How many months are dogs usually pregnant?
Dogs are typically pregnant for approximately two months, but it can be difficult to predict the time of delivery if the breeding date doesn’t match the date of conception. Pregnancy length may also vary depending on breed and litter size.
How long does it take for a dog’s body to return to normal after pregnancy?
It may take several weeks for a dog’s body to return to its size before the first heat cycle.
How can you tell if a dog is pregnant?
Increased appetite, lactation, weight gain, or swelling of the belly are all signs that your dog may be pregnant. However, some dogs can have a false pregnancy where they have all the classic signs of pregnancy but are not pregnant. To confirm pregnancy, your vet will likely conduct one or more of the following procedures: abdominal palpation, an abdominal ultrasound, X-rays, or hormone tests.
When should I call my vet during the labor process?
If labor goes longer than 24 hours without any pushing, call your vet as they may need to intervene. You should also reach out if you notice your dog is straining between deliveries with prolonged intervals of more than two to four hours between births. Remember to conduct routine veterinary visits throughout the pregnancy.