First 5 Signs Your Dog Is Pregnant & How to Tell

Our dogs experience early signs of pregnancy ranging from decreased appetite to differences in behavior, and it happens sooner than you think.

Updated July 1, 2023
Pregnant dog resting on cool tiles.

Although most owners are careful to keep their pets confined when they are in heat, sometimes a breeding takes place - perhaps without the owner even realizing it. In other instances, the breeding is planned to produce a litter. It can be difficult to tell if your dog is pregnant during the first few weeks of gestation, but there are a few telltale indicators. Look for these five signs when you're wondering if your dog is pregnant.

How Long After Mating Can You Tell if a Dog is Pregnant?

Your dog being pregnant may not even be a thought in your mind if it's not planned. So, it may go undetected until your dog begins to show symptoms. Whether you expected it or not, the question is, how soon after mating can you tell a dog is pregnant?

Signs of canine pregnancy usually begin in their second trimester (about three weeks into the pregnancy). Nausea and vomiting (morning sickness) are uncommon in dogs, but hormonal changes may cause nausea and vomiting in some dogs between days 21 and 25.

As early as 21 days into the pregnancy, you may also see your dog gain weight. If you observe pregnancy symptoms in your dog and want to get them tested, they should be at least 22 days pregnant for the test to be accurate.

5 Early Signs of Pregnancy in Dogs

Signs of pregnancy usually start to become apparent about three weeks after mating, when some dogs may show subtle signs around this time. Here are five of the early signs of pregnancy in dogs:

  • Change in appetite: A dog may experience a decrease or increase in appetite. Some dogs may even experience episodes of morning sickness, similar to humans.
  • Behavioral changes: A pregnant dog may become more affectionate, or alternatively, may seek solitude and become less social.
  • Increased nipple size and pigmentation: A dog's nipples may become larger and darker as early as a few weeks into the pregnancy.
  • Increased sleep or fatigue: Pregnant dogs often become more tired and may sleep more than usual.
  • Changes in abdominal size: Though this is usually more noticeable later in the pregnancy, some dogs may start to show a slight increase in abdominal size or bloating as an early sign.
Need to Know

Some dogs will show more signs than others. Don't worry if your dog doesn't show all these signs at one time.

1. Decreased Appetite and Vomiting

Sick Black mixed small dog laying beside his food bowls

A lack of appetite is one of the earliest signs your female might be pregnant. Not all females go through this doggy version of "morning sickness," but some dogs do eat less during the first two weeks of gestation and make up for it later in the pregnancy. If dogs experience nausea, it's usually during week three and four and will go away as the pregnancy progresses.

If your pet does lose her appetite during the early weeks of pregnancy or throws up occasionally, don't try to force her to eat. You can tempt her with some boiled ground beef and rice mixed with her kibble, but try not to worry too much if she still doesn't want food. Most dogs won't skip more than a day or two without eating something. If she refuses food three days in a row, then it's time to call your vet for some advice.

2. Sudden Decrease in Activity

A female miniature dachshund sleeping on a sofa at home

If your female is normally energetic, a sudden slowdown might be another indication she is pregnant. Just like some women, dogs may also experience feelings of exhaustion as their hormone levels change to support a growing embryo. This typically begins about two weeks into the pregnancy, and it may subside a few weeks later as she adjusts to her new condition.

Need to Know

Changes in your dog's normal behavior patterns could be an early sign of pregnancy.

3. Breast Development

Pregnant female Australian Cattle Dog expecting

Breast development is a good indicator your dog's body is going through pregnancy changes. The nipples of an unbred female are usually small, and the area beneath them feels flat. Once a pregnancy is in progress, the milk glands begin to develop beneath the nipples, which also enlarge slightly in preparation for eventual milk production and nursing. You should be able to feel a bit of development about two weeks after a breeding has taken place.

