HEALTH & CARE

Dog Pregnancy Stages: The Joyous Experience of Dog Birth

Mother with puppy
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Pregnancy is always an exciting experience for any living being. Having a pregnant dog can be a joyous event for any dog owner, one that comes with great responsibility. The dog’s health and that of its puppies are so important that every dog owner should be aware of dog pregnancy stages and nutritional requirements before it even happens. A dog owner should know how to act at all times, although often visits to the vet are needed.

The pregnancy of a dog lasts up to 9 weeks, approximately 63 days. However, a dog could give birth before or after that period of time, between 58 and 68 days. As the puppies grow in the womb of their mother, proper medical care is required in order to ensure a healthy birth. To do this, a dog owner should study the anatomy of a dog and pregnancy itself according to the breed of the animal he or she owns.

Pregnent husky

Like any pregnant female, a female dog requires a lot of care, love and affection during pregnancy. Remember that the first stage in the pregnancy of your dog will be the gestation. There are no clear symptoms to diagnose pregnancy in dog right after it happens. Thus, a dog is likely to show signs of pregnancy only after the first 25 to 36 days since mating.

After the confirmation, one has to be prepared for the last stage too, which is the birth. Some people choose to arrange a cozy place in the comfort of their own home for the birth, while others prefer to take their canine pet to the vet, where all the needed conditions are already met.

4 pregnancy stages in dogs

How long is a dog’s pregnancy? Just as in humans, there is a period of a few days in which a dog could give birth. As said, the standard period is 63 days, but there are a few female dogs that are actually going to give birth after exactly 63 days since insemination.

Expect for your dog to be ready for birth between 58 and 68 days since mating. During 9 weeks, plus or minus 5 days, a dog that carries puppies has to go through 4 phases, all which are natural and require different care and attention from an owner.

Dog pregnancy timeline

The first phase lasts for 3 weeks and is not really noticeable because the dog does not show any signs, except maybe a little fatigue or a slight loss of appetite. The second phase lasts from the 4th to the 6th week.

That is when a caring and observant dog owner may notice weight gain and an increased size of the dog’s nipples. The third phase is when the growth of the dog’s womb becomes impossible to miss. Also, the production of breast milk begins.

As for length, this phase lasts until the 9th week of pregnancy, when labor should be near. Last, the fourth phase is the shortest one and the most eventful one as well. The dog becomes restless and starts to seek a quiet place where it can give birth. Measuring its body temperature is a great way of finding out when it is due. Its temperature drops significantly when it is about to give birth.

Body changes in pregnant dogs

In order to follow the canine pregnancy calendar, one has to make a note of the day when the dogs were mated. Fertilization occurs in the oviducts after 48 to 72 hours since mating. After about 10 to 12 days, the eggs become fertilized and are implanted in the uterine wall. Gradually, the embryos become blastocysts. After 14 to 15 days, the dog’s nipples begin to grow a little and develop a darker pink tone.

Gradually, the skin from the dog’s abdomen and that around its nipples becomes thinner. It is in the first 20 days of pregnancy when the first ultrasound can be performed, which shows the head and the body of the embryos from the dog’s womb. All the other changes become visible after a period of approximately 30 days.

Body changes in dogs

After a month since insemination, a dog’s embryos will be walnut-sized and the veterinarian will be able to figure out how many puppies are inside its womb. The muscles and the bones of the puppies are forming during this period, as well as their spinal cords and eyes.

That is when you should begin to increase food rations or their frequency, keeping in mind that too much food will only enhance its weight gain, which is not recommended if it goes out of control and which could lead to complications.

The abdomen of the dog will become larger and very visible. From the behavioral point of view, the dog can be a little restless and wander from place to place, looking agitated. After six weeks, it might lose its appetite once again. However, you should continue feeding the dog throughout the day.

After two months since insemination, the puppies’ hearts beat on their own and their limbs are almost fully grown. You can clean the dog’s nipples and vulva gently with a clean cloth and warm water. The first sign indicating that the dog is about to deliver is when its rectal temperature drops to 98 degrees. Another indication is when there is a discharge of clear liquid from the dog’s vulva.

About 14 to 24 hours after that happens, you could be delivering its puppies. Some puppies born before the normal gestation period ends may not survive because their organs might not be fully developed and prepared to function in the outside world. If that happens, you should try to save as many as possible.

This is also the most delicate moment of a dog’s gestation. The body of the dog may decide to dispose of fetuses after so many weeks of development.

If at this time, or at any other during pregnancy, you observe an abnormal vaginal bleeding, you should urgently contact the veterinarian as that could be a sign of abortion and the dog will need special care and should be monitored in order to avoid the occurrence of adverse side effects.

Some dogs might even eat their puppies after birth because of something called puppy cannibalism, which occurs rarely and from multiple reasons.

Ultrasounds and x-rays for mother dogs

In order to establish the dog pregnancy timeline, you can resort to ultrasounds and x-rays. In case you are not aware when the dog you own got pregnant, then you can rely on an ultrasound. It is a great option because with its help, the vet can also evaluate the pups in development, their heart rate, movement and he or she can calculate the time of pregnancy in order to be ready for the arrival of the puppies.

