How Long is Canine Gestation? Signs and Stages of Dog Pregnancy

Wondering if your best friend might be getting ready to have a litter of puppies? Here are 10 tips to help you determine whether or not your female dog is pregnant, early in her potential gestation period.

New mother, luna, 2 hours after giving birth
New mother, luna, 2 hours after giving birth

How Long Is Dog Pregnancy?

Gestation, the period from conception to birth, in dogs, averages 63 days from the day of ovulation. However, expecting mothers may begin labor anywhere from day 56 to 66 from the date of ovulation. To obtain an accurate date of conception, ovulation may be timed by testing progesterone levels in the female dog during her heat cycle.

As the female nears ovulation the progesterone levels will begin to rise. Prior to coming in season, serum progesterone levels in the female dog are low, less than 2ng (ng=nanograms). As the heat cycle continues, progesterone levels will slowly climb to a level of 5ng, upon which ovulation occurs. Once the eggs are released, it will take approximately 2 days for the eggs to mature and be ready for fertilization. In instances where labor begins prior to 56 days from ovulation, the fetuses will not be fully developed nor will the puppies be viable.

Timing The Dog’s Breeding:

If your stud dog is not readily available, you will need to time the ovulation of your female for either travel, shipment of fresh chilled semen for artificial insemination (AI) or surgical implant or shipment of frozen semen for surgical implant. Progesterone testing is required for frozen semen implantation and is highly recommended for artificial insemination, and can give you an exact date of fertilization.

Depending on your vet and your area of the country, progesterone testing usually costs $75.00 per test plus any overnight shipping costs to laboratories. Most reproductive vets will be able to test the progesterone serum levels in house, saving you the cost of shipping and returning results the same day. You can expect to run anywhere from 3-5 progesterone tests to get an accurate ovulation date. In maiden bitches that ovulate late in their cycle, you may find that as many as 7 tests are required before you see the rise in progesterone. Once you have had a successful pregnancy with your female, you can narrow the testing range based on the results of the previously tested cycle.

The First Month of Pregnancy in Dogs

During the first few weeks of gestation there will be few signs of pregnancy. Some females may experience temperament changes, becoming more affectionate and more closely tied to their favorite human.

She may experience an increase in appetite, or morning sickness at around 3-4 weeks after conception. Morning sickness is caused by the effects of progesterone, combined with the stretching and distention of the uterus and results in lack of appetite and in some instances vomiting. It may last only a few days or it can last for several weeks.

In instances where the morning sickness is extended, breeders may find themselves preparing cooked ground beef or mixing peanut butter with kibble to encourage appetite. Feeding small meals spaced throughout the day may help alleviate the symptoms.

Prenatal Care Quiz

When do you worm a pregnant dog

  • Never - it might harm the puppies
  • 4 Weeks into the pregnancy and again after whelping
  • 4 weeks into pregnancy and once a week thereafter
  • Every week of the pregnancy and daily after 48 days
See results without voting

Dog Pregnancy Tests

If you are anxious to know if your dog is pregnant as soon as possible, there are several methods that can be employed. After 21 days following ovulation, ultrasounds may be used to determine if there are any fetuses in the uterus. This is a noninvasive procedure that is safe for the puppies and does not require the mother be sedated. The count is not always accurate and as the pregnancy progresses and the fetuses grow, it becomes more difficult to obtain an accurate puppy count. Fetuses on the ultrasound will appear as dark circles on the gray screen.

A less accurate and less expensive method of testing for pregnancy is palpitation of the abdomen. This should only be performed by an experienced vet or breeder. Overly aggressive handling of the developing fetuses can damage them or cause a miscarriage. The developing fetuses will be evenly spaced throughout each of the two horns of the uterus. Fetuses will be about the size of walnuts depending on the size of the breed. Palpitation may be performed 28 days after the last breeding; it may not give an accurate count, but can indicate that the female is carrying puppies. After day 35, they cannot be detected by palpitation.

Blood tests that test the Relaxin levels of the female can be performed after 28 days and are accurate, but will not give you a puppy count. Test kits can be ordered on the Internet.

You can of course just wait until you see further signs of pregnancy in your dog. In any instance you can get an accurate puppy count on an X-ray during the final week of pregnancy.

Pregnant Female 2 Weeks Before Whelping
Pregnant Female 2 Weeks Before Whelping

Worming Schedule

Once you have confirmed that your girl is pregnant, she and her and puppies will need to be wormed regularly. Mothers should be wormed at 4 weeks into their pregnancy, and once a week thereafter. You may wonder how your female who was free of parasites prior to her pregnancy could now be infested with round and hook worms.

The Ingenious Way In Which Parasites Propagate Their Species.

  • Worm eggs, that have been there possibly since she herself was a puppy, are encysted in organs and muscles. These encased and dormant eggs are drawn out of her organs and tissue, as she draws on her bodies resources to supply nutrients to her puppies.
  • Once the encysted worms have been drawn out of her tissue, they can begin their life cycle again.
  • Mothers with encysted worms that have begun circulating in her system will pass them on to their puppies in their milk.
  • Following birth, puppies and Mom should be wormed at 2 weeks, 4 weeks 6 weeks and 8 weeks.
  • Puppies actually love the taste of Nemex wormer from an eyedropper or syringe, so it's fun to do!

