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How To Know If Your Dog Is Pregnant

Updated on July 12, 2011

For most dog owners breeding your female to a carefully selected and top quality male is an exciting time, especially as you eagerly await the confirmation of the pregnancy and the subsequent birth of the puppies.

In reality knowing for sure that your female is pregnant is a bit of a waiting game and there are really no accurate early detection methods possible. This can be even more complicated if the breeding was not planned or if you aren't really sure that she was bred at all. Since female dogs in heat are notorious for escaping to roam and wander during this time, if she has been out of your sight at all during her estrus cycle it is best to simply assume she is pregnant and watch for supporting evidence.

Pregnant dog

(c) Ankevanwyk at
(c) Ankevanwyk at

When Can A Dog Come Into Heat?

This is one of those questions that can be very difficult to answer. The long answer is that a female puppy can actually come into heat or potentially breed and conceive as early as six months of age or as old as eighteen months to almost two years of age. In very general terms the smaller the dog the earlier she will have her first estrus cycle and she can become pregnant with the first heat. Larger breeds and the giant breeds are slower to come into heat with some females not having their first estrus cycle until closer to a year and a half. However, with all that being said, owners should consider any female dog over the age of six months that has not been spayed potentially able to breed and conceive.

(c) Gopal Aggarwal
(c) Gopal Aggarwal

How Soon After Breeding Can Pregnancy Be Confirmed?

An experienced dog breeder or a vet can typically do an abdominal palpitation at about the 25th day after the final day of the estrus cycle to determine if she is in fact pregnant. It takes this long for the developing fetuses to be big enough to actually feel. It is very important not to prod or poke if you don't know how to do this as it can cause problems and possible damage to the developing puppies or even the dam if not done correctly. By the 35th day the fetuses will be very obvious in most healthy dams and can be easily detected even by those without a lot of experience.

Confirming Pregnancy

There are now some pregnancy tests for dogs that work very similar to human pregnancy tests. The tests actually recognize the presence of a hormone known as relaxin, which is only produced when the female is pregnant, even more specifically when the fertilized egg becomes implanted into the walls of the uterus. Unlike a human pregnancy test this specific dog pregnancy test requires testing the blood, not the urine. These tests typically cannot be used until about the 21-25th day after mating, so they may not be much quicker than a palpation test by the vet. While these pregnancy tests confirm the presence of relaxin, they cannot tell you how many puppies she is carrying. X-rays, ultrasound or good old fashion manual counting are still the best options to confirm the number of puppies to expect.

False Pregnancy (Pseudosyesis)

One of the more confusing issues that can arise with some female dogs is a condition known as false pregnancy. This occurs when the hormonal changes in the body during estrus don't adjust after estrus and the dog's body thinks she is carrying puppies. Surprisingly some females will have false pregnancy even if they were never exposed to male dogs during estrus and were never bred.

This condition is not usually serious however it can affect the female dogs temperament and physical health. Some females in false pregnancy will actually begin to lactate and some may actually go into labor if the condition is not corrected. Typically signs of false pregnancy start to occur at about the sixth week after the estrus cycle. Talk to your vet and confirm your dog is not pregnant, then consider hormone shots to shorten the duration of the condition. Most vets recommend spaying a female that goes into false pregnancy as it often continues to occur every time she comes into heat and is not successfully bred.

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