Dog Pregnancy: Symptoms, Timeline and Care

Lauren Jones, VMD
By Lauren Jones, VMD. Reviewed by Michael Kearley, DVM on May 30, 2024
A pregnant dog nurses her pups.

olgagorovenko/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

In This Article

Dog Pregnancy Symptoms
NOTE: If you are thinking of breeding your dog, please contact your veterinarian about important steps to take to ensure safe and healthy

Just like humans require doctor appointments during pregnancy, dogs also require veterinary care before, during, and after they become pregnant. 

This guide will help you prepare a whelping (birthing) area, what to feed pregnant dogs, what to expect during the birthing process, and how to provide postpartum care for your dog.

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Dog Pregnancy Symptoms

In the first few weeks, you may not notice any changes in your dog's behavior. Some pregnant dogs will seem more tired, some may vomit, and some may eat less.

You may notice that your dog is gaining weight and her mammary glands are becoming more prominent.

It’s important to note that mammary development and color changes can also occur in non-pregnant female dogs during this time because of normal hormone changes.

Symptoms a dog might experience throughout her pregnancy include:

One to two weeks: Your dog may be asymptomatic or have intermittent decreased appetite and occasional vomiting; may be more tired than usual.

Three to five weeks: Your dog may display more affectionate behavior towards you; noticeable weight gain with increased appetite; may become less active; develop clear vulvar discharge and mammary gland development.

Six weeks: Continuation of previous weeks with a more noticeable change in the abdomen and mammary glands becoming bigger and firmer. 

Seven to eight weeks: Nesting behavior may be exhibited by your pup, such as dragging blankets to a safe place and rearranging pillows; mammary glands continue to enlarge and may produce milk; abdomen has increased in size.

Nine weeks: Impending birth; your dog's temperature may drop; she may appear restless.

How To Tell If Your Dog Is Pregnant

Dog pregnancy can only be confirmed by a veterinarian. Methods of confirming pregnancy in dogs include:

  • A dog pregnancy ultrasound, which should be done around day twenty-five to twenty-eight of the pregnancy.

  • Abdominal X-rays, which can be done on day 45.

  • There are available blood tests to determine pregnancy; however, they are inaccurate and not a valid method for determining pregnancy.

  • Some vets may also be able to palpate (feel) a dog's abdomen to determine pregnancy, but this, too, is unreliable and without experience, can be unsafe for developing fetuses.

Whether or not a female dog is pregnant, her hormones after a heat cycle are remarkably similar.

Because of these hormones, false pregnancy (or pseudopregnancy) allows nonpregnant dogs to show symptoms such as lactation and maternal behavior changes.

These changes are hormone-related and typically go away on their own with little or no medical intervention.

Dogs experiencing pseudopregnancy rarely require medical treatment related to the condition, but side effects or complications are possible, and it is essential to talk to your veterinarian.

If your dog isn’t going to be bred, spaying her can prevent future episodes.

Dog Gestation Period: How Long Are Dogs Pregnant For?

A dog’s pregnancy length (or gestation period) is around 63 days from ovulation, or just over two months.

Ovulation is determined by monitoring the hormones progesterone and luteinizing hormone (LH).

Reproduction veterinarians commonly perform this testing.

By determining the day of ovulation, a veterinarian can specify a highly accurate due date down to a three-day window.

A dog’s pregnancy length (or gestation period) is around 63 days from ovulation, or just over two months.

If ovulation timing is not performed, a dog's ovulation date is largely unknown, and the due date may range from 58 to 68 days from the time of breeding.

A veterinarian should examine the female dog before breeding to determine physical health and fitness for pregnancy.

The pregnant mother should again be examined by a veterinarian in the middle and end of pregnancy for pregnancy diagnosis, health tests, and planning for whelping.

Dog Pregnancy Stages

There are four different stages of dog pregnancy ending with post-partum care and lactation, but a dog can’t get pregnant without first going through a heat cycle. 

Most dogs only have one to two heat cycles per year and can last anywhere from a couple of days to twenty days.

  • The first trimester of pregnancy lasts about a month wherein the feti are forming, but you may not notice any physical changes other than a more affectionate dog or a dog with an increased appetite.

  • The second trimester of pregnancy starts around the second month, most notably witnessing the physical changes to the mother with weight gain, decreased activity, increased appetite and nesting behavior.  The feti are starting to resemble pups.

  • The third trimester of pregnancy is short and consists of labor.  The mother’s body temperature usually drops below 100 F. She may appear restless, and puppies are born.

