April 25, 2024 6 min read

Welcoming a litter of puppies into the world is an exciting and rewarding experience for both breeders and pet parents. However, recognizing the signs of pregnancy in dogs and understanding how to navigate this journey is essential for ensuring the health and well-being of the mother and her pups. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various signs and stages of dog pregnancy, providing valuable insights for breeders. From early behavioral changes to preparing for whelping, we aim to equip readers with the knowledge and resources needed to support their pregnant dogs through every step of the process. 

What Are the Stages of Canine Pregnancy?

Dog pregnancy, also known as gestation, is an intricate process that unfolds over several weeks, culminating in the birth of a litter of puppies. The gestation period for dogs typically lasts around 63 days, although this can vary slightly depending on factors such as breed and individual differences.

Early Stages

During the early stages of pregnancy, subtle signs may indicate the dog is expecting. Behavioral changes, such as increased affection, nesting behavior, or decreased activity levels, can be early indicators of pregnancy. Also, some dogs may experience morning sickness, characterized by vomiting or nausea, particularly in the first few weeks after conception.

Physical Changes

As the pregnancy progresses, physical changes become more apparent. One of the most noticeable signs is weight gain, as the mother dog's abdomen expands to accommodate the growing fetuses. The mammary glands may also enlarge and become more prominent, preparing for the eventual nursing of the puppies.

Hormonal Changes

Understanding the hormonal changes during pregnancy is essential for monitoring the dog's health and well-being. Relaxin, a hormone produced by the placenta, can be detected in the dog's blood as early as 22 to 27 days after breeding, providing an early indication of pregnancy. Hormone tests and ultrasound examinations can further confirm the presence of fetuses and assess the progression of the pregnancy.

Proper veterinary care is crucial throughout the pregnancy to ensure the health of both the mother and her puppies. Regular check-ups allow veterinarians to monitor the dog's progress, provide guidance on nutrition and exercise, and detect any potential complications early on. 

When you understand the stages and signs of dog pregnancy, you can provide the best possible care for your pregnant dogs and prepare for the arrival of a new litter of puppies.

What Are Signs of Canine Pregnancy?

As breeders, it's essential to recognize the signs of pregnancy in female dogs early on to ensure proper care and management. While some signs may be subtle, others are more apparent and can help confirm a pregnancy.

1. Behavioral Changes

One of the earliest signs of pregnancy in dogs is behavioral changes. This may include increased affection toward the breeder, nesting behavior where the dog prepares a comfortable spot for birth, or decreased activity levels. Observing these behavioral changes can provide valuable clues that the dog may be pregnant.

2. Physical Changes

Physical changes in the dog's body also become more noticeable as the pregnancy progresses. One of the most significant signs is weight gain, as the dog's abdomen expands to accommodate the growing fetuses. Additionally, the mammary glands may become enlarged and more prominent, indicating preparations for nursing.

3. Diagnostic Tests To Confirm Pregnancy

Veterinarians may also perform diagnostic tests to confirm pregnancy. These tests may include hormone tests to detect elevated levels of relaxin, a hormone produced by the placenta, or ultrasound examinations to visualize the developing fetuses. Palpation of the abdomen can also help detect the presence of fetuses, although this is typically performed later in the pregnancy.

How Can You Manage a Pregnant Dog?

Once pregnancy is confirmed, proper management of the pregnant dog is crucial to ensure the health and well-being of both the mother and her puppies. Breeders must provide optimal care and support throughout the pregnancy to promote a successful outcome.

Nutrition plays a critical role during pregnancy, and pregnant dogs require a balanced diet that meets their increased energy and nutrient requirements. High-quality dog food formulated for pregnant and lactating dogs is recommended to support the nutritional needs of the mother and her developing puppies. Breeders should consult a veterinarian to develop a customized feeding plan tailored to the specific needs of the pregnant dog.

Regular veterinary check-ups are essential throughout the pregnancy to monitor the dog's health and detect any potential complications early on. Veterinarians can provide guidance on prenatal care, including vaccination schedules and parasite control, to ensure the health of both the mother and her puppies.

Providing a comfortable and safe environment for the pregnant dog is also important. Breeders should set up a whelping box in a quiet and secluded area of the home where the dog can give birth and care for her puppies. The whelping box should be lined with clean bedding and equipped with heating pads or lamps to maintain a warm and comfortable temperature for the newborn puppies.

Breeders should also be prepared for the birthing process and know what to expect. Familiarizing themselves with the signs of labor and understanding the stages of whelping can help breeders provide appropriate support and assistance to the pregnant dog during this critical time.

How Can You Prepare for Canine Birth and Beyond?

As the pregnant dog nears her due date, breeders must ensure they are fully prepared for the birthing process and the care of the newborn puppies. Proper preparation and planning can help ensure a smooth and successful whelping experience.

How Can You Set Up a Whelping Box?

One of the first steps in preparing for the birth of puppies is to set up a suitable whelping area. The whelping box should be spacious enough to accommodate the mother and her puppies comfortably, with low sides to allow easy access for the mother. It should be placed in a quiet, secluded area of the home, away from any disturbances.

The whelping box should be lined with clean bedding, such as towels or blankets, to provide a soft and comfortable surface for the mother and her puppies. Heating pads or lamps can be used to maintain a warm and stable temperature within the box, ensuring the puppies stay warm and comfortable during their early days.

Breeder settings, particularly in the case of whelping pens, often face cleanliness challenges. Innovative smart dog potties such as BrilliantPad assist in upholding hygiene standards by efficiently getting rid of pet waste, thereby minimizing the proliferation of harmful microorganisms.

Conventional cleaning approaches require the purchase and transportation of bulky litter or pads, as well as investing in laundry and cleaning products. In contrast, BrilliantPad's user-friendly roll delivery system and simple disposal process help save costs on supplies and upkeep of equipment.

What Supplies Do You Need To Prepare for a Canine Birth?

Breeders should also gather the necessary supplies and equipment for the birthing process and the care of the newborn puppies. This may include clean towels for drying the puppies, sterilized scissors for cutting umbilical cords, and a suction bulb for clearing mucus from the puppies' airways. Also, having a supply of puppy milk replacer on hand can be useful in case the mother cannot nurse or if supplemental feeding is needed.

It's also essential to familiarize oneself with the signs of labor and the stages of whelping. Breeders should be prepared to provide assistance to the mother if needed, such as helping to break the amniotic sac or gently stimulating the puppies to breathe.

Wrapping Up

Understanding the signs and stages of dog pregnancy is crucial for breeders. Whether it's a first-time experience or a seasoned breeder, being prepared and knowledgeable about pregnancy tests, weeks of pregnancy, and the behaviors of the dog's belly and nipples ensures proper care for both the mother and her puppies. 

Regular check-ups, including blood tests and x-rays, help monitor hormone levels and the number of puppies expected while addressing concerns such as false pregnancy or increased appetite. Through attentive care and monitoring, breeders and dog owners can navigate the trimesters of pregnancy confidently, ensuring a safe and successful birthing process and fostering the well-being of their dogs.


[Relaxin: an important indicator of canine pregnancy] | NIH

Dog Pregnancy: Signs, Care, and Preparing for Puppies | American Kennel Club

Feeding during pregnancy | Dog health | Kennel Club

Whelping your first litter | The Kennel Club