Preparing For Whelping: What You Need To Know
About Dog Pregnancy and Labor
If you have bred your dog, you’re getting ready for some puppies! You probably have all sorts of questions coming to mind – how will I know my dog is pregnant? How long are dogs pregnant? What about labor? What are the signs of labor in dogs? How will I know when to call the my vet? How many puppies will she have?
And that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg.
To try and make this as simple as possible, we’ve written this easy to understand guide covering how long dogs stay pregnant for and how you can prepare for puppies. Whether you’re a first time breeder or this is your 9th time whelping, we hope this is helpful.
Dog pregnancy length is super short compared to humans. The average length of gestation in dogs is only 63 days. Can you imagine? Dogs are pregnant for 9 weeks instead of 9 months – might sound a little unfair to those of you who have given birth! But, as always, Mother Nature is in charge and there is definitely variance in this!
Thetwo months that your dog is pregnant with her puppies are very important months for both her and the pups she is carrying. It is important that you’re aware of her health throughout these two months and keep your girl exercised, healthy and minimize stress for her. It is within the range of normal for a dog to whelp after her 58th day of pregnancy, these three days early are comparable to a human baby being born about 2 weeks early.
Thereare minimal health concerns and full expectation that the puppies will grow into strong, wonderful companions if they are born after 58 days. It is best to to be prepared on day 58 and expecting puppies on day 60. On the flip side, some dogs stay pregnant a few days longer and whelping on day 65 is seen every now and then. Keep in mind that ovulation date is often miscalculated, so it’s a good idea to stay in touch with your vet if you think you’re at day 65 and there still no puppies. Not necessarily cause for alarm, but definitely good to start the conversation.
How Do I Calculate My Dog’s Due Date?
From a completely scientific view, you should realize that the dog’s gestation period is calculated from the day she ovulates – not the day she breeds. There are multiple ways to figure out the day your dog ovulated – through microscopic views of cells, through charting signs and behaviors as your dog is in heat and through blood tests for hormone levels.
For this simple guide to dog pregnancy we are going to focus on leaving the science to the experts and encourage you to ask your vet do blood tests for hormone levels. If you haven’t bred yet, go ahead and take a trip to the vet ask the vet to help put together a schedule for blood tests together with you, they’ll do an overall health check just to make sure your girl is fit as a fiddle and ready for growing some puppies!
The vet will be doing the blood draws on schedule and will have it tested for progesterone levels. Based on these results, the veterinarian will be able to give you a pretty good guess as to when she ovulated. Once you know what day your dog ovulated – add 58 days to get an idea of the earliest day your dog will whelp, assuming there are no unforeseen health issues.
The Role Breed Plays In Pregnancy
There are so many variations between the different breeds including size, weight, and bone structure. Each of these differences play a role in your dog’s pregnancy because they dictate factors such as how big the puppies will grow and how much room they have. However, like we mentioned, dog pregnancy length is calculated from when the dog ovulates – this is similar for every breed because the reproductive systems for all dogs behaves the same way. A female Beagle will have almost the same pregnancy length of a giant Saint Bernard even though the beagle is a much smaller breed.
The real differences in whelping are from different bone structures more than based on breed. The differences show up in the methods and problems that are more likely to occur whelping in that breed. Like most other health concerns in dogs, small breeds are prone to different issues than large breeds.
For breeds with larger heads such as a French Bulldog there are always concerns of complications for your dog’s pregnancy and natural whelp that you should discuss with your vet. There are certain breeds that are more likely to need a C-section than others and it is always good to be prepared for this sort of thing.
This is another example of why you should talk to your vet through the entire process and take very good notes of dates of breedings and have progesterone testing done. It is important to not schedule a c-section too early – the puppies might not survive and it is important to not schedule the c-section too late because your mom might go into labor and develop complications.
Having a good relationship with your vet is important during your dog’s pregnancy.
If you don’t have a relationship with one, start finding a good vet now.
Paying Close Attention During Heat Can
Help In Determining Ovulation Date
Before you can figure out when your dog ovulated it is helpful to understand the basics of the canine reproductive cycle. The reproductive cycle for dogs is referred to as heat or estrous and is constantly causing changes. Your dog should go through a heat cycle roughly every 6 months with the majority of that time in a non-fertile state.
At the start of their heat cycle one of the first things that happens is small amounts of bleeding. You’ll know this is happening by finding small drops of tan to red blood around the house or kennel. A good place to check for bleeding is on beds or blankets they have been laying on. You’ll most likely start to notice her licking to clean herself up quite a bit as well.
