Human pregnancies are pretty easy to spot, but it’s a different story with dogs. Their pregnancies share a few traits with ours but still present quite differently. And although there are different signs to look out for, they’re much subtler.
Here’s what you should expect when a dog is expecting.
How to Tell if a Dog Is Pregnant
There’s no at-home dog pregnancy test, so you can’t pop over to the pet store and pick one up. If you suspect but aren’t sure of pregnancy, only a veterinarian can answer with certainty.
They’re able to perform a blood test to measure for the hormone relaxin. The developing placenta releases it, but it won’t really reach detectable levels until three weeks into the pregnancy. So, this test isn’t a catch-all either.
A veterinarian can also perform an ultrasound or a physical examination later on in the pregnancy. To spot behavioral and physical signs yourself, it’s best to first understand a dog’s gestation period, in other words, how long dogs are pregnant.
How Long Do Dogs Stay Pregnant?
Dog pregnancy length is much shorter than humans. That’s part of the reason why the pregnancy will be less pronounced. It also means you’ll have less time to figure out whether they’re pregnant or not!
So, how long is a dog pregnant?
- Instead of 9 months, the dog gestation period is about 2 months.
- The average length is 63 days, with a typical range anywhere between 58 and 68 days.
- Like humans, however, the gestation period for dogs consists of 3 distinct trimesters.
- Each last about 3 weeks on average (21 days)
If you’re purposefully breeding, knowing the signs can help you — and your vet — gauge how far along the mother-to-be is. This is important in determining how you should be caring for her. If you’re concerned but unsure, you can check these signs against your timeline of events.
An important thing to note is that the first half of the pregnancy may not be noticeable.
Physical Changes to Look For
- For the first month or so of a dog’s pregnancy, the only indication might be slight weight gain. But that’s not assured — extra weight may only become apparent well into the second trimester.
- She’ll continue to gain pounds until it’s time to have the puppies. Unexplained weight without any change in routine may be your first tip-off. It’s worth a vet visit.
- Dogs probably won’t show a huge baby belly, but they will fill out in the abdomen area. Depending on the size of the litter, the baby bump may be relatively small or noticeably large.
- Early on, you may or may not see your dog experience morning sickness, just like a person might. This won’t always occur, however. And it won’t be evident if your dog is already more prone to throwing up.
- As the pregnancy continues, the dog’s teats will swell and darken. This should be a visible change early in the second trimester or about 30 days in.
Behavioral Changes to Look For
- Gestation for dogs takes its toll as much as it does on humans. Your soon-to-be dog mom will get a little uncomfortable and find daily life just a bit harder. She may be less energetic, have decreased appetite, and show some disinterest in playing or exercising.
- In the second half of the pregnancy, you will see a spike in appetite, though. For some dogs, an appetite increase is apparent from the beginning, rather than a decrease.
- Finally, it’s not abnormal for your dog to get a little moody. She might get more affectionate and seek out your attention or act irritable and seek privacy. The latter is especially true late in gestation when she’ll probably exhibit nesting behaviors.
- As she gets ready to give birth, she’ll seek a comfortable private space and become more withdrawn.
Tips on Caring for a Pregnant Dog
1) Get your vet involved. She should be going in for a checkup during each trimester. At each different stage, the veterinarian will be able to make additional assessments. First, a prenatal checkup, then a cursory litter check, and a final review of the puppies and mom’s pre-delivery health.
2) Besides that, you’ll want to make sure she’s up to date on all her immunizations. She can pass immunity to the pups, but she can also pass worms, so she must be all caught up on treatments. Ensure no health problems are affecting her on top of, or due to, the pregnancy either.
3) Gradually switch her back to puppy formula, or an equally enriched feed, for extra nutrition. It will give her the support she needs and help ensure her milk is full of everything the puppies will need.
4) Keep up with gentle exercise. Although she may show less enthusiasm, you must continue taking a pregnant dog out for walks. To better accommodate her, take only short walks but more frequently throughout the day. Avoid training, anything intensive or stressful, and activities that can cause unnecessary jostling.
5) You can help out with the nesting instincts mentioned above. Create a safe and cozy nest for the birth, in an area free of disturbances and not drafty. She may not be drawn to your nest, as her instincts tell her to create her own, but you can safely encourage her to use it.
“How will I know if she’s carrying a litter?” and “How long are dogs pregnant anyway?” are common questions. A pregnant dog needs special care and attention. These are things you should look up before attempting breeding — or if you’re worried at all about a surprise pregnancy.
Knowing if your dog is pregnant isn’t entirely straightforward, but it isn’t difficult either. The trickiest part is the timing. Keep your eyes open for the signs and try to keep track of the limited gestation timeline. Don’t forget to bring her to the vets for a checkup, but remember that even a veterinarian can’t make a guaranteed assessment too early on.
For more information on labor, delivery, and caring for mama afterward, be sure to check out some of these other resources.