If you suspect your dog is pregnant you should inform your local vet as soon as possible. The vet will ask you for the exact date on which your dog was impregnated (or your best estimate) and then offer some forthright advice. If you have decided to ‘keep’ the pregnancy, read on to learn a little more about this important stage of a dog’s life.
Note: For the purposes of this article and ease of understanding we will refer to the female canine as a generic ‘dog’ rather than a ‘bitch’.
What is the gestation period for a dog?
Usually dogs give birth 64 to 65 days after conception. However, research shows that depending on how close to ovulation a dog mates her gestation time can range from 56 days to 69 days. Your local vet will take this fact into account when they perform their first checks, and these checks are carried out any time from 4 to 6 weeks after conception. The best way for the vet to detect whether or not your dog is pregnant is by performing a physical examination of her abdomen. Bear in mind that a pregnancy will be harder to confirm if your dog is overweight or especially tense.
From Days 20 to 22 your vet can also determine a positive pregnancy by use of an ultrasound scan and by extracting bloods (pregnant hormone levels are especially readable after Day 25).
From Day 30, some additional physical signs of pregnancy a vet will look for are:
- Some vaginal discharge
- A change in the colour of her nipples
- Weight gain
Stages of dog gestation
The gestation time for dogs is measured in weeks just like the human version. At the beginning of her gestation your dog will exhibit few or no signs of pregnancy. She may put on a little weight in the early days but weight gain is not a singular pointer to her being pregnant. Below are some symptoms you may expect as her pregnancy continues:
Very few signs of being pregnant but morning sickness may be observed. Your dog may also become more withdrawn. If she does so, you should let her find a quiet place to lie down.
As well as continued morning sickness your dog will start to eat less, but her appetite will return within a week. Pregnant dogs that are underweight should eat a performance food to improve their stamina.
Some behavioural changes may be observed including signs of a growing need to ‘nest’. Nesting is an instinctive trait found in many animals preparing for the arrival of offspring.
Vaginal discharge may occur in Week 4 and her nipples will look pinker than usual. You may at this stage be able to feel foetal puppies if you gently manipulate your dog’s belly.
You will notice the typical signs of a mammalian pregnancy in Week 5. Your dog will gain weight and her belly will begin to enlarge.
In the last month of gestation you should aim to give your dog up to one and half times her normal amount of food.
The luteal phase of pregnancy - when the lining of the uterus becomes thicker - causes a peak in progesterone between Days 15 and 25. Your dog will begin to lose some fur around her nipples, and the nipples will become larger.
Your dog’s nesting behaviour will reach a peak one week before she gives birth.
Throughout the last week of your dog’s gestation time it is worthwhile to check her temperature regularly. A two degree drop in her body temperature heralds the imminent arrival of her puppies.
Care tips during dog gestation
If you're already feeding your dog a balanced diet you do not need to administer supplemental vitamins and minerals. Throughout the stages of a dog’s gestation her body’s demand for calcium increases. However, vets warn against feeding her calcium supplements because they can put the puppies’ lives in danger.
Feeding her smaller meals more often will allow her to take on board the necessary nutrients without her feeling uncomfortably full.
It is a good idea to limit the amount of exercise your dog does at both the start and end of her gestation. Vets recommend a heavily pregnant dog should be given ample rest and a break from any duties she may usually perform.
As your dog’s pregnancy develops it is imperative that you stay in touch with your local vet. Check-ups throughout the gestation time ensure that any problems with the puppies can be identified early and dealt with in a timely fashion. A check-up will also reveal whether your dog’s health has been affected by her condition. You should call your vet immediately if your pregnant dog becomes agitated or distressed.