Your dog might seem a little less
energetic during her heat cycle.
All of this happens before they are even able to get pregnant and usually lasts 7-14 days. In our experience, the best time to start testing progesterone is around the 7th day you notice blood. It’s usually a good rule of thumb that once the bleeding tapers off, your mom is getting really close to ovulation. Just like humans, dog hormones play a key part in signaling their bodies that they are ready for ovulation.
The progesterone in their bodies will spike to around three times the normal amount and that signals for a release of eggs. It is safe to assume that your girl ovulated the day after the spike occurs. we really encourage you to work with your vet to keep track of these progesterone levels.
Early Stages Of Dog Estrus
Inthese early stages of your dog’s heat cycle, the boys will start to show lots and lots of interest. However, the instincts in your girl will kick in and she’ll know she’s not ready yet. She will appreciate all of the attention from the boys but she won’t stand for the male dog just yet. Letting your planned breeding pair play at this stage of her heat cycle is often a good idea though, but you will definitely want to supervise them.
Youwant to give them plenty of opportunities to flirt. Letting anticipation and interest build in your male is not a bad idea. The more they get to flirt the higher chances you have for a successful breeding. As much as your mom will love the attention from the boys, she should also be craving attention from you. She has hormones going crazy in her body and loves the comfort and stability she finds in you.
As ovulation progresses, and your dog is close to being ready to be bred, she has ways of telling you that as well. She starts to switch from playing and flirting with the boys to be willing to let them attempt a breeding. She does this by flagging with her tail to the side. She might even flag when you’re petting her – she can’t help it, it’s instincts!
You’re just petting her back and all of a sudden she turns her rear end to you and her tail shoots straight out to the side.
All of these signs are important for two reasons – to know when she ovulates and to know when you should breed her. Once she ovulates, the eggs are only good for 48 hours – so you better get some of those little swimmers there during that time frame.
Again, work with your vet to determine the best breeding schedule based on what you’ve tracked for signs of heat and progesterone. We recommend keeping a journal of all this information for each heat cycle so you can pass on as much information as possible to your vet. You will never regret taking good notes.
Many people keep these journals of their heat cycles even if they don’t plan to breed the dog because it’s also great information to compare between heat cycles and can also tell you if there might be a health problem developing.
Fertility: When Your Dog Is Ready To Breed
The next stage of heat is where she is going to be fertile. This is the stage after in the days ovulation that you want to get the eggs fertilized. The physical signs you’ve been tracking will start to decline – the bleeding will slow down and the color will become lighter. This should be the time when the breedings happen. What days and how many times you should breed your dog are very important things to consider.
The most common plan is to breed your dog the day you think she ovulated – referred to as day 1, and then again on day 2 and day 4. It can be important to have a “rest day” in there for you male so that he can regenerate and get one final go! The multiple breedings increases your chances for a successful pregnancy by both increasing your numbers and decreasing your chances you got the ovulation date incorrect.
Signs of Pregnancy in Dogs
After successful breeding, you must then watch for signs of how to tell if your dog is pregnant. It can be amazing to watch how their bodies will change as they go through their pregnancy as well as see how their mothering natural instincts kick in.
One of the first things that we often see is that when watching for dog pregnancy after breeding is that she stops eating – at least for the first few days. Think of it as a similar scenario to morning sickness in humans. A pregnant dog doesn’t feel exactly right, but she’s not quite sure why just yet. She will probably still get excited about treats, but doesn’t eat her breakfast and dinner. This is normal and as long as she isn’t losing weight or becoming dehydrated it is unlikely you have anything to worry about.
If you are worried at all, the best thing to do is call your vet. You can also feel free to entice your pregnant dog to eat with safe but desirable foods like plain yogurt or cooked sweet potatoes. After the first “morning sickness” phase, we typically see pregnant dogs start eating – and eating like the food is running out!
After this passes, a pregnant dog should start to feel better and will want to play and act normally. This will happen for the first 3 or 4 weeks – although there typically won’t be huge physical or temperament changes during this time it is important to not let her play too rough – but for the most part, it can be business as usual for a few weeks.
During these first three weeks, if she seems normal there isn’t too much to worry about – there aren’t immediate physical signs of pregnancy, so do not worry if she does not “look” pregnant. Throughout this first stage of pregnancy you should pay more attention to signs that something is wrong.
If your dog is not feeling well and needs to go to the vet, she will make it pretty obvious. This can be through losing weight, throwing up, upset bowel movements or dehydration. If you start to notice any of these signs, it is likely that you should get your girl to the vet as quickly as you can.
