Is My Dog Pregnant? How Can I Help?

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A brown dog laying in a pink fuzzy bed
Dr. Erica Irish author of Is My Dog Pregnant? How Can I Help?

When people think of pregnancy in humans, they think of the classic rounded belly or swollen ankles that are a common side effect of pregnancy. Fortunately for dogs, theirgestation or pregnancy cycle only lasts about nine weeks compared to our forty weeks, but this means their signs maybe a little less obvious to breeders.

How do you know if your dog is pregnant? And if she is, how can you help?


Basic information on reproduction in dogs

Intact female dogs are dogs who have not been spayed, and they typically go through theirestrous cycles two to three times a year. When a dog goes intoestrus aka her heat cycle, she is able to become pregnant. This is when her vulva swells, and bloody discharge is visible. The average dog will have her first heat before one year of age, and cycles may not occur regularly until she is two or older.

Dogs who have been spayed orovariohysterectomized will no longer have estrous cycles. This means that even if a spayed female mates with an intact male dog, pregnancy cannot occur.


Is my dog pregnant? How can I tell?

If you are certain that your dog mated at the time of her estrus, there is a good chance that she is pregnant. She may start to show signs such as decreased activity, where she will seem less energetic and nap a little more frequently. However, this is difficult to discern when your dog is already a very calm or laidback pup, so you may need to look for other signs.

Some pregnant dogs experience a change in appetite early in pregnancy, and some may even experience vomiting though this is typically not as severe as the kind seen with human females. Appetite tends to increase towards the final weeks because pregnant dogs will need to consume three to four times more calories than usual to help with milk production.

Some owners note a change in affection as well. Where some dogs are more attention-seeking with members of the family, others may seek isolation and increase their nesting behaviors. They may attempt to shred their bedding to make a place for their puppies. However, some dogs can experience what is known as afalse pregnancy which is when the hormones released after estrus can cause attitude changes and nesting behaviors even if mating or pregnancy didn’t occur. It may even make some dogs irritable, but this usually resolves after 14 to 21 days.

In the later stages of pregnancy, your dog’smammary glands will enlarge because of the need for milk production, though this is also another sign for dogs experiencing a false pregnancy. However, pregnant dogs with large litter numbers will develop a rounded abdomen whereas non-pregnant dogs will not.


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Confirmatory testing

The best way to know whether or not your dog is pregnant is to consult your veterinarian. The gold standard of testing is viaabdominal ultrasound. Puppies can be seen on ultrasound as early as 21 days post-mating, and it is the best way to make sure that the puppies are viable because heartbeats can be detected via imaging.

If ultrasound is not available, there is a blood test that is used to detect a hormone known asrelaxin which helps to prepare the cervix and uterus for labor. Relaxin is released from the developing placenta, and it can be performed as early as 22 to 27 days post-mating.

A negative test means that you may have tested your dog too early, so be sure to repeat the test in one week if this is the case. Relaxin testing can also help rule out false pregnancies.

X-rays may not help confirm the pregnancy until 45 days post-mating because this is the time where the skeletons of the puppies will be formed and thus be able to be detected. X-rays can help you count the number of puppies present but won’t let you know if they are viable or not. They can also help determine if aCaesarean section surgery is necessary.

For example, if the head of a puppy is much larger than the mother’s birth canal, labor might not progress and could result indystocia which is life-threatening to the mother and her unborn puppies. French Bulldogs are one of the most common breeds that require C-section surgeries for their litters.


How can I help my pregnant dog?

Proper nutrition is critical for pregnant dogs. High-quality dog foods are key, and your veterinarian can help you choose which food is best. Many vets will recommend feeding a puppy-staged food to a pregnant dog towards the end of gestation. This is because puppy diets have the most calories per kibble and will help to easily increase your pregnant dog’s calorie intake.

You should check in with your veterinarian at least once during this time, usually in the beginning when confirmatory testing is performed. If there is anything that concerns you such as vomiting, diarrhea, abnormal vaginal discharge, not eating, trouble breathing, etc., contact your veterinarian immediately.

Whelping boxes are crates where your dog can safely have her puppies. These should be kept in a safe and quiet place, preferably dark or covered with a blanket for privacy. It should also be warm but avoid using direct heat sources as this can injure mom and her puppies.

In the event that labor does not occur 65 days post-mating, or if labor fails to progress, you will need to contact your veterinarian right away. Pregnant dogs who are actively pushing for more than one hour, have more than two hours in between puppies, or do not pass the placenta after three hours may require immediate medical intervention or emergency surgery. This can be very expensive, and so it is best to have pet insurance or at least $2,000 set aside for just such an emergency.

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The signs of pregnancy in female dogs can be subtle, and it can be easy to confuse these signs with false pregnancy or illness. Confirmatory testing is the best way to know for sure, and if your dog is pregnant, be sure to set up accommodations for her ahead of time. This may also mean an emergency trip to the vet’s office if dystocia occurs, so make sure to have a plan just in case!


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Meet The Author 

Dr. Erica Irish

Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine