Stages of Dog Pregnancy

Updated October 17, 2022
Pregnant Bulldog; Copyright Willeecole at Dreamstime.com

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

What Are the Stages of Dog Pregnancy?

Experienced breeders are familiar with the 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.

Dog Pregnancy Basics

It's best to begin the topic of dog pregnancy with a short primer.

  • A female dog is only fertile during her heat cycle.
  • Most mature dogs come into heat every six months or annually.

Before Breeding

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 Progression

Watch for early signs your dog is pregnant after mating. A dog's pregnancy can be diagnosed by feeling (palpating) the uterus, by blood test, and by ultrasound.

Nutrition During Pregnancy

Pregnant Golden Retriever eating kibble

A pregnant dog requires good nutrition to support the demands of growing fetuses in her body.

  • Feed your dog a premium dog food with real meat protein.
  • Allow her to eat as much as she wants so she has extra nutrition to support her litter.
  • Avoid extra supplements unless your vet recommends them because they can upset a balanced diet.

Exercise

Exercise plays an important role before, during, and after dog pregnancy.

  • Proper exercise will help ensure your dog is in top physical condition to undertake a pregnancy.
  • Gentle but consistent exercise during dog pregnancy helps keep a pregnant dog's muscles toned, making the delivery of the pups easier. Walking is the best exercise since it's low impact and lessens the chances your dog could sustain an injury or endanger her pups.
  • Although it's best to let your dog concentrate on her pups after birth, you should resume taking her for a short walk several times a week within about two weeks or as recommended by your veterinarian.

Whelping Time

As your dog's delivery date draws near, you'll need to prepare for whelping.

Preparations

  • Prepare a whelping box for the delivery to take place in.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Stages of Canine Labor

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.

Stage One: 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.

Stage Two: Active Labor

Chihuahua giving birth

This is the active pushing stage. As a pup begins to emerge, you'll notice a dark bubble at the mother dog's vulva. This is the puppy's sac and should not be broken until after the pup is out.

  • Once the pup is expelled, you will notice a navel cord that should be attached to a bloody sac called the placenta. There is one placenta for each pup, and it may be expelled with the pup or retained until the next set of contractions.
  • Most dogs will break the sac open immediately on their own, but if this doesn't happen, you will need to tear the sac open with sterile tools and wipe the pup's muzzle free of any mucus and liquid.
  • Next, mom should sever the umbilical cord on her own, but if she doesn't, you'll need to assist by tying the cord off with a thread about an inch away from the pup's body and cutting the cord between the knot and the placenta.
  • You can now rub the pup quite vigorously with a towel to help it expel any remaining fluid from its lungs.
  • 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.

Stage Three: 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.

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 Shopping List for Your Dog's Pregnancy

Having everything ready to go can make the birthing process much less stressful. You should have the following supplies on hand at a minimum to prepare for your dog's birthing day:

  • A whelping box which you can make yourself or purchase one that's pre-made. Another low-cost option is a small dog pool or plastic kiddie pool.
  • A pet thermometer is important for taking your dog's temperature regularly.
  • Good absorbent towels will be necessary for cleanup.
  • Sharp scissors for cutting the cord and alcohol or alcohol wipes for sterilizing the scissors.
  • A good, sturdy dog leash is also useful for taking your dog on short walks.
  • Ensuring your dog is on a premium dog food is important, as well as adding in a good multi-vitamin to keep her immune system healthy before, during, and after the birth.

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 wellbeing of her puppies. Learn everything you can about delivering and caring for newborn puppies before the big arrival!

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Stages of Dog Pregnancy