If you think your dog may be pregnant, hopefully it was a planned event. If it was, chances are you’ve already done your research and you know what to expect over the next few months. If it wasn’t a planned dog pregnancy, you may be wondering how long do dogs stay pregnant and what else you need to know about the process.

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In this article we’re discussing everything related to pregnant dogs and what dog owners must know. This dog pregnancy guide will provide you with advice and information on:

  • How, when and how often dogs ovulate and get pregnant;
  • How long do dogs stay pregnant and the size of litters;
  • How to feed a pregnant dog and what nutrition she requires;
  • Best dog food for a pregnant dog and what to avoid;
  • Signs of labor and how to prepare to deliver puppies;
  • Potential complications during pregnancy and how to avoid them.

I’m sure have a lot of other inquiries that can help you care for your pregnant dog. As someone who’s already been through this twice, I feel I can give some good pointers to pet parents of pregnant females and answer some of the most common questions.

However, I want to stress this part: if you suspect that your female dog is pregnant, then you need to get her in to see a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Why? Because your vet will be able to walk you through the stages of canine pregnancy – which is important to any responsible dog owner to know – and also give you advice on the type of diet your pregnant dog should be eating. Vets are able to help you find out how far along your dog is in her pregnancy and explain how long do dogs stay pregnant.

Need more or better resources? Try some dog pregnancy books.

Dog Breeding, Whelping and Puppy CareThere are also common tests that are done on pregnant dogs that are expecting puppies, and your vet will let you know whether or not your pooch will need them. Additionally, learn about canine whelping process. I found tons of advice in Dog Breeding, Whelping and Puppy Care book which was the most extensive material I could find.

Canine pregnancy is an exciting time, but it’s also something that needs to be taken very seriously by pet parents. Like with humans, the health of newborn puppies directly depends on the health of their mother, so you’ll need to be sure to give her top-notch prenatal care.

How Long Do Dogs Stay Pregnant & Other Important Dog Pregnancy Questions

How Often Can a Dog Get Pregnant?

A female dog comes into heat approximately once every 6 months, beginning at an average age of six months old. This cycle can vary, however.

For example, some larger breed dogs only come into heat once in a year and a half, and some very small breeds may come into heat three times in one year.

The average heat cycle lasts between 2 to 3 weeks, but a dog may only become pregnant during three or four days during that cycle.

The female dog’s heat cycle is characterized by swelling of her vulva, which is then followed by vaginal discharge. This discharge is bloody at first and then lightens in color towards the end of the cycle.

Dog vulva comparison
Anestrous bitch (left) and proestrous bitch (right). Photo: tc.umn.edu

It is the point when the discharge becomes watery in appearance that the female is fertile and able to get pregnant.

It is important to know, however, that a male’s sperm can survive for a full week in the female’s reproductive system, so it is possible for the female to get pregnant during a wider window than the three to four days of ovulation. At the end of the heat cycle, the female’s vulva will go back to its normal appearance.

During her heat cycle, a female dog can become pregnant from an encounter with a male dog even without “tying”. This means that any interaction that results in sperm in the female reproductive tract can result in pregnancy.

“Can I give my dog pregnancy test?”

Interestingly, I’ve seen this question asked many times on forums and elsewhere from new pet parents. Many wonder if it’s possible to use human pregnancy test on dogs and whether that would work.

Even though the answer should be pretty self-explanatory, let me just confirm this one more time: NO – human pregnancy tests do not work on dogs.

Why? Because we are two different species.

“Is there a dog pregnancy test that’s an alternative to human ones?” To my knowledge, there currently are no dog prenancy tests created, nor do we really need them. If you read this article, you’ll see that having a dog pregnancy test is somewhat unnecessary anyway.

How Long Do Dogs Stay Pregnant?

The full length of a female dog’s pregnancy is around 63 days.

During the first few weeks of pregnancy it is impossible to determine whether the female dog is pregnant. It’s not until the 4th week that a vet may begin to feel the puppies in her uterus, but an ultrasound allows for detection of puppies around 3 days earlier.

While pregnancy may be seen as early as 25 days on an ultrasound reading, it is not until 42 days that the skeletons of the puppies calcify. Up until this time pregnancy in dogs cannot be confirmed through an x-ray.

Here is a whelping chart to help you work out the time when to expect puppies:

Dog whelping chart
Dog whelping chart (click to expand). Credit: bluestafford.com

How many puppies will your dog have?

