Are you in need of a full guide on what to expect when your dog’s expecting? Look no further, we’ve got it all here, all about how to care for your pregnant dog before, during and after the birth of her new pups.
Here we’re talking about the period when you suspect your pooch is pregnant, what the signs of pregnancy are and how to prepare, and then we’ve got a whole other post about the actual birth and aftercare, which you can check out here.
A whole new litter of pups entering the world is incredibly exciting, but this excitement will probably be accompanied by some nerves and the overwhelming feeling of responsibility. By taking the right steps to prepare and care for your pregnant dog, you’ll help the mum-to-be feel a lot more comfortable and the arrival of the pups should go a lot smoother.
If you’re planning on breeding your dog, make sure you’re ready for the responsibility. Do your research to check that it’s the right thing to do, raising a litter is of course rewarding and exciting, but with this comes confusion, stress, time and expense.
Once you’re all set that you’re going to breed your dog, get her to the vet for a prenatal check-up. This involves checking the overall health of your dog to make sure she’s fit and healthy enough to go through a pregnancy and birth. Screenings also involve checking for genetic abnormalities, such as defects like hip dysplasia and genetic eye problems, alongside checking if the mum’s vaccination records are up to date. When the pups are born, if the mum is vaccinated herself they’ll get an element of immunity from her, so it’s important that she is fully vaccinated. It’s not believed to be totally safe to get your dog vaccinated during her pregnancy, so ensure this is checked off beforehand.
Stool samples will also be taken to check for any intestinal parasites such as roundworms and hookworms, as these can be passed on to the litter before they’ve even been born. Stay safe and make sure your dog is dewormed and fully checked over.
Overall, your dog’s pregnancy should typically last around 64 days, so about 2 months in total. Trying to calculate the exact date for delivery can be tricky however, the due date can vary by breed and the size of the litter. If you have planned your dog’s pregnancy, it’s a good idea to note down the date of mating and take them for an appointment 2-3 weeks after this date to see if she’s pregnant and get a roundabout estimate of when the pups will arrive. Surprisingly, if the mother was mated with two different sires in her fertile period, the litter of pups can actually be born to two different fathers!
Just the same as it is with people, dogs have a total of 3 trimesters, although the trimesters only last around 21 days each, significantly shorter than a human trimester.
Unlike a human pregnancy, checking whether a dog is pregnant or not is not as simple as buying a pregnancy test and waiting a few minutes for the results. Determining whether your dog is pregnant will rely mostly on various tests performed by the vet, but you’ll probably be able to notice some changes in your four-legged friend too which might make you suspect a pregnancy. Here are some of the signs you might notice if your dog is planning a new arrival:
Increase in appetite
Increase in nipple size
Nesting behaviour, digging, ripping and moving bedding around to create a den
Carrying items such as toys, socks and shoes around as if they’re her puppies
Aggression and protectiveness over various items
If you’ve not mated your dog, but they’re still experiencing these symptoms a few weeks after their season, it’s possible that they’re experiencing a phantom pregnancy. Essentially, this is where the hormones in your dog’s body trick them into thinking they’re actually pregnant. We’ve got a full post all about phantom pregnancies, what they are, why they happen and how to spot if it’s happening here.
Although the physical signs are pretty obvious, you’ll want to determine for sure if it’s definitely a pregnancy rather than a phantom pregnancy. There are a couple of different ways that your vet will confirm for sure if your dog is pregnant and if they are, an estimated litter size. The vet can identify a pregnancy through a number of methods, they can actually feel for the puppies in your dog’s tummy (palpations), use an ultrasound, take a blood test and conduct an x-ray scan too.
Abdominal palpations are when your vet actually feels the pregnant dog’s tummy in search of both an enlarged uterus and the presence of the unborn puppies themselves. This can be done at around the 30-day mark (about halfway through the pregnancy), and the pups will feel like little fluid-filled sacs that encircle the fetus.
Depending on the typical breed size of your pregnant pooch, these little sacs can differ in size, ranging from the size of a grape to as big as a ping pong ball! After a month, the sacs won’t maintain their shape so well, so you’ll probably only be able to get a good confirmation of pregnancy with this method at the 30-day mark. Never perform this test alone, you don’t want to cause any damage to the pups.
Just like human pregnancies, your dog can get an ultrasound to detect the pregnancy. This can usually be done between 25-35 days of gestation, which is the period of time between conception and birth.
