Dog Pregnancy - How to Keep Your Pregnant Dog Healthy

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

First off, as with any dog, we need to make sure that their health is good in general. If you know that you have plans of breeding your dog, make sure she's examined beforehand. Make sure she's in good physical health enough to withstand the rigors that come with pregnancy. So, that would be step one.

Step two would be to consider getting her tested for any infectious diseases beforehand, things like brucellosis. That's the main one that comes to mind for me, but just make sure that she is a good candidate for pregnancy and doesn't have anything infectious that could be passed on to the male or her puppies. And then the third and final thing, and again, this goes along with just good medical care in general, but we'll want to get a good parasite screening on her. Certain intestinal worms can be transferred either placentally or after birth to the puppy. You want to make sure she's cleaned beforehand. And that usually makes for a smoother birthing process and the first few weeks of a puppy's life.

Dr. Scott Broussard
The Waggin Train Veterinary Clinic

How long will my dog be pregnant?

The gestation period for dogs is about 63 days. Some people break it down to the trimesters. If you do that, it's 21 days per trimester, but it's 63 days. So we're looking at almost exactly two months for pregnancy.

How soon should I bring my pet in to see a veterinarian if I suspect my dog is pregnant?

Good question. The beginning stages can be hit or miss because, if you think she's pregnant, she just came out of heat. Well, sometimes, when dogs are coming out of heat, they can go through a false pregnancy at times that mimics an actual pregnancy. And sometimes, even just the hormonal changes that they're getting over can fool you. And so, the reason I'm prefacing the answer with this information is that I usually would tell you probably three weeks, maybe even closer to four, if you think your dog's pregnant. And part of our reason for answering that is because, before then, there's not much definitive testing that I can do to confirm that she is pregnant.

There is a really good test. It uses a hormone called relaxin. Relaxin is released generally in the first 21 to 27 or so days after they are bread. And so, usually, that's healthy, but don't bring them in during that period because I don't want there to be any confusion. But after about day 30, if that animal is pregnant, they should have that relaxin hormone present. And as I said, we have tests that can detect that hormone. And that's about the earliest that you can definitively confirm a pregnancy in a female.

What are some signs of pregnancy in dogs?

Again, the very early stages are a little tricky. Still, as it progresses probably into that second, or maybe even early third trimester, you're going to see some of the changes to their mammary glands. You'll have enlarged and maybe even engorged mammary glands, where they'll be producing milk. In the heat cycle, of course, their external genitalia, the vulva, if you will, will be swollen. That subsides a little bit during pregnancy, but it's probably going to still be a little big.

And then when you do get a little bit further along, again in that 30 to 40-day range, you'll start to see some abdominal swelling. It's not truly swelling, but you'll see abdominal enlargement just from the sheer size of the uterus that's expanding within. If it's a tiny litter, she may hide that pretty well. If it's a really large dog or an overweight female, you're not going to see that until the very latter stages. But those are some of the things that you can expect physically to change in your pregnant female dog.

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

I kind of stole my thunder on this answer a little bit, but the relaxin pregnancy test is one. And again, that's a little bit earlier, so you can do that one probably around day 30 or so, or later. It doesn't have to be on day 30, but no sooner than that. The big one that a lot of people like to do is X-rays. You can get radiographs of a pregnant female's abdomen, and you can detect somewhat of a puppy count or the number that can be expected.

Now, you can't do it just anytime during pregnancy. The skeletons of those puppies don't ossify until about day 50 or so. So anytime before that, I'm not saying you won't get any glimpse of bones and maybe get a rough estimate of a puppy count, but I don't recommend doing it until they hit day 50 or later, just for that reason. I don't want to do it early, and then I'm still scratching my head thinking, well, this might be a puppy, or that might be a puppy. If you wait a little bit later, that can help you out there.

One of the tests that some people like to do, and maybe not so much for the count but the vitality of the pregnancy, is an ultrasound. Again, it's challenging to count puppies. If you have a litter of 10 or 12 puppies, it's going to be pretty doggone hard to count. And in fact, it's going to be virtually impossible to count 10 to 12 puppies on an ultrasound. But you can tell the vitality of it, checking heart rates and things like that on the puppies to make sure that they're nice and viable.

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

You always have to worry about milk production. This is in the female herself, not so much the puppies right now, but in the pregnant female when she starts producing a lot of milk. Well, that calcium comes from somewhere, and she's typically pulling it from her bones. I don't like beginning calcium supplementation until after the puppies are born if it's needed. But I want to increase their caloric intake, and in that case, calcium intake, beforehand, usually in the form of feeding a good, well-balanced puppy food.

