Canine Pregnancy

Canine Pregnancy: Definition, Signs, Care, and Labor

Canine pregnancy occurs when a female dog carries developing embryos or fetuses inside the uterus. Canine pregnancy is used interchangeably with dog pregnancy and typically lasts 63 days. Signs of a pregnant dog include increased appetite, weight gain, enlarged abdomen, and changes in behavior such as nesting and increased affection. 

Correct care for a pregnant dog includes balanced nutrition, regular veterinary check-ups, and a comfortable environment. 

Signs of a dog in labor include restlessness, nesting behavior, and a drop in body temperature. Labor is imminent when the dog has visible contractions, the mucus plug protecting the uterus evacuates, and the dog secretes a clear discharge from the vulva and produces milk from the mammary glands. 

Ensure the pregnant dog is calm and secure for a smooth labor process. Birthing is called whelping or parturition, and the offspring are puppies.

What is Canine Pregnancy?

Canine pregnancy occurs when a female dog carries developing embryos or fetuses inside her uterus following successful mating and fertilization. The dog undergoes various physiological and behavioral changes, such as weight gain, appetite changes, and nesting, to support the development of puppies, culminating in labor and the birth of the litter. 

Canine pregnancy involves the establishment of a fertilized egg in the uterus, with the embryo actively participating and avoiding attacks from the maternal immune system through passive and active mechanisms,” according to the study by Schäfer-Somi, S., Gabriel, C., & Aslan, S. titled “Embryo-maternal communication in dogs: Immune system related factors,” 2020.

How long does a typical canine pregnancy last?

A typical canine pregnancy lasts 63 days. Canine pregnancies of 58 to 68 days are normal because sperm survive several days in the uterus, and establishing when the egg was released is challenging. The gestation period depends on the individual dog, the breed, and health. 

Canine pregnancy involves active luteolysis in the corpus luteum, with a lifespan of around 60 days, and is influenced by factors like LH, prolactin, and insulin,” according to the study by Papa, P., & Kowalewski, M. titled “Factors affecting the fate of the canine corpus luteum: Potential contributors to pregnancy and non-pregnancy,” 2020.

What are the stages of canine pregnancy?

The stages of canine pregnancy are listed below.

  • Early Pregnancy (Weeks 1-3): Fertilization occurs following successful mating, and the fertilized eggs travel down the fallopian tubes into the uterus. The embryos are implanted into the uterine lining around day 7. The embryos are starting to form, and a fetal heartbeat is detectable through specialized veterinary equipment at the end of early pregnancy. 
  • Mid-Pregnancy (Weeks 4-6): Mid-pregnancy involves rapid fetal development, where the embryos grow into recognizable puppies with organs and skeletal structures forming. The dog’s abdomen expands, and  exhibits increased appetite and weight gain by week 5. The pregnant dog becomes more affectionate and displays nesting instincts. 
  • Late Pregnancy (Weeks 7-9): The puppies grow fur and have distinct features; their features become distinct and are more active in the womb. The dog’s abdomen enlarges substantially, and the mammary glands swell in preparation for nursing. 

How does a female dog's behavior change during pregnancy?

A female dog’s behavior changes during pregnancy due to hormonal fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone.  Dogs increase nesting behavior, seek affection, and experience mood swings. “The process of parturition in dogs is an intricate interaction of hormones, with progesterone production maintaining pregnancy and cortisol affecting stress conditions,” according to the study by Fusi, J., & Veronesi, M. titled “Canine parturition: what is known about the hormonal setting?” 2021.

How can you tell if a dog is pregnant without a vet?

 You can tell if a dog is pregnant without a vet by following the 9 steps below.

  1. Monitor Changes in Appetite and Eating Habits. Watch for increased or decreased appetite and unusual eating patterns or food preferences.
  2. Observe Physical Changes. Check for weight gain and a gradually enlarging abdomen. Inspect the nipples; they often become more prominent, pink, and enlarged due to increased blood flow.
  3. Watch for Behavioral Changes. Notice if the dog is more affectionate or seeks extra attention. Pay attention to nesting behavior, such as seeking quiet, comfortable resting spots or preparing a bed area.
  4. Look for Signs of Morning Sickness. Occasional vomiting or signs of nausea is a sign of early pregnancy. 
  5. Feel for Fetal Movement. Gently palpate the dog’s abdomen to feel for puppies around the later stages of pregnancy (after about 4-5 weeks). 
  6. Check for Increased Fatigue. A female dog resting more frequently than usual is a sign of canine pregnancy. 
  7. Monitor Mammary Gland Development. Inspect the mammary glands for swelling and possible milk production, especially in the final weeks of pregnancy. 
  8. Note Changes in Body Temperature. A slight drop in body temperature occurs just before labor. Regularly monitor the temperature for significant changes indicating imminent birth.
  9. Track Behavioral Shifts. Watch for significant changes in behavior, such as increased nesting, restlessness, or irritability.