The ultrasound is super handy, identifying the heartbeats of all those tiny little pups, providing you with a roundabout number of how many puppies to expect.
Your dog can also have a blood test to confirm the pregnancy, around 25-35 days after conception. The test measures your dog’s hormones, detecting if she’s creating a pregnancy hormone called relaxin. Relaxin is only ever produced during pregnancy, so if levels of it are present in your dog’s blood, it’s pretty much a definite that you’re going to be greeted with some new furry friends very shortly.
X-rays are a really effective way to determine a pregnancy. However, the issue is that they’re the most efficient around 55 days into the pregnancy, at which point you’re already likely to know that your dog is pregnant. They’re best done this late on as the puppies’ skeletons will have developed so they will be visible on the scan.
An x-ray can give you a much more precise number of how many puppies the mother is carrying, giving you the opportunity to prepare for the number of pups coming your way and it’ll also allow you to identify when your dog has finished giving birth when the time comes.
Nearing the end of your dog’s pregnancy, you’ll probably start noticing more significant changes, her breasts and nipples will become even bigger, she might start producing some milk in anticipation of her pups and her tummy will be majorly swollen. You might even start to see or feel the eager little pups moving around, ready to burst out and meet the world.
At this stage, you need to start preparing both you and your dog for the birth of a whole litter of pups. One of the most important ways to prepare is by setting up a ‘whelping box’. Whelping is just the term for when an animal gives birth, and a whelping box is an enclosed, secure and warm area where your dog will hopefully give birth. The aim is for your dog to feel safe and comfortable in the whelping box so that they naturally go to it when they go into labour.
You can get whelping boxes specifically, or you can make one yourself, it just needs to be draft-free, easy to clean and for the sides be low enough so the mother can get in and out of it with ease, but be tall enough so the pups won’t be able to escape. Choose carefully where you want to keep the whelping box, the perfect location will be safe, warm, quiet and accessible.
Make sure you’ve got the box prepared a while before the due date so your dog can get used to it. Put blankets and her favourite toys in the box and introduce her to it way before the birth with treats. This way, she’ll see it as a positive place to be. If she doesn’t get used to it before the birth, she might refuse to give birth there. Instead, she’ll choose somewhere like your bedroom, which isn’t uncommon!
Being well prepared is essential and there’s plenty of other things that would be useful during the birth. Here’s a list of items to stock up on:
Newspaper and paper towels lining the whelping box for easy clean up
Non-skid bathmats and towels to use as bedding after whelping is done
Fresh, clean towels to clean the puppies once they’re born
Thermometer so you can check their temperature before whelping. A drop in temperature is a sign that labour is imminent
Heat lamp in one corner of the box so pups can go to it if they’re cold or move away if they’re too warm
Iodine to clean
A scale to weigh each of the puppies
Emergency contact details and address of the vet in the event of an emergency
If this is yours and your dog’s first litter, do all the research and speak to your vet about how you can help your dog during the birth. Even though dogs can give birth pretty easily without needing any form of assistance, it’s important that you’re there to supervise, help make things run smoothly and help out in case of an emergency. We’ve got a full post all about the birthing process, how you can help and any possible complications that may occur for you to check out here.
Having an extra person there to help you and your dog is important. Get someone lined up that can help you out, having an extra pair of hands to assist you or even help keep the newborn puppies warm can make the world of difference.
Your pregnant pooch needs extra special care and attention during this tough time, she’s working super hard to look after multiple little pups, so you need to do your best to help look after her.
Even though she might be tired, and understandably so, your dog will still need her exercise. In the early stages of pregnancy, you’ll probably be able to continue pretty much as normal with your dog’s regular exercise routine, unless it’s incredibly strenuous then you might want to tone it down slightly. Once her tummy starts to swell with the presence of several puppies, you need to keep exercise gentle, even more so during her final trimester. Keep walks short, and possibly more frequent if possible.
Your dog will get used to the vet during her pregnancy, you want to visit regularly to make sure both herself and the pups are healthy. Before the big day, your vet will be looking to identify any anatomical and health concerns that could inhibit your dog’s pregnancy or prevent a smooth birth. For example, dogs such as French Bulldogs often have issues with birth, as brachycephalic breeds such as the Frenchie tend to have a very large head. This can cause complications in birth that need to be considered prior to whelping.
Your pooch being pregnant is an exciting time, even though it’s extremely nerve-wracking. With all the right research and preparation, you and your dog should be well prepared to make sure the new litter of pups have a smooth arrival into the world.
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.