How Long Are Dogs Pregnant and What Are Their Needs?

Can Your Dog Get Pregnant or is She Spayed?

The information shared here is only relevant for any female dog who has not had a hysterectomy. This procedure is called spaying. In the procedure of spaying, the reproductive organs are removed. If your female dog, correctly called a bitch, has never been spayed, she then may become pregnant.

Whether you are intending to breed your bitch, she got loose and came home pregnant, or you are simply curious, please make yourself comfortable, and we can have the talk- for your pup. Also, be sure to check out the animal shelters as here are many desirable breeds locked away in a local shelter through no fault of their own. 

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The Responsibilities of Breeding a Dog

Since we already know that a spayed pup will not go through heat, we can then go on to learn about the cycle for the non-spayed dog. Learning the four phases of your female dog’s heat cycle can really prepare you for the support your bitch will need- puppies or no puppies at the end of it all. Yep, even if your beloved pooch is not bearing any live puppies, you will still want to familiarize yourself with this information here. And in the case of a false pregnancy, you will need to know how to care for your dog and when its time to call the vet.

Your dog can have 2 heat cycles in a year, and the time between the cycles can range anywhere from 4 to 13 months. Also, it is vital that you breed your dogs responsibly, and you are caring for your dogs even out of the heat cycles. Breeding is only really necessary for preserving certain inherent traits and the possibility of improving these traits for future generations. This is a HUGE responsibility and is a financially heavy burden, a very time-consuming process, and should be understood to be such. You should spay your female dog before or at the state of sexual maturity unless you are ready to have puppies, and the same goes for neutering your male canine companion. There are many benefits to spaying and neutering your pet, like improvements in your pets’ behavior and gaining weight for slender dogs. So, please make sure you are making wise decisions for your pup that they can not do for themselves.

The Heat Cycle of a Dog

Proestrus

The first phase of the heat cycle of a female dog is proestrus. In the beginning of this cycle, you may notice a small amount of swelling of the dog’s vulva along with some bloody discharge. Male dogs will smell her heat and will certainly want to mate with her, but she will not allow it until she’s ready. This phase will last for a week, give, or take depending on the dog.

Estrous

In the most intense phase of her heat, you will observe more obvious swelling of her vulva and a vaginal discharge. The vaginal discharge may be of various hues, all normal, like yellow, red, brown, or clear. At this point of the cycle, your pup is ready to mate. This will last for a week, but again, depending upon the dog, it can last a bit longer.

Diestrus

Beginning the nine-week phase of the heat cycle, this is where your female dog will stop all sexual activity, pregnant or not. If your bitch is pregnant, the gestation period has already begun. If she is not pregnant after this heat cycle, she may still show symptoms, just as a pregnant dog would. This is called a pseudopregnancy and is caused by her hormones. Your canine companion will have all the same hormones as a pregnant dog would possess, so she will exhibit the same vomiting or growing belly and may actually go through the same nesting and labor behaviors as a pregnant dog. Although the dog who is actually pregnant at this time is in the gestational period, you may not know yet, because she’s not far enough to be able to see physical or physiological changes at this time. This will be a good time to be in contact with your veterinarian if you know that your dog has been sexually active during this time.

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Anestrus

The final phase of a dog’s heat cycle is considered a down time or a wind-down period that follows the raging hormones of the estrous phase. This is believed to be a six-month period in most cases, but some dogs are finished with their heat cycle in three to five months.

The Dog’s Gestation Period

The pregnant bitch will give birth to her puppies after approximately sixty-three days, or nine weeks. This will happen in the diestrus phase or her cycle, as referenced above. You may not notice any tangible signs of her pregnancy at first, but within a few weeks you will have a checklist of symptoms to bring to your vet. Here are the normal symptoms of a dogs pregnancy:

Lethargy

This means that your expectant mother will be noticeably tired and slow. With all the changes inside of her body, she will be exhausted, and understandably so!

Outstanding Nipples

In early gestation, you will notice that her nipples will be becoming larger, and you may notice a clear fluid coming from them. This is normal, as her body is preparing for what is to come.

‘Morning Sickness”

es! Your pregnant dog will have the same patterns of a time that she will be vomiting, just like a human mother would.

Not Eating Normally

This kind of goes hand-in-hand with morning sickness. Whether it’s nausea that will hinder her eating habits or it’s the ever-expanding belly that makes it uncomfortable to mow down a bowl of food, remember she will eat enough for her growing puppies, so don’t stress it.

