Welcoming a new litter of puppies into your house is always exciting, but it's good to be prepared and know what to expect when your dog is pregnant. Understanding the physical changes that happen to your dog during her gestation period will help you to provide the kind of diet, lifestyle and veterinary support needed to ensure a successful pregnancy. (Just so you know you have about 9 weeks from the start of her pregnancy to shop for new toys for new puppies!)
How Long Are Dogs Pregnant?
► Dog gestation period—approximately nine weeks
The average dog gestation is 63 to 65 days, measured from ovulation. (This does not always match the exact day of breeding.) This makes a dog’s gestation period around nine weeks long.
Remember that female dogs may go through a false pregnancy due to normal hormone cycles. False pregnancies may look an awful lot like true pregnancies which is why pregnancy tests for dogs are so important (see below).
Three Weeks Into Pregnancy
► First signs of pregnancy—poor appetite and/or vomiting
Starting about three weeks after mating, watch for morning sickness. Your dog may feel nauseous due to the hormone progesterone plus the effect of ligaments stretching as the puppies implant and grow. Some dogs will vomit; others simply skip meals or pick at them. The nausea usually only lasts a few days, and then your dog’s appetite comes right back.
Four Weeks Into Pregnancy
► Schedule pregnancy test—ultrasound is usually best
Most dog breeders schedule an ultrasound exam around 28 days into the pregnancy. A very skilled palpator may be able to feel “puppy bumps” before that, but too much pressure can harm the puppies. An ultrasound is a very safe pregnancy test for dogs.
An ultrasound exam will differentiate a false pregnancy from a real pregnancy and will give you a rough idea of the number of puppies you should prepare for. No anesthesia is needed. Your girl simply lies quietly (she may need a belly shave) and gets some gel applied to her abdomen. Most veterinarians encourage you to be present to keep her relaxed and happy. Ultrasounds are notorious for undercounting the number of puppies, but heartbeats can be seen. A good ultrasound reader can tell if the puppies appear to be alive and doing well.
There are a couple of blood tests that can also give you pregnancy verification. These look for hormones such as relaxin or other proteins present during pregnancy. These tests would also be run at about 30 days, so most breeders choose to simply go with the ultrasound, which provides more information.
Five to Seven Weeks Into Pregnancy
As your dog’s pregnancy progresses, changes start coming on at a much quicker rate. Here's what to be aware of:
- Nutrition. If you haven’t already transitioned your dog to a high-quality puppy food or all life stages food, now’s the time. Take a week to gradually mix increasing amounts of her new food in with decreasing amounts of her old food. Your dog’s caloric needs start to increase in a big way about halfway through her pregnancy, and once she begins nursing, they’ll skyrocket!
- Limit strenuous exercise. Most veterinarians recommend cutting back on jumping and intense training. Long walks are an excellent way for female dogs to stay in shape while pregnant.
- Nipple changes. By around day 40, your dog’s nipples will start to enlarge and darken. Long-haired dogs will lose hair around the nipples which makes it easier for puppies to nurse.
- Belly changes. Halfway through her pregnancy, your dog has probably put on some weight and is starting to look “round.” Over the next few weeks, her abdomen will get bigger and hang lower (drop). Very fit dogs and dogs with small litters tend to have less obvious profile changes. Around this time, you may be able to feel the puppies move if you rest your hand on your dog’s abdomen.
- Schedule an X-ray. After day 45 of pregnancy, the bones of the unborn pups become visible on X-rays (radiographs). Many breeders wait until a week or two before the pups are born to get more bone development before they X-ray. At that point, it is possible to get a fairly accurate count of how many puppies you can expect. (Vets count skulls and spines.) Having a count is helpful when you start to wonder if your dog is done giving birth or if a puppy is stuck in the birth canal. If you only have one or two puppies present, your veterinarian may take an extra X-ray or two and do measurements to make sure the pup will fit through the pelvic canal. A single large puppy is often the reason for a C-section.
- Parasite prevention. Discuss deworming your dog with your veterinarian. Some intestinal parasites like roundworms and hookworms encyst in a dog but become active during the pregnancy and can infect puppies in utero or through nursing.
Eight to Nine Weeks Into Pregnancy
Your girl is getting close! It’s time for some final preparations before the big day:
- Set up the whelping box. Give your dog enough time to get comfortable with her whelping box before she goes into labor. Put your dog’s favorite dog toys in there along with soft but easy-to-wash dog blankets or pads. Encourage your girl to nap in the box. Maybe give her some dog chew toys to work on while she rests there. You want her totally at ease with the whelping box so she will willingly whelp there and not under your bed or on your new sofa.
- Watch for nesting. In the days or hours leading up to whelping, most dogs will do some nesting. You may find your dog scuffing up blankets, shredding papers, or digging. She may also pace or pant as the first stage of labor gets started.
- Daily temperature checks. Get your dog accustomed to having her temperature taken. Use a digital thermometer that gives a quick readout—and give her plenty of positive reinforcement. Rectal temperature is most accurate, but always lubricate the tip of the thermometer so it slides in easily. Start checking your dog’s temperature about a week before her due date. Dogs tend to have a fairly dramatic temperature drop—down to 99 or 98 degrees—12 to 24 hours before whelping. You might miss this change, but if you see it, it is a reliable sign that labor is about to begin.
Puppies are arriving soon! Stay near your girl to provide reassurance and encouragement, and keep your veterinarian’s phone number close at hand in case you have any questions or concerns. Congratulations!
Dog Gestation FAQs
Q: How long is a dog's gestation period?
A: On average, a dog’s gestation period is 63 to 65 days, measured from when she ovulates. This does not always match the exact day of breeding. In general, dogs stay pregnant for about nine weeks.
Q: When do pregnant dogs start showing?
A: Pregnant dogs start showing at around six weeks. Her abdomen will become rounder and eventually drop (hang closer to the ground). These changes are more noticeable the more puppies she is carrying.
Q: When do pregnant dogs start nesting?
A: Pregnant dogs start nesting anywhere from a few days to a few hours before they give birth.
Q: When do pregnant dogs get milk?
A: Pregnant dogs get milk a few days before giving birth. You may notice a milky fluid leaking from her nipples.
Expert input provided by Dr. Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, and Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM.
There are no “stupid” questions when it comes to your pet’s health. If you suspect your pet is sick, please call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your regular veterinarian when possible as they can make the best recommendations for your pet. (If you need help finding a vet near you, use this link.)