Dogs provide their puppies with milk, just as humans breastfeed their babies. That means they need ‘mammary glands’ to make milk for their babies, and that milk needs to come out of somewhere. That’s the job of the nipples. If your pooch is pregnant, you might be wondering what will happen to her body. Here is everything you need to know about pregnant dog nipples.
How is milk good for puppies?
All mammals breastfeed – and that’s exactly why they (and us humans) have nipples and associated mammary glands. Milk plays an important role in transferring immunity to newborns, so that they can fight off infections they’ve never come into contact with. The milk is also complete with all the nutrients puppies need, as well as containing elements that help the babies relax.
Do all dogs have nipples?
If you’ve got a male dog, you might wonder if it’s normal for them to have nipples. But just think about it: human men have nipples, too. During the first several weeks of development of an embryo, both males and female follow the same blueprint, which includes the development of nipples and mammary glands. But they don’t serve the same purpose as female or pregnant dog nipples do.
Dogs have 10 nipples, five on each side of their body. This is because litters of puppies are usually around this number or less, so there is always a nipple available for a puppy to suckle from.
In male dogs and neutered female dogs, the nipples remain small. So small in fact, that if your dog is particularly hairy, you might not even notice them. This is because they have not had the influence of female reproductive hormones stimulating the mammary glands behind them to develop. Dogs who are not pregnant – and who have not been spayed – also have smaller nipples than lactating dogs, yet they will be larger than if they were spayed at a young age. In pregnant and lactating dogs, the mammary tissue behind the nipple is more developed as it needs to produce milk, which in turn makes the nipples look large.
What happens to a dog’s nipples during pregnancy?
If you're wondering if your dog is pregnant, one of the most obvious signs is the development of pregnant dog nipples. A female dog’s nipples are usually rather small, although they may be more noticeable than a male’s or a spayed female’s nipples. But when a dog becomes pregnant, her nipples will naturally grow in size and they become more raised and noticeable. As well as this, it’s likely that the nipples will turn darker than they would normally, due to the increased blood flow to the area.
You’ll generally begin to notice these changes around two to four weeks after breeding, and they will continue to enlarge until your dog gives birth. Don’t worry, these changes are completely normal – your dog’s body is just preparing for milk production. Later in the pregnancy, it’s normal for a dog’s nipples to leak milk occasionally too.
Can you tell if a dog is pregnant by their nipples?
It’s not possible to diagnose a pregnancy on nipples alone. They do not develop until several weeks into the pregnancy and, by then, other symptoms are likely to be apparent.
Also, if your dog has had puppies in the past, she is likely to always have slightly enlarged nipples, which might be more pendulous rather than tight against her body. If this is the case, it will be even harder to pick up pregnancy clues through nipples alone.
Pregnant dog nipples week by week
The most noticeable physical signs that your dog is carrying puppies start to occur at around the 40th day of pregnancy. In the first and second weeks of your dog’s pregnancy, you are very unlikely to see any changes in their nipples.
3-week pregnant dog nipples
At three weeks, your dog’s nipples will start to become rounded compared to their usual flatness.
4-week pregnant dog nipples
At four weeks, the increased blood flow will cause the nipples to swell slightly and become pinker in colour.
5 to 9-week pregnant dog nipples
This is when the real changes occur. Between five and seven weeks, the nipples will become more prominent and dark. Your dog may start to shed their belly hair - this makes it easier for puppies to find her nipples later on. Colostrum (a cloudy fluid known as "first milk") may start to leak from her nipples.
What other symptoms are there of pregnancy In dogs?
If you’ve noticed the symptoms of pregnant dog nipples but still aren’t completely sure if your pooch is pregnant, you should look out for the following early signs of pregnancy in dogs.
Change in appetite
You might notice your dog isn’t eating as much as normal or struggling to finish her whole meal. This is a common early sign of pregnancy and it is all down to the hormonal fluctuations going on in her body.