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Growing Belly

This is where you can get the most satisfaction out of watching her pregnancy play out, and if she permits, RUB THAT CUTE BELLY! Do this gently, as there are multiple little puppies in there, and the belly should be handled with extreme care. If you are wondering why your pooch is getting a pooch, well, aside from the puppies growing inside her, later in her pregnancy she may have gotten over the morning sickness and is more interested in food. While that’s a great feat, you will still want to monitor her intake to ensure she’s not getting herself sick or gaining too much weight.

Nesting Behavior

This symptom of your dog’s pregnancy will come at the final couple of weeks, in which she will display a more territorial attitude over things and wanting to put familiar clothing or bedding items in her whelping box. This is the box you will prepare for her to give birth in, and you will want to put it together within the three-week mark before her labor starts to be sure she can get used to it before the big finale.

The Pregnant Dog

With all the symptoms laid out for you, you now should be able to identify the clear indicators that your dog is pregnant. So, what do you do now? Well, the very first thing you should do is call your dog’s veterinarian. Your vet will want you to bring your pup into the office to do some tests to confirm the pregnancy. There are a few tests that will confirm what you already suspected. These tests are physical examination of the uterus, an ultrasound, or a blood test to measure the hormone relaxin, and later, X-rays can show the number of puppies that are to be born.

All these tests are to be done within some time constraints; it is imperative that the pregnant dog is taken to her vet in a timely manner. By day 21 your vet will be able to perform a physical exam of the pregnant bitch’s uterus, and only your veterinarian should perform this test. This is important because the fetuses are in a fluid-filled sac where they will develop into puppies, and a person who is not trained in this technique can damage the fetuses. The Ultrasonography will be done between days 25-35 of gestation to reliably confirm the pregnancy and to check for viability by hearing the heartbeats of the fetuses. The blood test to check for relaxin will be done 30-35 days into the pregnancy. The X-rays on day 45 will show growing puppies, and on day 55 the veterinarian will be able to accurately give a head count of the litter to come.

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Feeding a Pregnant Dog

This is where there is a desire to supply an overcompensation of vitamins or elixirs. Stop! Don’t fall into that trap! If you are in good communication with your pregnant dogs vet, she will tell you what to do in special situations, but for the most part, the care is simple. You will want to feed your pup only a kibble type of puppy food at four weeks gestation or even just before mating. When you make the switch over to the puppy food, you will want to draw it out over the course of 7-10 days to ensure it doesn’t upset her stomach. You may opt for a specialized blend of kibble dog food made specifically for pregnant and lactating bitches if you want, but puppy food will accomplish the same thing.

The protein and high caloric intake are the goal all the way through weaning, and the puppy food that is marked for large breed puppies are not suitable for the pregnant dog because the low calcium and phosphorous distributed throughout and the lower energy levels the dog food provides when compared to a generalized puppy food. There are no special indications further than that, except the measurements of helpings. The amount of dog food to be given is the same as her normal diet until the last 3 months, and she will require a 20% increase in her serving of food but offered in smaller allotments and more frequently. In fact, ever since the morning sickness has  debuted, you should have already started to serve smaller meals to your pup.

Medications and Vaccines

You will be expected to keep her preventive care going for fleas, ticks, and the like, but you may need to switch brands if the contraindications on the label warn against the application on a pregnant dog. The vet may recommend a specific brand like HeartGaurd Plus or Frontline. The pregnant dog will not need any supplementing of any vitamins and does not need to be given additional any vaccines or medications, with the only exception of a wormer for hookworms and roundworms that your dog’s vet will administer in the last 2 weeks of her pregnancy.

The Big Finale!

This is where the nail biting begins, and you want to ensure a fruitful delivery of the precious newborn puppies. The precursor to this big event is making a whelping box about 3 weeks prior to the actual birth. Putting a whelping box together and introducing it to your pregnant dog in plenty of time to get her used to being in it and ensuring she is comfortable is one of the most important pieces of whelping.

The whelping box should be lined with plenty of clean blankets and towels and put in a warm quiet area of the house. Whelping is a term that simply means birthing puppies. In the whelping phase the mother’s teats will become larger because of the milk that is coming in. She may become restless and show signs of discomfort when birth is imminent.

