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How to tell if your dog is pregnant and help it with gestation

Updated on June 19, 2013
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By Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin

Dog Breeding and Pregnancy

Pregnancy. An idea to meet with fear or to greet with yaps of happiness. Often, it is the former, considering the difficulties that pet owners have to help their dogs overcome.

In times of need, it is important for us to know how to help our furry friends overcome the many obstacles they face. This is particularly so with new mothers, who need more help with the birthing process.

The period of gestation is trying for us, so we can imagine how it is for a much smaller sized, female dog. How do we help it through this somewhat difficult period and ensure that it remains healthy? What are the common signs of canine pregnancy? How does a baffled owner tackle the needs of his pet’s post pregnancy?

These are questions that this article will answer.

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Why is it important for an owner to know how to help a dog through its pregnancy and birth?

Vets may not be accessible.

If you live in an area where a veterinarian is not easily accessible, knowing how to help your pregnant female dog through her less than comfortable period of gestation can be somewhat imperative. It may sometimes be a little too late before it can receive the required veterinary care.

This happened to a group of Pekingnese my maternal grandmother once owned. She did not understand much about veterinary care for her pet. When her Pekingnese became pregnant, she whelped the puppies with no assistance. It was fortunate that the puppies arrived in this world healthily. We adopted one and named him Spook, who lived a good many years.

Pregnancy is a potential life threat for our dogs.

We know that mothers face risks during the birth process, and it is the same with our female canines furkids. The obstacles they face can be far more than ours when it comes to giving birth, considering that they whelp an entire litter of 6 or so at once.

The risk is high for the young puppies too, so ensuring proper care for them is essential.

We are more aware.

Our female canine friend, just as we do, have a maternal instinct and know almost at once what it takes to take care of puppies after birth.

Sometimes, they need a little guidance and protection, especially with issues like cleanliness and finding proper breeding spots within their environment. Pet owners should certainly step up to help out with such matters.

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Early signs of canine pregnancy

Sudden changes in appetite

It would be good for owners to monitor their pets’ appetites for sudden changes. Dogs, like humans, may show a variation in their appetites. These changes can be erratic, just as they are for women. Pet owners may find their dogs eating less, not more, though of course the reverse is entirely possible too.

Bearing the possible changes in mind, owners should certainly watch their dogs!

Changes in behavior

If a normally active pet suddenly becomes sluggish, the presence of pups might be weighing her down. She might also be slow to come when called.

Some animals might suddenly become more affectionate during this time, while others do the exact opposite and wish to be alone. Watch out for subtle, or sometimes extreme, changes in behavior.

Notice changes in the dog’s body.

The dog might start having enlarged nipples even in early pregnancy. Dogs that have given birth before may have drooping nipples.

The presence of relaxin

Relaxin is a compound the dog produces when it is pregnant. If a veterinary test affirms its presence, be prepared to welcome new furkids into the home.

A dog in labor.
A dog in labor. | Source

Signs of canine mid-pregnancy

Increased appetite

By the fourth week of gestation, your female would have reached the middle stage of her pregnancy. During this time, you might notice her eating more to feed the little ones growing within. If you notice your dog wolfing down her food or begging for more, she might be pregnant, especially if she is prone to roaming outdoors.

Behavioral changes

The same changes described earlier might be applicable during the middle stages of her pregnancy. If she did not show any behavioral signs earlier, she might start doing so now,displaying the same hints of increased affection or contact avoidance.

Physical changes

By mid-pregnancy your dog might be growing slightly more padded. Her nipples will enlarge with milk and in addition, she might produce a milky discharge.

Let a vet listen to her belly.

A vet will be able to derive the status of the puppies’ health by listening to her belly for their heartbeats. He can also feel them as he presses on the dog’s belly.

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A vet discusses pregnancy

Late pregnancy signs

Changes in size

By this time, your female will look unmistakably pregnant. She will have an enlarged belly and find it hard to maneuver. Some dogs do not carry a full littler, and their bellies will not be as large.

Changes in the belly area

You will begin to feel the puppies moving around in the mother’s womb. Just as babies do, feel the puppies kicking around in her tummy.

Changes in behavior

By this time, the dog would have found a place to nest if the owner has not already provided one for her. Notice too that she will become agitated just before birth.

A retriever looking after her pups.
A retriever looking after her pups. | Source

Stages of canine birth

Stage One : Contractions

As with women, canines also experience the contraction of the uterus. It ends when the cervix is open and the puppies are ready to come through the cervical canal and into this world.

