Some things take time. It takes 40 weeks or 280 days for a human to undergo a normal pregnancy. Dog pregnancy on the other hand lasts approximately 56-69 days. However, things that takes times makes one of the greatest outcomes. For a mother, a child. For a female dog, a puppy. The whole process may be tough but the end goal is great.
Just like in humans, there exists the stages of pregnancy on dogs. Knowing these stages is significant to a dog parent. With it we can understand them. Getting pregnant isn’t easy. There are times of mood swings and bizarre behaviors. Being aware of what they are going through will equip us in becoming responsible dog parents. That is why we will be learning the different stages of dog pregnancy today!
Even though dog pregnancy lasts only for 56-69 days, there still exists a great number of stages. The pregnancy process according to Gary England in Royal Canin is as follows:
Mating between dogs is often preceded by a courting phase during which they play. Penetration can occur rapidly though, sometimes in under a minute. There may be a number of attempts, particularly if the partners are lacking in experience.
The male mounts the female dog and penetrates her, prompting a vaginal reflex that traps the male until the act of mating is complete. This lock phenomenon can keep the two dogs together for 15 to 30 minutes and may look odd to us, especially if the male does a 180 degree turn! It is important not to try separating them at this point by any means, as this could cause damage.
The mating process does not necessarily mean that fertilization was successful; it may have taken place at a time when the bitch’s fertility had not yet reached its peak. Equally, the sperm can survive in the uterus for up to seven days, so fertilization may take place several days after mating. To increase the chances of a pregnancy occurring, mating is often carried out twice, with a two day interval between the attempts. Some breeders also use a series of progesterone blood tests for their bitch, (which are available at most veterinary surgeries), to identify the optimum window of fertility for their bitch before taking her for mating.
When your dog’s heat has come to an end you may groom her as usual. The embryos are well protected in the uterus and gentle grooming should not cause any concerns. Find out more about grooming.
During this initial phase of gestation the goal is to maintain your dog’s ideal weight. Early weight gain is not recommended for optimal health. Weight gain during the first 42 days should not exceed 10% of the ideal weight. Your dog’s energy requirements remain stable at this point, the embryos do not develop greatly (in terms of their size) and no nutritional change is required, unless recommended by your vet.
If the female dog is being fed an appropriate, balanced and complete diet no vitamin or mineral supplements are required during gestation (unless your vet has specifically prescribed otherwise).
The embryos become embedded in the uterine lining where they will subsequently develop. They will be progressively enveloped in a protective membrane that provides them with the necessary supply of nutrients.
- Confirm gestation (pregnancy)
You are highly recommended to visit your vet around day 25, as they can perform an ultrasound to establish a reliable diagnosis of pregnancy. This will give you some idea of the size of the litter, as well as potentially detecting any abnormalities. Alternatively, your vet can also diagnose gestation by doing a blood test to determine the level of relaxin, a hormone only created by the placenta. Whichever method your vet chooses, it is very useful to confirm your dog’s pregnancy as early as possible in order to properly monitor her condition.
- Fetal stage
Day 35 marks the end of embryogenesis (the first phase of gestation). The organs are now all beginning to form, and we now refer to the embryo as a fetus. During this fetal phase (and in particular from the 40th day onwards) the fetus’ weight will increase by around 75%.
- The turning point
From day 42 the pace changes, as your pregnant dog enters the third and final phase of gestation. The fetus is developing fast now. Claws will be developing, the skeleton begins to solidify, and the fetus will gain weight rapidly.
As a result, your dog’s nutritional requirements will change, as she now requires a diet with higher energy, protein and mineral content. It may seem contradictory, but you may well observe a drop in her appetite as her distended abdomen may make eating normal meals harder for her. Getting her to eat the right food is essential and offering her several smaller meals throughout the day, instead of 2 larger meals, may also help if you find she is not eating enough to maintain a good body condition.
By day 45 the fetus’ first hairs will start to appear, and the skeleton begins to ossify (solidify). The coat and bones are some of the last areas to develop.
Parasites are a concern, as they have the potential to infect the puppies at birth. It is therefore essential to make an appointment with your vet to have your bitch wormed. The vet will advise you on which product to use.
Prepare for whelping
To avoid being caught by surprise, start preparing the place for your bitch to whelp as early as you can. The chosen place must be quiet and removed from the hustle and bustle of the household. Don’t forget that the room must be kept warm, as newborns need heat. The floor must be easy to clean. The mother and pups will need to use this place for a few weeks, well away from any excitement so as not to disturb suckling.
Around day 50 the fetus’ skeleton will have ossified, so you may choose to ask your vet whether they feel it is necessary to perform an x-ray. In many cases, an x-ray will confirm the number of fetuses; so when it comes to whelping this will reassure you that all puppies have been delivered. Some vets may not feel an x-ray is necessary, however.
- Whelping (giving birth)
Generally, most pregnant dogs manage very well by themselves. Your role mainly consists of providing her with quiet surroundings and your comforting presence. But if you do have any concerns in advance, do ask your vet for advice.
Labor can last from just a few minutes to several hours. Check on your bitch every 15 minutes or so to make sure everything is going smoothly, taking care not to show her if you are worried.
Once the first puppy is delivered, if your bitch doesn’t tear open the fetal sack herself you can do it yourself wearing disposable gloves over clean hands. Subsequent puppies will be born within anything from a few minutes to four hours later. Typically, most puppies will be born within 1-2 hours of the last puppy, although greater variation can occur. Remember it is normal for some of the puppies to be born with their back feet first, in what is often (incorrectly in dogs) described as the “breech” position.
Pregnancy and giving birth takes time and effort. This goes for you and your dog. As responsible dog owners, we must take good care of our dogs. Keeping them healthy allows their puppies to develop healthy. If you have more time to spend with them, you can walk them around to make them stronger. You can actually make great things and efforts to let your dog feel comfortable during pregnancy.
As much as they stay beside us at all times, we should also stay with them as they unravel another milestone in their life.
Next Stop: Dog Pregnancy Care