The pregnant dog should have her temperature checked frequently starting at the 58th day of the gestation period, to catch the temperature drop that indicates the impending birth of the puppies. That temperature drop will happen 24-48 hours before birth. Her normal temperature will be 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit and the drop will be a degree or 2, reading 98-100 degrees on the thermometer.

In her restlessness, if you spot a green or clear discharge, know that her contractions are starting. You will be able to see the contractions move over her belly in waves, and the dog’s instincts will take over from there. Mostly, you are there to support your companion and to call the vet if there are not any puppies born after 4 hours after the arrival of the first puppy.

cords for her very carefully about an inch away from the puppy’s body with your first fingers and thumb and never tug on the cord as doing this will cause damage to the puppy’s organs. Also, be aware of puppies who aren’t breathing on their own. You will need to do what you can to stimulate the newborn puppy by rubbing the belly with a towel and/or opening the airways by cleaning out their noses, head pointing downward.

You may also want to move the newborn puppies to a new box while mom is delivering the next, then reuniting them with mom as soon as possible. While the birth process is in progress, keep enough clean towels to keep the new mother’s whelping box clean and comfortable. All the puppies will be born in as little as an hour or as long as 24 hours from the beginning of labor. Some puppies will come out headfirst, and some will come out butt first, and either is normal; there’s not an issue with a breeched position.

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The Possibility of a Dog Birthing By Cesarean (C-Section)

There are special cases in which the expectant mother will need to deliver her puppies by a cesarian or C-section. This may be because of the size of the puppies or the health of the expectant mother. Whatever the reason, know that the veterinarian is the one who will make the decision and knows the best method of delivering her puppies. Make sure when this is the plan, you take your pup to all her appointments, her C-section is performed by a board-certified animal surgical specialist, and you follow all the instructions for the care of the new mother and her newborn puppies explicitly.

Care After the Birth of the Litter

Immediately after the amazing births of your pup’s litter, you will want to stick around to witness the bonding of the newborn puppies and their mama and the bonding that will happen between siblings. You will want to keep the puppies warm, as they can’t yet regulate their own body temperatures, but not by holding or petting just yet. You may want so badly to pet and love on the new babies, but the first couple of weeks the puppies are alive they are very susceptible to diseases and viruses, so its best to leave them to their mama to cuddle. You DO want to observe the interactions with their mom and how well the puppies are feeding. If there are any obvious signs of hostility from the new mother to her young or there is a problem with lactation, call the vet immediately.

As a new grandma or grandpa, you will want to call the veterinarian to announce the birth of the newborns, and the vet may want to see them or their mom right away. Usually there will be a 2-4 week before the puppies go on their first trip out. Also, the vet may want to get the puppies on a dewormer regimen at about 4-6 weeks of age. Vaccinations will also be administered at 6 weeks of age.

Weaning the Puppies Off the Teat

The weaning of the puppies will start at the 3-4-week mark, and you may want to do it gradually giving the puppies a mixture of canned dog food and dry puppy food. This mixture will be easier for the puppies to eat, but you will need to maintain access to the mother, as she will continue to nurse the puppies for now. By the 5th or 6th week the puppies will be weaned completely. At this time, they will rely solely on puppy food and only want mommy for affection and learning acceptable social skills along with their survival skills.

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Indications of a Need for Medical Attention Post-Birth

In a perfect labor and birth of a litter, the vet will not need to intervene; however, unfortunately, this is not always the case. Here are some sure indications that your dog or puppies need prompt medical attention: lethargy- meaning the mother is seeming very tired and weak and listless, vomiting, not eating, or any swelling or red discoloration of mom’s mammary glands- called mastitis.

When the newborn puppies are nursing, they should be eating every hour or two hours, and if they seem to be nursing incessantly or becoming frustrated the new mother may not be producing enough milk or not producing milk entirely.

Consider Spaying or Neutering the Puppies

If your intention is to sell or re-home the puppies, please keep in mind that the puppies will be ready in 8 weeks post-birth. Although, at 10 weeks they become more acclimated to life with the extra couple of weeks with their mother and siblings. This ensures that the puppies will be at an optimal grasp of social interactions. Even still, at 8 or 10 weeks old the puppies will be ready to go to a new home, now. Before, rehoming you should get the puppies spayed and neutered. There is a world-wide epidemic of homeless pets because of the decision that was made to not spay or neuter, and a lot of these animals end up homeless because of poor pet ownership. Please, consider spaying or neutering for the sake of the animals in shelters and all the homeless pets who deserve a loving home to call their own.

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