You did all your homework. Your dog is a lovely example of her breed with good conformation, sound temperament and all of health clearances recommended the for the breed. You searched for hours to find just the right stud dog to complement her. The breeding was carefully timed, and now you wait.
Remember that even if she is not pregnant, your dog may go through a “false pregnancy” due to the hormone cycles. Still, most of the signs you are watching for do indicate a pregnancy. The average gestation is 63 to 65 days from ovulation (this does not always match the exact day of breeding).
Three Weeks Into Pregnancy
Starting about three weeks after mating, watch for morning sickness. Due to the hormone progesterone, plus the effect of ligaments stretching as the puppies implant and grow, your dog may feel nauseous. Some dogs will vomit, others simply skip meals or pick at them. Our Belgian Tervuren Queezle actually missed a few meals, which was quite unusual for her—so it was a great sign to us! The nausea usually only lasts a few days and then your dog’s appetite comes right back.
Four Weeks Into Pregnancy
Most dog breeders schedule an ultrasound exam around 28 days into the pregnancy. A very skilled palpator may be able to feel “puppy bumps” before that manually, but there is risk to doing that. An ultrasound is very safe and can verify if the pups seem to be alive and thriving.
An ultrasound exam is excellent for establishing whether your dog is pregnant and giving you a rough idea of numbers. No anesthesia is needed. Your girl simply lies quietly (she may need a belly shave) and gets some gel applied to her abdomen. Most veterinarians encourage you to be present and holding her paw. Ultrasounds are notorious for “under counting” the number of puppies, but heartbeats can be seen. A good ultrasound reader can tell if the puppies appear to be alive and doing well. Queezle’s ultrasound showed at least six live pups.
There are a couple of blood tests that can give you pregnancy verification. These look for hormones such as relaxin or special proteins present during pregnancy. These tests would be run at about 30 days, so most breeders choose to simply go with the ultrasound, which provides more information.
40 Days Into Pregnancy
By around day 40, your dog’s nipples will start to enlarge and darken. She has put on some weight and will start to look “round.” A young, very fit dog with only one or two pups may not show much in the way of body shape change.
Your dog can stick to her normal diet and exercise for the first half of her pregnancy. Most veterinarians recommend cutting back on jumping and any intense training. Long walks are excellent exercise. Queezle did her long walks twice a day right up until she whelped, even in the snow and cold.
For the second half of pregnancy, you will need to increase her amount of dog food unless she was overweight to begin with—hopefully not! Stick to a balanced diet. Do not supplement calcium, as that can lead to serious problems. Save the cheese and yogurt for when her pups are nursing.
45 Days Into Pregnancy
After 45 days of pregnancy, the bones of the unborn pups become visible on X-ray (radiographs). Most families wait until a week or so before the pups are born to get more bone development before they X-ray. Then it is possible to get a fairly accurate count of how many puppies you can expect. Having a count is helpful when you are up all night and start to wonder if your dog is truly done giving birth or not. If you only have one or two puppies present, your veterinarian may take an extra X-ray or two and do measurements to make sure the pup will fit through the pelvic canal. A single large puppy is often the reason for a C-section. We found seven backbones and heads on Queezle’s X-ray. That is the usual way to count — look for spines and/or heads.
About this time you may be able to feel puppies and their movement with your hand on your dog’s abdomen. Her abdomen will tend to “drop,” and may look quite pendulous. Very fit dogs tend to retain their profile better. Long-haired dogs will start to lose hair around the nipples, which makes it easier for puppies to nurse.
Discuss deworming your dog at this time with your veterinarian. At a minimum, do a fecal check. Some internal parasites like roundworms encyst in a dog but become active during the pregnancy and can infect puppies even in utero.
Set up a whelping box ahead of time. Put your dog’s favorite dog toys in there and soft but easy-to-wash dog blankets or pads. Encourage your girl to nap in the box. Maybe give her some dog chew toys to work on while she rests there. You want her totally comfortable with the whelping box so she will willingly whelp there and not in the middle of your bed or on your new sofa. We set ours up so we could sleep next to it with a mattress on the floor. That way our puppies would get constant oversight and Queezle would be happy to stay with them.
Hours Before Whelping
Get your dog accustomed to having her temperature taken. Do this with plenty of positive reinforcement. Rectal temperature is most accurate. If you’re unfamiliar with doing this, consult your veterinarian. Look for a digital thermometer that gives a quick readout. Always lubricate the tip of the thermometer so it slides in easily. Start checking the temperature about a week before her due date. Dogs tend to have a fairly dramatic temperature drop within 12 to 18 hours of whelping. You could miss this change, but if you see it, it is a fairly reliable sign. The temperature will drop from the normal 100-101 to 99 or 98 degrees.
Right before whelping, most dogs will do some nesting. You may find your dog scuffing up blankets, shredding papers or digging if you let her outside alone. She may also pace or pant.
Stay with her and provide reassurance and encouragement. Puppies are on the way!
By: Dr. Deb M. Eldredge