Pregnancy in Dogs
How long does pregnancy in dogs last?
Pregnancy in dogs, also called the gestation period, normally ranges from 57-65 days with an average of 63 days.
With a planned breeding, you should record the exact date of mating. If there are two matings, make a note of the dates and expect birth to occur between 63 and 65 days later.
Immediately after my female dog has been mated, is there anything I should do?
Make sure that she does not have the opportunity to mate with any other dogs. Remember that estrus or "heat" will continue for several more days and she could theoretically become pregnant from another dog during this period. After a planned mating, it is a good idea to allow her to rest quietly for a few hours.
Should I change her food?
It is important that she be in good physical condition before she is mated. Both the male and female dog should be examined by a veterinarian prior to mating.
"Discuss nutritional supplements and vitamins with your veterinarian before giving them to your dog."
After mating, food intake should remain the same during the first two-thirds of pregnancy (approximately six weeks after mating). Make sure you feed your dog a premium, high-quality diet approved by your veterinarian during pregnancy. Discuss nutritional supplements and vitamins with your veterinarian before giving them to your dog. It is recommended that your dog be fed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (DHA) while pregnant to help puppy development in utero, and also during milk production.
What do I do after the sixth week?
After the sixth week of pregnancy, your dog should gradually increase her food intake; high energy, low fiber foods are recommended. As the fetuses increase in size, abdominal pressure increases and frequent small meals are advised. Diets containing high levels of omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have been shown to improve the health and development of puppies and should be considered. Discuss DHA-supplemented diets for your pregnant dog with your veterinarian.
During the last three weeks of pregnancy, your dog's food intake should increase by up to one and a half times the normal level, by feeding smaller meals more frequently.
What about medications that my dog takes?
Some commonly used medications should be avoided while your dog is pregnant. Contract your veterinarian to discuss the use of any supplements and medications.
How can I be certain my dog is pregnant?
Early pregnancy detection in dogs can be extremely difficult. A blood test can detect pregnancy in dogs by measuring the hormone relaxin; however false negatives can occur if the test is performed too early in the pregnancy, or if the dog is carrying only one or two puppies (see handout: Pregnancy Testing in the Dog). A positive test indicates that the dog is pregnant at the time of the test, but does not mean that the pregnancy will be successful. A veterinarian can perform a trans-abdominal palpation (feeling the abdomen for an enlarged uterus or for individual fetal swellings) at about three to four weeks after mating, but the results are variable. In some cases, results depend more upon the relaxation of the female dog than upon the experience of the veterinarian.
"Abdominal ultrasound is currently the method of choice for pregnancy diagnosis."
Abdominal ultrasound is currently the method of choice for pregnancy diagnosis. Depending on the equipment and patient, a positive diagnosis can be made as early as three weeks. Most scans performed after day 28 of the pregnancy are reliable. Due to positioning within the abdomen, it can be difficult to count the number of fetuses on an ultrasound with accuracy. An abdominal radiograph (X-ray) during the last two weeks of pregnancy, generally around week seven, is the most accurate method for determining litter size and should be performed on all pregnant dogs so that you will know when your female is finished having puppies.
Should I change her routine as pregnancy advances?
As pregnancy progresses, intra-abdominal pressure increases and so does the mother's food requirements. The dog usually needs to have an increased number of smaller meals rather than an increased quantity per meal. Let your pet decide how much physical activity she needs. This depends on the number of puppies and the amount of intra-abdominal pressure she is experiencing. Do not over-exercise a pregnant female. Check for any vaginal discharges and contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns.
Caring For Mom and Puppies From Birth to Weaning
What should I expect during the puppies' first few weeks of life?
During the first three weeks of life, puppies require little care from the owner, provided the mother is doing her job. Puppies are born with their eyes closed but they open after one to two weeks. If you notice any swelling or bulging under the eyelids, discharge or pus, or any other abnormalities they should be opened immediately. Ideally this should be done by your veterinarian, but if this is not possible, you should gently open the eyelids by massaging them with a cotton ball dampened with warm water. If the swelling is due to infection, pus will emerge as the eyelids open and it is critical in this case to contact your veterinarian immediately. If the eyes have not opened by two weeks of age or if you are concerned about any discharges from the eyes, it is important to seek immediate veterinary care.
Is there anything else I should note during these early weeks?
You should monitor the puppies' growth. Most puppies will double their birth weight in the first seven to eight days. Electronic kitchen or postal scales are ideal to monitor weights. A trend indicating increasing weight is more important than accurate weights. Be sure to record the puppies' weights so you can identify any changes as soon as possible. If a puppy or puppies fail to gain weight or lose weight, this is cause for alarm. Contact your veterinarian for instructions as puppies that begin losing weight may perish within 48 hours if the condition is not reversed.
When should the puppies start to stand and take an interest in their surroundings?
As soon as the puppies' eyes open, they rapidly begin to mature physically. By two weeks of age, they should be alert and trying to stand. By three weeks, they should be trying to climb out of their nest or whelping box. By four weeks, all the puppies should be able to walk, run, and play. A puppy that fails to meet these basic developmental milestones is at great risk for death or permanent impairment. Notify your veterinarian if you observe any abnormal development in your puppies.
What about the mother? When and how do I increase her food and with what?
You should have increased your female's food during the last two or three weeks of pregnancy.