What are the early signs of pregnancy in dogs?

The early signs of pregnancy in dogs are listed below.

  • Decreased Appetite: Some pregnant dogs experience appetite reduction or occasional vomiting in the first few weeks of pregnancy.
  • Behavioral Changes: Pregnant dogs exhibit changes in behavior, such as clinginess or seeking more attention from their owners. Some dogs become more withdrawn and prefer to rest alone.
  • Mild Lethargy: A pregnant dog appears more tired and less active than usual. 
  • Nipple Changes: Nipples become more prominent, pink, and slightly enlarged and are noticeable around the third week of pregnancy.
  • Mood Swings: Hormonal changes cause mood swings, leading to periods of irritability or unusual behavior.
  • Clear Vaginal Discharge: Some dogs have a clear, odorless vaginal discharge around 4 weeks of pregnancy, which is a normal part of the pregnancy process.
  • Changes in Activity Level: Pregnant dogs have periods of increased energy followed by bouts of fatigue, showing a fluctuating activity level.

What physical changes occur in a pregnant dog?

The physical changes that occur in a pregnant dog include enlarged nipples, a growing abdomen, and weight gain as the puppies develop inside the womb. “Pregnancy causes the breast to increase in size and the areola to darken, preparing for milk production,” according to the study by Alex, A., Bhandary, E., & McGuire, K. titled “Anatomy and Physiology of the Breast during Pregnancy and Lactation,” 2020.

The physical changes become more noticeable as the pregnancy progresses. The abdomen visibly expands, and the nipples will become larger, preparing for milk production in the later stages. 

Is Retinal Dysplasia Common to Pregnant Dogs?

No, retinal dysplasia is not common to pregnant dogs, as it is typically a congenital condition that affects puppies rather than a condition induced by pregnancy.

Retinal dysplasia is an inherited developmental abnormality that occurs when the retina doesn't form properly, leading to vision impairment. Retinal dysplasia in dogs is classified into two types: focal, which does not severely impact vision, and geographic, which results in significant visual deficits.  Retinal dysplasia is diagnosed through specialized eye examinations, such as ophthalmoscopy or electroretinography.

What health factors should be considered for pregnant dogs?

The health factors that should be considered for pregnant dogs include proper nutrition, regular exercise, hydration, avoiding stress, and routine veterinary check-ups to monitor the pregnancy’s progress. 

Provide a high-quality, balanced diet rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals, and gradually increase caloric intake in the later stages of pregnancy. Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial for monitoring the mother's health and developing puppies.

Maintain moderate exercise to keep the pregnant dog fit, but avoid overexertion. Provide access to fresh water because hydration is vital for pregnant dogs. Create a comfortable, stress-free environment with a designated, clean resting area for whelping. 

Monitoring body weight and condition helps prevent excessive weight gain or undernourishment. 

What Should Pregnant Dogs Eat?

 Pregnant dogs should eat the food listed below.

  • High-Quality Commercial Dog Food: Owners wondering, “What should be the diet of a pregnant dog?” choose wisely if the pregnant dog eats a high-quality commercial dog food formulated for growth or all life stages. Commercial dog food contains the necessary nutrients for pregnancy and healthy puppies. 
  • Increased Protein: Ensure the pregnant dog eats high levels of protein to support fetal development and the increased metabolic needs of the mother. Good sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.
  • Adequate Fat: Include healthy fats in the diet to provide essential fatty acids for fetal brain and vision development. Sources of healthy fats include fish oil, chicken fat, and flaxseed.
  • Balanced Carbohydrates: Include complex carbohydrates for sustained energy. Whole grains, sweet potatoes, and vegetables are good options. Avoid excessive simple carbohydrates and sugary foods.
  • Essential Vitamins and Minerals: Ensure the diet provides adequate vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium and phosphorus, which are crucial for fetal bone development. 
  • Frequent, Smaller Meals: Offer smaller, more frequent meals to accommodate the growing abdomen and reduce the risk of gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Hydration: Ensure constant access to clean water to stay hydrated, which is vital for overall health and milk production.
  • Avoiding Toxic Foods: Avoid foods toxic to dogs, such as chocolate, caffeine, grapes, raisins, onions, and garlic.
  • Monitoring and Adjusting: Regularly monitor the dog’s weight and body condition and adjust the diet to ensure the female dog is gaining weight at a healthy rate.

