Dog Gestation Period Guide
Discovered your dog is pregnant or planning for a future litter? If your dog is expecting puppies it’s no doubt an exciting time. To ensure you’re prepared for the adorable new arrivals, we’ve prepared this guide on the gestation period for dogs.
We’ll cover what pregnancy signs look like in your dog, how to best support a healthy pregnancy in a dog and what to expect as your dog nears labour.
How Long Is A Dog Pregnancy?
Once your vet has confirmed your dog is pregnant, you will have roughly two months or so to prepare (58-68 days). Pinpointing an exact duration or due date can be difficult because there can be variations between breeds and due to the size of the litter.
Even for planned litters, a dog's gestation period is not easily defined as the date of breeding does not always match the date of conception.
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Pregnancy Signs For Dogs
So how do you know when to take your dog to the vet for a suspected pregnancy? Noticeable signs of pregnancy for a dog can vary from canine to canine. They may have all or some of the following signs/symptoms if pregnant:
- Weight gain
- Swollen abdomen
- Enlarged nipples
- An increased appetite
- Increased tiredness or unwillingness to play
- Changes in mood, often becoming irritable or affectionate
Dog pregnancy symptoms during week 1 or while still early in pregnancy may also include vomiting or food refusal.
If you suspect your dog is pregnant, you should immediately make an appointment with your vet for confirmation. Some dogs can exhibit false pregnancy symptoms as part of their normal hormonal cycle, so it is important to not try and diagnose a pregnancy for a dog yourself.
To determine if your dog is pregnant, your vet will use a dog pregnancy test to measure hormone levels (suitable between 21-25 days of gestation) or an ultrasound (suitable from day 20-22 onwards).
From day 22 onwards your vet may be able to physically feel puppies in your dog's abdomen through gentle palpation, you should never attempt this yourself as you can easily injure the developing puppies.
Can Dogs Sense Pregnancy?
If you have other dogs and notice a change in their behaviour towards your female dog, this could indicate pregnancy. Just as dogs can exhibit unusual behaviour towards pregnant humans, they have been known to do the same towards their pregnant counterparts.
While there are no firm studies into this phenomenon, it is thought to be linked with a change in their hormones and their scent as a result.
Dog Pregnancy Week By Week
Now we’ve covered the gestation period for dogs, let's take a look at what to expect each week.
Keeping in mind that the exact dog gestation period varies based on litter size and breed, you can roughly expect the following:
Weeks One & Two
During this very early stage of pregnancy, fertilisation occurs and the egg will implant. You may notice some subtle changes in your dog's behaviour during this period including vomiting or mood changes. However, this is relatively rare and noticeable changes shouldn't be expected this early on.
You do not need to change your dog's diet or exercise routine at this time.
Weeks Three & Four
During this time, the puppy's spinal cords begin to develop and some facial features start to grow. Your dog may start to have visible changes to its physical appearance by now such as an enlarged stomach and swollen nipples.
You may also notice your dog becoming more affectionate and having an increased appetite. Remember to only increase their food slightly so as not to overfeed them, your vet can guide you as to the appropriate amount if you are unsure.
By now, an ultrasound can be performed and in most cases quite accurately determine the number of puppies your dog is expecting. The fourth week of pregnancy is a critical time in puppy development, so to avoid any risk of developmental abnormalities.
To reduce the risk of issues, rough play or excessive exercise should be avoided. There is no need to stop all exercise though, gentle walks are encouraged throughout a dog's gestation period.
Week Five & Six
On the recommendation of your vet, you may now need to introduce nutritional supplements or different types of foods to best support your dog's needs. Week five signals the second stage of your dog's pregnancy and the puppies begin to rapidly grow, forming organs and gaining weight.
Puppies will also start to grow whiskers and claws at this stage and are less at risk of developing abnormalities. Sex organs will be visible by ultra-sound by now also, so should you desire to know the gender of your puppies, now is the time!
At week six, you’ll definitely notice a significant change in your dog's appearance and weight - their enlarged stomach will be very noticeable. The puppy's growth is speeding up and their bones are becoming more solid - you may even be able to clearly see them wriggling around in your dog's stomach.
Week Seven & Eight
You may see your dog beginning to exhibit nesting behaviour and at this time you should prepare a whelping (birthing) area for your dog to feel safe and comfortable during labour. This same area will be where your dog and her puppies spend the first few weeks of their life so be sure to choose a warm, quiet space that you don’t need access to.
By week eight, your dog could go into labour at any time and may even begin to show signs of lactation. This is a clear sign that labour is imminent, taking their temperature can also help you to determine if labour is going to happen soon. Should the dog's temperature drop between 37 and 37.5 degrees, labour is likely to begin within 24 hours.
At this stage, many owners elect to trim the hair on their dog's tummy and around their hind quarters. This makes labour and nursing easier, helps keep things less messy and can reduce the risk of infections post-birth.
Should your dog’s pregnancy time extend into the ninth week, she is likely to be very uncomfortable, restless or anxious and could go into labour at any time. Be sure to let her rest as much as she likes and speak with your vet if labour does not commence within this week.
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The End Of A Dog's Gestational Period
Labour indicates the end of a dog's pregnancy and the start of its journey as a mother for the next 8-10 weeks. Labour is indicated by the breaking of your dog's waters, visible contractions or straining, shivering, panting and/or vomiting.
During your dog's labour, she may want to be left completely alone or may benefit from the comfort of your presence. You should remain calm and quiet, not interfering with the birth unless absolutely necessary.
Your dog will usually deliver a puppy once every 30-60 minutes with labour lasting anywhere from 3 hours to 12 hours based on the size of the litter. If at any time you feel your dog is in distress or something is wrong, you should call your vet for advice.
For most dogs, labour is uneventful and they are quite capable of delivering their puppies, cleaning them and nursing them without assistance. Depending on how long the dog's pregnancy and labour went, you may notice your dog is exceptionally tired.
You can support her recovery by giving her nourishing foods and plenty of fluids. You may need to bring the food to her as many dogs exhibit a reluctance to leave their puppies, even to eat or toilet in the days after birth.
Inexperienced mothers, also known as Dams, can easily become overwhelmed with their new litter, so keep an eye on your dog and be sure to give her a respite such as some alone time outdoors or a short walk when possible, never separate a Dam from her puppies for more than two hours in the first four weeks as puppies need to nurse frequently for healthy growth.
Keen To Know More?
If you’d like to learn more about nutritional needs of your dog the during pregnancy, raising healthy puppies and more, your vet is your best source of information.
Able to guide you through every step of a dog's pregnancy, whether planned or a surprise, your vet understands exactly what your dog needs to experience a healthy pregnancy and delivery. They are also the best person to help you ensure your dog recovers well from pregnancy and continues to lead a healthy happy life.
Welcoming puppies can be a seriously exciting time but does need some proper preparation for the best outcomes for your dog and her puppies. For more information speak with your usual vet for guidance.