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Signs, Care, and Preparing For A Pregnant Dog

Caring for an expectant dog and the litter that she delivers is a labor of love.

May 24, 2018 9 min read
Signs, Care, and Preparing For A Pregnant Dog

Pregnancy in dogs can be a wonderful time to care for your beloved pet. A pregnant dog experiences changes in hormones, weight, appetite, and behavior - just like humans! If you think your dog may be pregnant, you may want to start looking for the signs of pregnancy in dogs. Many signs do not show up until the first month has nearly passed, so be prepared to notice changes. Your pregnant dog will need more affection and attention during this time. What a wonderful opportunity to bond even further with your dog! Be cautious not to force the pregnant dog into strenuous activities, and be sure to consult a veterinarian about medications and food for pregnant dogs. The following description of signs, behaviors, and caring for pregnancy in dogs can be helpful, but always remember your veterinarian is the very best source of information on pregnant dogs.

Signs of Pregnancy in Dogs

Knowing the signs of pregnancy in dogs can help you prepare to care for your pregnant dog. Unless you are breeding, dogs can be discrete about their mating and you may not realize that you have a pregnant dog on your hands. She will begin to have vaginal discharge approximately one month into the pregnancy and also swelling of the teats. Depending on the species and size of the pregnant dog, the abdomen may be a good sign of pregnancy. The abdomen usually swells 20 to 50 percent, but this may not be noticeable until a few weeks prior to the pregnant dog giving birth.

If the signs of pregnancy in dogs are showing, consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can confirm that you have a pregnant dog by ultrasound, feeling the abdomen and through the use of an endocrine test to detect hormones that are made by pregnant dogs. Your vet will also use a stethoscope to hear the heartbeats of the puppies.

Behavior of Pregnant Dogs

The behavior of pregnant dogs will change, in part due to hormonal changes and due to the same mothering nature that all mammals experience. Pregnant dogs may become less active and lethargic and may not want to eat regular foods. Beware if the pregnant dog becomes withdrawn or loses her appetite, as this can be a sign of possible complications with the pregnancy. However, it is normal for pregnant dogs to experience morning sickness from the hormonal changes, which can affect their appetites some days.

The dog may scratch at the floor and some dogs may begin to hoard food and other items. This is a normal behavior for pregnant dogs as they begin to experience nesting urges. Another change in the behavior of pregnant dogs is their demeanor. Just like humans, every dog is different, so be aware that during pregnancy, your dog may become unusually irritable to noise and strangers while others want more attention and affection. With careful observation, you’ll soon know what stresses your dog, so try to keep her calm and happy.

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Caring for Pregnant Dogs

Good health and nutritional care for pregnant dogs is important for not only the dog, but also for her puppies. Feed the pregnant dog premium adult food that is high in protein, fat and minerals. The pregnant dog’s eating needs will increase about one and a half times the normal rate, so you may need to purchase more food than usual. A pregnant dog may also eat more frequently, but in smaller amounts. This is true especially during the last few weeks of pregnancy in dogs as this is when the puppy’s fetal growth is the highest. The increase of food for pregnant dogs may continue through the first few weeks of nursing too.  Do not withhold food from your dog, as she will need extra nutrition for strong and healthy puppies.

Please keep in mind that caring for pregnant dogs includes a concern for obesity and blood sugar problems that may place the unborn puppies and the mother at risk. However, this is not the time to place the pregnant dog on an invasive or extreme dietary change. Again, a consultation with your veterinarian can help you effectively monitor your dog’s food intake and signal if she has blood sugar problems.

It is generally not a good idea to add dietary supplements when caring for pregnant dogs, so be sure to check with your veterinarian for recommendations on performance foods for pregnant dogs and/or any vitamins or other supplements your dog may need during her pregnancy and while she is nursing her pups. Too much calcium or other minerals and vitamins may cause problems with the pregnant dog’s health and her puppies.

Exercise for Pregnant Dogs

Exercise for pregnant dogs should not be intense. Do not add stress to the pregnant dog’s situation by taking her to dog shows or committing her to obedience training. As with all pregnant mothers, a pregnancy in dogs means calm, non-strenuous exercise. Regular short walks and light play time as well as attention are all good exercises. Do not over-stimulate the pregnant dog, but also don’t let her become too lethargic. During the last three weeks of pregnancy, it is important that the pregnant dog be separated from other dogs and animals. Also note that indoor exercise for pregnant dogs is preferable to outdoor walks during this time. This will prevent her from contracting parasites and illnesses that can impact her and her puppy’s health. Another reason exercise for pregnant dogs should be done indoors during the last three weeks is the possibility of canine herpes, a serious illness that can cause stillborn puppies.