Can a pregnant dog take flea and tick medication?

Yes, a pregnant dog can take flea and tick medication. Administer flea and tick medication under veterinary guidance because not all flea and tick medications are safe for pregnant dogs. Choose products that are specifically labeled as safe for use during pregnancy. “Products containing fipronil (e.g. Frontline, Parastar, etc.) may be given to pregnant or nursing dogs. Consult your veterinarian before using any other collar or topical product on pregnant or nursing dogs. Oral preventatives have not been evaluated for safety in pregnant or nursing dogs,” according to Cornell University as written by Cohen, A. titled “Flea and tick prevention,” 2024.

Are there any supplements recommended for pregnant dogs?

Yes, there are supplements recommended for pregnant dogs. Supplements such as prenatal vitamins, calcium and phosphorus, omega-3 fatty acids (DHA), folic acid, and probiotics are beneficial. “Pre- and probiotic supplementation during the last 4 weeks of pregnancy in Great Danes improves colostrum quality and immune properties, potentially benefiting newborns and puppies,” according to the study by Alonge, S., Aiudi, G., Lacalandra, G., Leoci, R., & Melandri, M. titled “Pre- and Probiotics to Increase the Immune Power of Colostrum in Dogs,” 2020.

Prenatal vitamins ensure the pregnant dog gets adequate vitamins and minerals, while calcium and phosphorus support fetal bone development. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for neurological development, and folic acid helps prevent birth defects. Probiotics help maintain a healthy gut flora,  crucial for efficient digestion and nutrient absorption. Consult a veterinarian about supplements because over-supplementation or improper use is harmful to pregnant dogs and puppies,

How can you tell when a dog is about to give birth?

 You can tell when a dog is about to give birth by observing the signs listed below. 

  • Nesting Behavior: The dog begins to seek out quiet, secluded areas and show signs of nesting, such as arranging bedding or blankets to create a comfortable space for whelping.
  • Restlessness and Anxiety: The dog becomes restless, pacing, panting, or showing signs of anxiety, such as clingy or, conversely, more isolated.
  • Drop in Body Temperature: A significant drop in body temperature is a key indicator. A dog's temperature is between 101-102.5°F (38.3-39.2°C) and drops to around 98-99°F (36.7-37.2°C) between 12 -24 hours of labor.
  • Loss of Appetite: Many dogs lose their appetite or refuse food entirely in the hours before labor.
  • Increased Digestion Activity: The dog vomits or has diarrhea as her body prepares for labor.
  • Visible Changes: The abdomen drops, the vulva swells and softens, and there is a clear, odorless discharge when the dog is about to give birth.
  • Contractions: Owners notice visible contractions or abdominal tightening as labor approaches.
  • Milk Production: The mammary glands become enlarged and start to secrete milk.

What are the signs of labor in dogs?

The signs of a dog in labor are listed below.

  • Nesting Behavior: The dog starts arranging her bedding or seeking out a quiet, secluded area to prepare for giving birth.
  • Drop in Body Temperature: A significant and consistent drop in body temperature is a sign of labor in dogs. 12-24 hours before labor, it drops to around 98-99°F (36.7-37.2°C).
  • Loss of Appetite: Dogs stop eating  the hours leading to labor.
  • Restlessness and Panting: The dog becomes increasingly restless, panting heavily, pacing, or displaying signs of discomfort. 
  • Increased Digestion Activity: She experiences vomiting or diarrhea as her body prepares for labor.
  • Visible Contractions: Owners observe visible contractions or abdominal tightening as labor progresses. Contractions are rhythmic and become more intense and frequent over time.
  • Clear Discharge: A clear, odorless discharge from the vulva is one of the key signs of a dog in labor.
  • Milk Production: The mammary glands enlarge and start to secrete milk, indicating that the body is preparing to nurse the puppies.
  • Visible Movement of Puppies: The puppies position themselves for delivery In the final hours before birth.

How long does it take for a dog to deliver puppies?

Dog labor should take about 12 hours for the first stage and the birthing from a few minutes to an hour per puppy. “It typically takes 0-30 minutes for each puppy to be born. Up to two hours between puppies is considered normal,” according to Cornell University, “The normal whelping process,” 2024. 