Stage Two : Passing of the pup

No, this is not a festival for dogs, of course. The pups in the litter slowly come into the world. We should not be concerned unless it takes more than four hours, in which case she could have delivery problems like Dytocia, which I shall discuss later.

Stage Three: Passing of the placenta

Stages two and three alternate with each other, as the mother passes the placenta that wraps each pup as the pup is born.

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How do we care for our dogs before and after pregnancy?

Caring for a pregnant female can be overwhelming, especially for an owner who is encountering canine pregnancy for the first time. There are little things we can do to ensure that our pets are more comfortable.

Before pregnancy

Ensure that she rests.

Let your female rest as long as she needs to, as carrying a litter of 6 scrambling pups is definitely exhausting.

Feed her enough.

Your dog’s weight will begin to increase by about 15-25%. A good quality puppy food will help her and her pups during lactation or the last few weeks of her pregnancy.

Feed her a normal diet during the early stages of pregnancy as overfeeding her would result in the growth of fat deposits and will not help her or her puppies much. Foods high in digestible protein are essential for a dog during pregnancy.

Avoid contact with other dogs.

Unfortunately, your dog has to be a little anti-social during this time, especially with male dogs. Any excitement might trigger disturbances with the puppies.

Follow up with veterinary appointments.

If you stay close enough to a vet, make sure that you follow up with the vet’s appointments to ensure that your dog is in good health during gestation.

Make sure that she does not jump.

If the female is anything like my dog Cloudy, she would be active and tend to jump around, especially onto high places or shelves. For her safety and the pups, ensure that she does not do so.

Ensure that her water is clean.

Give her filtered or boiled water. Do not give her water straight from the tap as the bacteria present is harmful.

Keep her clean.

Make sure that you clean and brush her regularly. Clean her teeth and free her of parasites. In short, ensure that she is very, very clean.

Give her a place to birth.

Your dog would want to search for a clean place where she can give birth, as is her maternal instinct. However, if you do not provide her with one, she might find it on her own.

This place should also be a safe place for the newborns to call home.

Post pregnancy

Heat Source

Create a heat source for the puppies. They must have adequate warmth.

Ingesting milk

Ensure that the newborns ingest their mothers mile 12 to 16 hours after birth. Their mothers’ placenta does not contain enough antibodies, so they have to suckle the mother’s milk as it would have the required amount.

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The common problems of canine pregnancy

Dogs face a myriad of problems during the painful stages of birthing. Here are some and when we spot them, we should call for immediate veterinary attention.

Dystocia

Causes

  • small cervical size

  • uterine inertia or the inability of the uterus to contract and push the puppies out.

  • enlarged size of the puppies

  • Abnormal position of the pups (they should emerge head or rear legs first)

  • birth defects of puppies that cause enlarged parts of the body.

Signs of dystocia

  • The pregnancy has lasted more than 70 days

  • The dog has been in Stage 1 labor without a pup being produced

Stage I normally lasts 6 to 12 hours. The dog nests and her temperature

  • Strong contractions have extended over an hour without a pup born.

  • Prolonged resting phase continues over 4 hours with more pups to be born.

  • Vaginal discharge is foul.

  • The Mother-to-be vomits excessively or is extremely lethargic.=

Treatment

Please consult a veterinarian for proper treatment of your pet.

  • Sedatives may be administered to calm a nervous mother.

  • Medication can be administered to stimulate contractions of the uterus if uterine inertia is suspected as the cause. .

  • After prolonged labor, the mother may have low blood sugar or low blood calcium. In this case, your veterinarian will give calcium and dextrose injections which can help strengthen uterine contractions.

  • If easy passage birth is not possible,your veterinarian will deliver the young dogs via Cesarean section.

Hemorrhage

Call your vet if the female experiences a huge blood flow after whelping.

Pup retention

A female may, because of uterine inertia or related problems, retain pups and their placenta. Signs include:

  • persistent vomiting

  • dehydration

  • lack of appetite

  • depression

  • muscle weakness

  • green vaginal discharge


Post whelping problems

Eclampsia (milk fever)


Causes

  • Low blood calcium (mothers are prone not to produce enough during birth)

  • Smaller breeds are more at risk.

Signs

Eclampsia is a very serious disorder but fortunately the signs are fairly easy to recognize. Affected dogs may:

  • Nervousness or restlessness

  • A stiff gait when walking

  • Fevers with the puppy having a body temperature of over 105 degrees fahrenheit.

