Dogs are pregnant for about 63 days or nine weeks, though this may vary by a few days depending on several factors. A veterinarian will be able to run tests to more accurately determine how far along the pregnancy is and when a dog will give birth.
Like with humans, we separate the dog gestation period into three trimesters, each lasting about 21 days.
While there are some outwards signs of pregnancy in dogs, it is difficult to determine whether a dog is pregnant without veterinary diagnostics, especially in the early stages, as there are several medical conditions that result in symptoms that are similar those that appear during pregnancy.
Here’s what you should know about dog pregnancy.
The Dog Gestation And Labor Period
For a female dog to get pregnant, she must first be in heat.
In dogs who haven’t had spay surgery, this happens about once every six months, and the heat cycle lasts for 18 to 21 days. A female dog will be receptive to males starting at about 9 days into the cycle, and they may get pregnant any time over the course of the next three to eleven days. Breeders keep track of these cycles and run tests to determine the optimum time for breeding.
When a dog becomes pregnant, the embryos start to travel through the uterine horn at around day seven. By day 16, the embryos embed in the uterine lining, and by day 22, the fetuses begin to form. From about day 28 to day 30, a vet will be able to see the heartbeats of the fetuses with an ultrasound.
The puppies’ eyelids start to form around day 32. Toes form around day 35, claws come in around day 40, and the coat and skeleton come in by around day 45. After day 50, a veterinarian can perform an x-ray to see the puppies’ skeletons and form an accurate count of how many to expect in the litter.
By around day 58, the puppies should be completely formed.
The mother dog will start looking for a place to nest and give birth. Labor should begin within the next three to four days. Labor happens in three stages and a veterinarian or someone with experience should supervise, as complications can occur.
The first stage of labor lasts from about twelve to 24 hours. During this time, contractions begin in the uterus, but there may be no outward signs of contractions yet. The mother may seem restless, refuse to eat, vomit, pant, or show other signs that labor has begun.
The mother dog gives birth to her puppies during the second stage of labor, which can take up to 24 hours. Usually the mother dog births a puppy every 30 to 60 minutes, but they should not take more than two hours each. It is helpful to rely on a vet’s x-rays to know the number of expected puppies so it is clear when stage two is complete.
The third stage of labor happens when the placenta appears, and it will likely occur at around the same time as stage two. Stage three is complete when the last of the placentas have been delivered, and it should be finished shortly after stage two has ended.
Symptoms Of Dog Pregnancy
In the earliest stages of a dog’s pregnancy, there will be very few outward signs. You may notice some weight gain, but there are several reasons a dog might gain weight that aren’t related to pregnancy.
Noticeable symptoms of pregnancy usually don’t appear until the third or fourth week. During this time, some dogs suffer from morning sickness, tiredness, or lack of appetite.
Again, other medical conditions result in similar symptoms, so it is important to consult a veterinarian if you suspect your dog is pregnant. Dogs who vomit due to pregnancy should be fed small meals throughout the day, rather than two larger meals.
Between the 25th and 28th day of pregnancy, a vet will be able to feel the belly to determine if puppies are on the way. Only a professional veterinarian should do this. If you try to feel for puppies on your own, you could harm the fetuses or cause a miscarriage.
Around day 40, the belly will start to expand.
The nipples may get darker and start to swell. It is normal for some milky fluid to be discharged from the nipples, and it shouldn’t cause you concern. You can check with your veterinarian if anything seems out of the ordinary.
During the final stages of pregnancy, the belly may start to sway when the mother dog walks. Around two weeks before she gives birth, you’ll probably be able to see and feel the puppies moving inside the mother’s belly.
For someone who is not a professional or does not have experience with pregnant dogs, the symptoms of pregnancy can be confused with other conditions, even at the later stages. Your veterinarian will be able to run several diagnostics to determine if your dog is pregnant for sure, and you should rely on their professional medical advice.
Veterinary Diagnostics To Tell If A Dog Is Pregnant
Because symptoms of dog pregnancy can mimic signs of other medical conditions, it is important to have your veterinarian run diagnostics if you suspect your dog is pregnant.
Your veterinarian will be able to perform some tests at several stages of the pregnancy and give you advice on how to care for and feed your pregnant dog. It is important to note that many medications and supplements are not recommended for pregnant dogs and may harm puppies, so make sure your vet is aware of anything you give your dog regularly so they can let you know what is safe.
By around day 28 of pregnancy, your veterinarian will be able to perform abdominal palpitations to determine if your dog is pregnant, and they can instruct you on how to feel for yourself. You should not attempt to do this on your own, as you can easily harm the fetuses or cause a miscarriage.
At this time, the fetuses will feel like small golf balls or grapes.
Between days 28 to 35, your vet can run an ultrasound and detect the heartbeats of the puppies. They will be able to provide an estimate of how many puppies to expect in the litter, but they will be able to give a more accurate reading once they can perform an x-ray later on in the pregnancy.
After around day 30, your vet will be able to give your dog a blood test to detect the hormone relaxin. Dogs’ bodies only release this hormone during pregnancy, so detecting it will accurately determine that your dog is pregnant.
It is only around day 45 to 55 that a vet can perform an x-ray to see the skeletons of the puppies and accurately determine the size of the litter. The closer this is done to the end of the pregnancy, the more accurate the count will be.
Preventing Dog Prengancy
If you have a female dog and you don’t wish for her to get pregnant, you should have her spayed as soon as possible after she reaches sexual maturity.
Your veterinarian can help you determine the right time to have this procedure done.
If you are absolutely opposed to spaying, you will need to take steps to make sure your female dog doesn’t come into contact with unaltered male dogs. This includes having a secure yard, being watchful in situations where other dogs are present, and staying vigilant for the remainder of your dog’s sexually mature life.
You should especially take care during your dog’s heat cycles, as their scent will attract males, and they will be receptive during this time.
Preventing dog pregnancy is important, as several hundred thousand shelter dogs are euthanized each year, and adding puppies to the pet population only increases that number. Even if you know you can find homes for all of your dog’s puppies, that still leaves several shelter dogs without the chance to find a loving home.
Please consider this when making a decision about whether or not to allow your dog to get pregnant.