Whether you planned for a pregnancy or adopted a pregnant dog or there was simply an accident, it is good to know as much as you can about what to expect in the coming weeks and how to make your expectant mother as comfortable as possible. Dogs are amazingly self-sufficient so in many cases there will not be much that you have to do other than monitor her progress and make sure she gets everything she needs but keep reading below for some good rules of thumb for pregnant dog care.
So what is the timeline for a dog pregnancy? Well, gestation typically lasts roughly 2 months. If you do not know the exact date of breeding, then a due date may be a bit difficult to determine. For the first thirty days there may not be many signs that your dog is pregnant. The last thirty days, however, usually see a great deal of noticeable physical changes.
Your dog’s appetite should increase but this may not lead to weight gain that is not associated with the puppies. Depending on how big her litter is, her abdomen may become quite distended. Her nipples will get larger and more pronounced and once her mammary glands start to develop, you will notice that the mammary tissue is also rather pronounced between the nipples and the wall of the abdomen.
Toward the very end of her pregnancy, the nipples may start to leak a fluid called colostrum and this is completely normal – just her body getting ready for the puppies to nurse. She may also exhibit more nesting behavior and search for or create an area where she will be comfortable delivering her puppies.
Changing Her Diet
Your dog’s diet is an extremely important component of a healthy pregnancy. If you are purposefully breeding or as soon as you suspect she may be pregnant, change her diet to one formulated for puppies. Puppy food is higher in several key ingredients that she will need for both milk production and to provide the puppies everything they need to develop appropriately. Additionally, if you are breeding on purpose, be sure that you are feeding your dog a dog food that is high in amino acids (especially L-arginine) as studies have shown that these help increase the implantation success of embryos.
Should You Give Supplements?
This is always a common question and there are a couple of schools of thought here. On the one hand, if you are feeding a high quality growth (puppy) diet, and your dog maintains a good weight and appearance throughout the pregnancy, extra supplements are probably not necessary.
On the other hand, if your dog appears to be struggling through the pregnancy and has lost weight or acts listless or her hair and skin are dull, you should consult your veterinarian about the appropriate supplements to give based on these characteristics.
It is always a good idea to have a veterinarian who is aware of your dog’s pregnancy and who can monitor her progress or step in and assist in case she needs help during the birth. An initial exam at around thirty days can typically confirm a pregnancy via palpation but a definitive confirmation can be achieved with either an ultrasound or an x-ray. It can be difficult to determine how many puppies are in there with an ultrasound so if you want to know this information, an x-ray may be your best bet.
Aside from these initial exams there may be no further need for veterinary care until the birth if there are complications. Dogs tend to take care of everything very efficiently all on their own but I usually have a vet on standby around the time of the due date just in case.
Preparing for Birth
Since it is often hard to determine an exact due date for your pregnant dog, it is a good idea to begin preparing for the birth early during what you think is the last thirty days. This will be particularly helpful if you want to try to persuade her to have the puppies in a location convenient to you. The puppies’ eyes won’t open for at least a week after birth so they will be relatively easy to keep track of at first but once they become more mobile a well planned whelping and raising area is vital to their health and your sanity.
Many companies sell temporary, portable whelping boxes like the one found here. These can be invaluable because they are very customizable and offer features that keep the puppies contained, protect them from being rolled on by mom, and can be adjusted to help wean and start potty training. You can also definitely build your own whelping box – there are many sites with plans to help with this.
Set up the whelping box early and let your dog get used to it. You can put her bedding in there and feed her in there – anything that makes her comfortable. Ideally, when she feels the urge to find a location to whelp, this will be her go-to spot.
For the most part, caring for a pregnant dog is not much different than caring for one who is not pregnant. The hard part is caring for mom and all the puppies after the birth! If you pay close attention to your dog and her general health and behavior you should be able to catch any inconsistencies and address them early.
Good basic care is key here – make sure her diet is appropriate for puppies or nursing mothers, have a veterinarian perform an exam and be ready to help with any difficulties that crop up, and be sure to provide a warm, safe, comfortable, low traffic location for your dog to give birth. If you pay attention to these details you should be able to enjoy the miracle of birth with your dog. Be sure to give lots of tummy rubs – there is nothing quite like the feeling of several little puppies flipping around in there at the same time.