How Long Do Female Dogs Carry Their Puppies?
Puppies are exciting. If you are new to breeding, or you are eagerly awaiting the birth of a reserved puppy from a breeder’s litter, the wait can seem eternal. Luckily for us (and for the dog), the gestation period in dogs is much shorter than the gestation period in humans. But exactly how long does a dog stay pregnant?
The answer varies depending on several factors, but the average length of gestation, aka pregnancy, lasts between 58 to 67 days, with 63 days being the average delivery date.
Why can there be such a wide time range? Because there are many factors that determine the exact pregnancy length:
1. Dog litter size
Generally, dogs that are having a small litter (pregnant with only a few babies, 1-2 for example) usually go pregnant for a longer period of times than dogs that are having a large litter (pregnant with a lot of babies, 5-6 for example).
Why so? Well, being pregnant with fewer puppies means that your dog will have more space in its uterus. But, being pregnant with more puppies means less space in your dog’s uterus, which leads to labor sooner because the puppies in your dog’s uterus run out of space much sooner as they grow.
2. Dog breed size
The size of your dog can play a role in how long they remain pregnant. Generally (although this is not always the case) smaller sized dogs usually remain pregnant for longer periods of time in comparison to larger dogs.
So, larger breeds of dogs might deliver closer to shorter end of the dog pregnancy spectrum (58 days), while smaller breeds of dogs might deliver closer to the longer end of the dog pregnancy spectrum (67 days).
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3. Family history
Exactly how long dogs stay pregnant seems to run in the family. Even though this is not always do-able, but if you can find out how long your pregnant dog’s mother and grandmother were pregnant (the breeder you got your dog from might be able to help you out with this one if they are professional enough and keep track of such data), chances are that your dog will be pregnant for the same (or an extremely similar) amount of time.
Signs of dog pregnancy
Early signs of dog pregnancy include a decreased appetite, a sudden decrease in activity, nipple growth, and behavioral changes. The decreased appetite is similar to a human's morning sickness.
If she feels exhausted more than normal, is far more affectionate than her regular behavior or just wants to be left alone, it is because of the hormonal changes triggered by her pregnancy. The tissue and glands underneath her nipples will swell to make room for her baby's milk. Her pregnancy will last between 60-64 days.
After the first few weeks her appetite will reappear and she will rapidly start gaining weight. Her abdomen will thicken and be firm to the touch. Smaller breeds look larger when pregnant than bigger breeds because they have less room to carry all of their puppies.
You will be able to feel the puppy movement during the last week of her pregnancy because that is when the babies are getting into position for birth. Don't be surprised to see several drops of milk leaking from her nipples prior to the labor.
What about the embryos?
Embryos begin to take shape after 32 days, during which the eyelids and the face start to form. By day 35, you can see little puppy toes, and the bones and coat begin to form around the 45-day mark. By day 50, the skeletons are well formed enough that a veterinarian can count the pups with an x-ray.
Around the 60th day, most dogs start looking for a place to nest. If you’re her human, it’s up to you to prepare a place for her to deliver her babies. The place should be clean, comfortable and safe. Most dogs also like their birthing area to be private.
You can be a bit proactive when your dog enters the nesting phase of pregnancy by creating what is known as a whelping box. This is a self-contained area that you can train your dog to use when the time to birth draws near, provided you put it in a secluded place and ensure it’s as comfortable as possible.
In some cases, you can use her traveling case for this purpose - just make sure you have a blanket nearby to give your dog and her brood some post-partum privacy.
What to feed a pregnant dog
The diet that you feed future mom is crucial to her health as well as the developing puppies. They require an extremely high-quality diet, but no major changes should be made during the first five weeks of gestation.
At four weeks of pregnancy, you should begin increasing the amount of food that she consumes on a daily basis by at least 25 percent. This is the time where puppies begin to demand more nutrition, and satisfying the demand will ensure that all of them stay healthy and strong.
Contrary to popular belief, you should not incorporate any vitamins or supplements into their diet, especially calcium. Feeding them extra amounts of calcium increases their risk of eclampsia, also known as milk fever, which is a dangerous health issue that is often fatal.
Furthermore, many supplements have the potential to cause a variety of birth defects. Try to keep your pooch away from them during pregnancy unless recommended by veterinarian.
How to exercise a pregnant dog
Any woman can tell you that labor is hard work. It’s no different for your dog. Her health and fitness will go a long way in easing the pain of labor. A consistent routine of walking is best; several short walks a day close to home will keep her fit and avoid boredom. The closer to delivery, the shorter the walk should be.
Carefully observe her behavior – if she doesn’t want to go for a walk don’t force her. About 24 hours before birth she may be restless but not want to go far from the whelping box.
Avoid stress as much as reasonably possible. If you know the neighbor walks their dogs at a set time, then change your schedule. Try to avoid other dogs and walking past houses with wild barkers.
If your dam (non-spayed female dog) is a chaser, plan to walk after you see another dog has gone past – they should have gotten all the attractive nuisances out of the way.
How to deliver puppies successfully
Watch this video to learn how to deliver puppies successfully:
In case of emergency
Generally speaking, your dog's body knows what it's doing and most deliveries go without a hitch. Each puppy birth can take up to an hour, after up to 30 minutes of pushing. Mama typically stays calm throughout the ordeal, licking and cleaning each puppy after it's born and resting a bit before the next one arrives.
If she seems to be straining unusually hard with no pup in sight, or she seems in pain or unusually agitated, she may need additional help. Have your vet's phone number on hand as your dog nears the end of her pregnancy and call for help if needed.
When puppies are considered premature
Most veterinarians agree that day 58 is the earliest date that puppies can safely be born because their lungs are just mature enough by that time for the puppies to have a chance at survival.
Even so, the pups may still be slightly premature. You can usually spot the preemies because their paws are bright pink with very little fur on them. Puppies delivered before day 58 are typically stillborn or die within a day or two of birth.
When the pregnancy is overdue
Generally, being almost a week overdue from the average 63 days, is not too uncommon. Dogs are considered seriously late in pregnancy though when they are about 70 days due. At this stage, it's important to see the vet.
The vet can check on the liveliness of the puppies and can help induce labor using oxytocin if he/she determines it's a case of uterine inertia, which is the absence of effective contractions of the dog's uterus during labor. For difficult cases, some dogs may require a C-section.
In some cases, dog owners may start getting worried about their pregnant dog being overdue, only to discover later at the vet's office that their dog is not pregnant at all! This is because, female dogs tend to go through what is called pseudo pregnancy, better known as false pregnancy, which can take place after going into heat and mimics a real pregnancy.
Dogs in false pregnancy may get an enlarged belly, their nipples may enlarge and sometimes they may also start producing milk and even showing signs of nesting and going into labor.
In the life of a puppy, the first few weeks can move quite fast. In three weeks, you will want to take the pups to the vet to get de-wormed. You will also want to start them on the process of weaning around the same time. At the six to eight week stage, you can begin looking around for potential new owners for your puppies if you are not really planning to bring them up as your own.
It can be stressful, exhausting, tough and strange to care for a pregnant dog, especially for first-time pregnant-dog owners. It can also be fun, magical and simply amazing. After all, what is better than a brand new litter of the cutest puppies you have ever seen?Use the tips and information above to make the pregnancy process as smooth as possible. Have any questions or comments? Leave them below.