I don't see it often, but dogs can get gestational diabetes, very similar to what happens in humans. And probably some of the more common complications occur either during or after the delivery themselves. You can have a retained placenta, and that's never good, as that can lead to a uterine infection very quickly. You can also sometimes have mastitis. The ducts are very open, and sometimes they can have an ascending bacterial infection that'll get in there and cause mastitis. You're going to see what almost looks like bruising or discoloration to the mammary glands with mastitis. The milk that comes out is no longer going to be white. It's going to be this yellowish tan, sometimes even darker than that type of substance.

In some cases of uterine infections, you'll see a very putrid, dark, just yucky vaginal discharge that will be coming out. And the reason I'm hemming and hawing on the answer is because you're going to get some vaginal discharge for the next few days after birth anyway. We all know what puss looks or smells like. If you see anything that looks like that, that's not normal. Normal vaginal discharge after birth would be a dark green bordering on black. And that's from the placenta from the puppies themselves. But if you start getting that kind of brownish, tanish, or yellowish type discharge, that usually is not a good sign.

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

Some people call it a whelping box or whelping pen. Get them a spot where they can go away from the noise, the chaos, the confusion, and get off by themselves. Usually, you want an area that's well-cushioned, well-padded. It will be nice and warm, preferably dark, because many dogs don't want to do this with an audience. They want to do it off by themselves. So just give them a spot that allows for that.

Depending on the dog's size, some people like a kiddie pool—you can use that and put blankets or towels or cushions in it. That can work well. Sometimes, it's as simple as a cardboard box that's hidden in your closet or something like that. That can work just as well for maybe smaller-sized dogs, but just have something like that prepared. Plenty of warm towels, and then when it does get closer to the whelping time itself, I would have plenty of towels, maybe some warm water, things like that. You might have to clean things. You might have to help clean the puppies or warm them up a little bit. So just be prepared with those kinds of items if you can.

How can I help my dog recover after giving birth?

After giving birth, I'll be honest with you guys; I'm a big proponent of letting mother nature do her thing. She knows how to do it. And for most cases, the dog knows how to do it as well. So I try not to intervene at all unless I am forced to intervene at all. So I don't aid the dog with delivering the puppies unless one is stuck and they need me. If they're in distress, then I will intervene.

When those maternal instincts kick in, she should clean the puppies. She is usually going to eat. Yes, it's nasty, but they eat the placenta themselves. So if they're doing that, they're going to usually take care of snipping that umbilical cord while they're chewing the placenta off. I know this all sounds gross, but it's how it works. And they usually do a pretty good job of it.

So I guess where I would need to intervene, or you potentially as a client, would be if she's having difficulties with the birthing process. And what does that mean? If she's pushing for 30 minutes or more and nothing is being produced, that's a problem. If she's taking longer than three to four hours between puppies, that can be a problem. I've seen some dogs go overnight with it, but on average, if she's going that long in between puppies, it's at least worth a phone call to your veterinarian and find out if there are any issues. And if you see a puppy passed, but there's no placenta that follows, be very mindful of that and make sure that eventually, that placenta does pass.

Again, is that intervening? Not so much. It's just watching very closely and being mindful of what she's doing and what hasn't been done. So those are the kinds of things that I would prepare for or do as a pregnant dog owner.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (337) 223-9581, 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. Scott Broussard
The Waggin Train Veterinary Clinic

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

Number one, pregnancy duration is 63 days, give or take. It's a huge help if you know when your dog was bred, and so that whelping date can be established that way. So that's number one. Number two, on the assumption that you've done some of the other preliminary testing (you've had x-rays and a pregnancy test and all these other things to confirm pregnancy done), the best way to know when they're going into labor is to regularly check their body temperature.

For about a week to five days before the expected due date, start taking their temperature at least once daily, and you would typically see a temperature drop to anywhere between 97 to 99 degrees. And that typically happens roughly 24 hours before they go into labor. If their temperature is low, retake it in a couple of hours. If you get to back-to-back low temperatures in that range I just mentioned, there's an excellent chance that you're going to have puppies in the next 24 hours. So that's probably the most accurate indicator that I can think of as to when your dog's going to go into labor.

Is it safe for my dog to give birth at home?

Absolutely. Where else is she going to have it? Unless there is a veterinary situation such as dystocia, preeclampsia, or another kind of medical condition that would warrant a veterinarian getting involved, then there's no reason for me to get involved. Assuming you have the proper preparations at home—a whelping box, towels, a good dark, and a quiet spot for the dog to go. We covered the preparations in the previous video, so if you didn't, go back and watch it. But if you have those things ready, a dog can have their puppies at home. You're just looking for any abnormalities. If the dog is in active labor, contracting for 30 minutes or more, and no puppy, I need to know about it.