The average litter is between 5 and 6 puppies. However, this can vary significantly.

The general rule of thumb for litter size is that smaller dogs have a smaller litter size and larger dogs have a larger litter size. It’s impossible to predict an exact size of litter before the time is right, but the above number is the standard for many canines.

For a complete week by week breakdown of getting ready to deliver puppies, Royal Canin has created a very user-friendly chart and article for pet parents. You can find it here.

How to Feed a Pregnant Dog?

Figuring out how long do dogs stay pregnant is the least of your worries as a pet parent of a pregnant dog. When caring for a dogs in pregnancy, nutrition is particularly important not only for the puppies’ growth but also for the mother dog’s health.

Poor nutrition may lead to severe health problems for the mother dog as well as loss of the litter. It’s not unusual for this to happen when delivering puppies.

The specific needs of pregnant canines vary based on the health of every individual dog, but there are some general guidelines that should be followed when feeding pregnant dogs as well as nursing pregnant dogs. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Calories must be increased. The mother must be able to sustain the growth of her puppies as well as provide for her own basic needs, so feed her more dog food that has been specifically formulated for pregnant dogs.
  • A high fat diet is a must. Diet that has more fat in it will help to provide the added calories that a pregnant dog requires. Again, if you choose a special formula, then you don’t need to worry about this since it has already been accounted for.
  • Multiple small meals. Rather than feeding your pregnant dog 1-2 large meals, stick to feeding her more often of higher calorie fatty meals that are also easy to digest. I would recommend to discuss a feeding schedule with your veterinarian.
  • Phosphorus and calcium should be plentiful. Newborn puppies and pregnant dogs require a specific set of nutrients. Extra calcium and phosphorus allows for healthy bone growth in puppies and healthy milk production in nursing mothers.
  • Protein should be increased. Just as they need more calcium, pregnant dogs also need more protein; it facilitate healthy development in future puppies. All dog foods for pregnant dogs have an increased amount of protein already.
  • DHA supplemented food. Same as with humans, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which often comes with omega-3 supplements or dog foods fortified with omega-3s, is necessary for healthy development of the nervous systems of developing puppies.

Does a pregnant dog need any supplements?

Contrary to common belief, aside from the added omega-3s and DHA, most pregnant dogs do not requireadditional pet supplements added to their diet, unless they have some specific condition or their dog food doesn’t meet the requirements (but it should!)

You should especially avoid giving a pregnant dog any additional calcium supplements if you’re already feeding a special canine formula designed for puppies and pregnant dogs. Any extra calcium will cause developmental problems in puppies, according to studies.

Pregnant dogs receive adequate nutrition when they are fed a pregnancy or lactating dog food formula, which is exactly what you should be feeding your female canine. You only need to use dog supplements if you’re making your own homemade dog food to make sure the needs are met; however, home food is not recommended for a pregnant dog.

When feeding specially formulated pregnant dog food and diets, or best puppy food diets, adding pet supplements when not specifically needed can lead to many other health problems for the mother as well as pregnancy loss or birth defects in puppies.

What’s the best dog food for a pregnant dog?

When your bitch is pregnant, you should focus on feeding her a very high-quality, well-balanced performance dog food diet or puppy food diet all the way throughout her gestation period. These dog foods will be designed specifically for puppies’ development.

The below commercial dog food brands are very palatable and are highly digestible; they also include all the necessary nutrients a pregnant dog and her pups will need:

  • Hill's Science Diet Puppy Healthy DevelopmentHill’s Science Diet Puppy Healthy Development
  • Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Formula
  • Purina Pro Plan Focus Puppy
  • ROYAL CANIN MINI Starter Mother and Babydog
  • Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Small & Toy Breed

It’s recommend to keep giving your pregnant dog puppy food all throughout the pregnancy, but stop around 7-10 days before delivering the puppies to help with uterus contraction.

Once puppies have been delivered, you can go back to feeding puppy food again. Ultimately, it’s best to discuss a specific diet with your veterinarian.

Signs of Labor in Dogs

Maintaining a healthy relationship with a veterinarian throughout your dog’s pregnancy will help you to track her approximate delivery date. When you get to around two weeks before that due date, you want to begin taking your dog’s temperature.

Now that you know how long do dogs stay pregnant, it’s time to learn what to do when your pooch’s due date is getting close.

