Dog Pregnancy Care - How to Help Your Dog's Pregnancy Go Well

What is the most important thing to know if my dog is pregnant?

Trick question. The most important thing to know is IF she is, indeed, pregnant, because that way you know what to expect. You know that you're going to have puppies, you can prepare. So if you're ever concerned or are intentionally breeding and need to confirm, it's always good to get that confirmation so you know what to expect down the road.

Dr. Julia Zuercher
Animal Hospital Of Statesville

How can I ensure the well-being of my pregnant dog?

So the best thing you can do is bring her in as soon as you can for diagnosis, and that way we can know that she's pregnant. We can formulate a plan that makes sure we switch her to good puppy food since they'll need the puppy food for growing all the puppies inside them. They need the extra calories, and that will tailor the plan for the rest of the pregnancy. It's great to have them in shape prior to pregnancy so you're not playing catch up. Ensure your dog is always up on vaccines and heartworm prevention and everything. Staying up to date and healthy is the best thing, because it obviously takes care of the mom during the pregnancy, but also makes the best case scenario for having healthy puppies.

How soon should I bring my dog to the veterinarian if I suspect she's pregnant?

Bring her in as soon as you think she might be pregnant, or at least give us a call. If it's within the first month or around day 28 from ovulation if you're timing, then you can start to ultrasound and see the little fetal heartbeats; they flutter. And then as you get later in the pregnancy, you can tell with an x-ray, so getting in for that stage is beneficial.

What are some signs of pregnancy in a dog?

So signs of pregnancy in a dog can be very subtle because their pregnancy is short; it's only about two months long. So you might see some morning sickness, which is a bit of lethargy or not eating as well. It can be easy to miss those symptoms because it's early and those can be subtle signs. But as they get to the end of pregnancy, they will balloon out. You'll see the weight gain and the abdomen go out from the puppies taking up space. And she might start showing nesting behavior, like trying to find a quiet corner to have the puppies. In some houses that might be difficult if you have children or whatever. It's nice to have a place to go.

Will my veterinarian use diagnostic tests to determine if my dog is pregnant?

Yep. So we touched on that a little bit, but we can ultrasound if it's around the first trimester or the first half of the pregnancy and start seeing that. And then, as you get later in her pregnancy when the puppies' bones have formed, you can take an x-ray and see how many puppies there are.

What are some things I can do at home to prepare for my dog's labor?

So that is a very long and complicated question, but the short answer for the sake of time would be to set aside a private area, a whelping area, whether you have a whelping box or just set aside a quiet area with lots of clean towels and bedding. And make sure it's out of the way so it's not by front doors, hallways, anything that's going to be highly trafficked because mom's going to want some quiet while having puppies and having people walk by can be startling and disturbing.

What is whelping, and what do I need for whelping?

Whelping is the fancy term for having puppies, so that's when she pushes the puppies out, and they come into a happy world. So many things are helpful, but for the sake of time, we're going to name the top three—clean towels or clean bedding for them, a little kitchen scale, and a thermometer.

You need the scale so you can weigh the puppies because the best way to know if the puppies are healthy or if you suspect something might be wrong with the puppy is to measure that they're gaining weight. So if you weigh them pretty soon after they're born, you'll start to have a baseline that you can weigh from there.

The thermometer will be handy because starting about a week before you expect them to be due, you can begin taking temperature, and you may see a drop-down to like 98, 97. It'll usually be about one degree lower than the mother's baseline. And then, 24 hours after that, you know to expect the whelping.

How should I feed my dog while she's pregnant to ensure proper nutrition?

Balanced puppy food is the best option. Puppy food has a different ratio of nutrients than adult food, and it's higher in calories. So as Mama's making all these puppies inside her and then preparing to make milk to feed all these puppies, it's a lot of work, so she needs a lot of calories so that puppy food will be the best bet for her.

What are some possible complications of dog pregnancy that I need to be aware of?

So there are several possible complications because, just like in humans, pregnancy can put stress on the body and have some risks. It stresses especially the kidneys and the heart the most, which is why we want to make sure they're healthy before we even try to breed them. But in terms of the immediately after having the puppies, a puppy could get stuck if they're too big to pass through the birth canal, and you can start seeing complications with her having the puppies. And that's a situation where she might need some intervention or a C-section to help get the puppies out.

What should I be doing while my dog is in labor?

Not panicking. Easier said than done. When Mom's having puppies, the best thing to do is monitor but give her plenty of space because the more you mess with her, the more it can throw her off a bit, and then she holds the puppies in. So you want her to be relaxed, so you being relaxed and not fussing with her will make a big difference. But at the same time, you also want to monitor and know how it's going and if problems are arising,, so it's not a surprise.

How can I help my dog recover after birth?

So after birth, the puppy food is going to be the most significant thing because she's going to be producing all that milk and needs the nutrients. And that's going to be the biggest factor, at least initially. If there are things like a C-section or there had to be surgical interventions, you'll want to give pain medication, which your veterinarian will provide you with to make sure that she's comfortable.

But if all goes well and she does everything on her own, she really shouldn't need too much other than keeping a close eye on her mammary glands to make sure that everything's coming out okay and that there are no weird colors, odors, or swelling. It's normal for her to have some vaginal discharge. She just had a whole bunch of puppies, and everything's resetting. But if it changes an odor or becomes concerning like straight bloody, those would be things to look out for.

Mama dog will guide you during whelping. Again, you want to make sure that she is eating well because if she doesn't have enough nutrients but is also producing a ton of milk, it can cause some problems and things we look out for.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Pregnancy - FAQs

Dr. Julia Zuercher
Animal Hospital Of Statesville

What should I do if I suspect my dog is pregnant?

