When it comes to a dog gestation period, some canine owners know what they’re doing when it comes to this subject and have everything laid out in their minds beforehand, while others just watch it happen as a surprise.
Both ways, any dog owner out there who has a female dog must know the ins and outs of canine pregnancy, such as how long they stay pregnant (gestation period for dogs), what their bodies go through during pregnancy and what you should be doing during this phase in their lives to help out as much as possible.
In this article, we’ll be talking about everything you need to know when it comes to dog pregnancy so that you’re equipped with as much knowledge about the subject when the time comes for you to make use of it.
How Long Are Dogs Pregnant?
So, how long do dogs stay pregnant for?
I would love to give you one simple answer to that question, but it doesn’t work like that, unfortunately. There are many, many factors that will ultimately determine how long this period lasts.
Generally and as a rule of thumb, dogs remain pregnant between 58 and 67 days, with an average of 63 days (around 2 months).
To think that in just about 9 weeks later, little puppies are given birth to. Wow! Just 9 weeks is all it takes!
How To Tell If Your Dog Is Pregnant (Common Signs)
Before the last few weeks of your dog’s 9 week gestation period (when her belly size increases so much that it becomes very obvious), it can be quite challenging telling whether your dog is pregnant or not if you don’t really know what physical and behavioral changes to look out for.
So, here are some signs that might tell you that your dog is pregnant:
– Mood changes: Is your dog suddenly exhibiting moody behaviors they didn’t used to before? This could be a result of the changing hormonal levels in her body.
Some dogs may become a lot quieter than they used to be all of a sudden, other dogs may become much more emotionally attached to you (their owner) and other dogs could just show that they want to be left alone most of the time.
On average, your dog will probably behave the same as they always used to up until the last 3 weeks of pregnancy.
– Change in nipple color: Among the earliest signs that your dog is pregnant is if her nipples start to become rosier and pink-ish than they used to be, along with a little swelling. You can notice this change as soon as 2 – 3 weeks after pregnancy.
– Changes in body shape: After about 4-5 weeks of pregnancy, your dog will start to show a thicker waist and a fuller tummy.
This will continue all the way up to the last 3 weeks (weeks 6 to 9) of pregnancy, where your dog’s belly will become so round that it’s hard not to notice.
– Puppy movement: During the last weeks of pregnancy (somewhere around the 6th and 9th weeks), you could probably notice (and feel if you put your hand around her side) puppies moving around in your dog’s womb.
Although this doesn’t happen with all dogs alike, so just in case you try and feel nothing doesn’t mean that your dog isn’t really pregnant.
– More sleep: During weeks 6 to 9 of your dog’s pregnancy and as your dog reaches the peak of her increase in size, it will become more and more difficult for her to move around as she used so, which will make her sleep more than she used to.
– Changes in appetite and eating patterns: During the last couple of weeks of her pregnancy, and due to the fact that her womb is growing larger and larger and taking up more and more space in her stomach, she won’t be able to handle large meals all at once like she used to, which will make her want to eat smaller meals more frequently than before.
– Nesting: During the last stages of her pregnancy and as the time comes closer and closer for your dog to deliver her baby puppies, nature plays its role here and your dog could start to nest.
What this means is that your dog will begin gathering stuff like clothes or blankets in an isolated place to prepare to greet her expected babies in a warm and safe habitat.
You can expect to watch this happen (if it happens, anyway) anywhere from the last 2 to 3 weeks of her pregnancy to the last 2 – 3 days.
– Heartbeats: In late pregnancy (week 6 onwards), the vet can sometimes hear fetal heartbeats by holding a stethoscope to the dog’s belly.
However, this is much more difficult than for human babies because of the rustling of the dog’s fur coat and the fact that dogs have round, not flat, tummies.
– Blood test: One of the most reliable ways you can tell if your dog is pregnant or not is to have your vet take a blood test for your dog and indicate whether a pregnancy hormone called Relaxin is present or not.
If this hormone is found in the blood test, then it confirms that your dog is pregnant!
However, and for the sake of accuracy of the results, this hormone is only present in your dog after about 28 days from pregnancy, so performing the test before 28 days and not finding the hormone means nothing.