Yourdog is far more perceptive than you give her credit for. She watches you for signals on how to react to situations. If you let your stress levels elevate, her stress levels will elevate. While your dog is pregnant, you want her to be as relaxed and easy going as possible. Let her body focus on growing those puppies – an easy way to avoid stress is to stay away from lots of traveling, new experiences and new people around.
Manywebsites suggest that around 3 weeks, you can palpate or feel the mom’s stomach to search for almond sized puppies, but please don’t do this. Let your vet do this, do not do it yourself. Inexperience in palpating can lead to dead puppies. If you just can’t wait to know if she’s pregnant until the definite physical signs show up, please contact your vet for an appointment. At three weeks the puppies are still so small and fragile that their heartbeats won’t even show up on an ultrasound – so let the experts do it!
After about 4 weeks a pregnant dog will start showing physical signs. Mainly – her belly will start to grow! But you’ll also notice her teats getting larger and she might start wanting for extra rest time. From 4 to 8 weeks of her pregnancy you should be watching for her to continue to grow and wanting to nest. This is still a time period of preparing for both you and your dog. Pregnant dogs might start eating smaller amounts of food but eating more often throughout the day – she’s losing room for a full meal. Oftentimes during a dog’s gestation, she can also start wanting bathroom breaks more often.
For many people wondering how long dog pregnancy is, at first 63 days seems really short. It is about now that the anticipation and excitement really starts building and all the sudden your dog’s pregnancy seems really long.
Once you get to 7 weeks – you’ve made it to the most critical part of her pregnancy – you will notice her body starts preparing for labor and whelping. It is a great idea for the last week or two to be with your girl as much as possible and try to not leave her alone for extended periods of time. Again – if things are starting to go wrong in this time frame, it should be easy to see the signs of the typical complications in dog pregnancy.
Throughout The Length Of A Dog’s Pregnancy,
These Are Some of The Most Serious Problems To Look For.
- She stops eating and drinking water. This is not a good sign – get on the phone with your vet immediately.
- She vomits. If she vomits one time and she had just been eating grass, it may not point to a major complication. If your pregnant dog vomits several times, get in touch with your vet immediately.
- She gets dehydrated.
- She has irregular stools and bowel movements.
- High temperature – anything about 103.5 F is considered high.
At7 weeks you can get an ultrasound done by your vet. This is not a critical step but can provide useful information as you are preparing to whelp. They can get a count of how many heartbeats they can hear and they’ll also be able to let you know if the heart rates are in the expected range for their development. So again, this isn’t a critical step, but can be nice to get reassurance that everything is developing according to plan.
Anx-ray will give you a good estimate on the number of puppies. We do an x-ray for every single letter we whelp. Though it is often difficult to get an exact count of the number of puppies, it can be really helpful to have a good idea. If your dog has been in labor for quite a while and has only had 7, but you could clearly see 10 on the x-ray, you will know you have more coming.
You should be well-prepared for whelping and you have your whelping box ready – right? At this point in her pregnancy make sure you give her access to the whelping box and let her spend plenty of time comfortably nested in with the blankets and towels.
Signs Of Labor In Dogs: Time For Whelping
Puppy ID collars are one of the
most important things to have on hand.
Here Is Exactly What We Do
With Every Newborn Puppy
- Give your dog time to clean the newborn puppy up. If your still seeing the classic signs of labor in dogs, you have more puppies coming and you want to let those natural instincts keep rolling!
- When momma dog finds the puppy satisfactorily clean, check if it’s a boy or a girl and mark it with your puppy whelp ID collars. Write down the sex and time of birth.
- Look for any physical deformities and check for a Cleft Palate.
- Weigh the puppy and mark down the date and time you weighed. Track Weight in grams and use the color coded collar you’ve assigned the puppy.
- Check the puppy for dew claws and make notes of what you find. If you see rear dew claws, be sure to speak with your vet about it.
- We do all of this quickly, but carefully, and get the puppy back to mom and that delicious milk as fast as we can.
How To Know When Your Dog Is In Labor
Thefinal sign your dog will give you before labor starts is a drop in temperature. Her normal temperature will be between 101 and 102 F. It is ideal for you to start taking her temperature once a week or so after about 4 weeks so you’ll have a good baseline of “normal” for your dog. The hormones in her body that kick labor into gear also cause her temperature to drop below 99 F. By day 58 you should start taking and keeping a log of her temperature once in the morning and once at night. The biggest sign of labor in dogs is when your pregnant dog’s temperature drops below 99 F, at this point you know you will have a dog in labor within 24 hours.
