Whether you are looking forward to the patter of tiny paws or have the unwelcome suspicion that your bitch may have been visited by the dastardly dog next door you need to be prepared.
How long are dogs pregnant for? In comparison to humans, dogs have a very short pregnancy, only around 2 months.
Although your dogs pregnancy can vary anywhere between 57 to 65 days the average term is 63 days.
The Heat Cycle
Around every 6 months a female dog will come ‘into season’. This is a fertile period that lasts up to 3 weeks and is also known as ‘being in heat’. If you want to avoid pregnancy it is advisable to walk your dog on a lead and if possible away from busy areas during this time.
If your bitch is not ready to mate and is approached by an interested dog she is more likely to snap and get into scuffles. Even if your bitch has ‘tied’ with a dog, don’t panic she may not be pregnant.
There are three stages of the Heat cycle and it’s the second stage that your bitch will be fertile. The heat cycle is divided into 3 stages and lasts on average 21 days.
In this first stage of the cycle you may notice small amounts of tan to red blood on your dogs bedding. This cycle lasts between 7-10 days and you may find your dog cleaning herself more often than before. If male dogs are close during this stage they will be very interested in your bitch but she will not be interested in them.
This stage lasts around 4-13 days and is when your bitch will be fertile. Her bleeding will stop but may be replaced by a yellowish discharge. She will be more tolerant of a male dogs interest so if you want to avoid an unwanted pregnancy this is the time to be extra vigilant.
In the final stage your bitch will become disinterested in mating again and is unlikely to fall pregnant even if mounted by a dog as she will no longer be fertile.
How can I tell if my dog is pregnant?
Unfortunately you may not notice any obvious signs at the beginning of the pregnancy and there isn’t a home pregnancy test for your dog. So here are a few things to look out for if you suspect there is a chance that your dog is expecting,
- Don’t expect many changes in the first month after mating although there may be a slight mucus discharge
- Your dog may experience the doggy equivalent of morning sickness
- Loss of appetite
- Increase in appetite
- After thirty days from first mating your dogs teats may become more prominent or change colour
- Weight gain
- Swollen tummy around the forty day mark
- Personality changes
If you suspect your dog is pregnant your vet can confirm it after around 20-25 days with either a pregnancy test that measures the level of relaxin, a hormone only produced by the placenta or by carrying out an ultrasound.
After a month your vet may be able to feel and count the puppies with a physical examination. Never be tempted to try and do this yourself and be advised that the count isn’t always accurate!
How do I know when my dog is due?
You may be wondering why there is such a difference in range for the pregnancy length. There are several factors that can affect the due date of your dog. Firstly, your dogs due date is calculated from the day she ovulates not from the day that she breeds. If you have not planned to breed your bitch you may not know when that was.
If your dog is carrying a small litter she has the potential to remain pregnant for slightly longer just because there is more room in the uterus. On the other hand if the litter size is large then the puppies may be delivered earlier as they run out of room sooner.
If you know the history of your dog and your dogs lineage it can provide useful clues as to how long your dogs pregnancy may last. However, this isn’t likely if you don’t have a pedigree dog or if the breeder hasn’t kept birth records for every litter they have produced.
Age and health of your dog
The optimal age for breeding is between 2 and 5 years. However this depends on breed type so it is worth getting expert advice. Breeding a dog that is too young or too old can effect pregnancy term. If you are unsure of any of the information that may help you determine an exact date then work to the average of 63 days.
How long are dogs pregnant for? – Week by week
Your bitch may suffer signs of morning sickness. You may also notice a light pink discharge that is no call for concern.
The newly fertilised cells begin to grow and separate forming embryos. The embryos begin to travel from high in the uterus where they were formed down to the uterine horns protected by uterine fluid.
The embryos begin to implant themselves into the uterine walls. The foetuses are less than a centimetre long and will be supplied with all the vital nutrients they need.
The growing embryos have now developed faces, eyes, ears and spine. This week is considered to be one of the most formative as the puppies are at their most vulnerable to damage.
Now officially classified as foetuses your puppies growth will begin to speed up. Toes, claws and whiskers begin to grow and they will develop into female or male pups. Amniotic fluid increases and your dogs weight will increase noticeably. If an ultrasound is being done then week 5 is usually when it is carried out.
You may begin to notice your dog will start to look pregnant. her tummy will start to bulge and her appetite will grow. The puppies will begin to develop their unique markings and colourings.
Your dog may begin to shed hair on her belly in preparation for the birth. Meanwhile the puppies are growing theirs and will appear almost fully formed.
Be prepared. Your dog may start to ‘nest’, seeking out a comfortable place where she won’t be disturbed. She may also begin to produce colostrum a yellowish fluid prior to her true milk in anticipation of the birth.
Your dogs appetite may drop and she may become quieter than usual. If you are comfortable monitoring her temperature then a drop of one degree below average signals the arrival of puppies within 24 – 48 hours.
What can I do to help?
Although most dogs are quite capable of producing puppies without help, here are a few things to consider that will ensure your bitch has the most comfortable pregnancy and delivery possible.
