5 Dog Pregnancy Stages & Your Role as Pet Parent

Each part of your dog's pregnancy require different levels of care, and once you're familiar with them you'll know just how to care for her.

Updated July 11, 2023
Samoyed dog mother with puppies

If you're considering breeding your female dog, you need to understand the five stages of dog pregnancy so that you can provide your pet with optimal care. Detailed knowledge of the process will help ensure your dog has a healthy pregnancy and lower the chances of complications. Find out what she needs before breeding and during the pregnancy, as well as how to provide proper aftercare.

Care Through The Five Stages

Knowing where your dog is in her development will help you make sure you give her all the care and attention she needs. Experienced breeders are familiar with the five stages of a dog's pregnancy. It starts with the dog going into heat, or estrus, followed by the mating between the future dam and sire.

Once impregnated, the gestation typically lasts nine weeks before delivery. Whelping is the term for the dog giving birth to her new puppies. The final stage is aftercare performed by your dog, with ample supervision and assistance by yourself and your veterinarian.

  • Stage 1: Conception
  • Stage 2: Early Pregnancy
  • Stage 3: Late Pregnancy
  • Stage 4: Whelping
  • Stage 5: Delivery Aftercare

Dog Pregnancy Stage 1: Conception

Conception - or breeding - is the first stage of a dog's pregnancy journey. A female dog is only fertile during her heat cycle, and most mature dogs come into heat every six months or annually. There are a few things that need to be taken care of before you actually breed your dog.

  • Make sure your dog's vaccinations are current.
  • Have her checked and, if necessary, treated for worms before the pregnancy. If this isn't carried out before the breeding, wait until the pups are born.
  • Check both male and female dogs for canine brucellosis, a sexually transmitted disease that causes spontaneous late-term abortions, infection of reproductive organs, and eventual sterility in both sexes.

Dog Pregnancy Stage 2: Early Pregnancy

Watch for early signs your dog is pregnant after mating. You'll have to keep a close eye on her because you may not see obvious signs until after the first trimester, which is around week 3 of pregnancy. A dog's pregnancy can be diagnosed by feeling the uterus, by blood test, or by ultrasound.

Need to Know

A canine pregnancy lasts approximately 58 to 65 days, or 63 days on average, from the date the breeding occurred.

Dog Pregnancy Stage 3: Late Pregnancy

Through the second and third trimesters, the puppies will develop rapidly, and your dog will show obvious signs of pregnancy. As your dog's delivery date draws near, you'll need to prepare for whelping.

  • Begin taking your dog's temperature twice a day or twelve hours apart, beginning around 56 days gestation. A normal temperature will range between 100-101 degrees Fahrenheit, but a drop to 97 degrees that is held for two consecutive readings signals impending labor within the next 24 hours.
  • Prepare a whelping box for the delivery to take place in.
  • Have plenty of clean towels on hand for cleaning pups.
  • Clean a pair of scissors with alcohol. Keep them handy in case the mother dog doesn't cut cords herself.

Dog Pregnancy Stage 4: Whelping

As the end of the gestation period draws near, be on the lookout for signs that your dog is about to give birth. There are three stages of labor.

  1. Pre-Labor: This stage can begin a full day before active labor begins. Your dog will seem restless and will shred the newspapers in her whelping box. She may also refuse to eat.
  2. Active Labor: This is the active pushing stage of labor. As a pup begins to emerge, you'll notice a dark bubble at the mother dog's vulva. This is the puppy's sac, which she will tear open and sever the umbilical cord. The mom may rest about ten minutes before she pushes out the next pup, but sometimes things happen quicker. If she strains for more than an hour without passing the next pup, call your vet for advice.
  3. Post-Partum: When the pups have been delivered, your dog will settle down and focus on caring for her pups. Allow her a potty break and offer her some canned food to entice her to eat. This will give her strength and help her to make milk for the pups. Her vulva will continue to discharge blood for several days after birth, but the amount should lessen each day until it ceases altogether.
Mother dog carrying her newborn puppies.

Dog Pregnancy Stage 5: Delivery Aftercare

After delivery is complete, it is your dog's job to care for the pups and your job to monitor her health.

  • Take her to the vet within 24 hours of delivery to make sure all pups and placentas have been expelled. At this time, your vet may give her a shot of Pitocin, a synthetic oxytocin injection, to help her uterus finish contracting to its pre-pregnancy size and an antibiotic shot to prevent infection.
  • Check her breasts for nursing sores and overly warm hard spots that could be a sign of possible mastitis infection.
  • Watch her temperature. A spike over 102 degrees Fahrenheit may be an indication of a postpartum infection.
  • A significant increase in bloody vaginal discharge and/or a foul-smelling green discharge may be signs of a problem and should be addressed by your vet.
  • Continue providing your dog with plenty of food and fresh water, and help her keep the whelping box clean.

A Labor of Love

It takes some work to see a dog through her pregnancy so she can deliver a healthy litter, but it's worth it all when those adorable pups arrive. Remember, this is not something to take on lightly. Carefully consider the health of your dog and the well-being of her puppies. Learn everything you can about delivering and caring for newborn puppies before the big arrival!

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5 Dog Pregnancy Stages & Your Role as Pet Parent