  • The fourth stage of dog pregnancy involves providing adequate postpartum care to the mother.

As a pet parent, you must ensure your pup has recovered uneventfully from giving birth and provide her with enough calories to produce adequate milk to feed her puppies. 

How To Care for a Pregnant Dog

Most pregnancies occur uneventfully and without much intervention from the pet parents.

However, if your dog is expecting, there are several things you can do to comfort for her and ensure a safe and healthy delivery.

Exercise

Regular exercise is helpful for pregnant dogs, but excessive exercise or rough play with other dogs should be avoided. 

It’s best for the mother to be of an ideal body weight prior to becoming pregnant as obesity can cause complications. 

Towards the end of her pregnancy, your pup should be restricted from encountering other dogs to minimize disease transmission, which would mean keeping her restricted to her home and backyard only. 

Try feeding puzzles or a KONG® filled with veterinary-approved treats or snacks to provide mental stimulation and decrease boredom

Regular exercise is helpful for pregnant dogs, but excessive exercise or rough play with other dogs should be avoided.

Vet Visits

Your dog should have a fresh stool sample checked by your veterinarian during pregnancy, as intestinal parasites can spread to the puppies both in utero (in the womb) and during nursing.

Do not use over-the-counter dewormers for your pregnant or nursing dog, as some of these could be dangerous.

Instead, your veterinarian can prescribe the appropriate medication if her stool sample shows a parasitic infection.

Pregnant female dogs should not have vaccinations. Make sure your dog is up-to-date on her vaccines and flea, tick, and heartworm prevention before she becomes pregnant.

Newborn puppies are born without an immune system. They rely on their first 24 hours of nursing to receive protective antibodies through the mother's first milk, called colostrum.

To best protect puppies, the mother should have high antibody levels to pass on. This is why you must make sure she is appropriately vaccinated prior to becoming pregnant.

Talk to your vet at your pre-breeding exam to determine vaccination status.

Diet

Feeding your pup her regular diet for the first two thirds of pregnancy is usually sufficient.

Towards her last trimester, feeding a high-quality diet designed for growth and development—such as a puppy formula—is often best. This is due to the high demand on her body’s nutrient stores during this time frame. 

Calorie requirements generally increase about day 40 and continue to increase about 10% each additional week.

Her diet should be re-evaluated weekly to ensure adequate food is given. 

It’s best to feed her smaller, more frequent meals as opposed to one or two larger meals. 

Towards her last trimester, feeding a high-quality diet designed for growth and development—such as a puppy formula—is often best. This is due to the high demand on her body’s nutrient stores during this time frame.

Do not give your pregnant dog supplements, vitamins or mineral without veterinary approval.

Be sure to speak with your veterinarian about an individualized feeding plan for your pup.

How To Prepare for Dog Labor and Birth

Many dogs give birth naturally.

However, there are some breeds, such as English BulldogsFrench Bulldogs, and other brachycephalic (short-nosed dogs), that can’t typically go into labor naturally.

Planned caesarian sections are often required in these cases, so working closely with your veterinarian is essential. 

For those whelping naturally, near the end of your dog’s pregnancy you should create a quiet nesting area for the birthing process.

This area should be warm and comfortable, away from foot traffic and loud noises, and your dog should be able to get in and out as she pleases while keeping the puppies contained.

It’s also vital for the mother to be isolated from other dogs three weeks before labor and three weeks after delivery to prevent herpesvirus infection.

This virus rarely causes disease in adult dogs but can be deadly for puppies.

A pregnant dog’s temperature will drop well below 100 F within 24 hours of labor. 

Start taking her temperature a few days before her due date. Rectal temperatures are the most accurate.

Labor Signs in Dogs

There are several signs dog exhibit of impending parturition (giving birth) such as:

Other signs that may occur, but are more subtle include:

  • Relaxation of the hind end

  • Change in appearance of the abdomen

  • Mammary gland swelling

How Long Does a Dog Take to Give Birth: Stages of Dog Labor

There are three stages of dog labor.

Contractions in the first stage can last up to 12 hours.

Puppies are usually born 30 to 60 minutes apart, but the mother dog may take a break between puppies that can last up to two hours.

Here’s what happens in each stage.

First Stage of Dog Labor: Start of Contractions

The first stage is cervix relaxation and the start of intermittent contractions. However, you likely won’t notice these contractions.

Your dog will act restless during this stage, travel in and out of the nesting box, pant, dig, and sometimes even vomit. She will likely refuse food.