Dog rectal thermometerYou should start by taking a look at the above charts and keeping a record of her temperature every day at noon using a lubricated rectal thermometer. This one is the best. A normal temperature for a dog is between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you don’t want to use a rectal thermometer to take your dog temperature, you can also do that without it. Here are quick instructions on how to accomplish that. Just remember that you will have to do this regularly and keep a record.

On the day when your pregnant female’s temperature dips to below 100 degrees Fahrenheit you should expect her to deliver her pups within the next 24 hours.

If, however, you notice that your pregnant female runs a temperature higher than 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit – consult your vet immediately! A high temperature can indicate infection or other possible complications. Do not wait on this and at least call your vet.

Preparing for Doggy Labor

When you notice a drop in your pregnant dog’s temperature, you want to begin preparing for labor. This means getting together all the whelping supplies that you will need to help your canine during the puppy delivery process, but only if required.

There are some basics you need, so ensure that you have the following supplies on hand:

  • Dental floss
  • Clean and sterile scissors
  • Clean towels
  • A baby suction bulb

I’ll explain below why you need these things and how they will be useful.

You also want to ensure that at this time your pregnant bitch is in a whelping box, a comfy dog bed or a confined area lined with clean and sanitary disposable pads or towels.

During the puppy birthing process, you may need to change out these pads or towels, so make sure that you have plenty of them on hand.

How Long Do Dogs Stay Pregnant

Stages of Labor in Dogs

There are three stages of labor in dogs, and every one involves something new. Your assistance can be helpful to your female dog, but you must know exactly what to do.

1st Stage of Labor

Not only should you know how long do dogs stay pregnant, but you also need to understand the whole birthing process and what your pup will have to go through if you want to help your bitch to have an easy time in delivering puppies.

During this first stage of labor, your dog will begin to experience contractions as her cervix begins to dilate. Just as it is for humans, this is a painful process for the dog and she will seem restless. Don’t panic, but be aware that that’s what is happening.

When your female dog is going through this, it’s not uncommon for her to pant, pace, shiver, vomit, whine, or continuously nest during this stage of labor. The first stage can vary in length – anywhere from six to eighteen hours – and during this time you should do everything you can to keep the dog calm. That would be your may priority.

2nd Stage of Labor

3 stages of labor in dogsDuring the second stage of labor, contractions get stronger and your dog will pass fluid that is yellowish in color. This fluid is the water from the placental sacks.

This begins the process of active labor and it’s important for you to observe this so that you can ensure that the process goes smoothly and with no further complications (see below for that).

Puppies are usually born in intervals of around thirty minutes with straining preceding each birth. This is not science, however, and your dog may take longer breaks between delivering each puppy. Now the part that may be more gross comes in.

After each puppy is born you may notice the expulsion of a placenta. This is normal.

You may also notice that placentas are birthed randomly during the birthing process, this too is normal. When each puppy has been born, the mother should lick the puppy roughly to both clean them and bite the umbilical cord. This process not only “detaches” the puppy, but it also stimulates him to begin breathing and provides a bonding experience between the mother and pup. There should be no interference on your part.

You should leave the mother to this process, but step in if she does not free a puppy from the amniotic sack after some trying. If this happens, you need to step in and break the sack open. Use your suction bulb to remove fluid from the puppy’s mouth and nose.

You should also use one of your clean towels to rub the puppy vigorously but carefully to stimulate the licking motion of the mother and get him breathing.

You will also want to tie a piece of dental floss around the umbilical cord about an inch from the puppy’s belly and then cut the cord on the side of the dental floss that is furthest from the puppy’s belly.

If it sounds like you should be intimidated by the process – don’t be. Read this guide a few times, and if needed, maybe browse through the above mentioned book. Once you know what to expect, the process is actually pretty quick and easy to go through.

3rd Stage of Labor

Learning about the time about birth is just as important as learning about how long do dogs stay pregnant. You’re not out of the woods just because the puppies are out of the womb. The third stage of labor takes place when all of the puppies have been born and the mother dog’s uterus contracts completely.

This contraction forces out any remaining placenta, fluid or blood from the uterus. It can be disconcerting if you are not expecting it, but it is completely normal.

