The impetus for a woman to get a pregnancy test often comes from intuition. Unfortunately, you can’t ask your dog if she feels changes occurring in her body. While an official diagnosis can’t be done until about a month into the pregnancy, there will be earlier, noticeable symptoms that may tip you off.
Step 1: Early Signs – Observe and Examine
A dog can only get pregnant during her heat or Estrus cycle which, unlike humans, only happens twice per year. This usually begins when she is between 6 and 12 months old. However, with smaller breeds it can begin as early as 5 months, and with larger breeds it may not happen until 14 months. This varies not only from breed to breed, but for individual dogs within the same breed.
Canine pregnancy usually lasts 59-66 days. The very earliest symptoms can be seen about 2 weeks after conception. These are:
- A decrease in appetite. While later on in the pregnancy, your dog’s appetite will increase greatly, in the beginning, she might seem disinterested in food. This is comparable to morning sickness in humans.
- Mood swings. Wanting to be left alone or acting more affectionate is a sign of changes in hormones.
- Enlarged nipples. Breast tissue will increase and appear swollen.
Pseudocyesis or False Pregnancy
Sometimes your dog will display the early physical and behavioral signs of pregnancy in the month after her heat cycle, even if mating hasn’t taken place.
This is thought to happen because of the hormonal release during the cycle.
Symptoms and complications of False Pregnancy include: Mood or bodily changes. Engorged nipples, moodiness, or fluctuation in appetite may occur, just as with normal early pregnancy.
Confusion or restlessness around the time she would have given birth. She may appear to be searching for puppies that don’t exist. She might try to nurse toys or stuffed animals, or try to borrow or “adopt” nearby puppies as her own.
In most cases, these symptoms go away by themselves, but show a little extra tender loving care if your dog seems upset.
Step 2: A Trip to the Veterinarian
While your initial observations are important, you’ll need to make an appointment with your veterinarian to confirm that your dog is indeed pregnant. This can be done around 4 weeks into the pregnancy. You have a couple of different options:
Abdominal Palpation – By feeling the dog’s abdomen, an experienced vet can determine pregnancy. The uterus will feel swollen, with little lumps present, which are the fetuses. While you can do this yourself, it’s better to leave it to a professional, as you could injure the puppies if you do it incorrectly.
Get an Ultrasound – About 3 to 4 weeks into the pregnancy, an ultrasound can be done. This is the easiest and most reliable way to confirm pregnancy, because it will show the fetal heartbeats. It isn’t, however, a reliable way to determine how many puppies there are.
Blood Test – A test can be done about 3 or 4 weeks into the pregnancy to detect relaxin in the dog’s blood, a hormone that is released when the egg attaches itself to the uterus. However, if the litter is on the smaller side, the test might come back as a false negative.
By 5 or 6 weeks into the pregnancy, the symptoms will be very pronounced. Her belly will be larger, and her nipples more swollen. If you want to know how many puppies she is going to have, an x-ray is the best way to go.
Step 3: Prepare For Birth
As the 63 day mark approaches, your dog will get increasingly uncomfortable and restless. Nesting behavior is a common sign that delivery is near, so don’t get mad if your dog starts shredding papers, blankets, or if she has no place else to go, your bed or couch.
Providing a whelping box is a good idea. It is a safe spot for the puppies to be born in, and can be made out of cardboard or wood. A child’s swimming pool works well, because it’s easy to clean.
Here are some tips in preparing one:
- Keep three sides of the box high for safety, but keep the front side cut lower so that your dog can exit and enter at will.
- Build rails horizontally onto the back and sides of the box, with two to three inches between the rail and the side.
- This will give the puppies space to crawl into should the mother lay on them, and can prevent suffocation.
- Keep the box a few inches off the ground to let warm air flow underneath.
- Fill the box with liner and bedding that is easy to clean, and change it several times a day. Newspapers and towels work well.
- Keep your eyes open for any changes in your dog’s diet or attitude.
- Make an appointment with your veterinarian to have an ultrasound, which can confirm pregnancy.
- If your dog is pregnant, have an x-ray done at 6-7 weeks into the pregnancy to determine the number of puppies.
- Prepare a whelping box so that your dog will have a safe and comfortable place to give birth.
As you can see careful observation is important and there are several options for actually confirming pregnancy. But this is just the beginning. If she’s pregnant, your dog will go through a lot of changes during this time period, so make sure you keep her comfortable and healthy with regular veterinarian visits.