This stage can last as long as 12 hours.

Second Stage of Dog Labor: Stronger Contractions and Birth

The second stage of labor begins with stronger, more frequent uterine contractions that eventually lead to the birth of a puppy.

Puppies are usually born every 30 to 60 minutes, with 10 to 15 minutes of hard straining.

Expect some puppies to be born tail-first, as this is not abnormal for dogs.

It’s normal for the mother to take a break during the whelping process, but it’s important to know when to be concerned and call your vet.

Signs for concern include:

  • If your dog has been hard straining for more than 30 minutes

  • If she takes longer than a four-hour break

  • If there are fetal membranes (sometimes appears as greenish discharge) in the birth canal without a puppy produced within 30 minutes

  • If all puppies haven't been born within 24 hours

  • If the mother seems to be in extreme pain

Third Stage of Dog Labor: Afterbirth

The third stage of labor includes passing all the fetal membranes, or placenta.

The membranes, also known as afterbirth, are greenish-black and should not have a foul odor.

Membranes should pass within 15 minutes of each puppy.

Therefore, dogs will alternate between stages two and three with each puppy produced.

How To Help a Dog Give Birth

Puppies are born with a protective fetal membrane that the mother usually removes shortly after birth. 

If she does not remove this sac, you must manually remove it to stimulate the puppy to breathe.

If the umbilical cord is not cut during birth or by the mother, you may need to cut it. Do not pull on the cord, as this may cause damage to the puppy’s organs.

Break the sac, wipe away fluid from the puppy’s nostrils, open the mouth with the head facing down and wipe off any remaining fluids.

Next, stimulate the puppy to breathe by stroking its body firmly with a towel. Do not swing the puppy.

If the umbilical cord is not cut during birth or by the mother, you may need to cut it.

Do not pull on the cord, as this may cause damage to the puppy’s organs.

Instead, break it about 1 to 2 inches from the puppy’s body, tearing it gently with your first two fingers and thumb.

You may also want to purchase medical instruments—such as clamps and scissors—before the birth to assist in this process.

If you are unsure how to complete this process or have any concerns, contact your veterinarian immediately.

How Many Puppies Can a Dog Have?

The average litter size varies widely depending on the breed.

Larger dog breeds typically have larger litters. The average number of puppies in a litter is six to eight, but some large breed dogs have been known to give birth to more. 

Smaller breeds may have one to five puppies.

Dogs that only have one or two puppies may not go into labor on their own and may require a C-section.

Singleton pregnancies (one-pup litters) and dog breeds that do not typically give birth naturally may need a planned C-section, which you should discuss ahead of time with your veterinarian. 

Your veterinarian can take an X-ray in the last week of pregnancy to count how many puppies your dog is expecting.

This clarity can help pet parents to prepare supplies and expectations.

Possible Dog Labor Complications

Difficulty giving birth (called dystocia) has several causes:

  1. Maternal age, size, breed and anatomy—abnormal conformations such as a narrowed pelvic canal, vaginal defects, and uterine malformation

  2. Large litter size which can cause prolonged labor

  3. Uterine inertia, or weak uterine contractions

  4. Gestational toxemia—insufficient nutrition, often seen with larger litter sizes

  5. Fetal death or congenital malformations

  6. Fetal malposition

  7. Singleton puppy, often too large to pass through the birth canal

  8. Uterine torsion

Postpartum Care

Let’s look at tips that every pet parent should know when caring for their dog after labor.

Keep Your Dog on a High-Calorie Diet

Your dog should be kept on a higher calorie (pregnancy or puppy) diet for as long as she is nursing her puppies.

Make sure she always has food and fresh water readily available.

Create a Private Space for Your Dog and the Puppies

Keep the mother dog and her puppies in a clean, quiet, low-traffic area of the house.

If there is too much commotion around her, she may become stressed and neglect her puppies.

Additionally, provide a safe space where she can rest away from her litter while still having easy access to them.

Monitor Nursing

Newborn puppies should nurse every one to two hours, so your dog will likely be with them constantly for the first week or two.

If you think that your dog may not produce milk or isn’t letting the puppies nurse, contact your veterinarian.

Medications and vaccines should be avoided while your dog is nursing unless approved by your veterinarian.

Call Your Vet if Your Dog Seems Sick

If your dog becomes ill, call your veterinarian immediately and let them know that she is nursing so they can prescribe safe medications if needed.