The dog exhibits signs of restlessness, nesting behavior, and a decrease in body temperature in the first stage of labor. The cervix begins to dilate in preparation for giving birth and the birthing process involves intense contractions.

What complications can arise during canine labor?

The complications that can arise during canine labor are listed below.

  • Prolonged Labor (Dystocia): Labor that lasts more than 24 hours or if more than two hours pass between the delivery of each puppy indicates dystocia. Uterine inertia causes the uterus to fail to contract effectively.
  • Obstructed Labor: Physical obstructions, such as a puppy being too large to pass through the birth canal or being improperly positioned, prevent normal delivery. Veterinary intervention is required, such as a Caesarian section.
  • Uterine Inertia: Uterine Inertia occurs when the uterine muscles fail to contract strongly enough to expel the puppies.
  • Retained Placenta: Failure to expel the placenta after each puppy is delivered leads to infection and other health issues. The placenta is typically delivered within 15 minutes of each puppy.
  • Eclampsia (Puerperal Tetany): A life-threatening condition caused by low blood calcium levels. It occurs during late pregnancy or shortly after birth and is characterized by restlessness, panting, muscle tremors, and seizures.
  • Hemorrhage: Excessive bleeding during or after delivery is a sign of a serious problem, such as uterine rupture or tears in the birth canal. Immediate veterinary attention is required for hemorrhage.
  • Fetal Distress: Puppies experience distress during labor, leading to decreased heart rates or difficulty breathing after birth. Veterinary assistance is needed to revive and stabilize affected puppies.
  • Stillbirth: Puppies that are born dead indicate an underlying issue, such as infection or congenital defects. Monitoring and veterinary care are essential to address the health of the remaining puppies and the mother.
  • Infections: Infections of the uterus (metritis) or the mammary glands (mastitis) occur during or after labor. Signs of infection include fever, lethargy, foul-smelling discharge, and swollen, painful mammary glands.
  • Weak or Premature Puppies: Premature or weak puppies have difficulty breathing or nursing and require special care and feeding to survive.

Can canine autoimmune conditions affect pregnancy in dogs?

Yes, autoimmune conditions can affect pregnancy in dogs. Autoimmune conditions increase the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight puppies, or maternal health problems. “Pregnancy-associated immune-mediated hemolytic anemia is a potential diagnosis for female dogs with severe hemolytic anemia during pregnancy, which may resolve spontaneously after parturition,” according to the study by Fernández, Y., Sharman, M., & Seth, M. titled “Pregnancy-associated immune-mediated hemolytic anemia in a dog,” 2020. 

Several types of autoimmune conditions impact a pregnant dog, including diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus, immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, and hypothyroidism. Autoimmune conditions result in hormonal imbalances, inflammation, and compromised immune function, increasing the risks associated with canine pregnancy.

Can canine sensory disorders affect the pregnancy experience for dogs?

Yes, canine sensory disorders can affect the pregnancy experience for dogs. Sensory disorders, such as impaired vision, hearing, or sense of smell, influence how a pregnant dog navigates her environment and responds to pregnancy-related changes.

A dog with impaired vision or hearing struggles to exhibit typical nesting behaviors, leading to difficulties in preparing a comfortable whelping area. A dog with hearing loss is unable to respond to sounds that indicate potential dangers or disturbances, potentially compromising her sense of security.  Canine sensory disorders affect the dog's ability to recognize and respond to her puppies' needs after birth, and support is necessary. 

How Long Can Dogs Be Pregnant?

How long a dog can be pregnant is about 63 days, but varies depending on factors such as breed size and individual health conditions. “Canines can be pregnant for 65 days from the luteinizing hormone surge,” according to the study by Kutzler, M., Yeager, A., Mohammed, H., & Meyers-Wallen, V. titled “Accuracy of canine parturition date prediction using fetal measurements obtained by ultrasonography,” 2003.

Smaller dog breeds tend to have shorter gestation periods, usually around 58-63 days, whereas larger breeds have longer pregnancies lasting closer to 63 days or even up to 70 days.

Do certain dog breeds have longer pregnancies compared to others?

Yes, certain dog breeds, particularly larger breeds, have slightly longer pregnancies compared to smaller breeds, although the difference is usually only a few days. “Greyhounds had a significantly longer pregnancy duration (68.0 ± 1.5 days) than other breeds,” according to the study by Hollinshead, F., & Hanlon, D. titled “Factors affecting the reproductive performance of bitches: A prospective cohort study involving 1203 inseminations with fresh and frozen semen,” 2017.