– Ultrasound: This is one of the methods can pick up on your dog’s pregnancy the earliest, as early as day 16.
– X-Ray: While not as popular as ultrasounds when it comes to determining whether your dog is pregnant or not, performing an x-ray on your dog can still be very beneficial.
How? During your dog’s late pregnancy stages, an x-ray can help determine exactly how many puppies your dog is pregnant with.
This goes a long way in helping you know (and when the time comes) that your dog has safely given birth to all the babies that she is carrying, and that her labor has not stopped abnormally and no baby puppy is still inside her womb.
– Morning sickness: Just like pregnant female humans suffer from morning sickness, the same holds true for dogs.
However, this can take up to 21 days after becoming pregnant to show (during the 3rd-4th weeks of pregnancy), and usually goes on for about 1-2 weeks.
– Change in gum color: After 21 days, and if your dog is indeed pregnant, the color of her gums might become white instead of the normal rosy, pink color it usually is in normal circumstances.
Why does this happen, you ask. Well, as the fetuses are attaching in the uterus of your dog, the blood flow concentration gathers in that area more and more, away from other areas in the body (such as the gums).
This leads to the change of your dog’s gum colors to white for 1-2 days. In case their color does not go back to the normal red/pink they used to be after a couple of days, contact your veterinarian about the problem.
Check out this video to learn more about the common signs to know if your dog is pregnant!
Do Pregnancy Tests For Dogs Work?
Besides the many symptoms that we talked about above, which can help you determine if your dog is pregnant or not, a pregnancy test can be a powerful weapon in your toolkit that can help you get an even more accurate answer.
With that being said, pregnancy tests for dogs are fairly new and may not be as easy as we all want them to be.
Depending on how skillful/experienced you are with this task, you may be able to perform it by yourself at home, but it’s best that you perform it under the supervision of your veterinarian because this test does require a blood sample and bad things can happen if you don’t really know what you’re doing.
The extracted blood is used to measure the levels of a hormone called relaxin  in your dog’s blood, which greatly increases during your dog’s gestation period, and gradually decreases towards the end of your dog’s pregnancy period.
Pregnancy test kits for dogs can be found online or in pharmacies that sell pet products.
After blood is extracted from your dog and the kit filter does its work to separate the plasma that is required for testing, the kit will let you know whether your dog is pregnant or not after around 10 minutes.
Again, many people find it difficult to properly extract the required blood from their dog and have the plasma separated all on their own, which is why it’s best that you have this procedure performed by your veterinarian.
It must be said that if your dog has been pregnant for less than 20 days, the pregnancy test results might not be very accurate.
Another issue that must be cleared up as well, because this one gets asked a lot, is that you can’t use HUMAN pregnancy tests on your dog, these don’t work for dogs. You MUST use a pregnancy test kit that is made specifically for dogs.
How Long Is A Dog Pregnant For? [Factors You Should Know About]
As we already established at the beginning of the article, the answer to the question “how long are dogs pregnant” isn’t really a one size fits all answer.
There are many factors that determine the exact pregnancy length, and that’s what we’ll be talking about in this section.
1) Dog Litter Size
Generally, dogs that are having a small litter (pregnant with only a few babies, 1-2 for example) usually are pregnant for a longer period of time than dogs that are having a large litter (pregnant with a lot of babies, 5-6 for example).
Why so? Well, being pregnant with fewer puppies means that your dog will have more space in its uterus. But, being pregnant with more puppies means less space in your dog’s uterus, which leads to labor sooner because the puppies in your dog’s uterus run out of space much sooner as they grow.
2) Dog Breed Size
The size of your dog can play a role in how long they remain pregnant.
Generally (although this is not always the case) smaller sized dogs usually remain pregnant for longer periods of time in comparison to larger dogs.
So, larger breeds of dogs might deliver closer to the shorter end of the dog gestation period (58 days), while smaller breeds of dogs might deliver closer to the longer end of the canine pregnancy spectrum (67 days).
3) Family History
Exactly how long dogs stay pregnant seems to run in the family.
Even though this is not always doable, but if you can find out how long your pregnant dog’s mother and grandmother were pregnant (the breeder you got your dog from might be able to help you out with this one if they are professional enough and keep track of such data), chances are that your dog will be pregnant for the same (or an extremely similar) amount of time.
