How to Tell If Your Dog Is Pregnant and How to Help It With Gestation

Updated on April 8, 2017
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Michelle is a professional freelance writer who loves music, poetry, pets, and the arts. She is a techno-geek as well.

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Pregnancy is either met with fear or greeted with yaps of happiness. Often, it is the former, considering the difficulties that both pets and pet owners face. The gestation period is trying for human mothers, so we can imagine how tough it is for our dogs.

How do we help her through this difficult period and ensure that she remains healthy? What are the common signs of canine pregnancy? How does a baffled owner handle his/her pet’s post-pregnancy needs?

These are questions that this article will answer.

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Early Signs of Canine Pregnancy

Sudden Changes in Appetite

Owners should monitor their pets’ appetites for sudden changes. Dogs, like humans, may show a variation in their appetites. These changes can be erratic, just as they are for women. Pet owners may find their dogs eating less, not more, but the opposite is entirely possible, too.

Bearing the possible changes in mind, owners should watch for shifts in their dog's diet and try to accommodate.

Changes in Behavior

If a normally active pet suddenly becomes sluggish, the presence of pups might be weighing her down. She might also be slow to come when called.

Some animals might suddenly be more affectionate during this time, while others do the exact opposite and wish to be alone. Watch out for subtle, or sometimes, extreme changes in behavior.

Changes in the Dog’s Body

Your dog might have enlarged nipples, even in early pregnancy. Dogs that have given birth before may have drooping nipples.

The Presence of Relaxin

Relaxin is a compound that dogs produce when they are pregnant. If a veterinary test confirms its presence, be prepared to welcome new furkids into the home.

Signs of Canine Mid-Pregnancy

Increased Appetite

By the fourth week of gestation, your dog will have reached the middle stage of her pregnancy. During this time, you might notice her eating more to feed the little ones growing within her. If she is wolfing down her food or begging for more, it is likely that she is pregnant.

Behavioral Changes

The same changes described earlier might also be applicable during the middle stages of her pregnancy. If she did not show any behavioral signs in the early stages, she might start doing so now by either being more affectionate or by avoiding you.

Physical Changes

By mid-pregnancy, your dog might be growing slightly more padded. Her nipples will enlarge with milk, and in addition, she might produce a milky discharge.

Let a Vet Listen to Her Belly

A vet will be able to derive the status of the puppies’ health by listening to her belly for their heartbeats. He can also feel them as he presses on the dog’s belly.

A dog in labor.
A dog in labor. | Source

Late Pregnancy Signs

Changes in Size

By this time, your female will look unmistakably pregnant. She will have an enlarged belly and find it hard to maneuver. Note that some dogs do not carry a full littler so their bellies will not be as large.

Changes in the Belly Area

You will begin to feel the puppies moving around in the mother’s womb.

Changes in Behavior

At this stage, your dog will have found a place to nest if you have not already provided one for her. Notice, too, that she will become agitated just before birth.

A retriever looking after her pups.
A retriever looking after her pups. | Source

Stages of Canine Birth

Stage 1: Contractions

Like women, canines also experience contraction of the uterus. The contractions stop when the cervix is open and the puppies are ready to come through the cervical canal and into this world.

Stage 2: Passing of the Pup

The pups slowly come into the world. You should not be concerned unless it takes more than four hours, in which case she could have delivery problems like dystocia, which I shall discuss later.

Stage 3: Passing of the Placenta

Stages two and three alternate with each other because each pup is wrapped in its own placenta.

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How Do We Care for Our Dogs Before and After Pregnancy?

Caring for Your Dog Before Pregnancy

Caring for a pregnant female can be overwhelming, especially for an owner who is encountering canine pregnancy for the first time. There are little things we can do to ensure that our pets are more comfortable.

Ensure That She Rests

Let your dog rest for as long as she needs to, as carrying a litter of 6 scrambling pups is definitely exhausting.

Adequately Feed Her

During the early stages of pregnancy, feed her a normal diet. Foods high in digestible protein are essential. Your dog’s weight will begin to increase by about 15-25%. Good-quality puppy food will help her and her pups during lactation and during the last few weeks of her pregnancy.

Remember not to give her too much food because overfeeding her will result in the growth of fat deposits and will not help her or her puppies.

Avoid Contact With Other Dogs

Unfortunately, your dog has to be a little anti-social during this time, especially with male dogs. Any excitement might trigger disturbances with the puppies.

