Unlike humans, detecting pregnancy in a dog is not as practical as urinating on a stick or confirming a blood test. A veterinarian may be able to diagnose a pregnant dog within a month or so of conception by a physical examination or by x-ray or ultrasound around six weeks gestation, but since the gestation period of a dog is about nine weeks, this offers little to the anxious breeder.
Gestation is the period from conception to birth. It averages 63 days from the day of ovulation (the normal range is 56 to 66 days). Note that the day of ovulation is not always the same as the day of breeding.
There are some outward symptoms a pregnant dog may exhibit, but they generally do not surface until about four or five weeks. The most obvious symptom is weight gain, although a dog may not gain any significant weight until a week or two before birth if there are only one or two puppies. Another obvious sign is enlarged mammary glands, which most pregnant dogs will display between five and seven weeks.
Other signs a dog may be pregnant are behavioral symptoms. Initially, you may notice a decrease in appetite. Dogs may become restless and interact less with their people and may prefer seclusion. They often make natural attempts at “nesting,” evidence by the shredding of paper or digging at blankets and bedding in the last week or so of the pregnancy. The dog can also become irritable, with minor personality changes in the last two to three weeks.
It can be difficult to tell whether a dog is pregnant until the last few weeks of her nine-week gestation, when her belly’s increase in size is hard to miss. The most surefire way to find out is by taking her to a vet, but being aware of physical and behavioral changes that may take place is also useful.
To understand dog pregnancy, you should first get a general comprehension of how her body works. Your dog will experience a heat cycle before she is able to get pregnant. Veterinarians suggest that you do not breed her during her first heat period unless it happens after she is 1 year old. Any earlier would stunt the growth of your young female.
Most dogs go into heat 2 times a year, but it is common to skip one on occasion. While in heat she will be able to breed with more than the one male. She will be in heat for 3 weeks and her cycle will arrive every 6-9 months.
The first thing you will recognize when your dog goes into heat is a swollen vulva and bloody discharge. Eggs are not released yet in this phase of her heat cycle. Male dogs will be chemically drawn to her more than ever before. She still will not show a major interest in them, until this 6-11 day stage comes to an end.
In the second stage of heat she is actually fertile. Her posture will transform to a stance that invites procreation. Her bleeding will change from light pink to a golden sand color. Her vulva will remain swollen but is softer than before. The most common duration for this stage is 5-9 days but has been known to go on for nearly 20 days for different dogs. Once this stage is finished she will no longer be inviting male attention.
Signs of pregnancy
- A slight mucoid vulval discharge may occur around one month after mating.
- The teats will become more prominent, pinker and erect, due to an increase in the blood supply around the base of the nipples. This should appear between 25 and 30 days after mating.
- Body weight will increase from around day 35 onwards and may increase to 50% over normal.
- The abdomen will enlarge and this should be noticeable from around day 40, although first-time mums and bitches carrying few puppies may not show as much of a change.
- Mammary gland enlargement is noticeable around day 40 and some bitches may express a serous fluid from the teats from this time.
- Behaviour may also change, such as displaying slight depression as well as a drop in appetite, but as these signs can also indicate a problem, consult your vet if they occur.
- Many dogs’ appetite will increase in the second half of pregnancy.
- Closer to the delivery date, your bitch will probably start to express her nesting instincts, scratching at the floor or in her bed, and displaying signs of increasing restlessness.
- The most commonly used method is ultrasound. This can be used after 20 days (no earlier), and foetal heartbeats can be identified at 22 days, but predicting the number of puppies can be challenging. Ultrasound examinations are comfortable because they are not invasive and very reliable in experienced hands.
- Feeling the abdomen from about 30 days can be accurate if performed by an experienced vet, but this may be difficult if the dog is nervous or slightly overweight. If pregnant, the vet will feel a thickening of the uterus and ‘bumps’ within. The method isn’t infallible, however, especially if there is just one pup in the womb or if the pregnancy is not as advanced as first thought.
- From approximately 21-25 days endocrine tests detect relaxin, a hormone exclusively produced by pregnant dogs.
- An x-ray will pick up the skeletons of the puppies from around 45 days. It should also be accurate in determining how many there are. However, most vets prefer not to use this method, as there is a possibility that early exposure of the foetus to x-rays can cause problems. This risk is minimal after 45 days, although sedating the bitch to obtain the image may be more of a problem.
- If a puppy is lodged and unable to be removed.
- If your dog’s labor occurs for 2 hours with no delivery.
- If there is a 4 hour window since the last pup was born and before more are delivered.
- If the delivery of pups doesn’t commence after she showed the normal greenish-black discharge in the beginning of the birthing process.
- If her pregnancy has past 65 days.
- If she experiences any uncontrollable tremors, vomiting, or panting.