If she is pregnant and doesn’t eat so much, don’t panic – it’s normal and her appetite will pick back up at some point. But if she doesn’t eat for a few days, contact a vet to see what’s going on.
Adversely, some dogs demonstrate the complete opposite and want to eat more than usual, due to the increased energy demand on their body.
Noticed your dog napping a lot? An increase in tiredness or general lethargy is another sign of pregnancy in dogs. There’s a lot going on in that body of hers, so it’s fine if she needs to rest more than usual. You might have to decrease the number or the length of walks accordingly, but don’t stop exercise all together, as going for gentle walks will keep her fit and healthy.
Changes in behaviour
Dogs often become clingy and needy when they’re pregnant, seeking lots of attention and cuddles with their family. If that’s what she wants, give it to her – it’ll help her keep calm and happy before her pups arrive. She might also be motherly to her teddies and toys, and display clinginess to them too.
On the flipside, some dogs may act withdrawn and distant during pregnancy. This is totally normal too – it’s all down to the crazy hormonal changes going on in her body. But don’t worry, your dog will be back to her normal self before you know it.
Later signs of pregnancy
As your dog’s pregnancy progresses, you’ll notice she’s gained weight and her abdomen has become larger – that’ll be those little pups growing. If you touch her belly, you might even feel movement from those little ones, but this won’t be until the later stages of her pregnancy.
You’ll know that labour is imminent when your pup begins to exhibit nesting behaviours. This normally happens around a day or two before the birth. She may become restless, agitated and start to gather pillows, blankets and papers in an area of your home. Hopefully, you’ll have already prepared a whelping area for her. Birth is imminent when her temperature drops to 37 degrees Celsius or lower.
Lastly, pregnant dog nipples might leak as the birth gets closer. If you notice a few drips on the floor or some leakage, it’s nothing to worry about.
How can I help my dog when she’s nursing?
By now, some time will have passed – the puppies are here and your dog has a lot on her plate. Having puppies can be stressful for your pooch and nursing can carry some issues of its own. While your pup is naturally able to care for her puppies alone, there are a few things you can do to make things easier for her.
Make a sanctuary
The whelping box you created should be like a sanctuary for your dog while she’s nursing. Keep the area quiet and secluded, with plenty of cosy blankets and towels, and keep unfamiliar visitors away until the puppies are older. Reducing stress in this way will make lactation a lot easier for her.
Keep her well fed
While your dog is nursing her puppies and producing milk, she’ll need tons of energy to keep her going. You should be feeding her much more food than normal, and ensuring the food is of the highest quality. It’s best to talk with a vet about the individual diet needs of your pregnant and nursing dog, as it varies widely from breed to breed. Generally, feeding her a puppy food will provide her with more calories and calcium she needs to produce that milk.
Keep an eye on her nipples
With several puppies sucking on them, it’s no surprise that pregnant dog nipples can become inflamed, sore and painful when nursing. There are a few ways to make the process a little easier on her, such as putting an old T-shirt over her between feedings. It might sound silly, but making her nipples unavailable for the puppies for a few hours each day, means she has some time to recover.
When should I see a vet?
You should check your dog's nipples regularly for any signs of cracking, redness, bleeding, heat, hardness or discharge. If these symptoms are present, your pooch may have developed an infection called mastitis. It’s a very painful condition that needs treatment immediately. Your dog will not want to nurse her puppies when she has mastitis, which means the puppies will go hungry. The infection can also travel around the body, making her feel ill, and so it needs to be addressed by a vet quickly.
Also, if the puppies are not getting their fill of milk, this is a huge reason to head to the vet. The puppies will be quick to tell you they are hungry – they’ll be noisy and agitated. This might mean that your dog isn’t producing enough milk, or has a condition where milk does not come out easily. Puppies quickly fade if they are not being fed enough, so again, this requires an urgent veterinary examination.