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Summary: In this blog, we explore and explain pregnant dog care! We’ll establish how to care for a pregnant dog, how long a dog’s gestational period is, signs and symptoms of dog pregnancy and everything else you may need to know while you’re looking after a pregnant dog. Read on to discover more about dog pregnancy and their specific pregnant dog care needs…
If you’re not planning on breeding your dog, it’s always advisable to get her spayed as this can reduce the likelihood of her developing womb and urine infections, mammory (breast) cancer and other issues. A female dog in heat can be messy too (they produce a bloody discharge for a period of around three weeks twice a year).
However, if you’ve decided to breed your doggo, there are a few things you’ll need to know about caring for a pregnant pooch!
When a female dog reaches puberty/sexual maturity, she will come in to heat. This is usually around the age of 9/10 months but for smaller breeds this can be earlier and for some larger breeds this can take up to 2 years to occur! For most dogs, their first heat cycle is usually symptomless, so it’s standard practise for intentional breeding to wait until the second or third heat cycle.
Heat cycles typically occur every 6 months but this will vary from pooch to pooch - again, smaller breeds can cycle more regularly than larger ones.
When a female dog comes into heat, her vulva will swell and she will begin to produce a vaginal discharge which will be bloody. The amount of blood will vary from dog to dog. She will become incredibly attractive to male doggies but will be reluctant to accept a mate until about 7-10 days into the heat cycle. For most female dogs, the optimum conception time is between 10-14 days.
The heat cycle is complete once she has stopped producing discharge and her vulva returns to its normal size.
About 25-30 days into a doggy pregnancy, your dog’s teats will swell. She will also begin producing vaginal discharge around this time too (not bloody). Some pregnant dogs are less hungry and may seem very low in mood. Her tummy will swell with her pups around the 45-50 day mark.
All dog breeds are pregnant for around 9 weeks (just over 2 months).
As soon as you suspect pregnancy, she must be assessed by her vet. This is to confirm the pregnancy and to make sure there are no problems with the foetus(es). From Day 21 of pregnancy, your vet can test forrelaxin - a hormone only pregnant dogs release, which will confirm her pregnant status. They will also most likely feel your dog’s abdomen to check for swelling in the uterus and the presence of “bumps” (puppies!). After the 28 day mark, you may be offered an ultrasound to determine a rough estimate in litter size.
The only sure-fire way of learning how many pups there are is via X-Ray, which can occur after Day 49 of pregnancy, but this can expose the puppies to radiation which can be dangerous. Your vet will most likely advise against this.
Litter size will vary from dog to dog dependent on their age, breed and quality of daddy dog’s semen. In smaller breeds, sometimes it can just be a single puppy but in larger breeds, it can be anything up to 17!
Ideally, your dog should be up to date on vaccinations before she becomes pregnant. Dog mama’s pass on their immunity to their puppies via their milk so it’s really beneficial for both mother and pups to have peak antibody levels. If she’s overdue on vaccines when she falls pregnant, discuss with your vet as some vaccinations are safe to administer during pregnancy.
The same goes for parasitic (flea, worm and tick) treatments. Mama dog can pass worms onto her babies so make sure to ask your vet about how to worm her during pregnancy, which product is safest to use, and establish when the pups will need to be wormed after birth. Some vets may advise a daily worming treatment (Fenbendazole) from day 40 of pregnancy to 2 days post-birth to help prevent worms being passed from bitch to pups.
It’s important to make sure your pregnant dog continues exercising, but be cautious not to overdo it! After 4 weeks of pregnancy, shorter, but regular walks are advised. From Day 49, it’s time to drastically reduce any strenuous activity.
From Day 42 of pregnancy, you may want to start feeding your pregnant dog more regularly (around 3-4 small meals a day), as foetal development will speed up from this point. It is sometimes advised to feed a pregnant dog puppy specific food as puppy food has higher energy and protein levels in it.
In the 8th-9th weeks of pregnancy, your dog will start to become restless as she prepares to give birth (in dogs this called whelping). She will have a strong urge to nest and may begin producing milk.
It’s important to provide her with an area to nest and whelp like a large cardboard box, paddling pool or crate, that is quiet and feels safe and secure. This should be padded out with blankets, sheets and towels (ones you don’t mind getting very messy), that she can easily climb in and out of (but keep puppies in!). She will spend a lot of time in this area as she prepares for labour. Her appetite may reduce, she may begin to pant a lot and about 24-48 hours prior to birth, her temperature will drop to drop to just below 37.8°C.
If you have children or other pets, it’s essential you keep them away from your dog as she prepares to whelp so she can feel properly relaxed. You should also keep the room she’s in warm, as it’s vital the puppies are warm too.
As she enters labour, she may need to urinate more frequently, and usually, she will excrete a green discharge from her vagina - this is the sign that the placenta has detached. If puppies don’t appear after a few hours from the green discharge excretion, contact the vet.
Mama dogs can usually handle birth by themselves: they usually deliver, remove the pups from their amniotic sac and chew through the umbilical cord independently – as well as give their pups a good cleaning lick! Each pup can take between 20-60 minutes to be delivered - so labour can last anywhere between a few minutes (if it’s just one pup!) to several hours.
However, if she’s exhausted or another puppy is being delivered very quickly after another, then you may need to help remove the pup(s) from their amniotic membrane(s) so they can breathe. If your dog doesn’t seem to want/or can’t engage in cutting the umbilical cord, take a study piece of thread and tie it tightly around the cord about an inch away from the pup’s body. Tie another loop further down the cord, and then with clean, sharp scissors, cut between the two. If the puppy isn’t crying, gently pinch them on the back of their neck – crying out is important for them to do as this will clear fluid from their airway. If they’re struggling to cry/breathe, you can try sucking out the fluid from their nostril with a pipette (if you have one!).
If you have any questions during your dog’s labour, contact their vet.
If mum is straining but no puppies are appearing, there are fewer puppies then expected or it’s been more than 1 hour since the last puppy and you’re expecting more, it’s essential you call your vet as a matter of emergency as there may be a birth complication occurring.
Petlab Co. Pro Tip: Smaller breeds of dogs, and those with short noses or flat faces (brachycephalic), are at a heightened risk of pregnancy complications (Pugs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Shih Tzus etc.) and are more prone to difficulty when whelping and can need professional assistance. They are also at a higher risk of conditions like Eclampsia which can occur any time from the later stages of pregnancy to up to 3 weeks after birth. This is when the body releases calcium from their bones in order to satisfy the body’s demand for it during milk production and foetal development. It’s vital you’re aware of this when caring for a pregnant breed such as these and you should discuss any concerns with your vet and get to know the symptoms to look out for.
When delivery is complete, encourage mum to stretch her legs and relieve herself. Then replace her towels, clean up any after birth, and leave her to nurse and bond with her babies!