We share many similarities with our canine companions — we enjoy many of the same foods, we experience some of the same emotions, and we're both highly social species. One area in which dogs are rather different than humans, though, is pregnancy.
For one thing, dogs almost always give birth to more than one offspring at a time, known as their litter of puppies. And dogs don't stay pregnant for nearly as long as human mothers do.
So, how long are dogs pregnant?
If your female dog is spayed, she can't reproduce and you'll never have to worry about your dog's pregnancy cycle or gestation period. But if your dog isn't spayed, or if you're simply curious, you might want to learn more about pregnancy in dogs.
Let's take a look at everything you need to know about canine pregnancy, and finally answer the biggest question of all: How long do dogs stay pregnant?
How Long Are Dogs Pregnant?
The dog gestation period averages out to 63 days, or about nine weeks, for most dogs. The entire pregnancy can be broken down into three stages, corresponding with the three months of pregnancy.
The First Month
In the first step of pregnancy, the male’s sperm travel to the female's uterine horns, and become embedded in the uterine lining around the 16th day. A few days later, around day 22, the fetuses themselves start to take shape.
As mentioned above, there probably won't be any major signs that your dog is pregnant during the first weeks of this stage. By the fourth week, though, you might see some morning sickness symptoms, vaginal discharge, and a loss of appetite and lethargic disposition.
The Second Month
By the second month, the fetuses are growing quickly. By the time the pregnancy reaches its 45th to 50th day, the puppies will have skeletons and claws, as well as a coat. A few days later, the pregnant female will begin looking for a nesting spot in which to deliver her new puppies.
In this month, you'll notice your pup showing signs of pregnancy like:
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Increased urination
- An enlarged abdomen
- Vaginal discharge
- Changes in behavior, like an increase in affection or withdrawing from contact
The Third Month
The puppies are almost fully developed by the 58th day of pregnancy, and they'll start to move into birthing position in the mother's birth canal in the final days of the pregnancy. At this stage, the mother will probably become restless, perhaps panting and pacing about, and will experience a loss of appetite. The body temperature also drops about 12 to 24 hours before labor begins.
It's a good idea to prepare a whelping box for your dog to deliver her puppies in. Line a comfortable box or bed with quilts, blankets, or towels to give your pregnant dog a place to nest. She'll go to this area when birthing is imminent to prepare for labor.
Once labor hits, your pregnant dog will continue to behave restlessly and refuse to eat. Vomiting may continue, and clear vaginal discharge may appear. Then, the puppies will start to be delivered. Labor itself can last anywhere from a few hours to a full day. It should not last longer than 24 hours, though. Puppies will appear one at a time, every half hour or so, but should not appear in increments longer than two hours.
Your Dog's Heat Cycle
Before a dog even gets pregnant, they go through the heat cycle. This is the pre-pregnancy stage in which female dogs become receptive to mating. It's important to understand this aspect of your pup's reproductive behavior.
The heat cycle lasts between 18 and 21 days. Intact female dogs — those who haven’t been spayed — will go into heat about every six to eight months, although this can vary. The heat cycle itself is broken down into four stages:
- Proestrus is the first stage of the heat cycle and lasts for about nine days. Female dogs will start to attract males during this stage, although they will deny the males' advances. The vulva swells during this period, and some bloody vaginal discharge will probably appear.
- Estrus occurs next, and might last for just a few days or between seven and 11 days. The vulva is still enlarged, and discharge will probably lessen in volume and lighten in color. It’s in this stage that the female permits mating.
- Diestrus occurs around 14 days into the heat cycle. At this stage, the female will no longer allow mating — all swelling and discharge ceases, and the cycle ends.
- Anestrus refers to the period of time after one heat cycle ends and the next one begins. This lasts about six months' time, in most cases.
It’s important to realize that your dog, assuming she hasn’t been spayed, will experience the heat cycle on a recurring basis. But she’ll only get pregnant if she mates with a male.
Signs of Pregnancy in Dogs
It's often difficult to tell when a dog is pregnant, especially at first. You may notice a bit of weight gain, but that isn't necessarily uncommon for dogs. Your pup might pack on a few pounds if they've been getting a lot of extra treats, or if their exercise routine has waned a bit recently. But it will become more obvious that your dog is pregnant as time goes on.
What can clue a dog parent in to the fact that their pup may be pregnant?
The Earliest Signs
It won't be long before you start to notice key signs of pregnancy. The first is often swollen, red nipples, since your dog's body is preparing to produce milk for the litter of puppies she'll be birthing. This also happens to your pup's nipples during the heat cycle.
The Next Signs
Around the third or fourth week of pregnancy, you might start to see more obvious signs of pregnancy. These include lethargy, lack of appetite, and possible vomiting — it's very much like the morning sickness we associate with human mothers.
The Final Signs
At this point, you'll have noticed something is up with your dog. But the "symptoms" of pregnancy can look like a lot of other medical issues, so it's important to have your dog examined by a veterinarian.
Around the 28th day of dog pregnancy, your vet can perform abdominal palpitations, which simply means prodding around your dog's belly to feel the growing puppies. Eventually, x-ray scans will be able to be performed to definitely confirm the pregnancy and determine the number of puppies. A blood test can also be performed to detect a particular hormone, relaxin, that is only released by the dog's system during pregnancy.
Prepare Your Dog for Motherhood
So, how long are dogs pregnant? There are a total of approximately nine weeks of pregnancy, or about three months. You might not even know your dog is pregnant during the early stages of pregnancy, but it will become more obvious as she moves into the second month.
As soon as you notice what could be the symptoms of pregnancy, you'll want to work closely with your veterinarian to make sure your dog and her litter stay healthy throughout the pregnancy. Your vet will also be able to give you a better idea of a due date and the size of the litter.
Being prepared and educated ahead of time is the best way to ensure your dog safely gives birth to a beautiful litter of adorable newborn puppies.