Puppies and dams who are not kept on a worming schedule tend to have lower birth weight, and suppressed immune systems, often leading to puppy mange on both the dam as well as the puppies.

Palatable Mother and Puppy Safe Wormer

Additional Signs of Pregnancy In Dogs

  • By day 40, the nipples begin to darken and enlarge.
  • Her belly should be increasing in size, and appetite should be increasing as well.
  • Two weeks prior to delivery the dam may begin to shed her tummy hair in preparation for the nursing puppies.
  • As labor approaches, one week prior to delivery, the breasts enlarge and a milky fluid may be expressed from the nipples. (Note that many bitches have breast enlargement after a normal heat period or in the instance of a false pregnancy, so this alone should not lead you to conclude she is pregnant.)
  • Puppies can begin to be seen and felt in the abdomen as they readjust their positions in the uterus.
  • The female’s belly will be very swollen and pendulous. Limited exercise is advised.

Pregnant Dog X-Ray - Shows 6 Fetuses

When viewing puppies on an x-ray it is easiest to count the sculls.
When viewing puppies on an x-ray it is easiest to count the sculls. | Source

The Last Week of Canine Pregnancy

One week prior to delivery her vulva will begin to relax and swell in anticipation of labor. There may be some clear discharge during this time frame. Discharge that is fowl smelling, green, excessively bloody or dark brown indicates possible Pyometria, a potentially lethal infection. Pregnant dogs with any of these symptoms should be seen by a vet immediately for examination.

A clear discharge, which may be tinged with blood, one week prior to delivery is normal. This indicates that the mucus plug has been released in order to widen the cervix in anticipation of labor. This discharge may occur unnoticed, if the bitch is tidy and cleans herself as it occurs.

At approximately 50 days following ovulation an abdominal X-ray is recommended. The X-ray will show fetal bone structure and can give an accurate estimate of the size of the litter as well as the size of the puppies. Small litters with large puppies may indicate the possible need for a c-section. X-rays should be avoided in early pregnancy, because the radiation could adversely affect the developing embryos before 45 days. Knowing the number of puppies to expect also allows the breeder to know when an issue may be developing should labor stop prior to delivering all puppies seen on the X-ray.

24 Hours Before Labor Begins in Dogs

Approximately 12-24 hours before delivery the mother’s temperature should drop. At day 54 you should begin taking her temperature for a baseline. Normal temperature range is 101 to 103 degrees. A higher temperature indicates there may be an infection. Typically, the temperature should drop to around 98-99 degrees, indicating that labor is coming soon. Not all females experience a drop prior to labor, so be mindful of her behavior.

Often females will refuse food within 24 hours of the first stages of labor. In the first stages of labor, they should begin nesting behavior. Nesting behavior typically includes heavy breathing, pawing towels in the whelping box, restlessness or panicky behavior and repeatedly rearranging the contents of the whelping box. She may frequently leave and reenter the whelping box. If she has her first puppy outside of the whelping box, return her and the puppy to the box after the umbilical cord has been severed and the puppy is breathing. She should whelp the rest of the litter wherever the first puppy is.

Penny Exhibits Restless Nesting Behavior Prior to Whelping

The Initial Stages of Dog Labor

Once the mother’s water breaks, puppies should begin to arrive within 1.5 hours. When the water breaks, there will be approximately one cup of liquid that is the color of pale tea. The mother will be panting and contractions will begin. If she has not delivered a puppy within 1.5 hours and is straining and or grunting without producing any puppies, it is time to seek veterinary help.

New mother in whelping box
New mother in whelping box

Puppy Delivery

Puppies will tend to come in pairs approximately twenty minutes apart, with intervals of rest (as long as 1.5 hours) between the delivery of each pair. A puppy will be delivered from each of the two horns of the uterus, then the next pair will line up as she cares for the first puppies delivered. Nursing helps stimulate contractions for delivery of the next pair of puppies. An ounce or two of ice cream or cottage cheese, offered after the birth of the first puppy, but never before a puppy has been born, will help stimulate milk production. Depending on the size of the litter, delivery can take any where from 90 minutes to 5+ hours.

To learn more about whelping box preparations and assisting in puppy delivery read 10 Best Practices for Whelping Puppy Litters.

New Born Puppies
New Born Puppies

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epbooks profile image

epbooks 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

Very informative and interesting. The puppies are adorable!

Solaras profile image

Solaras 3 years ago Author

Thank epbooks! It's such a stressful time for the owner; I was hoping to give people a better sense of what to expect at each stage and not to worry about some of the things that happen (like the mucus plug loosening) that can freak owners out.

Jackie P. 12 months ago

My dog is eleven months. Can she get pregnant?

Solaras profile image

Solaras 12 months ago Author

Yes Jackie P, she can get pregnant on her first season, which can occur any where from 6 -13 months of age. If you keep her away from male dogs during ovulation and one week following that, she won't get pregnant!

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    Barbara Fitzgerald is an AKC Breeder of Merit and the author of a column, Conversations with Champions, for the BCSA magazine, Borderlines.

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