Stages Of Gestation Period For Dogs
So, now that you know all there is to know about how long dogs are pregnant, let’s take a look at a timetable of things you should expect during your dog’s pregnancy, week by week.
The first week for your dog’s new big step in life!
On the first day (day 0), is the day your dog starts ovulating (also referred to by some people as “going into heat”).
For most mature female dogs, they will go into heat every 6 months, but it is not unheard of for them to skip a heat cycle every now and then.
The heat cycle will be over after approximately 3 weeks.
Unless your dog is ovulating, she won’t accept a male dog anywhere around her for the purpose of mating.
(NOTE: Check Appendix A for information about your dog’s heat cycle.)
In week 2 of your dog’s pregnancy, the cells which were just fertilized in week 1 will start to grow in size and grow apart into tiny embryos (which will ultimately be your puppies by the end of week 9).
By now, the little embryos that were formed in week 2 will start attaching to the walls of your dog’s uterus, which will make sure they are protected from any harm and are supplied with all the nutrients they need to adequately grow.
During this week, it’s strongly advised you visit your veterinarian, because by now they will be able to confirm that your dog is pregnant.
Also, by now a beautiful thing will have happened. The embryos that are growing bit by bit every day will now have developed faces, eyes, ears, and a spine. How beautiful is that!
In week 5, the embryos (that are your future little puppies) are no longer embryos, they will have grown into fetuses!
At this point, your pregnant dog will start to require special a special diet and nutritional program, which is why it’s best to stay in contact with your veterinarian so they tell you everything you need to know about that.
It is in this week where the fetuses will continue to grow body parts such as toes and claws.
And, most excitingly, it is at this week where you will be able to have an ultrasound performed on your pregnant dog to determine the gender of the fetuses and their exact number!
In week 6, it will be near impossible for you to not notice the physical changes in your dog’s stomach that will tell you loud and clear that your dog is pregnant.
As always and during this delicate time, you should remain in contact with your veterinarian so they inform you of everything you need to know about the requirements of your dog’s diet since she’s not only eating for herself but to nurture the fetuses in her tummy! 🙂
During this week, your dog might begin to shed her stomach hair.
There’s no need to worry about this because this is all part of preparing for the big day! 🙂
This is the week where your dog will be busy with nesting.
What this means is that your dog will start to set up a warm, cozy, and comfortable place for her (and for her new-borns) to give birth in.
If you can help set up a comfortable bed or box for her to give birth in and make sure it’s of high quality, that would be great.
Ideally, physical activities are kept to a minimum at this stage, in order to prevent premature labor.
Your dog will give birth to the baby puppies any moment now!
One handy trick you can do is take your dog’s temperature on a frequent basis because as soon as her temperature goes down just 1 degree below average, that’s a huge sign that she will deliver in the next 24 to 48 hours!
Exciting times! 🙂
When Are Puppies Considered Premature?
Day 58 is the minimum date at which a puppy can be safely and healthily born because they will have developed mature enough lungs by then that will ensure their survival.
Puppies that are born anytime before the 58th day are considered to be premature puppies .
You can easily tell a premature puppy from its bright pink paws that have minimal fur on them.
Unfortunately, it’s very sad when a puppy is born prematurely before the 58th day, due to the fact that they only last 1-2 days in life.
What To Do Differently When Your Dog Is Pregnant
For starters and when you know your dog is pregnant, you should begin to feed her many small and frequent meals throughout the day instead of a couple of large meals all at once.
Speaking about food, one mistake a lot of dog owners do is drastically increasing the food they give to their dog immediately.
Pregnant dogs only need to start eating more than they used to during the last 3 weeks of their pregnancy period. Drastically increasing the food your dog eats way too soon will lead to unnecessary weight gain.
Also, you must ensure that they are eating premium-quality dog food throughout the pregnancy period so that they get all the nutrients they need to successfully get through this period.
Your veterinarian is probably the best source of information you can get about your dog’s diet during pregnancy.
You should also make sure to give your dog light exercise and activity throughout the pregnancy period, but make sure not to give her anything too demanding because that could put the fetuses at risk.
