After a successful dog breeding process, pregnancy can last anywhere from 56-66 days after ovulation, with 63 days being the average. Note that the day the female is bred and the day she ovulates are not necessarily the same.
After becoming pregnant, the female may gain a small amount of weight in the first few weeks. At about week 3 or 4, she may experience morning sickness. Her appetite could decrease, and she may vomit. This lasts only a few days, and many dog owners do not even notice it.
At around day 40, the stomach begins to increase in size, and the nipples enlarge. The breasts may express milk as the birth date nears. It is important to know that if a dog is not pregnant, she may still exhibit these signs. This is called a false pregnancy, and many dogs experience it during every heat cycle.
You may want to know for sure if your dog is pregnant. A vet can perform many tests throughout the pregnancy. An ultrasound can be done at around 21 days after ovulation. Ultrasound requires no radiation and is considered very safe.
By day 28, the vet can determine if your dog is pregnant just by feeling her stomach. The vet will look for walnut-sized lumps evenly spaced in the abdomen. This shouldn’t be done by anyone apart from a vet, as forceful palpitation can cause the dog to miscarry. This technique is only practical during a one-week period, because by day 35, the embryos are in fluid and cannot be felt through palpitation.
At around day 30, a vet can perform a blood test to detect relaxin, a pregnancy hormone. An increase in acute phase proteins can also be detected through a blood test, signaling pregnancy.
At around day 45, X-rays of the abdomen can show the puppies’ bones. Some experienced breeders use X-rays to determine the size of the litter. X-rays can be harmful to the puppies if used earlier in the pregnancy.
At this point, the female’s abdomen is very large. The puppies’ movements can be seen and felt.
The female should see the vet at least twice before giving birth. The first visit should occur about two weeks after the breeding. The vet may perform additional tests and answer any questions you may have. The next visit should be at about two weeks before the due date. The vet will discuss how to prepare the female for the birth and instruct you how to deliver the puppies. The vet will also inform you of any potential issues to look for and what to do if an emergency arises after hours, since many females deliver puppies in the late night and early morning hours.
Just like humans, pregnant dogs require proper nutrition during pregnancy. As her weight increases, her food intake should increase as well. Her weight should start to increase dramatically after five weeks of pregnancy. However, the amount of food should be increased gradually. By the time the female gives birth, she may be eating up to 50 percent more than usual. Instead of giving her large meals, it is a good idea to space them out evenly several times throughout the day to avoid indigestion, an upset stomach and vomiting.
If the female has already been eating a nutritious diet, she probably does not need any supplements. However, some breeders like to add vitamins to the dog’s diet. Some add protein such as eggs, liver and evaporated milk.
It is advised that you buy or make a whelping box prior to the birth. A whelping box is where the dog will have the puppies. If you do not have one, the dog may have the puppies in a closet, corner of a room or outdoors in a hole. The whelping box should be located in an area that is quiet, dry and warm, preferably inside the house or in a covered area outdoors.
The box should be large enough that the female can comfortably lie down inside and feed her litter of puppies. It should have low sides so that you can reach in, and the female can get inside easily. Shelves should also be installed so that the puppies have something to hide under to avoid being rolled on by their mother.
It is advised to line the bottom with newspapers during the birth, as they can be thrown away after being soiled. After the birth, you may want to use non-slip mats or carpeting to provide better traction for the puppies.
It is helpful to have all the supplies on hand before the birth. Some things you may need include the following:
- Extra newspaper – Lining for the whelping box
- Paper towels – Cleaning any messes inside the box
- Cloth towels – Cleaning puppies after birth
- Heating pad – Keeping the puppies warm, especially if they are born in the winter or in the cool nighttime hours
- Thermometer – Taking the female’s temperature. Her temperature will drop to below 99 degrees if she is about to give birth
- Scissors – Cutting the puppies’ placentas. The mother usually does this on her own, but sometimes a placenta may be difficult to break open.