Inmy experience – about 6 hours after her temperature gets below that magic mark she’ll start “Stage 1” of active labor. This means she will start to get very restless and will pant A LOT. She probably won’t be too interested in food or treats, but keep offering them to her. Especially some of her favorites. She will also try and find dark corners and quiet places to nest. Being with her and in the same room as her whelping box during this time is an ideal way to keep her stress levels low. We have also found that keeping the room dark and having a white noise machine can help keep her relaxed. It is also a good idea to take plenty of trips outside for potty time during this stage. Once delivery starts it can be a while before you get a chance to go back outside.
Going through the next stages of dog labor is when the fun really starts. That is because next stage of labor in dogs is active contractions and a puppy delivery! This part is different for each dog – they can range from completely calm and laying down to a little nervous and pacing around the whelping box. The important thing to remember though is that unless it is an emergency situation, don’t try to control her too much and let her do what makes her comfortable. During this time, there will be active contractions and fluids – normal discharge is a good red color and can be a thick and mucus like. A discharge that has a green tint to it can be more of a cause for concern and you should touch base with your vet if you start to see this.
Puppies are funny because they are born still in the sacs that they grew in – the maternal instincts that dogs in labor feel should kick in and she should start licking and tearing apart the sac. She will keep vigorously licking the puppy which is very important for stimulation on the puppy. She’s got to get those lungs working! You should hear some newborn puppy and that’s a great indication that you have a strong healthy puppy!
Once you’re confident it’s a healthy puppy, present it back to its mom and get it eating from her. Mom should be very attentive to her puppy and being close to her will keep it warm.
It’s a great idea to have some rice based heating pads on hand and your waterproof heating pad in the whelping box turned on and warm. There will be anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours until the next puppy comes and you get to do it all again! It is also nice to have the heating pad warm so you can put any puppies that have been born on it while mom is delivering the next little baby.
Your Dog in Labor: When To Call The Vet
If You Believe That Any Of The
Below Situations Are Occurring, Call Your Vet Now.
- A puppy is lodged and stuck in the birth canal.
- You have seen the typical signs of labor in dogs for more than 2 hours and no puppies have been delivered.
- It has been more than 2 1/2 hours since the last puppy was born and you are believe there are more puppies to come.
- Pregnancy lasts longer than 65 days without your dog showing any signs of labor.
- Tremors and vomiting.
When whelping is over and you have a healthy litter of puppies it’s time to focus on keeping them healthy. Throughout the first few weeks of their lives it is super important that you keep them clean, weigh them and chart it to make sure they’re growing and most importantly – take care of mom so she can keep taking care of them!
Some health issues can come up for your mom after she has given birth. Some of the more common ones are eclampsia and mastitis. These are both typically seen as preventable if you work hard at staying ahead of them!
Eclampsiais a drop in calcium levels and can occur while a pregnant dog is producing milk.To prevent eclampsia you should be giving mom calcium carbonate mixed in with her food – Discuss the appropriate dosage for your dog with your vet. Eclampsia is a life threatening emergency so if you start to see signs of stiff legs or muscle spasms get her to the vet IMMEDIATELY.
Mastitisis an infection in the breast tissue of your dog. To decrease the odds of mastitis developing, make sure your puppies are using each teat. If it is a small litter you might have to keep track of which ones are being used or express some of them yourself every few hours. Keeping the milk moving through the system gives it less of a chance to develop a bacterial infection. Check the nipples of the mother daily to make sure there is no infection and occasionally clean them with a damp warm washcloth. Signs of an infection include hard swollen nipple and discolored milk. If you suspect mastitis is developing, keep the puppies from eating from that teat and call your vet. Mastitis can be treated, but the sooner you catch it and get the right medicine from your vet the better!
Whelping is a big task and takes a lot of energy from your dog. Your new mother dog will be recovering from whelping for the first week to 10 days. You will continue to see bloody discharge and softer stools. This is to be expected, but make sure she is drinking lots and lots of water and watch for signs of dehydration in your dog.
All this time while you are focusing on your dog, she should be focusing on her puppies. They are rather helpless the first few days and she will likely want to spend all of her time with her newborn puppies – except for potty breaks! The puppies can’t see or hear or maintain body heat, so they need mom close. They spend all day and all night switching between eating and sleeping. Mom does a great job keeping them close, feeding them and keeping them clean. They are so helpless that they even need mom to help with urine and stool eliminations.
While the puppies are growing, keep their area clean every single day. Keep watch over how much they eat and if they are gaining weight. There are many stages of puppy development and major development milestones between when they are born and when they are ready for their new forever homes.