"After whelping, food requirements increase further as the mother produces more milk for her growing puppies."
After whelping, food requirements increase further as the mother produces more milk for her growing puppies. Maximum milk production occurs approximately three weeks after whelping and at this time, it is not unusual for the mother to be eating three to four times her normal maintenance diet depending on the size of her litter, breed, and her physical condition.
What should I feed the mother and how often?
To avoid intestinal upsets, it is important not to change the mother's diet too suddenly, especially immediately after whelping. Eating the afterbirth, which helps to stimulate milk production, tends to cause diarrhea, which is the last thing you need with a nursing mother. She should be eating a well-balanced premium diet, either canned or dry.
"Diet of all pregnant or lactating females should contain optimal levels of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA."
The diet of all pregnant or lactating females should contain optimal levels of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a nutrient that is important for the development of the puppies' brains and eyes. You should have been gradually increasing the amount of food during the last two or three weeks of her pregnancy, by increasing the frequency of feeding rather than the volume per meal.
After whelping, the mother dog may not want to eat very much for twenty-four to forty-eight hours. She should regain her appetite within two days. It is recommended to feed her frequently, gradually increasing the amount per meal as her milk production increases and as her puppies grow.
Peak milk production will be at approximately three to five weeks after the puppies are born. At this time, depending upon breed and size of litter, she may be eating up to four times her normal maintenance ration divided into four meals a day. Adequate fluid is also essential, particularly if she is on a dry diet. Make sure there is a plentiful supply of clean drinking water. You will be surprised how much she eats and drinks while feeding her puppies.
Is it necessary to feed the mother milk or a milk substitute while she is lactating?
No. If a good veterinary-recommended premium diet is being fed, water is all that is necessary. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian before giving any nutritional supplements or vitamins to the mother dog or her pups.
What is an appropriate diet?
Your veterinarian can advise you regarding suitable, highly nutritious, energy dense complete foods. The diet of all pregnant or lactating females should contain optimal levels of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, as discussed above. Toy and small breed dogs often prefer canned foods while the larger breeds often do better on dried food.
I understand I have to wean the puppies. What is this and how and when do I do it?
Weaning describes the transition of the puppy's diet from its mother's milk to the solid growth diet of puppyhood.
In the wild, weaning begins naturally as soon as the puppies start to develop their teeth, typically at three to four weeks of age. Suckling then irritates or hurts the mother who will move away and leave her puppies for longer and longer periods. Natural weaning involves the female dog regurgitating her food and the puppies consuming this material. Many pets will also do this and cause concern to owners. This is a natural maternal function and nothing to be worried about.
Weaning should begin when the puppies are about three to four weeks old. The sooner the puppies are weaned, the less the strain on the mother and the sooner she will return to normal condition.
If the puppies have been hand raised for any reason, you can begin the weaning process sooner. It is worthwhile to begin offering soft foods as soon as their eyes are open.
How should I start weaning the puppies?
Start by placing one of the reconstituted puppy milk replacers in a flat saucer. A 50:50 mixture of milk replacer and water is recommended. Do not use goat milk or cow milk. You can dip your finger in the formula and wet the puppies’ noses and mouths. Repeat this process two or three times a day until they begin to drink the replacer on their own. This usually takes one to four days.
Next try offering canned puppy food crumbled and mixed with the milk replacer. As the puppies lap at the fluid they will also ingest the food. Decrease the amount of milk replacer daily until they are eating the canned food with little or no moisture added. This should be completed by four to six weeks of age.
"If puppies are receiving a good quality, balanced diet, they should not be given any additional vitamins or nutritional supplements."
Weaning them onto one of the complete puppy foods (which are available in dry or canned forms) ensures balanced nutrition. Consult with your veterinarian regarding puppy vitamins or nutritional supplements. If puppies are receiving a good quality, balanced diet, they should not be given any additional vitamins or nutritional supplements.
Once the puppies are eating solid food (usually about six weeks of age), they may be placed in their new home. However, it is much better for their social development if the puppies remain with their mother and littermates for the first eight to ten weeks, with ten weeks being considered ideal for proper puppy social development. Placing puppies in homes after ten weeks of age may help decrease the incidence of behavioral problems caused when the puppies are removed from the litter too early.
Should the puppies be treated for worms?
"The common intestinal parasites are transmitted to puppies either across the uterus before they are born or through the mother's milk after birth."
The common intestinal parasites are transmitted to puppies either across the uterus before they are born or through the mother's milk after birth. Puppies can be treated for worms as early as two weeks of age but it is more common to treat them when they are three and six weeks of age. It is important that accurate weights are obtained for the puppies so that the proper dose of medication can be used.
I realize that diet is extremely important. How long do puppies need a special diet and how often do I have to feed them?
A good quality, veterinarian-recommended premium diet is essential for the proper development of your puppy. At the time of weaning, they should be fed small amounts often, approximately four to six times a day. By the time they are completely weaned from the mother, normally at about eight to ten weeks of age, they should be receiving about four meals a day. By the age of three months, you can increase the quantity of food per meal and reduce the frequency to three meals a day. Most breeds then progress to two meals a day by the age of six to nine months. Some of the slow maturing breeds, particularly the giant breeds, may require more frequent feeding until nearly two years old.
This client information sheet is based on material written by: Ernest Ward, DVM
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