Table of Contents
- How to Tell if Your Dog is Pregnant
- How Long Do Female Dogs Stay in Heat?
- How Long are Dogs Pregnant (Gestation Period)?
- How to Care for a Pregnant Dog
- Preparing for the Birth (of Puppies!)
- What to do When Your Dog Gives Birth
- How to Care for Your Dog After She Gives Birth
“Honey, I think Fluffy is pregnant.”
Those little words can evoke emotions that run the gambit from anger (“Who let her out?”) to fear (“Great – what do we do now?”) to excitement (“Puppies! There’s gonna be puppies everywhere!”).
You may have a number of questions running through your head like…
- “How do I know if my dog is pregnant?”
- “How long does it take a dog to have puppies?”
- “How do I care for my pregnant dog?”
- “How many puppies will my dog have?”
- “What are some signs of dog labor?”
- “How long does a dog stay in labor?”
But before you panic, and the puppies come, there are a few things you need to know to be as equipped as possible to handle the adventure – and we’re here to help!
How to Tell if Your Dog is Pregnant
If your beloved female has gotten tangled up with the neighbor’s dog while in heat, it’s a pretty safe bet that there’s a litter of fluffballs coming your way.
But, like humans, dogs still need confirmation – and unfortunately, that doesn’t happen 15 minutes after conception.
An appointment should be scheduled with your vet for about 3 weeks after breeding.
During this wait, it’s a good time to discuss with your family the options for the puppies if she is pregnant
Or this close call might help decide if you want puppies in the future or if you should consider spaying. There are numerous health benefits to spaying, which can be found on the Humane Society website.
Also, you can observe changes in your dog that might confirm pregnancy;
Signs Your Dog is Pregnant
- Appetite: This might be either a decrease or an increase. It’s also possible to notice cravings for certain snacks or flavored chew toys. The increase can set in quickly, while the canine version of “morning sickness” and the accompanying loss of appetite may take a couple weeks.
- Behavior: This will run the gambit of becoming excessively clingy to avoiding any contact or interaction altogether. The key here is that it will be out of the ordinary for your girl.
- Physical: In the earliest stages, the most prominent change will be the nipples; they will begin to change to a darker pink hue, and begin to enlarge. In a previously unbred female, the surrounding area which was flat will start to rise. In either case, the breast development will be noticeable in the second week or so.
How Long Do Female Dogs Stay in Heat?
Like any species, the fertility cycle of canines can be pretty tricky to navigate. There are two important timing factors to keep in mind: duration and fertility.
Total duration can be between 2 and 4 weeks.
During this time you will be aware of all the “signs” that typically go with a dog being in heat; she will be more alert and restless, her vulva will be swollen, she will experience more frequent urination – which could lead to accidents – and bleeding.
No matter when the bleeding stops, consider your dog as still in heat until her vulva returns to normal size.
The fertility phase may run the entire length of the heat cycle or just the last week or two.
This is generally marked by the female being overtly receptive to males, for example whining, lifting her rump in the air, and moving her tail to the side.
A careful observation of your dog’s behavior will not only reveal her fertility but some of her personality – when my German Shepard was in heat she ignored all the males in the neighborhood with the exception of the large male German Shepard a few blocks away.
Then my prim and proper girl turned into a shameless flirt!
However, you must remain vigilant from one cycle to the next; fertility cycle that starts after 2 weeks in one heat may not be the same in the next.
How Long are Dogs Pregnant (Gestation Period)?
Puppies are coming – but when? That’s the question of every expectant parent.
The typical gestation period is 65 to 75 days from conception to birth. This is roughly 9 weeks, and is pretty fast for mama to make from 3 to 12 squirming bundles of love.
Unless you’re a breeder, this is usually a good timeframe to use to make sure you are prepared for the big event.
Breeding, however, is a completely different story and often involves a carefully planned breeding and numerous hormone tests before and after insemination.