Additionally, contact your vet immediately if:

  • Your dog stops eating

  • Your dog is vomiting

  • She becomes lethargic

  • You notice redness and swelling in any of her mammary glands

  • You notice excessive, foul smelling bloody vulvar discharge

Consider Spaying and Neutering

There is no benefit to female dogs in having a litter of puppies. It can be highly demanding on her body, and some conditions during pregnancy, delivery, and nursing can have fatal consequences.

Talk to your veterinarian about spaying your dog when the time is right. Spaying is the only birth control for dogs.

The cost of pregnancy in dogs can be very high.

Giving a litter of puppies proper veterinary care adds up quickly, and emergency cesarean sections can cost thousands of dollars.

Small-breed dogs can be spayed at a younger age, as early as 6 months old.

Large and giant dog breed spays may be delayed.

It’s also important to consider the risk of pyometra (infection in the uterus). The best way to prevent this serious and expensive medical condition is to have your dog spayed.

In addition, spaying before the first heat cycle can also reduce the risk of mammary cancer in your dog.

What To Feed a Dog After Giving Birth

Your dog's diet should remain the same postpartum (puppy formula), albeit in larger quantities, upwards of two to three times the normal amount.

Free choice feeding may be opted for during this time frame as an alternative. 

Milk production and lactation consumes a lot of nutrients and if not properly fed, your dog could be at risk of developing eclampsia, or other life-threatening conditions.

Additionally, her puppies may not receive adequate calories for growth. 

Once puppies begin weaning and eat solid food (usually around 4 to 6 weeks old), your dog’s diet and the amount she needs will need to be slowly changed back to an adult formula. 

This will also help slow down her milk production. 

Issues to Watch for After Your Dog Gives Birth

Here are some things to expect and what to watch for following the birth of the puppies.

Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge may last in small amounts for up to eight weeks after the puppies are born.

The discharge will normally appear reddish-black because it consists mainly of old blood.

If the discharge is overly bloody, has an odor, or looks like pus, your dog should be examined by her veterinarian immediately. 

If the discharge slows down but suddenly becomes worse, this could also be a sign to have her examined.

Fever

Continue taking your dog's temperature after whelping, as infections after birth are common.

If her temperature is over 102.5 F or if she is acting sick, contact your veterinarian. 

Eclampsia (Drop in Blood Calcium Levels)

Eclampsia may occur during whelping and the weeks after giving birth.

It’s caused by the inability of the mother’s body to keep up with the calcium demand of lactation.

Eclampsia is usually seen in toy breeds, and calcium supplementation during pregnancy predisposes a dog to this condition.

Dogs with this condition will experience restlessness, abnormal mothering behaviors, itching face/nose, muscle spasms, a stiff gait, and even seizures

Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible if you see any of these behaviors, as eclampsia can be fatal.

It is crucial to not supplement calcium during pregnancy, as it could have a counterintuitive and severe effect during lactation.

Instead, talk to your veterinarian about calcium supplementation doses.

Metritis (Inflamed Uterus)

Metritis, or inflammation of the uterus, can occur when a placenta is retained or some trauma occurs during delivery.

Contact your veterinarian immediately if you see signs of:

  • Fever

  • Lack of appetite

  • Odorous vaginal discharge

  • Lack of interest in the puppies

  • Lack of milk production

Mastitis (Infected Breast Tissue)

Mastitis, or inflammation of the mammary tissues, occurs when the mammary glands become hard, red, and painful due to infection.

The mother will likely be sore while nursing, but the puppies need to keep suckling to help reduce swelling and promote excretion of the infected material.

It does not hurt puppies to nurse on these glands, even in the presence of infection, but the glands should be evaluated quickly.

Contact your veterinarian if you are concerned that your dog may have developed mastitis, as your dog will likely need treatment.

Agalactia (Not Producing Milk)

Agalactia occurs when the dog doesn’t produce milk. If the puppies are suckling well but not receiving any milk, it’s important to seek veterinary care during this time.

The first milk, or colostrum, provides the puppies with the necessary nutrients and antibodies from the mother to help build up their natural immunity to infections.

If they do not get these essential substances during the first 24 hours of life, they will require additional veterinary care and will likely not thrive.

References

Uchanska O, et al. Dead or alive? A review of perinatal factors that determine canine neonatal viability. Animals (Basel). 2022;12(11). doi://10.3390/ani12111402.

References


Lauren Jones, VMD

WRITTEN BY

Lauren Jones, VMD

Veterinarian

Dr. Lauren Jones graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 2010, after receiving her bachelor's degree...


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