How can you be sure your dog's pregnancy is progressing normally? Like us, there are different symptoms in each stage of pregnancy as well as concerns to be aware of. If it's been at least six weeks since your dog became pregnant and you're not seeing any normal signs, you may be wondering if your dog is still pregnant and what steps to take next.
Signs a Dog Is Still Pregnant
It can be stressful caring for a pregnant dog, especially if you're a first-time breeder. While it's possible to have a dog in her sixth or seventh week of pregnancy showing few signs she's carrying a litter, it's not likely. It may be the case that she is showing signs that you're just not aware of due to lack of experience with the pregnancy process. Every dog is different, so some may show more or fewer signs during their pregnancy period.
When to Expect Signs of Pregnancy
According to Dr. Turnera Croom, "the average gestation time is approximately 63 days, and by 46 or more days, the dam should definitely be starting to show some signs." Some of these signs can include "hair loss on the belly and enlarged mammary glands."
Your veterinarian will use X-ray or ultrasound technology to observe the mother's uterus. This is important to "get an accurate puppy count and ensure that all the pups have been expelled" once she is in the birthing process. Dr. Croom understands dog owners' anxiety surrounding dog pregnancy and stated, "we have one Rottweiler breeder client who is always nervous around whelping time and I usually get a frantic call asking if the pups should be here by now!"
Typical Signs of Pregnancy
As your dog progresses through the gestation period, you should see different signs at each stage in the process. Understanding what your dog experiences in these stages is important to make sure their health and pregnancy are continuing normally after day 40, up until they give birth.
Although each stage is similar, your dog's pregnancy signs may vary based on age, breed, and genetics.
Early Signs Before Day 40
Behavioral changes can begin to develop around the first two weeks of pregnancy. Your dog may become more clingy and affectionate, or seem moodier than usual. During the third week, it's common for your dog to develop changes to her appetite and eat less than usual.
Concerns: The first trimester can be tricky. You may or may not know your dog is pregnant during this time. However, if you do know your dog is pregnant and you're monitoring her on a regular basis, watch for:
- Miscarriage: Although this can occur during any stage of pregnancy, miscarriage often happens during the first trimester. Miscarriage during the first trimester can go unnoticed, but signs can include vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite, and behavioral changes.
- Metritis: When a miscarriage happens, not all the fetal or placental tissue may be expelled from the uterus. This retained material can lead to an infection, causing the uterus to become inflamed and potentially leading to metritis. Signs of metritis can include lethargy, fever, loss of appetite, and a foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
What to Watch for Leading Up to Day 40
Your dog should begin eating more during the fourth week. At week five, the dog's belly should begin to swell more as the fetuses develop and grow. Vomiting is common during the sixth week and your dog will show signs of discomfort, as she's getting closer to the final birthing time for the pups. It's also common to see a clear discharge from her vulva during this time.
Concerns: There are some aspects of canine pregnancy during the second trimester you should be aware of, including:
- Gestational diabetes: Similar to humans, dogs can develop gestational diabetes. This could occur as early as day 32. Symptoms of gestational diabetes may include increased thirst and urination, weight loss despite an increase in appetite, and urinary tract infections.
- Malnourishment: If your dog is not consuming a sufficient amount of nutrients, you will likely notice during the second trimester. Signs of malnourishment include lethargic behavior, dull coat, or weight loss. Malnourishment can also impact the mother's ability to produce sufficient milk for her puppies post-birth. It could also cause puppies with low birth weight or miscarriage.
Day 42 to Day 60
During the seventh and eighth weeks, your dog's mammary glands should be well developed in preparation for feeding her puppies. You should also be able to feel movement when you place a hand on her belly. Your dog will also seem more tired and show "nesting behavior" as she prepares herself to give birth.
Concerns: During the final trimester, watch for the following conditions:
- Pre-eclampsia: A life-threatening condition that requires immediate veterinary attention. Signs of preeclampsia in dogs include restlessness, loss of coordination, muscle tremors, and, in severe cases, seizures.
- Mastitis: This condition can occur during the final days of pregnancy or following delivery. Causes of mastitis can include bacteria in the mammary gland, either through a damaged nipple or from the bloodstream. Signs of mastitis can include swollen, hard, and painful mammary glands, fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
Specific Symptoms at Day 45
By day 45, you should notice your dog's belly has expanded and feels firm. By this time, you should also notice your dog's appetite decreasing. She will focus on preparing for her pups to arrive.
Specific Symptoms at Day 59 to Day 60
At or around day 59 or 60, your dog will lose her appetite completely. Her body will begin moving the puppies toward the birth canal, similar to how human babies are known to "drop" when we get closer to giving birth. If you have been using a thermometer during the pregnancy process, you may also notice a decrease in her body temperature.
What Does a Shrinking Belly Mean?
If a dam is well along in the stages of her pregnancy with at least 45 days or more in, a belly that appears to be getting smaller is a sign of concern. Dr. Croom explains that a belly that seems to be suddenly getting smaller "could indicate that her body has begun the process of resorption of the fetuses." This could be caused by a number of factors that are "viral, bacterial and genetic."
If the dog is very near to her due date, the shrinking belly could indicate that she is about to go into labor. This is because the puppies have moved into the birthing position, which often makes the mother's belly appear smaller or less distended. Monitor her behavior and eating habits. If she has stopped eating, she could give birth within the next 24 to 48 hours.
Dr. Croom also notes that a shrinking belly this late in the pregnancy could mean that the dam "was not actually pregnant at all and was experiencing a pseudopregnancy the whole time." A pseudopregnancy, or false pregnancy, "is caused by hormonal imbalances that can cause mammary milk letdown, abdominal distension, and nesting behaviors in females with no puppies inside them."
If your dog is thought to be 60 days pregnant, but isn't showing, it's highly likely they could be experiencing a false pregnancy.
When It's Time to See a Veterinarian
While it's normal to feel anxious when your dog is getting toward the end of her pregnancy, there are definite signs that indicate you should seek medical attention for her right away. Dr. Croom advises dog owners to seek veterinary care for the pregnant bitch immediately if you see:
- Continuous blood leaking from the vulva
- Excessive straining for hours straight with no relief
- A black, brown, or green vaginal discharge
- Lethargy combined with pale-colored gums
If the dam has already begun to give birth, Dr. Croom advises you to get help from a veterinarian as soon as possible if "one or more pups have been born, followed by a long pause of over two hours" with no other pups appearing.
Work With Your Veterinarian
Breeders who are familiar with the process are usually capable of caring for their dog and the newborn pups, in Dr. Croom's experience. They tend to have "most of the equipment and knowhow for a whelping session" and they know when to contact their veterinarian in unusual situations like "a blocked pup or no active labor at the expected time."
For newer breeders, as well as experienced ones, she recommends working with a veterinarian who offer "telemedicine in the form of a video vet appointment," which allows veterinarians like herself to "visually see the birthing mom over video and guide the owner with next steps." This can be much less stressful for the birthing mom than having to go into a clinic and gives the owners peace of mind having a medical professional walk them through the process.