As with a human pregnancy, a dog pregnancy is either an incredible thrilling or nerve-wracking time, depending on whether or not you were expecting it to happen. There is a lot to know about canine pregnancies as they differ greatly from humans, from when and how they can become pregnant, to the symptoms and gestation period.
To help make this phenomenon clearer, we have answered your most common questions.
How to tell if your dog is in heat
Female dogs normally have their first heat cycle at around 6 months of age. Thereafter, they will have a cycle once or twice per year. The most obvious sign that your dog is in heat is that she will start bleeding. However, bleeding only last for the first week or two, while she will normally stay in heat for 3-4 weeks. The vulva swells throughout the heat cycle, so as long as this is the case, and if you don’t want your dog to become pregnant, make sure to keep her away from fertile male dogs.
Can a dog be too old to get pregnant?
Technically, no. Fertile dogs can get pregnant at any point after their first heat cycle. However, after the age of 7, many dogs start to experience fewer heat cycles and it can be harder for their bodies to cope with the demands of pregnancy and birth. In the UK, licensed breeders must retire bitches from pregnancy once they reach 8 years old, although some vets recommend stopping pregnancies even earlier.
What is the best age to spay a dog?
Dogs can be spayed anytime after 8 weeks. Therefore, if you are sure you do not want your dog to become pregnant, you can have her spayed before even her first heat cycle. In fact, unless you want to breed your dog, the earlier you spay the better, as removing the uterus and ovaries decreases certain health risks, such as mammary gland cancer.
Can a dog be spayed if she is pregnant?
Yes. If you decide not to allow her to go to term with her pregnancy, it is perfectly safe to have your dog spayed while she is pregnant.
How do I know if my dog is pregnant?
There are some physical and behavioural signs that you will see if your bitch is pregnant. Symptoms will normally appear 1-2 months after becoming pregnant:
- Enlarged nipples and milk production
- Vaginal swelling and discharge
- Tiredness and appearing calmer
- Nesting behaviours
- Changes in appetite – If your dog wants to try new food, make sure she is still eating well and a healthy, balanced diet so she has all the nutrients to produce strong, healthy pups.
- Firmer stomach than normal, and gaining weight rapidly about a month into the gestation.
How long is the pregnancy of a dog?
Typically, dog pregnancies last around 63 days (or about nine weeks) post conception. While this can vary from dog to dog, this average applies to all breeds. As labour approaches, your dog will start wanting to nest and become anxious. You can help by moving her bed to a quiet part of the home where she can relax. Like humans, you will know when the birth is about to start because her water will break and contractions will begin.
How many puppies are in a litter?
On average, a litter has 5-6 puppies. However, this varies widely from breed to breed and dog to dog.
Is my dog pregnant or is it a false pregnancy?
It is not uncommon for fertile females to experience phantom (or false) pregnancies. While she may not be pregnant, her body is still ovulating, and that brings certain hormonal changes. Consequently, female dogs can sometime show a lot of the signs of being pregnant without producing puppies. The symptoms are exactly the same as a real pregnancy, so it can be hard to tell when a pregnancy is real or not.
While false pregnancies are perfectly normal, they can be uncomfortable for your bitch. Help her to stay relaxed and nurse her through the experience until the symptoms disappear. Bear in mind, dogs who have one false pregnancy tend to be predisposed to them reoccurring.
Can you buy a dog pregnancy test?
No, and human pregnancy tests don’t work with dogs because we produce different hormones to our canine companions. If you suspect your dog might be pregnant, the only way to be sure is to take her to the vet. Your dog will have a blood sample taken if she is early on in her gestation, or otherwise have an ultrasound – very much like a human pregnancy.
Your vet is the best person to give you specific advice for your own dog’s pregnancy. The most important things are to keep her happy, relaxed and in good health for this exciting experience!