The short answer to the question “How long are dogs pregnant?” is 63 days but this is divided into specific sections.
Dog pregnancy is better explained if you understand how the whole process takes effect. The mating or matings have taken place and the process begins
- 96 hours there are 2 cells
- 120 hours – 4 cells
- 144 hours – 8
- 192 hours the mass of cells is complete
- 8 to 9 days the group of cells is moving down the uterine tube and into the uterus.
For the next few days the sphere that will become a puppy floats free in the womb but after 20 days the placenta forms and begins to attach itself to the walls of the two uterine horns where the pups will grow until they are born.
Table of Contents
The vitally important time
At the stage of pregnancy from 20 to 28 days it is ESSENTIAL that the bitch is cared for and protected as this a most vital part of the process. The central nervous system, brain and spinal cord are developing and the embryo folds itself forward into the recognisable foetal position. The limbs, face, eyes, face and bowel are all formed at this stage and if the bitch is frightened, overheated or has an infection at this time, any of those parts could be deformed or missing when the pup is born.
So at this stage, more than any other in the pregnancy, it is wise to be on your guard. Keep her away from areas where she might contract an infection, be left in a hot car or be involved in a situation that frightens her.
Some bitches will experience a version of morning sickness at the three-week stage of pregnancy and will often not eat anything until lunch time. This is normal and nothing to worry about and in fact, may be a good signal that a pregnancy is underway. In rare cases the mother will be picky about food for the whole pregnancy and may have to be temped with various foods until you find out what she will consume.
Are there puppies?
Lots of breeders like to be sure there is a litter inside of the mum and will go to the vet for an ultrasound scan. This is very similar to the ones given to human mums and is painless for the dog. At the same time many vets can feel if there are puppies inside at the thirty-day stage.
In a Labrador size dog these will resemble the size of a walnut at about thirty five days. Palpating in this way to feel for pups is only a job for those who know what they are doing as damage to the litter can occur if done badly.
Lots of vets prefer to use a scan at about six weeks- 42 days- as at that time the shape of the pup can be seen in the curve of the spine and heartbeats are visible on the screen. That way means they know that there are living youngsters.
From 35 days the shape of the pregnant bitch grows and with an average size litter the tummy expands. With only two or three pups that may not be obvious. Other signs that pregnancy is advancing is that the nipples point and the mammary glands enlarge.
It may be that the mum will need to have four or even five small meals a day as the pressure from the growing pups impacts on her digestive system and it is wise to keep her away from a situation in which she might receive knocks and bumps.
From this stage until 57 days the growth is rapid and fully formed puppies are ready to be born. From day 57 puppies are able to survive if they are born early.
If at any stage, there is a dark green or black discharge- go immediately to the vet. This is an emergency.
Fact and fiction
Some people will tell you that they swear by raspberry leaf tablets to make whelping easier but there is no scientific evidence to back this up. On the other hand, it can do harm but if you try to give lots of vitamin supplements that can do more harm than good in some cases and should only be done with veterinary advice. If the bitch is eating a healthy diet, supplements should not be needed.
The mum still needs exercise each day and walking on a lead is the best way to do this. As she reaches the later stages, the length of the walk should be left to the bitch to decide.
Be prepared this dog pregnancy checklist
- Every person has a different situation but the area where the dog is to give birth should be away from other dogs and she should feel safe.
- A large pen with a whelping box inside is a practical solution and accessible.
- Some people feel that large dog crate is the place to whelp but after you have tried to crawl in and out of the cage dozens of times to assist the birth, you will realise it is not sensible.
- The fleeces used as bedding are widely available now and are washable and safe.
- A separate plastic box with fleece inside is helpful to have in which to put the first puppies when the next ones are being born.
- Under the fleece, a covered hot water bottle will keep the babies warm whilst their littermates arrive in the world. There are also now pads to warm in the microwave and there are heated pads that plug in to the electricity. It is essential to keep new born pups warm- even when the temperature is quite high. The biggest loss of newborns occurs at this stage.
- Notebook and pencil to record pups.
- Scales to weigh them.
- Somewhere comfortable for yourself- it takes a long time.