Problems During Dog Pregnancy and Labor

Dog Pregnancy 101 - The Ultimate Guide for Owners of Pregnant DogsAlthough learning how long do dogs stay pregnant for will certainly be one of your first questions, there are many other things you need to be concerned with. Your research doesn’t stop after studying up on what to feed your pregnant dog and the labor process for canines, so here are some pointers in case things go awry with your pregnant dog.

Unfortunately, there are countless things that could go wrong before, during and after the birth of puppies. That’s why it is best to work closely with a veterinarian during the process. They can keep an eye on your dog and her puppies throughout the gestation period, and they’ll be available during the birth if any complications should arise.

However, a vet does not need to be present if you’re confident in doing this yourself.

9 Potential Dog Pregnancy Complications

Now, the following are some common complications that you should be aware of.

1. Failure to go into labor

You know how long do dogs stay pregnant, but what happens if she hits her due date and doesn’t go into labor?

If your dog experiences the drop in body temperature that characteristically precedes labor, however, does not go into labor within 24 hours, or if your dog does not go into labor after 69 days of pregnancy, consult your vet.

2. Straining during labor

If a laboring mother strains for more than an hour to birth a puppy, it is time to seek help from a veterinarian. You may be able to see the hind legs of the puppy.

If this is the case and you feel confident enough, you can gently aid in pulling the puppy down in a rear arch trajectory yourself. However…

Pregnant dog getting an ultrasound before c-sectionDO NOT pull with any amount of force.

If this does not move the puppy or if you cannot see the puppy, it is necessary to call the vet or get your dog to the vet immediately. She may need a C-section.

3. Unborn puppies

If your dog shows no more signs of labor but has not yet passed all of the puppies in her litter, you must consult the vet. In this situation, your dog may require an IV infusion of oxytocin or a C-section to deliver the rest of the puppies.

4. Eating the afterbirth

After birthing her puppies, the mother dog may eat the afterbirths. This is not unusual. Eating the placentas may, however, impact how hungry the dog will be later and it may also impact her bathroom habits.

5. Eating the puppies

In very few cases, particularly if a puppy has a significant defect or if the mother has trouble recognizing her puppy, she may try to eat them. This does not happen as often as people believe – it’s extremely uncommon. Nevertheless, if you notice her beginning this type of behavior, you should step in and remove the puppy from her grip.

6. Failure to produce milk

In some cases, a mother may not be producing enough milk to nourish her puppies or she may not be producing any milk at all.

This can happen for a number of reasons such as disease or mastitis, but when it does happen, the mother and puppies should be taken to the vet immediately. There’s nothing you yourself can do until the vet takes a look.

Basically, these puppies will need to be bottle fed, and the mother’s underlying health issue needs to be addressed. Your vet will instruct you on further actions to take.

7. Fever in mother dog

For a couple of days after giving birth to a litter, a mother dog may have a slight fever.

If that fever reaches any higher than 102.8, it is time to see a veterinarian. A high fever could be symptomatic of infection or a placenta that has not been expelled, as I have talked about above in this article.

8. Strange behavior from the mother

If a mother dog show any signs of odd behavior, it is important to get her to the vet immediately. This can be a symptom of a very serious condition known as “milk fever”.

A dog with milk fever may become nervous, seem disoriented, have seizures, have a fever, and even be unable to walk. You’ll be able to easily recognize that type of behavior.

9. Hot, hard and reddened breasts

Mastitis is not uncommon in mother dogs and it is characterized by firm, hard breasts that are hot to the touch. Mastitis is an infection and when developed it is painful for the dog as well as dangerous.

Puppies should be hand fed whenever a mother has mastitis, and the mother should be treated by a veterinarian immediately.

Take Home Message

Cute newborn puppyCongratulations for making all the way to this point. By now, you probably know everything you need to know about dog pregnancy, how long do dogs stay pregnant, how to deliver puppies and what to feed pregnant dogs during the process.

Pregnancy and the birthing process isn’t complicated when you know what to expect and you’re prepared with the right type of whelping supplies and dog food for your Fido. After you help your dog deliver her puppies the first time, if it happens happen, you’re already going to be a pro. Just don’t go off trying to start a dog breeding business just yet.

Speaking of which, if you want some very helpful and effective tips besides what your veterinarian tells you, I recommend you visit a reputable dog breeder where it’s their job to deliver puppies. There are some approved dog breeding businesses that do a better job than any veterinarian can. Talk to the pros and you’ll know everything you need about dog pregnancy, how long dogs are pregnant and how to help a dog deliver her puppies easily.