You may wonder what to expect when your dog is expecting. It's critical to first understand what is occurring inside your pregnant dog's body during gestation. With each week, her body and needs change as the puppies grow. Discover what goes on during a dog pregnancy and how you can best care for your pregnant dog.
Canine Gestation Calendar and Timeline
The approximate expected time of a dog's pregnancy is 63 days, although puppy gestation can vary by several days. Dog pregnancy can generally be expected to last between eight and nine weeks. However, just as with human pregnancies, the exact length of puppy gestation can vary slightly by several days. If you know when your dog was bred, a dog gestation calculator can help you estimate when your pet is due.
The following week-by-week canine gestation guide will aid in your understanding of the puppy's development, and help recognize the outward changes your dog will experience as she advances through the stages of pregnancy until she delivers puppies.
Week Zero to One
Starting on day one, breeding takes place. Within a few days, through the first week, the sperm reaches the eggs, and fertilization occurs. You may not expect any changes in your dog's appearance or behavior.
On days 8 to 14, the fertilized eggs make their way to the uterus for implantation. You may notice behavioral changes in your dog that represent the first signs of pregnancy. For example, she may become moody or more affectionate.
On days 15 to 21, your dog may begin to display mood swings, appetite changes, and breast tissue development. At this point, implantation has taken place, and the embryos begin to develop.
On days 22 to 28, the fetuses can be felt in the uterine horns and can be seen by ultrasound after day 25. The spinal cords are developing, and the fetuses are beginning to grow facial features. Your pregnant dog's uterus will shortly fill with fluids to protect the fetuses. After this, it will be weeks until the puppies can be felt again. Additionally, your dog's appetite will likely increase, so it's best to offer her more food at this point in the timeline.
On days 29 to 35, the fetuses develop their sex organs and begin to look like actual puppies. The puppies' leg buds lengthen, and toes develop. Your dog's belly will begin to look noticeably swollen as the pups take up more space. With less room for full meals, it's time to begin serving smaller meals more frequently.
On days 36 to 42, the pups continue to grow, and pigmentation develops. The eyes now have lids and remain sealed until approximately 10 days after birth. Your dog may be noticeably more uncomfortable at this point. She may also vomit occasionally due to the extra pressure against her stomach. In addition, you may notice clear fluid discharge from her vulva, which is normal.
On days 43 to 49, puppies are well-developed and now begin attaining size in preparation for birth. This is when you can feel puppies move in your dog's abdomen. Her breasts are well developed and likely contain a bit of colostrum or "first milk." Your dog is noticeably tired and may begin searching for a place to whelp. It's time to set up a whelping box.
On days 50 to 56, the puppies have fur and are now crowded in the uterus. You may notice a lot of activity as they get into position for the coming birth. Your dog may begin digging the bedding in the whelping box. This is natural "nesting" behavior. Allow her to feed freely as she is able.
On days 56 to 63, the pups are ready for birth and may be quite still as they rest in preparation for the marathon to come. When your dog is ready to give birth, she may appear uncomfortable and restless or anxious. This is when you should begin taking rectal temperature readings approximately 12 hours apart. A normal dog temperature is 100 to 101 degrees Fahrenheit; a drop in temperature near 97 degrees held for two consecutive readings indicates labor will begin within 24 hours.
Video of Fetal Development
This video by Purina ProPlan gives an excellent animated view of how a puppy fetus develops in the womb during gestation.
Video Illustration of Dog Pregnancy Timeline
To further clarify the stages of dog pregnancy, review the week-by-week images in the following video.
Dog Gestation Care Tips
It's important to take great care of your dog throughout all stages of pregnancy. Keep these categories and tips in mind.
- If you're already feeding your dog a balanced diet, there's no need for additional vitamin supplements.
- As your dog's needs increase, simply offer her more of her current diet.
- You can add a spoonful of cottage cheese to her evening meal to boost calcium intake in a natural way, but refrain from giving calcium pills. They are too potent and can do more harm than good during the pregnancy.
- Some vets recommend feeding pregnant dogs a diet formulated for puppies during the third trimester.
- Limit any strenuous activity during the first two weeks of pregnancy to ensure implantation takes place.
- After the first two weeks, it's OK to resume normal activities, within reason.
- Once a pregnant dog's belly begins to show, it's a good idea to limit her exercise to gentle walks to maintain her muscle tone without putting her under too much stress.
- An early pregnancy checkup and good communication with your vet are generally all that is required to make sure the pregnancy develops as it should.
- Call your vet if your dog displays any unusual behaviors or displays signs of distress.
- Do not give vaccinations to pregnant dogs.
- Some parasites, such as roundworms, can be passed from mother to puppies within the womb; therefore, you can deworm your dog after her sixth week of pregnancy. Talk to your vet about which products are safe to use.
- You can help keep your pregnant dog clean and hygienic prior to whelping.
- Avoid bringing her to the groomer, as the stress of the visit could be hard on her system.
- Keep her rear end free of fecal material by wiping her with a clean, wet cloth.
- Avoid putting pressure on a pregnant dog's abdomen while brushing or grooming.
Prepare a Space for Whelping
- Create a "whelping box" for your pregnant dog a few weeks before her due date.
- Use a cardboard box or plastic bin with plenty of cozy blankets. This should be a quiet, safe place where she has enough room to stretch out and nurse the puppies.
- Should your dog have trouble giving birth, you can use this whelping box to transport her to the veterinary clinic.
Learning About Canine Pregnancy
Caring for a pregnant dog is a huge responsibility. Learning about the daily and weekly changes during the gestation period can alert you if your dog is experiencing difficulty. Be sure you work with your veterinarian to regularly check on your dog's progress to ensure a healthy mom and litter.