How to Support Your Dog During Pregnancy & Birth

Having a pregnant dog can be a stressful time for owners and dogs alike. Whilst they are mostly guided by instinct during pregnancy and the whelping process, there are still a few things that you can do to help your dog.

Read on as we discuss all things relating to dog pregnancy and newborn puppy survival…

What are the signs of pregnancy in dogs?

Female dogs are in season once every eight months for about three weeks. This period is also known as being in heat. If you want to know if your dog has mated successfully, there are a few signs and symptoms that can signal pregnancy, such as: 

  • Swollen and darker nipples 
  • Vomiting
  • Increased hunger
  • Low energy 
  • Weight gain
  • Swollen tummy 

If you see any of the above signs and suspect your dog is pregnant, it’s a good idea to go to the vet to test for pregnancy and rule out any other health causes. It’s hard to tell whether a dog is pregnant early on, but after 25 days from mating, your vet will be able to do an ultrasound or blood test to confirm. 

Phantom pregnancies are common in dogs, as the hormones released during a season might make your dog believe she is pregnant. She might act differently, show pregnancy symptoms or even develop a slightly swollen tummy, so it’s important to get confirmation from your vet.

How long does dog pregnancy last? 

Gestation periods in dogs are relatively short and last for an average of 61-65 days (about nine weeks). 

Also Read: Dog Gestation Calculator and Chart

How to care for your pregnant dog

Whilst a dog instinctively knows how to handle pregnancy, there are a few steps you can take to help ensure that it’s a comfortable and relatively stress-free time for her. 

As your dog starts to nest, you may notice some behavioural changes, such as becoming unusually irritable or sensitive to sounds, scratching at the floor or hoarding food and comfort items (like toys or your clothes). Whilst your dog may become temperamental, she will also likely require more attention and care, so make sure any children in the house know to handle her gently and quietly. 

Your dog’s appetite will likely increase too, and depending on your vet’s advice, you might choose to change to a specialist pregnant dog food. As your dog’s womb presses on the stomach, she will not be able to eat as she usually does and may devour two or three times more food in smaller meals. Ask your vet for specific recommendations on dog food or use a customisable dog food finder.

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Just like with a human pregnancy, any form of exercise should be slow and gentle. The goal is not to add any extra stress, so let her choose the pace. And if she’s a working dog, consider reducing her workload or getting help from another dog. In the later stages of pregnancy, she may not want to or be able to exercise much at all. 

During the later stages of pregnancy, you can help your dog nest by providing her with a quiet and secluded area of the house away from other pets and people. You may notice your dog becomes needier – she may even wait for your presence to begin whelping, so stay with her when you can during the last three weeks. 

Pregnancy complications to look out for 

Whilst whelping is relatively straightforward and instinctual, it’s crucial to plan well, just in case of complications. Ensure you either have the vet’s number on your phone or somewhere else in the house immediately visible. You should also get an out-of-hours or emergency number from the vet, just in case. 

Complications that arise can include miscarriage or canine pregnancy toxaemia. Dogs can suffer miscarriages for various reasons, such as stress, infection, injury or complications during birth. Pregnancy toxaemia is rare but can be easily treated by the vet if caught early enough. It’s caused by a build-up of toxins in the blood and can appear as weakness, low energy or seizures in severe cases. 

If you suspect your dog is suffering a miscarriage, has pregnancy toxaemia, or is displaying any other unusual symptoms, you should promptly contact your vet for further advice. 

Supporting your dog during whelping 

Most dogs will go through the whelping process with minimal human intervention if they have a whelping box. You can buy these pre-made or make your own, but it will need to:

  • Be located in a quiet room at about 22°C
  • Be lined with towels and washable bedding
  • Be large enough for your dog to stretch and move around in
  • Have raised sides to prevent puppies from falling out
  • Have a barrier to prevent puppies from getting squashed against the sides 

If your dog has trouble giving birth or has not produced any puppies after straining for 20-30 minutes, you should call your vet and regard it as an emergency. 

Looking after newborn puppies 

The number of puppies in a litter will depend on the breed and size of your dog. It can vary between 1-15 puppies, although on average, it is about 5-6 per litter. Sometimes, especially with larger litters, not all of the puppies survive.

Some puppies may suffer from what is known as ‘fading puppy syndrome’, and about 20% to 40% of puppies will not survive past 12 weeks of age. Whilst some puppy losses are unavoidable, you should ensure that:

  • The puppies are in a safe, warm and clean environment
  • You keep an eye on them and mum to ensure weaning is going as expected 
  • Your dog is eating enough whilst nursing the puppies
  • The puppies are monitored for any signs of illness or infection

If you have any concerns about the weaning process or your dog or puppy’s health, you should contact your vet for advice as soon as possible. 

Now you know the signs and symptoms of pregnancy, how to support your four-legged friend during whelping and to raise happy, healthy puppies.