How Long Do Dogs Stay Pregnant? (What You Need To Know)
If you have a pregnant dog, it’s important to understand how her body works, so you can give her the care she deserves while she’s getting ready to have all her little fur babies. It can be stressful for both of you, but if you’re well-prepared, it can also be pretty stinkin’ magical. So here’s some info about dog pregnancy and how you can prepare to help you dog bring some new pups into the world.
First, how to tell if your dog is pregnant already:
How’s the pregnancy actually happen?
For the most part, it’s better to wait until a dog is at least two years old before allowing her breed. You want to make sure her body is fully developed and can handle the strain of giving birth to a litter of puppies.
Female dogs normally go into heat twice per year, with each cycle lasting approximately 21 days. A mature female dog may go into heat every six months, although it’s common to skip some cycles.
The period is characterized by a swollen vulva, a bloody discharge and mood changes. It’s important to note here that these changes only mark the beginning of a dog’s heat period; they do not mean she’s ready to mate.
You may notice male dogs drawn to her, although she may not show interest until the phase is completed (usually about 6-10 days afterward). If she does show interest, she won’t be subtle about things - you may see her elevate her hindquarters and move her tail to one side when a male dog approaches. If you don’t want your dog to get pregnant, keep an eye on her around this time; this is when she’s most likely to get knocked up!
How long is a dog’s gestation period?
A female dog’s gestation period typically lasts between 58-68 days. Vets can usually tell if your dog is pregnant or not about a month after breeding by feeling her abdomen, giving her an ultrasound or taking blood tests. Of course, even if you don’t take her to a vet, her tummy will start to bulge as she gets more and more pregnant.
Typically, the mama dog can carry anywhere between one and a dozen pups in her belly. The size of the litter is somewhat unsurprisingly dependent on the size of the breed. A Great Dane will simply have the capacity to carry a bigger litter than, say a Chihuahua or a toy breed.
What happens during a dog’s pregnancy?
During the first month of pregnancy, you probably won’t notice much. That said, some of the early signs may include behavioral changes, such as decreased levels of activity, reduced appetite, and a tendency to want to be left alone. You may also notice a few physical changes, like enlarged nipples.
However, as the pregnancy progresses, your dog’s stomach will start to grow—just like a human’s would. When the delivery date starts getting really close, she’ll probably start to produce a bit of milk, too.
As they start to prepare for the arrival of puppies, most dogs tend to exhibit some pretty specific behavioral changes. This is particularly prevalent on the last two weeks before delivery.
The most common is a behavior called nesting. She might start shredding the carpet (or paper, or whatever other shred-able stuff you have lying around) to create the space to give birth. She might also become restless and irritable, and she might develop some problems with incontinence.
What about the embryos?
Embryos begin to take shape after 32 days, during which the eyelids and the face start to form. By day 35, you can see little puppy toes, and the bones and coat begin to form around the 45-day mark. By day 50, the skeletons are well formed enough that a veterinarian can count the pups with an x-ray.
Around the 60th day, most dogs start looking for a place to nest. If you’re her human, it’s up to you to prepare a place for her to deliver her babies. The place should be clean, comfortable and safe. Most dogs also like their birthing area to be private.
You can be a bit proactive when your dog enters the nesting phase of pregnancy by creating what is known as a whelping box. This is a self-contained area that you can train your dog to use when the time to birth draws near, provided you put it in a secluded place and ensure it’s as comfortable as possible. In some cases, you can use her traveling case for this purpose - just make sure you have a blanket nearby to give your dog and her brood some post-partum privacy.
What kind of nutrition and exercise needs do dogs need when they’re pregnant?
During the first half of her pregnancy, it’s a good idea add high protein foods to the dog’s diet. Chicken, beef, liver and eggs are good sources of such proteins. During the last 5 weeks, you need to feed her quite a bit more than usual—up to twice the amount that she normally eats.
It’s also important that she gets regular exercise (just like normal); however, as she gets closer to her delivery date, she’ll get tired a lot more easily, so don’t plan any crazy long walks for her. Instead, shoot for gentle play and slow walks.
What should I do if my dog is giving birth?
Even though your dog will want to give birth in a secluded place, you may feel compelled to be nearby just to be there for your four-legged friend. Typically, this is unnecessary, as dog birthing typically goes off without any issues. But if you feel compelled to be near your dog, there are a few things you should prepare yourself for.
The first thing you’ll need to do is to be mindful that a dog’s birth is in some ways radically different from a human birth. You are going to see things that, quite frankly, may look a bit weird from a person’s point of view. But don’t freak out when these things happen - your dog is going to be going through quite a lot on her own and doesn’t need your histrionics.
One of those perceived “oddities” is a green sac of fluid that initially exits the dog’s vulva. This is akin to the amniotic fluid that surrounds a newborn human baby prior to birth. You will start seeing puppies emerge within this sac.
When the puppies are birthed, you will see them come out either headfirst or butt first. Again, don’t be alarmed and assume this is a bad thing simply because it is a red flag in the human world - it is perfectly fine for puppies to come into this world “backwards.” It is also totally fine to see the pups listless and quiet in the few moments after the birth.
Immediately after the birth, you’ll want to refrain from engaging with your new mama pooch for a while. Allow her some breathing room so she can stand up and pace around if need be. In a way, she’ll be acting on instinct during this time.
These instincts will lead her to open the sac, lick the newborns to clean them, and cut the umbilical cord herself. However, you can expedite this process if you wish by gently rubbing each newborn pup with a fresh cloth. This action will help them “wake up,” and they will start moving and crying.
The one time you can jump into help the mama deliver her pups is if you notice that she’s struggling with a dog that seems stuck in her birth canal. In order to do so, you’ll want to gingerly take hold of the puppy with a clean cloth and steadily, carefully extract. Make sure the movements here are very deliberate, as any sudden pulls or jerks could spell disaster.
When all the babies are delivered, you will want to step aside and give the new mother some much-deserved rest. It will take a few hours for her contractions to gradually cease and things to return back to normal. If she delivered some of her litter in rapid succession, this recovery process may end up taking a little bit longer.
How should I care for my dog after her pregnancy?
Gentleness is the name of the game when it comes to taking care of your dog after she’s given birth. It’s important to examine her nipples to ensure no infection has crept in, and you can even wipe the area surrounding her nipples with a warm damp cloth to keep things clean. You’ll also want to keep an eye out on her puppies’ nails, being sure to carefully clip them if it looks like they are going to potentially scratch and irritate her skin.
You can expect to see your dog produce soft poop in the days following the birth. Additionally, she may produce some residual blood clots and vaginal discharge for about a week. You may also catch her noshing on her puppies’ poop, although this is indicative of post-partum behavior and will not cause any actual damage to her.
With that being said, there really isn’t a whole lot that you need to do in order to care for the mom - she will know how to handle the situation through her own instinct. In fact, she might end up acting very territorial and aggressive if you try to come around to help too often. Don’t let this get you down, either - eventually, this kind of behavior will cease as the puppies grow.
The first few weeks of a puppy’s life can move very rapidly. You’ll want to take the pups to the vet for de-worming at 3 weeks, which is around the same time you’ll want to start them on the weaning process. Once the pups hit the 6 to 8-week stage, they will be ready to be adopted into a new home.
Caring for a pregnant dog can be weird, tough, exhausting and stressful. But it can also be amazing, magical, and fun. And hey, there’s nothing better than a litter of brand new puppies, right?!
Image credit: Hernan Mojarro