It’s a big decision to breed your dog. What with planning the right time for mating, sourcing the right male companion (or their semen!), and keeping your bitch happy and healthy throughout gestation. On top of this, you’ll have to consider vet appointments, puppy health checks, microchips, worming, and finding responsible homes for the whole litter, no matter how big! On the other hand, accidents can happen, and you may feel a little daunted if you think a male dog might have caught your female dog. Whether planned or unplanned, you’re bound to have many questions about dog pregnancy. Of course, you should speak to your veterinarian if you have any questions, but we’ve compiled a list of answers that might help.
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When can a dog get pregnant?
Female dogs can become pregnant once they begin their first season. This can be as early as six or seven months old but varies depending on a dog’s breed and size. Their vulva will become swollen and prominent during their seasons, and you’ll probably notice them spotting blood or pink-tinged fluid. If your bitch is particularly clean, you might not see any bleeding, but you might frequently spot her licking around her vulva. Every dog is different, but seasons typically last three or four weeks, with ovulation occurring within this time. The days around ovulation are when your dog will be most fertile. Your veterinarian can use blood tests to check hormone levels and look at a sample of the cells that line your dog’s vagina to predict ovulation time. If you’re not sure what your dog’s vagina should look like normally, you can find out more here.
The days around ovulation are when your dog will be most fertile.
How do I find out whether my dog is pregnant?
If you suspect your dog might be pregnant, there are a few ways you can find out for sure. However, these methods cannot be performed early on in pregnancy, so you might have an anxious wait to find out if your dog is expecting.
An ultrasound scan can be performed at around day 28 (counted from ovulation) and is one of the safest and most reliable methods. Occasionally, veterinarians may perform an ultrasound scan earlier than day 28; however, it is less accurate.
An x-ray can check for fetuses, but since x-rays mainly show bones, they will only show puppies once their skeletons have developed. This means x-rays aren’t normally helpful until day 55 or more. Although radiation from x-rays is not considered a significant risk to unborn fetuses in dogs, it’s best to limit the exposure and only use x-rays when needed.
A blood test to check for the hormone Relaxin can be an accurate method of diagnosing pregnancy. Relaxin is only produced during pregnancy and can be detected from around day 25.
Abdominal palpation is when the veterinarian uses their hands to feel your dog’s belly. Once the fetuses are a decent size, they can be felt in this way. However, some sizes and breeds of dogs are easier to feel than others, and if your dog is on the chubby side, it might not be possible.
If your dog might be accidentally pregnant and you’re not sure you want to proceed with the pregnancy, you should speak to your veterinarian straight away for advice. The vet can give an injection to stop the pregnancy, as long as it is given early.
How long is a dog pregnant?
The length of a dog’s pregnancy is measured from the ovulation date rather than from the mating, so it’s not always easy to be sure of the exact dates. The average length of gestation for pregnant dogs is 63 days. However, pregnancy length can vary by a few days on either side.
The length of a dog’s pregnancy is measured from the ovulation date rather than from the mating, so it’s not always easy to be sure of the exact dates.
What are the symptoms of pregnancy in dogs?
Even if your dog is pregnant, you might not notice any symptoms of pregnancy during the first few weeks at all. Some dogs will become pickier with food or even vomit, similar to morning sickness in people. However, this doesn’t usually last more than a few days. By the fifth or sixth week, when the pregnancy is well established, you might notice your dog’s appetite increases, they gradually gain weight, and their belly becomes larger. As time passes, you might see their nipples become larger, more prominent, and sometimes pigmented. Their abdomen will be very large now, and they may get out of breath easily due to the pressure. As labor approaches, your bitch might start showing nesting behavior and be more withdrawn or affectionate.
It’s crucial to recognize that some of the pregnancy symptoms are also symptoms of a phantom pregnancy or even a life-threatening infection of the uterus. So, if your dog is vomiting, nesting, has a swollen belly, or is acting unwell, you should contact a veterinarian to confirm whether the cause is pregnancy or something else.
Some dogs will become pickier with food or even vomit, similar to morning sickness in people. However, this doesn’t usually last more than a few days.
How do I care for my pregnant dog?
The most important thing you can do for your dog during pregnancy is to get them checked by a vet at the beginning of the pregnancy and follow veterinary advice. From around day 40 onwards, you should feed them a high-energy diet like nutritionally complete puppy food. You should also start a daily worming schedule at this time and continue it until after the puppies are born. You can find out more about worms in dogs here. Your veterinarian might also recommend a course of vaccines against Herpesvirus, depending on your location and the risks.
The pressure from their large pregnant bellies can cause strain on your bitch’s breathing. Therefore, it’s best to keep them cool on warm days and keep their exercise manageable. You should thoroughly prepare for the big day by creating a safe, warm and quiet space with a whelping box and plenty of blankets. It’s sensible to speak to your veterinarian about what you will need and make sure you have their emergency contact details to hand.
From around day 40 onwards, you should feed them a high-energy diet like nutritionally complete puppy food.
What are the signs of labor?
In the days just before labor starts, your bitch might go off their food. They might also start nesting, and if you’ve been checking their temperature daily, you might notice that it drops suddenly when labor is approaching. Once labor has begun, you’ll notice panting, restlessness, and abdominal straining (contractions). The abdominal contraction should become gradually closer together until a pup is produced. After each pup, your bitch may take a rest, with no panting or straining. This is normal. However, she shouldn’t have consistent contractions for 30 minutes without producing a puppy. If she shows this sign, it could indicate that a puppy is stuck or in a bad position. At this point, you should contact the veterinarian urgently.
Once labor has begun, you’ll notice panting, restlessness, and abdominal straining (contractions).
How can I prevent an unwanted dog pregnancy?
If you have a dog in season, it’s best to assume they are fertile until all symptoms subside. Therefore, you should keep her away from other dogs and on a lead until she has stopped bleeding and the vulval swelling has gone. Be aware of other dogs in your area, and ensure that fencing around your garden is secure because male dogs can be determined to get to an in-season bitch! If the unmentionable does happen, though, speak to your veterinarian about your options.
Caring for a pregnant bitch is a stressful time, and it’s so important to feel organized and be prepared. With the help and support of our veterinary team, you should be able to navigate dog pregnancy and look forward to puppy cuddles!
What are the first signs of pregnancy in a dog?
If your dog is pregnant, you might not notice any change in them in the first few weeks. However, they may show some mild vomiting for a few days and go off their food a bit. They might also gain a little weight or start to look a little rounder in the belly. It’s important to know that some pregnancy symptoms, like vomiting and reduced appetite, can also be a sign of a pyometra. Therefore, it’s best to get them checked by a vet as soon as possible to make sure there’s nothing else going on.