  • Affected mothers often develop muscle tremors

  • The respiration rate (number of breaths per minute) increases

  • Seizures or death may occur without treatment

Seek veterinary attention. A vet can confirm eclampsia with a blood test.

Prevention

Appropriate calcium supplementation is necessary to prevent eclampsia. Do seek a vet’s advice for proper administration.

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Conclusion

I strongly advocate sterilizing one’s pet if you do not intend to breed your female. If the intention is to breed, ensure that homes are available for the puppies BEFORE the decision is made, or that you already have the intention to keep them. This is to reduce the unwanted number of animals in shelters.

Original Work

by Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin

All Rights Reserved

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    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      On helping a pregnant dog through her gestation period.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 3 years ago from New York, New York

      Some of this sounds similar to human pregnancy, but so much is truly common sense, too. And for what isn't you really covered the gamete. Thank you for writing this and sharing. I sure this will help many with female dogs who are pregnant or could become pregnant. Voted and shared, too!!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      This is a wonderful detailed post on helping a dog during pregnancy. It's of things to watch for, but so needed.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 3 years ago from Florida

      Good info here, Michelle. My family went through a heart breaking experience when our Shih Tzu became pregnant ( an accident), had four puppies without any problem and died 6 days later (I wrote a Hub about that). Your information may save another dog's life by stressing the proper care for a pregnant dog.

      Voted UP and will share.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great information for a dog owner....we have two females but there is very little chance of them becoming pregnant....leash laws and fenced in backyards pretty much rule out that possibility. :)

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 3 years ago from Nepal

      We have never raised a female dog because we always thought we cannot provide her enough care. However, we are thinking to get one this time. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 3 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Great informative hub!..During our stay in the Grenadines some time ago, we ended up with all the strays from the neighbourhood.

      On New Years morning, we found three tiny little puppies in the garden under a vine, the mum whom we had named Steinway, was as proud as punch as she followed us back to the house, my husband carrying the pups in a cardboard box, happy memories. Voting up and sharing.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, J9!! I guess mammalian pregnancy is pretty similar for most people or animals who experience it. Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      It is, especially if one has no choice but to deliver the puppies on one's own , Dianna! Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Mary!!I know. It can be heart breaking. Thanks for the share, Mary!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Bill! Think those laws are very good, we don't want little fur balls running around and ending up in shelters!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Do, Vinaya! Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Aw!! It's lovely to see them being proud mums! Thanks for sharing!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 3 years ago from New York

      Michelle, you are a font of knowledge! This is such a comprehensive hub I am sure it will be very helpful to many.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Mary. Love my dogs!

    • CarlySullens profile image

      CarlySullens 3 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

      Great explanations. You are like a doggie midwife and should have your own show on PBS. :)

      Seriously, I learned so much. Voted up and shared.

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Hiya Carly!! No worries, definitely don't mind being a doggy midwife if it can help keep her safe. Thanks so much for sharing!!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 3 years ago from Florida

      Just came back to reread and reshare. This is such a great informational article.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      What a great hub Michelle!!

    • Rusticliving profile image

      Elizabeth Rayen 3 years ago from California

      Hi Michelle! I really love this hub! My baby girl that I have now has been "fixed", however I do remember that several years back, my cockapoo got pregnant by a much larger dog and the vet warned us that she may have a hard time delivering. Needless to say, I did follow quite a few things on your list to help her be more comfortable, and when it came time for delivery, she did require my assistance. She was fine and had 4 healthy pups. I really enjoyed reading all the information you have presented. It's so useful and I will definitely share this. Well done my friend!---Lisa♥

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image

      Kathryn 3 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      This is a very interesting article! I used to have a dog (when I was a teenager) that got pregnant because we didn't get my brother's dog fixed right away, and I enjoyed supporting her through her pregnancy, and seeing her give birth. It was amazing. But I definitely agree that it's a good idea to get a pet fixed if breeding is not a plan, because pets will find a way! Not to mention it is sad to see a dog needlessly in heat.

      Thanks for sharing this informative article with us. I love the dividers!

      Have a wonderful day.

      ~ Kathryn

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      Linda Bilyeu 3 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Paws up for this hub! Very interesting and informative!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Audrey!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Paws up, Linda! Pawlute!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, it is sad, and the dog is actually suffering too. Thanks for sharing, Kathryn!

    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Lisa! Glad that everything was ok for you and the cockapoo. Must have been an interesting group of pups!! Thanks for sharing!!

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