What this does is it makes sure that your dog maintains as much muscle mass she has and doesn’t lose too much, and prevents more weight gain than should happen.
And finally, don’t forget to consult with your veterinarian about the necessary vitamins and supplements that your dog needs throughout the pregnancy period as well.
What To Do When Your Dog Goes Into Labor (Stages Of Dog Labor)
As soon as your dog goes into labor, you should continuously and frequently take her temperature.
Her normal temperature will be between 101-102 degrees , and as soon as you see it drop to 99 degrees or below (and make sure that you see this same reading again after at least 12 hours) then you can be sure that your dog will deliver in the next 24 hours (or 48 hours at most).
During labor, your dog will go through 3 stages:
– Stage One: She will be very anxious, restless, and often resort to being alone. Her appetite will also drastically decrease.
– Stage Two: This is the stage where your dog will start to have contractions. You will even notice a green fluid coming out from your dog’s vulva.
Slowly and gradually the puppies will begin to appear in one of two positions, either coming out headfirst or rear first, with either case being completely normal.
At this time, you have to leave your dog (the pregnant mother) to do her business, because this is a time where her instincts will kick in and she knows what to do.
After your dog delivers her baby puppies, you can clean them by gently rubbing with a fresh piece of cloth to stimulate healthy blood circulation in them.
It’s best that during this time you remain in direct contact with your veterinarian so they hold your hand through the whole process, one step at a time.
– Stage Three: Your dog will rest for a few of hours between the delivery of each puppy, as the contractions slowly go away.
Then she will get back to delivering as many puppies left in her after proper rest till the process comes to a happy ending.
Here are a few signs of something wrong with your dog’s pregnancy. If you see any of these, contact your veterinarian immediately:
- Green or black discharge that is not continued by your dog giving birth to a puppy
- If your dog is having difficulty pushing the puppy out of her while giving birth
- If more than 4 hours go by between the delivery of two puppies
- Your dog delivers one puppy, continues to have contractions for 30 minutes but does not give birth to the next puppy
- If your dog remains in labor for more than 2 hours without giving birth to any puppy
- Heavy panting, vomiting or trembling by your dog
- If your dog remains pregnant for more than 65 days
What To Expect After Your Dog Gives Birth
First of all, and that’s one thing dog owners freak out about, is when new mothers eat their own baby’s feces at first. That’s a completely normal and common thing new mothers do, and should not be a cause of worry for you.
Also, be aware of the fact that your dog will still exhibit vaginal discharge with blood about a week after she gives birth.
If this case continues for more than a week after she gives birth, you should have her checked by your veterinarian.
Generally, there’s very little you need to really do after your dog gives birth to baby puppies because she will take care of them herself.
You might even notice that she’s somewhat overprotective of them, but that’s completely normal and will wear off slowly over time.
Contact your veterinarian for any medical exams or things you should do for the newborn puppies as well.
Your veterinarian will tell you all about the diet they should follow, what to feed them and what never to feed them, and just general care advice before they reach the 6-8 week mark by which they are ready to be adopted if that’s something you’re looking to do.
Appendix A: How Can I Tell If My Dog Is In Heat?
Before being able to get pregnant, your dog must experience a heat cycle.
And, it’s widely suggested that you do not breed your dog during her heat cycle if she’s under the age of 1 year. Female dogs that breed below the age of 1 will have their growth halted permanently.
When your female dog experiences a heat cycle, she will be capable of breeding with dogs.
A heat cycle generally lasts for 3 weeks and comes once every 6 to 9 months.
Here are some of the things you will realize when your dog goes into heat:
- Swollen vulva and blood discharge.
- Interest from male dogs in her much more than happens usually.
- After 6-11 days from the heat cycle, your dog will become fertile and will show a huge interest in male dogs (consider it the dog version of flirting).
- The blood discharge from the vulva will change colors from light pink to somewhat golden sand color.
- Once this cycle is over, you will notice that she’s no longer as welcoming to males around her.
1. Medical Definition of Relaxin https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=13411
2. Early Contractions and Labor in Dogs https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/reproductive/c_dg_premature_labor
3. What’s a dog’s normal body temperature? http://www.animalplanet.com/pets/what-is-a-dogs-normal-body-temperature/