Treatments for Pregnant Dogs

Treatments for pregnant dogs that include a vaccination such as flea, worm, and parasites cannot be administered at home without consulting a veterinarian. There are few treatments for pregnant dogs, and avoiding medications as much as possible can protect the unborn puppies. However, external and internal parasites like roundworm and fleas do require specific treatments. It is important to consult the veterinarian, as you do not want to expose the puppies to these parasites at birth.

Some treatments for pregnant dogs are fine, such as continuing heartworm prevention medication. All heartworm treatments for pregnant dogs are safe. There are several roundworm and hookworm treatments that are important to protect the newborn puppies from exposure. However, not all flea treatments for pregnant dogs are safe. Currently, only Capstar and Revolution flea treatments are approved specifically for pregnancy in dogs.

Pregnancy in Dogs and Whelping

Pregnancy in dogs lasts approximately 63 to 65 days. The birthing process of pregnant dogs is called whelping. It is important to have the pregnant dog examined by a veterinarian at least three weeks prior to whelping; this will ensure that both mom and puppies are healthy.
During the last few weeks of pregnancy, she may become very attached to the owner. Some pregnant dogs will not whelp until they are with their owner, so be cautious about going on vacations or being away from home toward the end of the pregnancy. The pregnant dog will also be seeking a quiet and secure place to whelp her pups. A secluded area such as a large closet or bedroom that gets little use will work well for whelping.

Prepare for whelping by having a sturdy whelping box available for the puppies. This should be a low, wide box so that mom can look after her puppies. Layer the whelping box with newspaper to absorb the fluids released during the birth.

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Pre-birth Care of the Dog

As your dog’s abdomen grows, she may begin acting more tired, thirsty, and irritable. Make sure she has a place to go when she wants to rest apart from hectic family life. Most dogs will want to stay close to their owners, but may appreciate short periods to themselves where they won’t be bothered and can begin nesting. As mentioned above, provide a whelping box for the puppies several days or weeks in advance. Keep it in a clean, dry area, and don’t let other animals or children around it, as the smell may alarm the mother who is preparing to whelp there.

Shortly before birth, the pregnant dog may rustle through newspapers or even carry pieces of family clothing to her whelping box in her preparations for nesting, or whelping. Protect her secluded area by keeping lights low and family members or visitors away from the area. Avoid doing things that could startle or upset a pregnant dog, like having new carpet installed or removing long-time furniture with which she is familiar. Unfamiliar scents, sounds, and sights can be upsetting to the dog that is preparing to whelp. An owner’s goal should be to keep the household running as smoothly and calmly as possible during this critical time in the pet’s pregnancy. If possible, postpone visitors’ prolonged stays or the children having lots of sleepover guests. Most dogs adjust fine, but a nervous or insecure pregnant dog may look for another, more distant and less exposed area to have her babies.

Remind the children of the household that your female dog is expecting puppies, and they should treat her gently, and with care. Although most dogs continue to romp and play as usual, it is a good idea not to get the dog too excited when her due-date gets close, just in case complications should happen to develop. With her increased girth and possible pre-birth labor, she may get out of breath quicker than usual and require a nap more frequently than before. Keep water readily available to her at all times.

During labor, your dog will appreciate your letting nature take its course. If your help is needed, stay calm and focused. The last thing your dog needs is a hysterical or nervous owner trying to deliver puppies in an emergency situation. Keep the vet’s number posted in a prominent place during the last few weeks of your dog’s pregnancy. Get the emergency number for after-hours and weekends, in case the birth or related difficulties should occur during those times. Check the pregnant dog once or twice a day for signs of labor. Also look for symptoms of distress if the labor does not proceed as it should. Have a car available for possible emergency transportation of your dog if things take a turn for the worse. Generally, birth in animals is a natural process, and most experience few if any problems. But it’s a good idea to be prepared just in case so you won’t have regrets later.

Being calm and prepared will be the best thing you can do for your dog during her pregnancy. Please keep in mind that the behavioral signs of pregnant dogs mentioned in this article are very similar to the signs of depression, so you may want to consult a veterinarian if you are unsure or you are having difficulty determining your dog’s condition.

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