Barbara Fitzgerald is an AKC Breeder of Merit and author of the column "Conversations with Champions" for the BCSA magazine, Borderlines.
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.
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 two 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 and the puppies will not 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 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 seven 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. This results in a 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
How Do You Confirm Pregnancy in Dogs?
Here is how you can tell if your dog is pregnant.
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.
Palpitation of the Abdomen
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 they 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.
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.
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 four 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 two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, and eight weeks.
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.
Pregnant Dog X-Ray: Shows 6 Fetuses
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 foul-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 s-ray will show the 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 101–103 degrees Fahrenheit. 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.
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 anywhere 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.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Tyler on August 05, 2018:
I've been breeding my dachshunds for about 5 years and she usually sleeps with the male in a kennel at night. The one time she had the pups with the male in the cage she got very aggressive very quick, we removed him.
Now I put him in a second kennel to prevent issues if she goes into labor while im asleep.
Zoe on June 26, 2018:
My dog has been showing all symptoms of the first stage and I’m scared that if I go to sleep something might happen she lives in a cage with three other dogs but we let her out in the mornings so what should I do
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on May 06, 2018:
Hi Takia: It can be normal for a dog to only give birth to two puppies. You can be sure she gave birth to all of her puppies by taking her in to the vet for an x-ray. If not all puppies are delivered, they can give an oxytocin shot to stimulate contractions or a c-section may be required to remove the puppy. If you smell a foul odor, she needs to see a vet immediately, as she could have an infection or a dead puppy or puppies still in the uterus, which will require surgery.
Takia on May 01, 2018:
My Red nose pitbull gave birth yesterday.. she pushed out two puppies.. This is her first pregnancy.. is that normal
solaras on March 10, 2018:
Hi Ana: Is you girl in season? It would be best for her to not get pregnant at this age, but it won't hurt her. You would prefer to get health clearances on her before breeding her.
Ejie Lorilla on October 18, 2017:
i cannot fully determine if my doberman is pregnant cause her belly doesnt swell. she is now in her 35 days since her ovulation or the day she was mated to a male doberman. how many days before my fem doberman become distended?
Nv on September 04, 2017:
How do i get my dog to produce mike because she has none her puppies are getting bottle fed
Crystal on July 14, 2017:
When she was my dog got tagged when she was 10 months old and her due date was supposed to be July 12th but that was from the day that she was tagged now sperm takes 2 days to travel so technically her due date is supposed to be today how long do I wait for her to go into active labor because her vulva is swelling and has been for the last 3 days her temperature is have gone up and down she eats sometimes and sometimes she don't want to eat so I told by my sister is about to give her ice chips or Castrol oil to help her with the process but I don't feel I should do that because I want nature to take its own course with her she's doing good she doesn't seem to be panting or and any type of distress so if you have any type of comments that may help me please let me know
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on July 09, 2017:
Yes, she can get pregnant at 11 month, if she has a season.
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on April 23, 2017:
Yes, Betty, you can bath your dog while she is pregnant. Just use a good quality shampoo and be sure to rise out all of the soap.
Betty on April 23, 2017:
Is it okay to bathe your dog if she is pregnant. She's about 30 days in to her pregnancy.
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on October 22, 2015:
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!
Jackie P. on October 21, 2015:
My dog is eleven months. Can she get pregnant?
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on June 28, 2013:
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.
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on June 27, 2013:
Very informative and interesting. The puppies are adorable!