26th February 2015
A dog’s pregnancy begins from the moment of ovulation to when the puppies are born, and usually lasts between 61 and 65 days. As with humans, dogs experience three trimesters of pregnancy, each at around 21 days in length.
Females that haven’t been spayed are at risk of getting pregnant, so you need to decide as early as possible whether you want your bitch to breed. However, dog pregnancy isn’t always apparent until the later stages. Bear in mind some bitches can experience phantom pregnancies, where all of the same signs are exhibited without any puppies having been conceived. Your vet can confirm whether your dog is pregnant.
Signs of a bitch in heat
A bitch is normally only fertile twice a year, which is when she comes into heat, or oestrus. This lasts between 12 and 21 days on average, but can vary a lot between dogs. Expect changes in her behaviour during this time due to the hormone imbalance she is experiencing, and her interest in mating will increase.
Examples are tensing of the rear legs and waving her tail for a male to catch her scent, and lifting her hind quarters towards them when they approach. At the beginning of the cycle the vulva swells and blood is present in the vaginal discharge. However, swelling will decrease and the discharge could change colour as the cycle advances. She may also urinate more and seem nervous and easily distracted, or more alert than usual.
Appetite and nutrition
Your bitch could experience a loss of appetite during the early stages, or at the end of the pregnancy before birth. Consult your vet if any concerns arise about your bitch’s appetite at any point during the pregnancy.
Morning sickness caused by hormonal changes is another symptom. This can occur during the third or fourth week and usually only lasts for a few days. Some dogs don’t vomit very much and others don’t at all.
During and after the fifth week, your bitch will need more food to ensure the growing puppies are receiving all of the nourishment they require. She will also need more protein in her diet. Over-feeding can cause excessive weight gain, so seek advice from your vet about how much food to give your bitch. They will be able to calculate exactly how much she and her puppies need.
You will notice your bitch’s weight begin to increase about halfway into the pregnancy, between 28 and 35 days. As the weeks progress, her stomach and nipples will appear increasingly larger, and her nipples will darken as well.
During the second half of the pregnancy the bitch’s stomach may increase in size by as much as 20%-50%, meaning she will likely find moving around more difficult than usual. Also, the hair on her stomach might begin to thin out, but this is nothing to worry about.
From around week eight onwards, the puppies are due at any time so make sure your bitch avoids any rough play as this could lead to early labour. Toward the end of the week she should begin to produce colostrum as her mammary glands swell, which happens before milk production starts.
Changes in behaviour and temperament
It is likely your bitch will experience some behavioural changes as well. For instance, she may be less active than usual or want a different amount of attention than she normally does. Urinating and sleeping more are other changes experienced by some dogs.
A pregnant dog could appear more defensive than usual, so try not to agitate or aggravate her with lots of unfamiliar people and sounds. Some can experience depression, but speak to your vet because there might be something else other than pregnancy that needs addressing. Furthermore, ensure that any young children understand the importance of leaving the dog alone when she needs it.
You may notice some changes in your bitch’s temperament during the final week of pregnancy, as she is likely to be quieter than normal as part of her preparation for the birth. Restlessness, salivating and panting more than usual are examples of other changes.
Towards the end of the pregnancy at around day 49 onwards, the bitch will begin to nest. This is where she attempts to find the best possible place to give birth to her puppies. Look out for her taking items from around the home to place in her chosen spot, such as blankets and other soft furnishings. You can create a whelping box for your bitch, which will provide a safe place for her to give birth in.
Nesting and the whelping box
The whelping box is where the puppies will be born, and where they will live for the first few weeks of their lives. The sides need to be high enough to protect them from draughts and ensure they remain in the box, but the bitch also needs to be able to get in and out of it easily. It has to be large enough for her to stretch out in with all of her puppies inside it at the same time.
Make the interior as comfortable as possible by adding newspapers or puppy training pads, as this absorbent material is easily replaceable and perfect for when your bitch begins nesting. Bear in mind that any towels, rugs or similar items will need to be cleaned regularly. You may want to install a security bar in the box so the puppies will not be accidentally crushed or suffocated by the dam.
Think about the best area in your home to keep the box. It should be in a familiar, quiet place that will provide security but won’t distract your bitch from her puppies. After you have made the perfect whelping box, encourage her to sleep in it in preparation of the new arrivals.
If you know your bitch has mated, take her to the vet two or three weeks later to check whether she is pregnant. A completely safe ultrasound scan can be conducted by the vet to detect the puppies. The stomach should not be examined by anyone other than a professional, as this can affect the growth of the puppies or even cause a miscarriage if done incorrectly. Your vet may also conduct a blood test to assess your bitch’s hormone levels.
Throughout the pregnancy you need to consult with the vet regarding nutritional information, exercise and how best to care for your bitch. The visits will be useful for treating any other ailments or conditions she might have, so she can be healthy and happy during her pregnancy. Remember to speak to your vet before using any flea and worming treatments at this time.
As a responsible pet owner who wants the best for their dog, you need to do everything you can to make her pregnancy happy, healthy and successful. Follow all of the vet’s advice you are given, and keep household stress as minimal as possible.
Insuring your pet is another way you can protect them. Animal Friends offer a variety of policies for you to choose from.