The last few days before delivery are often marked with changes in behavior, so you shouldn’t be surprised.
How to Care for a Pregnant Dog
Dogs are pretty self-sufficient, so as long as you’re careful about their nutritional needs and keep the stress at a minimum, caring for a pregnant dog really isn’t all that different from any other time.
Unless you’ve been to the vet for pregnancy verification and instructions, there’s one critical care need that you might miss: deworming.
Worms are fascinating little buggers. Almost every canine everywhere actually carries worm eggs, dormant and encysted in muscle, organs, and tissue.
As the embryos begin to develop, more and more resources are pulled from mom’s body. This is how a worm-free dog can give birth to a litter of puppies infested with roundworms or hookworms.
A typical worming schedule would be at 4 weeks, then every week after. After birth, mom and puppies should be wormed at 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks.
Make sure you use a dewormer appropriate for pregnant and lactating dogs and puppies. If in doubt, see your veterinarian or local pet store.
What to Feed a Pregnant Dog
A balanced diet is important for any dog, in any life stage. But unlike the human counterparts, there aren’t the late night cravings and midnight taco runs.
For the first half of gestation, your dog’s regular food is fine – as long as it’s well balanced. If you’re not sure, consult with your vet or local pet store.
There’s no need to overfeed her, and try to control giving your soon-to-be-mom too many scraps and treats.
During the second half, post-natal nutrition will be essential.
Before birth she will gain up to 30% of her weight between her weight and the puppies.
It’s generally recommended to convert over to puppy food for the last half of the pregnancy for the mom, and as the pups begin weaning they can start nibbling on it.
She will have an increased nutritional demand and less room for her meals, so you should consider smaller frequent meals, about 50% more than her usual serving.
If she is a single dog, then grazing may be a good option – especially after birth when her growing puppies demand more nourishment.
You should make sure that her food is high in fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA. Studies show that these fatty acids help in brain development, just as in humans, so look for fish oil in the ingredients.
Never feed your pregnant dog human supplements.
If you’re concerned about calcium, for example, an occasional spoonful of cottage cheese will suffice.
How to Exercise a Pregnant Dog
Any woman can tell you that labor is hard work. It’s no different for your dog.
Her health and fitness will go a long way in easing the pain of labor.
A consistent routine of walking is best; several short walks a day close to home will keep her fit and avoid boredom.
The closer to delivery, the shorter the walk should be.
Carefully observe her behavior – if she doesn’t want to go for a walk don’t force her.
About 24 hours before birth she may be restless but not want to go far from the whelping box.
Avoid stress as much as reasonably possible.
If you know the neighbor walks their dogs at a set time, then change your schedule. Try to avoid other dogs and walking past houses with wild barkers.
If your dam (non-spayed female dog) is a chaser, plan to walk after you see another dog has gone past – they should have gotten all the attractive nuisances out of the way.
Preparing for the Birth (of Puppies!)
The time is getting close, so unless you want your closet and favorite shoes to be ground zero, you need to have a plan.
Although it sounds mysterious and expensive, a whelping box is really no more than a fancy name for a 4-sided area for mom to do her thing.
Got a closet you don’t need for a few weeks? Open the door, put an 18” piece of wood across the doorway, and presto! You’ve got a whelping box.
How about a corner in the kitchen? Box it in and you’re all set.
Can you do without the spare bathroom for a few weeks?
How about that old plastic kiddie pool?
She will let you know a couple weeks beforehand, if you’re observant. She might start laying in a particular area, or even dragging her blanket over to that spot.
Once you decide on an area, place the whelping box there and move her favorite toys in there.
You can get her used to the area through treat bribery and moving her personal bedding in there mixed with the additional towels or blankets for whelping.
If you choose to put her bed in there you must remove it a few days before birth, making sure to leave the added bedding, as the bed will be ruined (or use bedding made for whelping).
The same goes for towels and blankets you use – the first set or two after birth will need to be discarded.