The gestational ultrasound can be performed starting with day 18 after the insemination, until the end of pregnancy. It is a really quick test that can provide valuable information in a few minutes.

Dog pregnacy x ray

X-rays are very important, especially for dogs that are pregnant for the first time. An x-ray can show exactly how many puppies are inside the dog’s womb and also whether they may or may not pass through their mother’s birth canal. If their skulls are larger than their mother’s birth canal, then their mother will need a cesarean. This is not the only reason because of which a pregnant dog might need a cesarean.

The puppies might also be in wrong positions or the mother may not have contractions at all. The radiographic study can be performed starting with the 45th day of gestation, but it is recommended between day 50 and 55. The radiation from an x-ray presents no risk for the puppies or the mother.

Nutritional needs of a pregnant dog

Just as any dog, pregnant dog needs fresh water available at all times. Before mating, the dog should be fed with a food especially made for adult dogs – click here to see details like content and price.

After it becomes pregnant, you can continue to feed it a normal amount of food of high-quality (see here a great recommendation for dog food). Puppies grow very little during the first 4 to 5 weeks of gestation, so the dog will not need extra nutrients. Feeding the dog too much during pregnancy will only make it fat and it will be unable to deliver without complications. During the last 3 to 4 weeks of gestation, puppies grow rapidly.

Therefore, their mother needs a higher intake of nutrients. During this period of pregnancy, the mother’s body weight dog will increase progressively up to 25-30%. Choosing food with more protein or food especially made for pregnant dogs would be ideal.

Pregnant dog wants more food

The mother’s appetite increases starting at the end of the first month. The female dog could have between 2 and 8 puppies inside its womb, which means that it has to provide enough nutrients for the development of their bones, muscles and nerves. Corn is often an element of bulking, which does not really bring a qualitative contribution to the dog, so avoid products that contain it.

In addition, these foods are not always ideal because they are difficult to digest. Food for junior dogs is recommended for pregnant dogs too because they contain a high quantity of proteins. Remember to choose the best brand you can find.

The appetite of a pregnant dog can be capricious. It might refuse to eat what it ate before and eat what it previously refused. Regardless of what it wants to eat, it should also take supplements rich in calcium and different vitamins, such as vitamin C and vitamin D2. Also, you should consider adding Omega-3 and Vitamin B to the diet.

The vet will recommended the exact supplements after an initial consultation. The vet will also recommend 30 minutes of slow daily walking for your pregnant dog. In case of female dogs used as police dogs or watch dogs and so on, they are not supposed to be on duty after the first month of pregnancy.

Signs of labor in pregnant dogs

The following changes are considered signs that labor approaches in pregnant dogs: swollen vulva, tail becomes more mobile and milk or colostrum appears. The female dog tries to find a safe place in the house when it can give birth.

Within 24 hours before the birth, a dog’s rectal temperature drops to 98 degrees. As a dog owner, you must prepare a box that is clean and where you should put the dog before it goes into labor. That is where its puppies will live for the first 4 weeks of their lives, so take your time finding a perfect fit.

Expecting puppies

The actual labor begins with uterine contractions that are becoming more intense and that can be observed by looking at the dog’s belly. Approximately one hour after the expulsion effort opens the birth canal, the fluid bag breaks.

In more common terms, this means that its water broke. Very soon after that, the first pup should come out. There should be a break between 10 to 30 minutes between births.

The pups come out covered in placenta, which is eaten by the mother after cleaning the pup. If the expulsions are too fast and the mother does not have time to lick every puppy, the placenta can be gently removed with a towel.

One should also cut the umbilical cord and use tincture of iodine to disinfect the cut. Some female dogs might not have maternal instincts at all, so one should know how to take care of everything. Fetal fluids might be greenish, but that is normal, so don’t be alarmed.

Dog in labor

After the dog gives birth, it will also eat its placenta. That is a good thing, so no one should try to stop it. It eats the placenta because it contains a large amount of hormones that contribute to the uterine involution and the onset of milk secretion.

After the whole process is done, you can reward the mother with a glass of milk and let it recover from the tremendous effort that she made by giving birth to up to 8 puppies. Depending on the number of puppies, this process can last up to 10 hours. It goes without saying that if something goes wrong the vet should be immediately called for assistance.

Advice for every gestational stage

If you suspect that your beloved pet is pregnant, you should make an appointment to see the vet. He or she will perform routine tests and clinical tests in order to assess your dog’s health state and let you know if you are going to have more puppies or not. If your suspicions turn out to be true, then the vet will perform further tests in order to make sure that everything is fine with the future mother.

He or she might tell you the stage of the dog’s pregnancy or might require an ultrasound in order to find out more details. This visit is important because there might be pregnancy problems you know nothing about and only a specialized person can notice and handle.

Pregnant dog at vet

During gestation, the dog should receive the same care as usually. It is recommended for pregnant dogs to be brushed daily, regardless of the length of their fur. This advice applies for the period after birth as well.

This is the safest way to keep infections away and to avoid skin problems that might complicate the pregnancy. It goes the same with bathing. However, contact with other dogs should be limited. If you are a multiple dog owner, then you should make sure that all your other dogs are in top shape, healthy and clean when they interact with the pregnant one.

