Dog pregnancy isn’t as common as it used to be. These days, dog owners work hard to keep their pups from breeding unexpectedly, but sometimes accidents happen! Today, we’ll talk about some of the common questions people ask about pregnant dogs including “how long are dogs pregnant?” and “how many puppies do dogs have their first time?”

How Long are Dogs Pregnant?

Dogs are pregnant for about nine weeks (58 to 68 days). This is also known as a gestation period. Canine pregnancies (like human pregnancies) are divided into trimesters of 21 days each. Female dogs go into heat (estrus) twice yearly. So, every six to eight months a fertile female dog will be able to get pregnant. As they get old, female dogs may not go into a heat cycle as often. However, they never go through a menopause stage. This means they can get pregnant even when they reach old age.

What are the Symptoms of Pregnancy in a Dog?

Dogs have varying reactions to becoming pregnant. In general, the first weeks are marked by changes in attitude and appetite. Your gal’s energy will start to dwindle a bit and she may avoid eating very much. She may be lovey-dovey or completely avoid socializing with her best human buddies. Here are some other common signs of pregnancy in female dogs:
  • Lowered appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Suddenly tired
  • Change in nipple color
  • Breast changes
  • Discharge (after week four)
Around day 28, your vet should be able to confirm your dog’s pregnancy via ultrasound. Then, they can also estimate a due date for you and how many pups you can expect. That allows you to properly prepare for the arrival of puppies! Weeks four through six are when appetites increase again. Your dog will gain weight (or rather, her puppies will be gaining weight). Her tummy will get firm and you’ll see her teats begin to produce milk. In those final weeks, you’ll be able to feel the developing puppies through her abdomen.

How Many Puppies can a Dog Have for the First Time?

This is a tough question to answer. Litters vary greatly from dog to dog – even if they are in the same breed. Some dogs may only have one dog in their first litter while another may bear 18 puppies. If your dog is healthy during pregnancy and her uterus is healthy, then whatever the litter size, it’s considered a normal pregnancy. Some breeders use biology to their benefit when trying to increase the size of litters. How? Well, by closely monitoring ovulation. Ovulated eggs are not considered fully mature for 48 hours. So, if they breed at the right time, they ensure the maximum amount of fertilized eggs for that dog. There are some risks for overly large litters. Too many pups in a mama dog can lead to exhaustion during labor, leading to slowed contractions. There’s also an increased risk of bleeding and nursing issues. Shooting for the biggest litter possible isn’t the safest way to go about breeding dogs.

How Do I Test My Dog for Pregnancy?

Well, we’ve already explained what the early signs of pregnancy in dogs are, but can you just go to the vet and pick up a doggy pregnancy test? Can you imagine what a dog home pregnancy test would look like? Neither can we. So, if you think your dog’s pregnant, take her to the vet. Your vet can give her a blood test or just do an ultrasound if the pregnancy is around 3 weeks. Blood tests check for hormone levels just like a human pregnancy test.

How Do I Care for My Pregnant Dog?

Taking care of a pregnant dog is a two-part process. The first part is proper nutrition. Your dog needs good quality food. If you aren’t feeding your dog quality food already, then talk to your vet about what the best food for a pregnant dog is. In those last weeks of pregnancy, she’s going to eat more. Plan on 35 to 50 percent increase in her appetite. Expect to feed her many short meals a day instead of one or two large feedings. The second part of properly caring for your pregnant dog is visiting the vet regularly. Just like human pregnancies, life-threatening illness can occur during a pregnancy. So, it’s important your vet closely follows your four-legged lady friend. If your dog became pregnant on accident, you should also discuss birth control with your vet.

What is Whelping?

Whelping is a term specific to canines that means “give birth.” Dogs, like many other animals, like “nest” during labor. So, most vets will recommend that you get a whelping box or create a safe space in a closet somewhere for your pregnant pup. It should be safe, sheltered, warm, quiet and comfortable. You’ll want to introduce her to a whelping box before she goes into labor or else she might pick another spot to lay in. You will likely have an active role during whelping. So, make sure you talk to your vet about expectations for you and anyone assisting you. Have your vet’s number or the number of the closest 24-hour veterinarian clinic available in case of an emergency. We won’t get deep into the process of canine labor, but definitely prepare yourself for the BIG day. You’ll want to be a confident companion, especially for a first time mom. She’ll need your guidance more than you know.

When it Comes to Pregnant Dogs, Knowledge is Power

And unless you’re a trained breeder, you probably should be looking up how to have your pets spayed and neutered. That’s the most effective way to keep your pets safe. Pregnancies and puppies can be fun, but they are also dangerous too. If your dog has become pregnant, seek the advice of your vet. They are your best resource, and there are usually vets that are on call while your dog is giving birth in case of an emergency. In the meantime, learn as much as you can so that you can be the best caregiver for your dog while she’s going through this special journey.