That being said – she’s going to be in labor and have anywhere from 3 to 10 or more puppies and clean up after them. Don’t be stingy on the towels and blankets.
Create a Whelping Box:
You can purchase a whelping box relatively inexpensively (this one is basically just a kiddie play pool with a whelping pad), build one from scrap lumber kicking around the garage from plans found here, or modify an area in your home.
They will all serve the same purpose.
No matter your choice, it’s essential that the area is considered with the future mom in mind.
The space should be away from the general flow of household traffic, but not necessarily dark, and in a temperature controlled area.
The sides should be high enough to keep the puppies in and avoid drafts, but low enough for mom to go over. You want her to have easy access to the outside as well as her food and water.
Make sure the bottom and sides are lined with vinyl or other waterproof material to make clean-up easy.
It’s a good idea to have an excessive supply of the bedding in the whelping box. Before she goes into labor take two thirds of it out so after birth you can discard the first set, and the remaining will have moms scent on it and be a nice, clean place for the new family.
Changing it every day or so afterwards, and you should be able to launder and reuse these; rinse them off before going in the washer and NO bleach, warm water with gentle soap and double rinse.
Oh, and you might want to google some videos of dogs giving birth. Trust us – you will be glad you did.
What to do When Your Dog Gives Birth
Ah, the blessed event has started. Now what? If she isn’t in her whelping box, gently get her there – fast.
First off, don’t panic.
Seriously – don’t panic.
Dogs have been giving birth on their own for thousands of years, so trust their instincts.
Have the vet’s number on speed dial, just in case.
Stay near her but for heaven’s sake don’t crowd her. Remember – she’s in labor with no drugs. Got it?
Also, this is a beautiful act of nature that the kids or other family members may want to watch.
Try not to let more than one other person in at a time to watch, being quiet and keeping their hands to themselves.
Second, have on hand with a very small garbage can with liner, a roll of paper towels, and a couple soft towels.
As the puppies are born, mama will break apart the sack and some placenta will be expelled behind the puppy.
While it’s perfectly natural for her to eat these, if you can get it away and into the garbage can it’s always best.
After the puppy is born, use the towel to move the newborn off to the side but in full sight of mom. This will keep them safe while she continues to birth the rest of the litter.
Your dog should go outside after the last puppy is born, but you may have to coax her. Definitely don’t force her or pull her if she doesn’t want to go.
She needs to go but the urge to stay with the babies will be fighting her bladder. When she’s ready she will go – just be prepared to move quick to open doors.
How to Care for Your Dog After She Gives Birth
The soft fur, the tiny licks, the adorable yawns – what’s not to fall head over heels in love with?
But while mama can take care of those fluffy jellybeans, it’s your job to take care of her.
Like any nursing mother it’s important to ensure she’s getting ample nutrition.
The dam needs to have unlimited access to high quality puppy food while she’s nursing.
Once the pups are fully weaned, then you can slowly bring her back to her standard feeding amount.
She also needs to have fresh water, outside but next to the puppy area, which is changed several times a day.
As programmed by her creator, she will be constantly cleaning up after her puppies.
Needless to say, it’s rather gross. She will need to drink more water, and will also be contaminating it.
Keep an eye on the new mother for signs of fatigue in addition to malnutrition.
The more puppies in the litter the more it will take a toll on her to feed and care for them.
After a couple weeks, make a bed for her next to the whelping box so she can get some rest but still be close to the puppies.
Examine her daily, especially her nipples, for sign of injury or distress.
Also, pay attention to the post-birthing discharge.
It will range from red to brown, and may even be greenish for the first day or two.
If it turns black or lasts more than two weeks, call your veterinarian.
Remember that she will be keeping herself clean as well as her puppies so you will have to be intentional about checking.
It’s best to speak to your vet 12-24 hours after birthing.
Depending on the breed, they may need a vet check and it’s important that you’re schooled on puppy care for the first few weeks.
After about 4 weeks, the puppy fun begins!