- A book to read or TV to watch for the same reason.
- An overhead heat lamp like the ones used in poultry houses to hatch out chickens work wonderfully well and in colder climates are necessary.
- Towels, newspaper and plastic bags should all be to hand.
- Telephone and the veterinary number to call if necessary.
Beware of having other people around to help you. It may comfort the owner but the bitch will need calm, seclusion and safety to welcome her new babies. You need a mobile phone to hand and the number of the veterinary service as well as access to a car and driver should it be necessary to take the dog to the surgery.
And so it BEGINS
How long a dog is pregnant used to be stated categorically as 63 days but with the science of today that has been altered slightly. Dogs can give birth from 56 days and can go on being pregnant for some days after the expected birth date.
It is well to be guided by the vet if the time goes over the normal gestation period. Some breeds are more prone to losing pups if they go over the due date and there might have to be veterinary intervention.
There are several signs to watch for that labour is about to start but all bitches are different and not all will have all of the signs.
- If you are happy with taking the temperature of your dog, the temperature will drop to about 35 degrees and that is a signal that the birth will begin in the next 24 hours.
- The bitch will be restless and do a lot of panting.
- She will look for somewhere to dig.
- Tearing up of the bedding is a regular sign and most breeders will have newspaper on hand for the dog to shred when she is in this stage. This is now thought to be a reaction to discomfort and not the nesting behaviour that was assumed before.
- She will be very restless and constantly ask to go outside.
- She may spend a day before sleeping quite a lot.
- May refuse food. And try to void giving her foods that dogs can’t eat.
- This stage is where time seems to stretch indefinitely as these signs can go on for up to 48 hours. Some dogs will have a short spell and some will seem to go on forever. Try to take her out to spend a penny on a lead as left to her own devices in the garden, she may dig quite a large hole very quickly and it may be difficult to remove her.
During the first stage of labour as described above the neck of the cervix gradually extends to allow the pups to emerge. It is the pups themselves that start the process of birth and not the bitch and if there is only one pup or a small number this may not happen.
Veterinary advice is to be sought at that point. Contractions will begin as the pups move into position and down the uterine horns.
They will still be in a double layered water bag that helps the process of movement downwards and eventually the proper contractions where the body can be seen to be pushing the puppy out will happen.
The first sign to appear should be the black skin of the water bag that appears as a sort of bubble. One or more pushes and the first pup will emerge.
It is normal to allow the bitch to clean the pup and chew the cord but immediately the pup appears, you should open the membrane and clear the breathing passage with a clean finger. Then allow the mother to do what is natural to her.
It might look very rough but she is stimulating the new arrival to use lungs and start to breathe. Hearing the pup cry is a wonderful sound because you know they are starting to breathe for themselves. Once the cord is chewed or cut, take the pup in a towel and rub quite vigorously up and down the back. This will stimulate the lungs and dry the newcomer.
- Sometimes the pups appear without the sack and as long as this happens fairly quickly it is fine.
- Breeds that have large heads and shoulders have more problems than other types and need veterinary assistance.
- Other breeds whelp easily. All breeds are different and all bitches are different.
- You can sometimes help out a pup that seems stuck half out by gently using two fingers around the body and working with the contractions. Pulling carefully downwards is better as it works with the direction of the birth.
- When two feet appear first, the same thing can be applied but never pull hard and if in doubt, ring the vet.
- If there is a long period of time between pups seek vet assistance. Two hours between pups is too long.
- There is no problem if there is just one puppy.
The pups have arrived and it feels wonderful. Make sure that you try and have each pup sucking on a nipple as soon as possible and do this between pups arriving. Keep them warm. Keep a sharp watch and be aware that a bitch can lie on a baby by mistake and it will die. Losing a puppy is heartbreaking.
The first few days are the most dangerous and it is a good idea to sleep in the room with the mother and her litter. The vet will examine the mother and the babies and may give her an injection of oxytosin to make sure that there is nothing left inside to cause problems.
You have made it through nine weeks which is how long a dog is pregnant. It is always more worrying and harder work than anyone would lead you to believe but very rewarding at the same time.
Then the most worrying time of all—Finding loving homes for each precious little bundle.