The journey a puppy makes from conception to birth is a fascinating one but it can also come with several challenges like phantom pregnancies and miscarriages. As a pet owner, you need to be vigilant to ensure the expectant mom gets the right kind of care to enable it to whelp successfully.
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A dog’s pregnancy lasts approximately 63 days or two months. In the first few weeks, you may not be able to notice any change in your dog. The only hint you may have is some gain in weight although she will look pretty normal outwardly.
However, a lot of changes take place inside the mother’s body in the course of her gestation period. During this time the fertilized egg forms into a ball made up of multiple cells called a blastocyst, which makes its way towards the uterus and finally attaches to the lining of her womb. Once this attachment is complete your dog starts to go through hormonal changes followed by the outward signs of pregnancy.
Some of the signs you can expect to see include morning sickness, just like in humans. You will also notice a loss of interest in food and occasional vomiting from your dog as well as constant fatigue and listlessness. Physically, there’ll be signs of change such as an increase in nipple size and clear discharge from her genitals. However, these symptoms manifest themselves over a shorter time span than in humans. The morning sickness- for example- may last only a few days.
Unless you’re a dog expert, the best way to confirm if your dog is pregnant by visiting a vet who will carry out a diagnostic test.
One of the tests administered is an abdominal palpation which involves carefully massaging the dog’s belly to feel for puppies growing in her womb. This test is especially accurate for detecting pregnancy about 28 days after mating, during which time the embryos feel like walnuts. Abdominal palpations can get tricky hence the need to engage a qualified veterinarian, to avoid damaging the pups. The timing of this test is also critical as once the sacks lose their characteristic shape – usually after one month – it’s difficult to tell if the dog is pregnant.
Alternatively, you can organize for a veterinarian ultrasound 25 to 35 days within the gestation period. Ultrasounds are helpful in detecting heartbeats in the fetuses as well as providing an estimate of the number of puppies the mom is carrying.
Another parameter that should be measured after 30 days of gestation is your dog’s hormonal levels. The hormone relaxin, which is only released during pregnancy, is an important pregnancy indicator your vet will be on the lookout for.
X-rays are another highly effective way of finding out if your dog is pregnant, but these must wait until the 45th to 55th day. This enables the puppies’ skeletal systems to appear on an x-ray and makes it possible to do an accurate count of the number of puppies in the womb. X-rays also come in handy for unplanned pregnancies or when one is not sure when mating took place.
Once the embryos are anchored to the uterine wall they start receiving nutrients from mom via the placenta. The pregnancy can be broadly broken down into the following stages:
The embryos are about 15mm long, but the cells will by this time have already started differentiating into tissues, organs and bones. Their nervous system will have also started to develop. Having an ultrasound done on the 4th week can also reveal the puppies’ heartbeats for the first time.
The pregnancy is now just past the halfway mark and formation of the puppies’ limbs becomes clearer. The puppies are not as vulnerable as in the 4th week and you can count on a majority of puppies to remain healthy for the rest of the pregnancy.
As the puppies develop inside her, you will notice a substantial enlargement of her belly which may sway a little as she walks her nipples will also get noticeably darker. Meanwhile, the pups will start to produce the pigments in their skin which are responsible for the distinct markings in their coat when they’re born.
The puppies’ skeletal structure – namely the skulls and spine – harden and can be discerned on an x-ray. You may also notice shedding of fur on your dog’s belly around this time. This is a completely natural way for the body to prepare for birth.
By now the puppies’ limbs and pelvic bones are fully developed and visible on an x-ray. The mother dog also starts to produce the breast milk her that puppies will need as her due date approaches.
On the 9th week, the whelps are ready to come out into the world, and you will start noticing nesting behavior as your dog prepares for their imminent birth. Some of the changes you may see include:
It is advisable to start evaluating your dog’s health by taking the dog’s temperature several times a day during this time: once it drops below 100°F, you can expect delivery within 24 hours.
Once you’re certain that your dog is pregnant, it’s vital to ensure she remains healthy and comfortable throughout the pregnancy. The two important aspects to consider are what type of food she eats, and regular checkups with the vet.
The first step in your visit to the vet should involve agreeing on a suitable diet for your pregnant dog including any supplements she may need. For a couple of weeks after mating, you may not have to change the food you give her, especially if she has a healthy weight. Don’t worry if she throws up due to morning sickness; try enticing her with smaller meals at given at more frequent intervals.
As her weight increases in the last five weeks of her pregnancy, you should gradually increase her food intake to around 35-to-50 percent more than what she normally consumes. Do this slowly, feeding her small portions to avoid creating discomfort. Some vets may advise you to feed her a suitable variety of puppy food – high in calories and easy to digest. You can also discuss if it’s necessary to provide additional vitamins.
Regular visits to the vet can go a long way in maintaining the mom’s health during pregnancy. Apart from confirming if she’s actually pregnant (it could be a case of a false/phantom pregnancy) and examining the puppies, your veterinarian will check for any signs of sickness and discomfort. If the pregnancy was accidental, you can also use this opportunity to discuss precautions you might want to take in the future, like spaying. You can also use the opportunity to learn what you should do in case of an emergency during the prenatal checkup and come up with a suitable contingency plan.
All pet owners look forward to the day they will welcome the new litter of puppies into the world, but things don’t always go according to the script.
Some of the reasons your dog’s pregnancy may fail to materialize include:
Planning your dog’s pregnancy in advance and referring to your vet early enough should make the delivery of her pups a smoother and anxiety-free experience for you. It’s important to get the necessary support to care for your dog when she whelps and keep important contact numbers at hand in the event of an emergency.
When not writing about himself in the third person, Andy spends many an hour walking his mischievous, mixed breed rescue Mr Wox, aka Soxy Woxy. A leading authority on all dog-related topics, Andy is highly respected, deeply appreciated and widely admired.