If they're going multiple hours between puppies, I probably ought to know about that too. One of the things that helps is how to know when they're finished. How do you know if they're finished? Well, that's when x-rays come in, and you can do x-rays after about day 50 of pregnancy and get a good idea of how many puppies that she has to deliver because otherwise, you're just kind of guessing. So maybe she has four, and she stops—are you going to know if that's all she has? If you didn't do x-rays, you are not going to know. That's one of the benefits of checking x-rays before they go into labor.

Where should my dog give birth?

In a whelping box. So what does that look like? What's a whelping box? It's a quiet, dark, and comfortable spot—preferably one that the dog is comfortable with because they don't want to have puppies in the middle of your living room floor. You might want them to because, "Oh, look how neat. There's one, there's two." She doesn't want to be around all that. She wants to be in the dark where it's quiet, and you have no idea what's happening. So prepare that spot for her. And if you have that spot prepared, show it to her before, let her sleep in it before, and get her comfortable with it. That should be her safe haven. That should be where she knows she can go, and she's going to be left alone, quiet, and nobody's in her way. Show it to her for a couple of weeks leading up to birthing, if possible.

Does my dog need human help during labor?

Only if there's a problem. She knows what she's doing. Even if the dog has never given birth before, it's called genetics; they're going to figure it out. So I try not to intervene unless I have to. And again, I kind of briefly touched upon it earlier, pushing for 30 minutes with no puppy, and those kinds of things might require intervention. If things like that are happening, then absolutely get on the phone, call me and let me know, or, better yet, bring the dog in, and we'll do what we have to do. But other than that, stay out of the way and let her do her thing. She's going to eat the placenta. She's going to lick the puppy clean.

She's going to lick the puppies to make them go to the bathroom for the first time. They need to nurse on her immediately to cause not only for milk letdown but it also causes a release of oxytocin. This release helps the uterine to involute and start to either contract more, or when pregnancy is done, it makes the uterus collapse and empty blood clots and extra placental tissue. And just the simple act of a puppy nursing does that. So again, stay out of the way as much as possible. Call me if you need to, but otherwise, let the pups do their thing.

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

You'll know the number of pups due to the x-rays. Ultrasound is another test that you can do leading up to it that might tell you about the viability of the puppies and how vigorous they were. It'll check their heart rate, and that's kind of neat to see, but it's very, very difficult. I would argue almost impossible to give an accurate puppy count on ultrasound. X-rays anytime after day 50 will be when the skeletons are visible on an x-ray, so that will be the best information you can have to know the number.

How long does labor usually take?

I'm going to be honest with you; just from personal experience, I can tell you that this is a highly variable answer. I have seen some dogs where they are over and done in a matter of 30 minutes to an hour—even with a Labrador-sized litter where they might pass 10 or 12 puppies. I also owned a dog that came from a litter that was born over three days. This female would have three or four, and then she'd stop and think she was done. And the next day, the owner would come home from work, and there were four or five more. And then it happened for three days.

Is that normal? No. Would I be nervous? Yeah. Had that dog been brought to me as a veterinarian, I probably would've done x-rays and said, "Oh God, there's still three more. Let's go get them." But there's a lot of variability. I would tell you, on average, a couple of hours is about right. But there's so much variability depending on the size of the puppies, the size of the female, the size of the litter, and the breed of dog. There are certain breeds like English bulldogs that are sort of the poster child for dystocia. Those guys have a hard time passing through the birth canal naturally so that it can take a little bit longer, and sometimes people don't even want to take that chance, and they'll do a scheduled C-section. For certain breeds, that's not a bad idea too.

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

Once the dog's given birth, again, stay out of the way and let Mama do her thing as much as you can. But what does that look like? All I want you to do is be a conscientious observer at first. So I want you to ensure that those pups, shortly after birth, are nursing. If they're not, encourage them to nurse. If you have to, that's one way you might want to get involved. You can squeeze a little bit of milk out and try to put some on the puppies' lips or tongue and encourage them to latch. You shouldn't have to, as most puppies figured out with the help of mom, but you should observe that they are nursing properly. You should observe that each placenta passes. If there's one puppy, that equals one placenta, so you should see that. You might have to look closely because momma might take care of that real quick. But you want to make sure that that passes.

You also want to make sure that she's cleaning them adequately. Again, I'm not implying that you jump in there in the first five seconds. Oh no, she didn't do anything. I'm going to dry it. But you know, after the first 10, 15 minutes or so, if she's not cleaning or drying that puppy, then maybe you can stimulate them a little bit with a warm towel and dry them a little bit, so they don't start getting cold. I would do that, but immediately try to put them right back with mom and let her take over that role, if possible.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (337) 223-9581, 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.