4. Change in Nipple Color

Mother dog nipples close-up

In addition to breast development, the nipple color becomes more rosy, especially the last four to six nipples that are closest to the dog's hind legs. The nipples are usually a very light pinkish-gray, but they become flushed due to the increased blood flow to the area. This change takes place around the same time when breast development begins approximately two weeks after conception.

5. Behavioral Changes

High angle view of a cute puppy sitting next to the owner legs in the living room.

Nearly all newly pregnant dogs display some behavior change. Some females become extra affectionate and may even cling to their owners as they become unsure about all the changes they're feeling. Other dogs turn a little grumpy and prefer to remain by themselves unless they actively seek their owner's company. Behavioral changes often happen as early as a few days after a successful breeding.

Towards the end of the pregnancy, starting around the sixth week through the birth period, your dog will start to display nesting behavior, which means she's getting ready to give birth to her puppies. She may also be more irritable in these final weeks and this is due to her being physically uncomfortable as she gets closer and closer to labor.

Vaginal Discharge During Pregnancy

While vaginal discharge often occurs during a dog's pregnancy, it typically doesn't show until about four weeks gestation or even later, so it's not regarded as an early sign a dog is expecting a litter. You should consult your vet right away if you see discharge before mid-pregnancy, especially if it's:

  • Heavy bloody discharge
  • Mucus tinged with blood
  • Mucus that is any color other than clear or slightly cloudy
  • Mucus that has a bad odor

Your female might have picked up an infection during her heat cycle or after mating.

Quick Tip

Keeping a journal about your dog's signs each day can help you determine what's normal and what isn't.

Difference Between False and Real Pregnancy

It can be difficult to determine if your dog is pregnant or if she's just going through a false pregnancy. That's because, according to VCA Hospitals, the signs for both conditions are virtually the same. The main difference with a false pregnancy is you probably won't see them occur until at least four weeks after the heat cycle ends, and they may not even occur until nine weeks afterward. In a true pregnancy, you'll notice several signs within the first two weeks of gestation.

The Veterinary Exam and Beyond

While watching for symptoms of pregnancy at home can be beneficial, it's important to consult with a veterinarian. Whether a breeding was planned or unplanned, it's a good idea to take your dog to the vet for an initial pregnancy exam to make sure her symptoms aren't related to an illness rather than a pregnancy. If she is pregnant, she'll handle most of the pregnancy without assistance. Your primary job will be to:

  • Provide her with the best nutrition you can.
  • Make sure she gets moderate exercise - nothing too strenuous or tiring. You just want to help your dog stay toned and not become overweight.
  • Make sure she has a comfortable place to rest as her belly grows.
  • Keep household stress to a minimum.
  • Prepare a box she'll use when she whelps her litter.

Testing a Dog for Pregnancy

A home pregnancy test designed for humans will not work on dogs, but there are several tests available that can be done at home if you're experienced in performing such exams. These tests include the Synbiotics Canine Pregnancy Test and the Rubsy Canine Pregnancy Test Kit. These tests do require blood samples, so they shouldn't be used by the average dog owner. It's a better idea to take your dog to the vet to determine if your dog is pregnant.

  • Your veterinarian can draw some blood and within a time frame of about ten minutes let you know about the relaxin levels in your dog.
  • Dogs only have a high level of this hormone during pregnancy so this produces a very accurate result although your dog has to be at least 22 or so days into the pregnancy for the test to be accurate.
  • The test is relatively inexpensive at around $130 to $155 although some veterinarians prefer using an ultrasound test which can be considerably more expensive at around $300 to $500.
  • The benefit of an ultrasound is that your veterinarian can glean more information about the pregnancy including how many puppies there are in the litter and their general health condition.

This Is Just the Beginning

It takes a keen eye to spot pregnancy in the earliest stages, but the signs become more obvious as the weeks go on. Try to learn everything you can about canine gestation, other pregnancy symptoms, and the stages of pregnancy so you understand what's happening inside your dog's body. Use a dog pregnancy calendar to help estimate when your bitch can be expected to deliver puppies.

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First 5 Signs Your Dog Is Pregnant & How to Tell