If you suspect your dog is pregnant, the best thing to do is get her to a veterinarian. Starting 28 days after ovulation, which is relevant if you time with progesterone, you can start to detect on ultrasound. You can actually detect sooner, but comfortably at 28 days. And that will give you an answer if she's pregnant or not. And then, if it's later in pregnancy as the puppies and their skeletons form, you can detect that on x-ray and see an accurate count of how many puppies are coming. That's always the best place to start is to confirm she's pregnant and figure out where you are in the process.

How long is a dog's pregnancy?

So a dog's pregnancy is 63 days from the day of ovulation, which is relevant, again, when you're using progesterone time. If you go off breeding dates, it's not as accurate. You have a two-week window of when she might, which is a long window, considering her pregnancy is eight weeks. So two of those eight weeks, you don't know, which can be a gray area. But the basic answer is about two months.

The signs at the beginning can be subtle if you weren't intentionally breeding. And so then you may not notice until she's further along and starts showing her pregnancy. And usually, by the time she starts showing her pregnancy, you've got a couple of weeks until she's due.

Can I feel the puppies move in my dog's belly?

Yes, you can feel the puppies move in the mother's belly. Just like human babies moving in mom's stomach, you can start to feel the puppies move as they get bigger and more “cooked” in the belly.

How long after my dog starts showing will she give birth?

So usually, they don't start showing until the last trimester, so that's the last two to three weeks. So if you're at that point and she's ballooning out a bit, then you should be on alert that they may be coming soon. Bring her to a vet, so we know how many to expect.

Also, at about a week before the due date, if you start taking the temperature twice a day, you can look for a drop in temperature, usually about one degree from her baseline, and it will get you around 97 or 98. It doesn't always happen. But if it does happen, usually about 24 hours later is when you'd expect her to start having the puppies.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Pregnancy - FAQs 2

Dr. Julia Zuercher
Animal Hospital Of Statesville

How can I tell if my dog is about to go into labor?

So things you would look out for would be nesting behavior—the mama dog trying to find a quiet corner and make an area for her to have puppies. You'll also start to know you're toward the end when she balloons out and the puppies are taking up space in her abdomen. And then another way to check is to have a thermometer and check her temperature twice a day, starting about a week before you expect her to be due. It's not foolproof, but if there's a drop in temperature, usually about one degree, it'll go to 97 or 98, then 24 hours after that is about when you would expect her to start whelping.

Do you introduce them to your whelping box?

Yeah. So if you set up a whelping box, then it's best to do it about a week or so before so they can start getting used to it. You can put food in there and make it a happy place so that they take advantage of your efforts instead of setting up their own shop.

How can I tell if my dog is having complications at birth or during labor?

During labor. The big four categories. If it's been more than two hours between a puppy. So she's had one, and it's been more than two hours; you need to put it on your radar that there might be a complication. If she's actively been pushing and it's been more than 30 minutes and a puppy hasn't come out. So that's not just laying there and hanging out—that's actively pushing. She should produce a puppy within 30 minutes of that; otherwise, again, it could be a complication. Black discharge at any point is concerning. Green discharge before the first puppy, or if it's excessive, can be concerning. And then blood. Birthing in dogs is actually not a bloody process. So if you see just straight blood, then that should be something you're watching out for.

When I set up a whelping box, where is the best place to put it?

So the best place to put the whelping box is somewhere quiet and out of the way—not near a front door or central hallway, anything like that, because you want mom to be relaxed and feel comfortable having the puppies. And so, if there are a lot of people moving around her or it's more of a central area, she may be a little bit more on edge and not relaxed enough to have the puppies.

Does my dog need human help during labor?

It depends. So dogs do very well on their own, and that's fine. And that's plan A. But, some dogs, some breeds, especially our little smooshed-face or brachycephalic breeds, tend to need a C-section. And so we can plan for that. And then, as complications arrive, they might need some intervention there, whether it's medical management or if we need to go to surgery. Those are things that we can discuss based on the case.

How do I know how many puppies my dog will give birth to?

So ultrasound is only about 30% accurate for determining the number of puppies that she'll have. So when you ultrasound, it's more to determine if she's pregnant and if you need to start changing plans. And if you only see a couple, it might put on your radar that there may be fewer, and that can cause problems down the road. But the proper way to count puppies is to do an x-ray around the last week of her pregnancy when all the puppies’ bones have formed so they'll show up on the x-ray. And that's the best way to count all the tiny skeletons and see how many puppies to expect.

With smaller litters, the signal for the body to go and start delivering puppies depends on something produced by the puppies. And so, when there aren't as many puppies, they may not produce enough. And so, the mom might not start labor on her own. So that's more something to watch out for. But, it's something we just keep on our radar. It's not guaranteed there'll be issues.

What do I need to do once my dog has given birth?

So once your dog has given birth and you make sure that mom's healthy and the puppies are healthy, the biggest thing you're going to want to do is make sure mom has plenty of puppy food available because she's going to be producing a lot of milk for a lot of puppies. And that will take a lot of energy. And you'll want to take each of the puppies and weigh them on a little kitchen scale so that you know how they're gaining weight. So at least once a day, preferably twice a day, you can keep track of which puppy and how they're gaining weight so that if there's a problem, or if you suspect a problem, we can track it that way.

It depends on the dog and her experience level, but many of them will take care of everything themselves. They'll open the sack; they’ll lick the puppy and stimulate it and tear the umbilical cord. So they'll do all the work for you. Some newer moms or nervous moms may need a little bit of extra help. And so that's when you want to ride the line between being helpful but also giving her space so that you're not all up in her space at the time. But, if you're concerned that she might not know what she's doing, that's when you keep a close eye, and you might have to intervene.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.