How to Tell If Your Dog Is Pregnant and How to Help It With Gestation
The pregnancy of a pet 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.
What are the common signs of canine pregnancy? How do we help her through this difficult period and ensure that she remains healthy? How does a baffled owner handle his/her pet’s post-pregnancy needs?
Early Signs of Canine Pregnancy
Sudden Changes in Appetite
Owners should monitor their pets’ appetites for sudden changes. Dogs, like humans, may show variation in their appetites. These changes can be erratic, just as they are for pregnant women. Pet owners may find their dogs eating less than usual, but the opposite is entirely possible, too.
Bearing these 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 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 fur-kids into the home.
Signs of Canine Mid-Pregnancy
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.
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.
By mid-pregnancy, your dog might be growing slightly more padded. Her nipples will enlarge with milk and may begin to produce a milky discharge from time to time.
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. She may also feel them as she presses on the dog’s belly.
Late Pregnancy Signs
Changes in Size
By this time, your dog 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.
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.
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.
Feed Her Adequately
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
Create a heat source for the puppies. They must have adequate warmth.
Ensure that the newborns ingest their mother's milk 12 to 16 hours after birth. Their mother's placenta does not contain enough antibodies, so they have to suckle their mother’s milk to get the required amount.
Common Problems in 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.
Small cervical size
Uterine inertia or the inability of the uterus to contract and push the puppies out.
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.
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.
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.
Lack of appetite
- Green vaginal discharge
3. Post-Whelping Problem: Eclampsia (Milk Fever)
Low blood calcium (smaller breeds are more at risk).
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.
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 fur-kids. 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.
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.
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.
© 2013 Michelle Liew