The health of a pregnant dog should be monitored throughout its gestation period. In the first few weeks it may experience nausea and it might not want to eat as much as it used to. These aspects should not alarm you, because they are completely normal. However, if you notice that it does not hydrate for 24 hours or more, then you should go visit the vet. In addition, you should check its temperature constantly and look for signs of listlessness on a daily basis.

Wrap Up

  • The gestation period of a dog is 63 days ± 5 days.
  • The days should be counted starting with the day of the insemination.
  • An ultrasound can be performed after the first 18 days of pregnancy in order to observe the development of the puppies and estimate the gestational stage if that is necessary.
  • The ultrasound is not a reliable source for finding out the number of pups found inside a dog’s womb, but the x-ray is.
  • The number of puppies varies from 2 to 14.
  • The diet of a pregnant dog should not be changed before it reaches one month of pregnancy.
  • The pregnant dog should live in a quiet, intimate and stress-free environment.
  • Future dog mothers need regular slow walks in order to avoid getting fat.
  • Medication is forbidden for every pregnancy stage without the direct recommendation of the vet.
About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

  • Sarah Johnson

    I was wishing that a whelping box was discussed more thoroughly, although the article was quite informative regarding the pregnancy. A proper whelping box mustn’t be overlooked, especially with its significance in a dog’s pregnancy. There are a lot of resources in the internet, and also a lot you can buy online. It’s a great investment, especially when you have a dog pregnancy on your hands.

    • Wyatt Robinson

      This I agree with, Sarah. For pet parents who are more likely to deal with pregnant dogs every so often, investing in a whelping box is indeed a sound investment because you will need it in every moment the dog gives birth and will keep things organized.

  • KittyDaniels

    My neighbor, a retired teacher rescued a starving Shepherd mix. It turned out the dog is pregnant. She is skinny but we noticed milk coming out from her nipples. We’re a close town so we help each other out. We need to fatten her up a bit more and she’s now being fed Royal Canin dog food. Any more tips to help this poor dog?

    • Katrena Jackson

      Add some egg to her food. Can help quite a bit. Used as a supplement sometimes!

      • That’s a valuable suggestion, Katrena. Eggs are good sources of nutrition, and I would recommend a serving of hard boiled egg to be added in her diet every day.

  • Jiří Vencl

    watch the dogs pregnancy day by day http://waitingforpuppies.com

    • Wyatt Robinson

      This is a helpful link! Thank you, Jiri! It is really fun to watch puppies develop day by day.

  • Paul

    I think I’ve learned the hard way that a pregnant dog will always try to find the best place for its babies. For instance, I built a nice, cozy space for my dog to give birth (in my closet), with blankets and everything. Still, the night she gave birth she found my bed to be cozier!

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Dogs that are about to give birth have this nesting instinct. They will look for the coziest or most comfortable spot they can find before delivering the puppies. Sometimes it is the corner in the garage, other times, it is your bed.

  • Candace Marcum

    One of the pictures on this site is pitiful! The mother dog is toooo skinny she looks sickly! I cannot stand to see that!

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Sometimes, our mommy dogs lose so much weight after giving birth because they pass the nourishment to the puppies and their appetite is still not back to normal. However, this can be regained after several days or weeks.

  • Mari

    Does giving extra love helps? I’m still new.^^

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Any additional care is helpful for a pregnant fur baby. Just don’t overdo it because too much cuddling or strenuous playing can make the dog prone to injuries.

  • C.J. Watts

    My little girl is pregnant now and is with in a few days of having her puppies. I cant wait to see what they look like and how many they will be.

    • Wyatt Robinson

      This moment is really priceless, CJ. A celebration of a new milestone of being a pet parent, and a celebration of life in cute packages.

  • C.J. Watts

    She had her babies on the 10th. She had 7 of them!! Ack so happy!!!

  • y_guerra10

    Hi my lil princess due date is in between April 27th and April 29th last night she didn’t sleep at all I know cause she kept me awake.. And today she’s in my bed making herself comfortable and breathing hard like as she needs water are these signs of her about to go on labor ? This is my first time ❤

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Hi y_guerra, let us know what happened during her labor. It might be a very exciting experience anticipating your first labor experience for your mom-to-be little princess.

    • C.J. Watts

      Yes be on the look out it very well could be the beging stages. Wish you and your little girl lots of luck. Thats what my little girl did when she had hers.

      • Wyatt Robinson

        Now look at your little girl and the litter it produced. The wonder of life is really mysterious and very inspiring. These little miracles that happen every day, and those miracles often come in furry packages.

  • C.J. Watts

    Wyatt, they all grew up very healthy and happy and all went to wonderful loving homes. We still have contact with all the families that adopted them. It was such a joy and a blessing to have them for the 9 weeks that we did. I didnt want to see them go lol.

    • Wyatt Robinson

      You are one of the reasons why I have good faith in most pet parents. The sincerity and compassion to take care of our dogs, especially at times that no one will take care of them and taking the effort to look after and contact the families that adopted them is a very special kind of pet parent.

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