How to Tell If Your Dog Is Pregnant: Signs of Puppies on the Way
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The Vet's Corner

How to Tell If Your Dog Is Pregnant: Signs of Puppies on the Way

by Jeff Bloom

Written By: Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva, VMD, cVMA | Professional Services Veterinarian, Wild Earth

Do you know how to tell if a dog is pregnant? If your dog is not spayed or if you are trying to breed her, you might be wondering what signs to watch out for that would indicate a pregnancy. There are similarities and differences to human pregnancy. The duration a female dog is pregnant, for example, is only about 63 days, where humans are pregnant for 280 days.

Like humans, though, pregnant dogs go through three trimesters. Some dogs even experience go through morning sickness. For dogs each trimester is about 21 days long. We talk about this in more detail in our How Long Are Dogs Pregnant article.

What signs of pregnancy should you look out for? Being prepared and educated ahead of time is the best way to ensure your dog safely gives birth to a litter of adorable newborn puppies. Learn all about the stages of dog pregnancy and be able to gauge when it’s an appropriate time to take your dog to the vet.

What to Expect When Your Dog Is Expecting

black and white dog looking at the camera

Though during the first month there will not be any obvious signs, your dog will eventually display pregnancy symptoms and give you some clues via her behavior as well as notable physical changes.

Veterinarians at Noah’s Ark Veterinary Hospital list the early signs of pregnancy to include decreased activity, increase in appetite, displays of nesting behaviors, enlarged or discolored nipples, and weight gain.

If you suspect your dog is pregnant, consult your veterinarian for advice on what to expect moving forward. Pregnant dogs have increased nutritional needs, and should be fed a diet to meet those needs. Typically this will be a puppy diet as they are formulated to meet these increased demands, but it is recommended you speak to your veterinarian when choosing what and how much to feed.

Physical Changes

Your dog’s body will go through some expected physical changes during pregnancy, the obvious being weight gain and a larger abdomen, although this doesn’t typically occur until the last half of pregnancy.

During the early stages of your dog’s pregnancy, your dog’s nipples will grow in size and her areolas will become rounded. Your dog’s nipples will also darken as blood flow increases throughout the gestation period. Her body is preparing to produce milk for the litter of puppies she’ll be birthing soon.

Behavior Changes

When a dog is pregnant she will most likely display some behavioral changes in addition to decreased energy and disinterest in her regular exercise routine. If your dog is acting unusual, it could be an indication that something is off regarding their health.

Some pregnant dogs seek the comfort of their owner more often to the point where they seem clingy. Others prefer to be left alone and seclude themselves. The latter occurs more often during the last stage of pregnancy when pregnant dogs begin to display nesting behaviors. Nesting behaviors include shredding bedding and other materials around your home. She may be a little more irritable and reclusive during this time, seeking her own comfortable place to rest and get ready to deliver her pups. This is an instinctive maternal behavior because if she were on her own, she would need a safe and private space where she can give birth and raise the puppies while they’re small, vulnerable, and dependent.

How to Tell If Your Dog Is Pregnant: Dog Pregnancy Tests

To definitively confirm whether or not your dog is pregnant, your veterinarian will likely perform a blood test to measure her Relaxin hormone levels.

Relaxin is a hormone produced by the developing placenta following implantation of the embryo, and can be detected in the blood in most pregnant females as early as 22-27 days post-breeding, according to Dr. Kristiina Ruotsalo, DVM, of VCA Hospitals. The level of Relaxin is very high throughout pregnancy and declines rapidly after the pregnancy is over.

This kind of pregnancy test will also reliably determine if your dog is having a pseudopregnancy, also known as a false pregnancy. During a pseudopregnancy, a female dog behaves as if she is pregnant about two months after her heat cycle. She might exhibit the aforementioned nesting behavior or seem reclusive. With a false pregnancy, there will be no Relaxin produced. Another method used by veterinarians to find out if a dog is pregnant is to perform an X-ray or ultrasound, at around 25-35 and 55 days into the pregnancy, respectively. The benefit of an x-ray is that it can give you a better idea of how many pups your dog is expecting.

Whelping Time

“Whelping” may sound like a strange word, but this is the term used to describe the act of a dog giving birth to her pups. Predicting when your dog will give birth as the date of breeding does not always align with the date of conception. When your dog is close to whelping, she will likely seclude themselves, and it is important to give her space during this time.

Dr. T.J. Dunn, Jr., DVM, of PetMD says that when a dog is ready to whelp, she will likely not be interested in dog food at all and start to lick her vulva a lot. He also notes: “All of a sudden you may notice a shiny, grayish sac drooping through the vulva; it looks like a gray water balloon.” This signals that whelping is very, very close.

Eventually clear fluid will run out of the sac, indicating it is finally time to whelp. In most cases the first pup will be born within an hour after the sac is visible.

The American Kennel Club explains that your role is to assist only when necessary, for example: “Each puppy is born enclosed in its placental membrane. In most cases, the mother tears this membrane off, sometimes eating it. If she does not, you will have to remove it, as puppies cannot survive for more than a few minutes before their supply of oxygen runs out.”

Dog Pregnancy and You

Now you know how to tell if your dog is pregnant. There’s a lot going on inside your dog’s body when she’s pregnant, but now that you know what signs to look out for, you can better prepare her for the bundles of joy to come.

Remember that she will go through both physical and behavioral changes, and that the pregnancy period for dogs lasts approximately eight to nine weeks. As always, ask your vet what the best course of action is for your dog regarding her pregnancy. They will be your best resource moving forward.

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