Pregnancy is always a time to celebrate, but with it, also comes the responsibility of being aware of the gestation period, even with dogs! Like any first-timer, you probably have a bunch of questions in mind when it comes to your dog giving birth, like how long is the gestation period for a dog, how long are dogs pregnant, what are the signs of dog pregnancy, what to expect during a dog pregnancy, and more.
Dogs can go into heat, or estrus, twice a year. For us to better understand the gestation period in dogs, we need to take a look at the female dog reproductive cycle.
How Long is The Gestation Period for A Dog
Understanding the Dog’s Reproductive Cycle
There are four stages to the reproductive cycle in a female dog, which are proestrus, estrus, diestrus, and anestrus.
Proestrus is the first stage where females begin to attract males and last for approximately 9 days. Despite males becoming attracted towards females in this reproductive stage, the females will reject the onset of mating until the estrus stage. The signs of proestrus are bloody discharge and swelling of the vulva.
Estrus is the second stage of the female dog’s reproductive cycle and can last up to 3 to 4 days or 7 to 11 days depending on the female’s hormones. During this stage, the female now becomes openly receptive to the male. Some symptoms of the estrus stage are a softer, enlarged vulva and decreased discharge that is slightly lighter in color than during the proestrus stage.
The third stage to the reproductive cycle is diestrus and usually happens on the 14th day. The dog’s heat is complete by this stage when swelling and discharge has completely stopped.
The final stage is anestrus and lasts for around six months until the proestrus stage begins again.
Signs of Dog Pregnancy
Sometimes, dog pregnancy can occur without the owner even knowing it. Some of the symptoms are very similar to other health conditions, so if you suspect that your dog is pregnant, it is best to make an appointment with your veterinarian. Some of the symptoms of a pregnant dog are:
- Behavioral changes such as affection or ill-tempered
- Change in nipple colors such as pink or rosy colored
- Development of breasts
- Loss of appetite and vomiting
- Lethargy (similar to morning sickness in humans)
- Vaginal discharge such as blood or mucus
The Gestation Period in Dogs
The gestation period in dogs relatively much shorter than humans. The average gestation period in dogs usually lasts around 58 – 68 days from conception. However, it can be difficult to predict the length of pregnancy in dogs without the assistance of a veterinarian.
Hormone measurements are often used in the form of vaginal smears and blood tests to more accurately determine the potential due date.
Stages of Dog Pregnancy
The gestation periods in dogs are relatively short, and the puppies develop rapidly inside of the womb within 2 – 3 months. Here’s a brief overview of each month during the gestation period in dogs:
In the first month, the embryo will travel towards the uterine horns and become embedded into the uterine lining around the 16th day of conception. By the 22nd day, the fetus begins to take shape, and by days 28-30, the fetal heartbeats should be detectable through ultrasound.
During the initial three weeks, symptoms are not usually as evident, but some symptoms to note during the first month of the gestation period are:
- Affectionate behavior
- Clear vaginal discharge towards the 4th week
- A Decrease in physical activity
- Increased appetite
- Morning sickness, similar to that of humans (caused by hormonal changes)
- Slightly enlarged nipples
The second month moves even faster, and during this period, the eyelids begin to form by day 32 and the paws by day 35. The claws become visible by the 40th day, and on the 45th day, the coat and skeleton are also visible.
X-rays are usually performed on the 50th day onwards, as by this time the number of puppies can be detected.
Some symptoms during the second month of pregnancy include:
- Behavioral changes
- Clear, odorless vaginal discharge
- Decreased appetite
- Enlarged and firm abdomen
- Increase in urination
- Increase in appetite
- Visible puppy movement within the womb, in the abdomen
- Weight gain of up to 20 – 50 percent due to the fetuses
By this month, the female dog is about ready to whelp as the puppy development stage is nearly complete by the 58th – 60th day and begin to move to the birth canal. Some symptoms that occur during the last few days of pregnancy are:
- Appetite loss towards day 61-62
- A drop in body temperature about 12 – 24 hours before labor
- Digging, pacing, panting, and shivering
- Restless behavior as the onset of labor begins
- Smaller waist size as the pups move into the birth canal
How Long Does Dog Labor Last?
After the gestation period, labor begins in three initial stages.
The first stage will last 12 – 24 hours and contractions will occur. Although not visible, some signs are:
- Change in behavior and disposition
- Clear vaginal discharge
- Reluctant to eat
- Intermittent nesting
During the second stage, puppies are delivered and can take up to 24 hours, delivering one puppy at a time. It is essential to know the number of expected puppies, as each delivery should not last more than 2 hours and occur every 30-60 minutes. Knowing the number of expected puppies will help the owner know when the delivery is done, and to call a vet if the dog is having difficulty delivering the pups.
The third and final stage is when the placenta has been delivered.
You should immediately call your veterinarian if the labor is taking more than 24 hours, or it takes more than 2 hours between the delivery of each puppy. These could be signs of complications and could risk the lives of both the pregnant female and the puppies inside of the womb.
Dog Pregnancy 101: FAQ
Will the pregnant female remove the membranes?
In most cases, the female will remove the membranes and cut the umbilical cord. If she has become restless and tired, the owner can gently remove the membrane from the puppy’s nose and mouth and begin breathing and looking for a nipple immediately afterward.
What should I feed my pregnant dog?
If your pregnant dog is on a raw diet, it is recommended that you switch gradually to high-quality kibble, and increase the amount to about 50 percent but in smaller quantities and more frequently throughout the day.
What do I need to prepare for my dog’s labor?
You may prepare the following for your dog’s labor to ensure that everything is prepared and that your female dog is comfortable:
- A gram scale to weigh the puppies and ensure they are the proper weight and healthy
- Bowls of warm water baths if the neonate is chilled or cold, place the neonate inside a plastic bag with the head out so they don’t get wet and gently place into a warm water bath
- Heat sources as neonates cannot regulate their body temperatures, such as blankets, lamps, and warm water in water bottles to place around the blankets
- Hemostats and small scissors and floss string to cut the umbilical cord if needed. The floss is needed to tie off 1-2 cm from the body and using tincture of iodine to prevent bacterial infection.
- Lubricants may be needed to assist the pregnant female in case the puppy is stuck
- Suction bulbs may be used to remove excess fluid from the nose and mouth to help with breathing or induce breathing
- Puppy box with heat support for the pregnant dog to become comfortable during the birth process
- Warm towels to dry the neonates in case they lose body temperature as they cannot regulate their body temperatures at this stage
How do I know the newborn puppies are growing properly?
It’s important that you get your newborn puppies checked by your veterinarian to make sure their health is in check. As the puppies grow, you will also want to observe whether they are following the puppy growth chart and developing properly in terms of their age and weight.