Pregnancy can be a challenging time for your dog, but being able to identify the pregnancy and knowing what steps to take will make the process safer and more comfortable for your dog & her puppies. Read our guide to learn the early and late signs & symptoms of dog pregnancy, what you can do to help your dog during this time and some warning signs to watch out for.
Some information about dog pregnancy
A female dog can only get pregnant while she is in heat (menstruating), which happens once or twice a year (once every 8 months to be exact), and lasts for 2-3 weeks. Of course, she will need to have sexual contact with a male dog during the 2-3 weeks she’s in heat in order to get pregnant.
A dog’s pregnancy lasts about 9 weeks (63 days). Like human pregnancies, it can be helpful to divide the pregnancy into 3 trimesters – 3 weeks for each trimester.
Early signs & symptoms of dog pregnancy
The first 2 weeks will be largely uneventful and without any telltale signs of pregnancy, but from week 3 onwards, there will be some subtle signs & symptoms of pregnancy, but they may be difficult to identify.
- Morning sickness – includes vomiting and a temporary decrease in appetite
- Mood changes – hormones increasing in her body may make her quieter than usual, or more clingy than usual
- Nipples become pink at 2-3 weeks
- Clear vaginal discharge at 4 weeks onwards – should not be bloody or contain mucus
The morning sickness (vomiting, decrease in appetite) will occur around the 3rd-4th week of pregnancy, and can occur at any time of the day, not just the morning. She should still be eating, and you can make it easier for her by giving smaller portions of her meals frequently throughout the day, instead of her usual 2 (or 3) meals a day. The morning sickness should only last a 10-14 days at the most, not more than that. If your dog is vomiting or is not eating much beyond this, there may be something else wrong with her and she should be taken to a vet.
Dogs who have mated and show any of the above signs & symptoms should be taken to the vet 2-3 weeks after mating to confirm the pregnancy. Around this time, there are several ways the vet can confirm a pregnancy, including doing a blood test to check for the hormone relaxin (by 3rd week), doing an ultrasound (by 3rd week), or touching the dog’s belly (by 4th week; should only be done by vet).
Late signs & symptoms of dog pregnancy
The latter portion of your dog’s pregnancy, weeks 6-9, will bring bigger & more noticeable changes.
- Abdominal enlargement – the “baby bump” will start to show from the 6th week of pregnancy; movements of the puppies in the belly will be visible around the 8th week
- Enlarged nipples at 5th-6th week of pregnancy
- Enlarged breasts, possibly with some milky fluid leaking from it
- Low energy due to her heavy belly, may be cranky or anxious
The start of the 3rd trimester (7th week) may be a good time to see the vet again; at this time the vet can do an X-ray of your dog’s belly to check how many puppies are in there.
Anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks before she gives birth, your pregnant dog will start to nest. Nesting when she will settle in a dark, safe, comfortable space and start to gather materials she will need for the birthing process, such as a blanket and toys she finds comforting.
How to help your dog out during her pregnancy
- Nutrition – increase the amount of food given to her gradually starting the 5th week. By the 8th week she should be receiving 50% more food than her pre-pregnant state. Food should be given in small portions frequently throughout the day because her enlarged belly won’t be able accommodate a large amount of food. Food should be kept at 50% more than pre-pregnancy until about 4 weeks after she gives birth (depends on number of puppies).
- Exercise – limit strenuous activity during first two weeks (while the embryos undergo implantation in the uterus) and then again once her belly starts growing (for comfort).
- Whelping box – prepare a box for your dog to give birth in, one lined blankets to keep her warm
Warning signs to watch out for during pregnancy
Now that you know what changes normally occur in pregnant dogs, here are a few signs & symptoms that may be cause for alarm.
- Vaginal discharge that is bloody, mucus-containing or foul-smelling is not normal and may be a sign of infection or some other problem. See vet immediately.
- No appetite – during the 10-14 days of morning sickness and the few days before she gives birth, a low appetite is expected and even normal. However if your dog is not eating anything at all, especially if it lasts more than 2 days, you should give your vet a call.
- Vomiting beyond the morning sickness period, or persistent vomiting at any time, should prompt a call or a visit to the vet.
Remember, you know your dog best, so if you notice any other signs or symptoms that you aren’t comfortable with, a quick call or trip to the vet is always a good idea.