Follow Up With Veterinary Appointments

Make sure that you follow up with the vet’s appointments to ensure that your dog is in good health during gestation.

Make Sure That She Does Not Jump

If your dog is anything like my dog Cloudy, she will be active and will jump around or onto high places or shelves. For her safety and the safety of her pups, make sure that she does not do this.

Give Her Clean Water

Give her filtered or boiled water. Do not give her water straight from the tap as any bacteria that is present can be harmful.

Keep Her Clean

Make sure that you clean and brush her regularly. Clean her teeth and keep her free of parasites.

Give Her a Place to Birth

She will find her own place if you do not make one, but I suggest you dedicate a comfortable nook or room in your home for her to give birth. This area should be safe and inviting.

Post-Pregnancy Dog Care

Heat Source

Create a heat source for the puppies. They must have adequate warmth.

Ingesting Milk

Ensure that the newborns ingest their mother's milk 12 to 16 hours after birth. Their mothers’ placenta does not contain enough antibodies, so they have to suckle their mother’s milk to get the required amount.

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Common Problems of Canine Pregnancy

Dogs face a myriad of problems during the painful stages of birthing. When we spot them, we should call for a vet immediately.

1. Dystocia

Causes

  • Small cervical size

  • Uterine inertia or the inability of the uterus to contract and push the puppies out.

  • Large puppies

  • Abnormal position of the pups (they should emerge head or rear legs first).

  • Birth defects in puppies that cause certain parts of their bodies to be larger than normal.

Signs of Dystocia

  • The pregnancy has lasted more than 70 days.

  • The dog has been in the first stage of labor for a long time without producing a puppy. (Stage one normally lasts six to twelve hours).

  • Strong contractions have extended for over an hour without a pup born.

  • Prolonged resting phase continues for over 4 hours with more pups to be born.

  • Vaginal discharge is foul.

  • The mother-to-be vomits excessively or is extremely lethargic.

Treatment

Please consult a veterinarian for proper treatment of your pet.

  • Sedatives may be administered to calm a nervous mother.

  • Medication can be administered to stimulate contractions of the uterus if uterine inertia is suspected as being the cause.

  • After prolonged labor, the mother may have low blood sugar or low blood calcium. In this case, your veterinarian will give calcium and dextrose injections, which can help strengthen uterine contractions.

  • If passage birth is not possible, your veterinarian will deliver the young dogs via cesarean section.

Hemorrhage

Call your vet if your pet experiences a huge blood flow after whelping.

2. Pup Retention

A female may, because of uterine inertia or related problems, retain pups and their placenta.

Signs:

  • Persistent vomiting

  • Dehydration

  • Lack of appetite

  • Depression

  • Muscle weakness

  • Green vaginal discharge

3. Post-Whelping Problem: Eclampsia (Milk Fever)

Causes

  • Low blood calcium (smaller breeds are more at risk).

Signs

Eclampsia is a very serious disorder, but fortunately, the signs are fairly easy to recognize.

  • Nervousness or restlessness.

  • A stiff gait when walking.

  • Fevers (puppies have a body temperature of over 105 degrees Fahrenheit).

  • Affected mothers often develop muscle tremors.

  • The respiration rate (number of breaths per minute) increases.

  • Seizures or death may occur without treatment.

Seek veterinary attention immediately. A vet can confirm eclampsia with a blood test.

Prevention

Appropriate calcium supplementation is necessary to prevent eclampsia. Do seek a vet’s advice for proper administration.

Why Is It Important to Know How to Help Your Dog Through Its Pregnancy and Birth?

Vets May Not Be Accessible

If you live in an area where a veterinarian is not easily accessible, knowing how to help your pregnant female dog through her less-than-comfortable period of gestation is imperative. Sometimes you cannot get a vet appointment in time, so you will need to know what to do in the vet's absence.

My maternal grandmother once owned a group of Pekingese. She did not understand much about veterinary care for her pet. When one of her Pekingese became pregnant, she whelped the puppies with no assistance. Fortunately, the puppies came into this world very healthy. Other inexperienced owners may not be so lucky. We adopted one of the pups in the litter, which we named Spook, and he lived a good many years.