A well balanced diet
If your dog already has a well balanced diet there should be no need to introduce supplements. She will need more food than usual but may be unable to eat it at one sitting.
Offer her smaller more frequent meals and don’t be surprised if her food consumption doubles.
Provide a nest with clean linens or towels in a quiet place in the house. A warm room ideally between 24-25 degrees as puppies are unable to regulate their body temperature in the first week.
The earlier you create a safe place for her the more she will feel relaxed. It’s important to keep this area clean both before and after the puppies have arrived.
Worming your dog is important as it ensures that she will not infect the newborn puppies, however this should not be done in the first stages of pregnancy rather at the 4 and 6 week stages.
It’s important that your dog goes for checkups. Your Vet can help with any concerns you may have and also check on the health of your dog. Make sure their number is on hand.
Labour and birth
Around a day before going into labour your bitch may become restless. She may go off her food and become interested in the nest that you have provided.
She may pant more than usual and you may notice her producing a clear mucous discharge. Active contractions are next and vary from dog to dog.
Some dogs may pace while others remain calm and relaxed. Unless your dog seems highly distressed allow her to just make herself comfortable in whatever way she chooses. A thick, mucus like discharge coloured red is normal as the bitch strains.
The first puppy should be born within one to two hours of the start of the contractions. The puppies may be born completely covered by their placental membranes but the mother should naturally start to remove these by licking the puppies.
You can do this yourself if she does not by simply removing the membrane from the puppies mouth and nose using disposable gloves and clean hands.
There is usually a gap between puppies while the mother rests and this can be anything from fifteen minutes up to two hours. It is normal for some of the puppies (around 40%) to be delivered back feet first and for the mother to eat the placenta as soon as it is expelled.
Check on your dog every fifteen minutes to make sure that the process is going smoothly.
When to call the Vet
Although most dogs manage perfectly well without interference there are occasions when you should call your Vet.
- If your dog’s pregnancy lasts more than 65 days
- Your dog’s been in labour for more than 2 hours without producing a pup
- It’s been more than 2.5 hours since the last puppy but there are still more to come
- A puppy becomes stuck in the birth canal and your dog is unable to give birth
- A greenish discharge appears prior to or after 12 hours after giving birth
- Your dog experiences tremors, vomiting or excessive panting
Even if everything went smoothly it’s important to get both the mother and puppies checked by your Vet, ideally within a day or two of delivery.
There is very little for you to do once the mother is nursing her pups which she will usually do an hour or two after giving birth. She will continue to have a discharge for a few weeks after giving birth, called ‘lochia’. Lochia is normal and is the cell debris and blood after giving birth. It should appear to be greenish-black , brown or brick red and should be almost odourless. If it us unpleasant smelling or changes colour to a dull grey then consult your Vet.
Hygiene is really important as it will reduce the risk of infection and bacterial growth. Gently clean the mother with a wet cloth and make sure the bedding is changed frequently. Although she may be tired immediately after giving birth and sleep for several hours she should be bright and interested in her pups when she wakes.
Her food intake will still be high and it is a good idea to feed several times a day rather than just once or twice a day. Whelping takes a lot of energy from your dog so monitor her and her puppies closely for the first ten days.
Although mild diarrhoea, loss of appetite and panting are all common complaints that may be experienced by your dog after giving birth there are certain things you need to be aware of and get checked as soon as possible.
Metritis is an inflammation of the womb. If your dog is suffering from loss of appetite, vomiting, fever, dehydration, increased heart rate, dehydration and panting then she needs to be seen by a vet as she will need antibiotics. This condition can also affect the puppies as they may ingest toxins through the milk.
Mastitus is an infection of the mammary glands and will be very uncomfortable for your dog. If she is experiencing a fever or her milk is off colour then she should be seen by your Vet. Mastitus can prevent your dog feeding the pups because it is painful to have them nurse. Again antibiotics will need to be taken.
Eclampsia / Hypocalcaemia / Milk Fever
Eclampsia is caused by low calcium levels. Some dogs with milk fever lack the ability to move calcium into their milk without using their own blood levels of the mineral therefore depleting their own supplies. Eclampsia typically occurs between one to three weeks after giving birth and is potentially life threatening. If you notice that your dog is restless, walks with a stiff gait or wobbles and appears disorientated then seek veterinary help immediately. Death can occur rapidly so be vigilant.
Most dogs are capable of producing a healthy litter of puppies without too much help from us. Small breed dogs with large litters may need a bit more support and monitoring than most, but if you have a good relationship with your Vet then any potential problems can be dealt with quickly.
So what about the future? Whether you decide to keep the puppies or find loving homes they should stay with you for at least eight weeks and ideally ten. They will need to be treated for worms and fleas and have their initial vaccinations before moving on.
If the pregnancy was unplanned you may want to consider having your bitch spayed to prevent any future pups. If it was a planned pregnancy and a happy event then enjoy the puppies while you can and make sure that they get the best start to their lives with early socialisation to novel experiences.