Pregnancy Is Potentially Life-Threatening for Our Dogs

We know that human mothers face risks while giving birth, and the same is true for our canine furkids. In fact, risks and complications are far higher for mother dogs because they whelp a litter of 6 or so at once. The risk is also high for young puppies, so we must ensure that they the get proper care.

They Need Our Support

Like humans, female dogs have maternal instincts, and they usually know right away what they need to do to take care of their puppies. However, new mothers might need a little guidance, especially with issues like cleanliness and finding proper breeding spots. Pet owners should help out with such matters.

Conclusion

I strongly advocate sterilizing your pet if you do not intend to breed your female. If the intention is to breed, ensure that you are ready to keep them or that homes are available for the puppies before the decision is made. Spaying/neutering your pet reduces the number of unwanted animals in shelters.

© 2013 Michelle Liew

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    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Lisa! Glad that everything was ok for you and the cockapoo. Must have been an interesting group of pups!! Thanks for sharing!!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, it is sad, and the dog is actually suffering too. Thanks for sharing, Kathryn!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Paws up, Linda! Pawlute!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Audrey!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Paws up for this hub! Very interesting and informative!

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image

      Kathryn 4 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      This is a very interesting article! I used to have a dog (when I was a teenager) that got pregnant because we didn't get my brother's dog fixed right away, and I enjoyed supporting her through her pregnancy, and seeing her give birth. It was amazing. But I definitely agree that it's a good idea to get a pet fixed if breeding is not a plan, because pets will find a way! Not to mention it is sad to see a dog needlessly in heat.

      Thanks for sharing this informative article with us. I love the dividers!

      Have a wonderful day.

      ~ Kathryn

    • Rusticliving profile image

      Elizabeth Rayen 4 years ago from California

      Hi Michelle! I really love this hub! My baby girl that I have now has been "fixed", however I do remember that several years back, my cockapoo got pregnant by a much larger dog and the vet warned us that she may have a hard time delivering. Needless to say, I did follow quite a few things on your list to help her be more comfortable, and when it came time for delivery, she did require my assistance. She was fine and had 4 healthy pups. I really enjoyed reading all the information you have presented. It's so useful and I will definitely share this. Well done my friend!---Lisa♥

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 4 years ago from California

      What a great hub Michelle!!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      Just came back to reread and reshare. This is such a great informational article.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hiya Carly!! No worries, definitely don't mind being a doggy midwife if it can help keep her safe. Thanks so much for sharing!!

    • CarlySullens profile image

      CarlySullens 4 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

      Great explanations. You are like a doggie midwife and should have your own show on PBS. :)

      Seriously, I learned so much. Voted up and shared.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Mary. Love my dogs!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Michelle, you are a font of knowledge! This is such a comprehensive hub I am sure it will be very helpful to many.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Aw!! It's lovely to see them being proud mums! Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Do, Vinaya! Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Bill! Think those laws are very good, we don't want little fur balls running around and ending up in shelters!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Mary!!I know. It can be heart breaking. Thanks for the share, Mary!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      It is, especially if one has no choice but to deliver the puppies on one's own , Dianna! Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, J9!! I guess mammalian pregnancy is pretty similar for most people or animals who experience it. Thanks for sharing!

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Great informative hub!..During our stay in the Grenadines some time ago, we ended up with all the strays from the neighbourhood.

      On New Years morning, we found three tiny little puppies in the garden under a vine, the mum whom we had named Steinway, was as proud as punch as she followed us back to the house, my husband carrying the pups in a cardboard box, happy memories. Voting up and sharing.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      We have never raised a female dog because we always thought we cannot provide her enough care. However, we are thinking to get one this time. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great information for a dog owner....we have two females but there is very little chance of them becoming pregnant....leash laws and fenced in backyards pretty much rule out that possibility. :)

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      Good info here, Michelle. My family went through a heart breaking experience when our Shih Tzu became pregnant ( an accident), had four puppies without any problem and died 6 days later (I wrote a Hub about that). Your information may save another dog's life by stressing the proper care for a pregnant dog.

      Voted UP and will share.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      This is a wonderful detailed post on helping a dog during pregnancy. It's of things to watch for, but so needed.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      Some of this sounds similar to human pregnancy, but so much is truly common sense, too. And for what isn't you really covered the gamete. Thank you for writing this and sharing. I sure this will help many with female dogs who are pregnant or could become pregnant. Voted and shared, too!!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      On helping a pregnant dog through her gestation period.

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