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5 Early Signs of Pregnancy in Dogs You Can’t Miss

The signs of pregnancy in dogs are similar to those experienced by people. However, there are some key differences pet owners should be aware of.

For one thing, dogs are only pregnant for a short time. In humans, the gestation period takes about 280 days, or 40 weeks. For dogs, pregnancy ranges between 58 and 68 days.

The thought of a litter of new puppies is exciting, but it’s also a big responsibility.

Pregnant dogs need special care, including proper nutrition and close monitoring. If you’ve noticed some signs of pregnancy and need confirmation, keep reading.

In this post, we’ll share the most common signs of pregnancy in dogs, how to look after a pregnant dog, potential complications that may arise, signs that your pregnant dog is ready to give birth, and how to prepare for the upcoming arrival of new puppies!

How Long Are Dogs Pregnant?

As mentioned above, dogs are typically pregnant for an average of 63 days, although it ranges from 58 to 68 days.

The Reproductive Cycle of a Pregnant Dog

Dogs have an estrous cycle, commonly known as “heat”, which consists of four stages:


This is the initial stage of the heat cycle. It typically lasts 9 to 10 days. During this time, you may notice physical and behavioural changes in your female dog.

Her vulva may swell, she may have some bloody vaginal discharge, and she may even experience frequent urination.

As these hormonal changes occur, estrogen levels rise. This rise in estrogen helps the body prepare for the next stage of the heat cycle.


A dog is at the peak of her fertility during the estrus stage. Typically, this stage lasts from 5 to 13 days. During this time, vaginal discharge may change to a lighter color or become straw-colored.

The female dog becomes receptive to mating and may actively seek out males. This is a crucial time to monitor your dog to ensure controlled breeding, or avoid breeding altogether.

Ovulation occurs toward the end of the estrus stage.


Diestrus is the post-ovulatory stage and usually spans between 60 to 90 days. If pregnancy occurs, this period is crucial for the development of embryos.


The anestrus stage is the resting period of the reproductive cycle. It typically lasts for several months. During this period, hormone levels remain relatively low.

Anestrus is essential for the dog’s overall health because it allows the body to recover before going into another heat cycle.

Early signs of pregnancy in dogs infographic.

Potential Complications of Pregnancy in Dogs (Before and After Whelping)

Although pregnancy in dogs is generally a natural and healthy process, there’s always the risk of complications. The specific risks may vary depending on the individual dog, breed, and other factors.

Potential issues that can go wrong during and after a dog’s pregnancy include:

Gestational Diabetes

Dogs can develop diabetes during pregnancy. This can lead to complications including:

  • Fetal abnormalities
  • Large puppies
  • Stillbirths
  • Metabolic Imbalances
  • Increased risk of infections

Eclampsia (Milk Fever)

Eclampsia is a condition that causes the nursing mother’s calcium levels to drop too low. It can lead to muscle tremors, weakness, and even seizures. This requires prompt veterinary care.


Dystocia refers to a difficult or prolonged labor that can lead to maternal exhaustion, fetal distress, inadequate contractions, uterine inertia (the inability of the uterus to contract effectively), an increased risk of infection in the birth canal or uterus, and an increased risk of injury to the birth canal.


Mastitis is a painful infection of the mammary glands.

The mammary glands are located on the ventral aspect (underside) of the dog’s abdomen. They start from the chest and extend towards the groin area. Essentially, the mammary glands are located beneath the nipples.

Each mammary gland consists of several lobes that contain milk-producing cells. These lobes are connected to ducts, which transport the milk to the nipples. Bacterial infection, poor hygiene, blocked milk ducts, and immune system suppression can lead to mastitis in dogs.

Unfortunately, mastitis can cause pain, inflammation, and fever in the mother. Dogs with mastitis should be seen by a veterinarian for treatment.

Common signs of mastitis in dogs include:

  • Swollen, red, or painful mammary glands
  • Discharge from the mammary glands
  • Lumps or abscesses

Maternal Rejection

In rare cases, a mother dog may reject or show aggression toward her puppies. This makes it difficult for the puppies to receive proper care and nourishment. Intervention may be required to ensure the well-being of the puppies.

Insufficient Milk Production

Some dogs may experience challenges producing enough milk to adequately nurse their puppies. This can lead to poor growth and malnutrition in newborns. In this case, supplemental feeding may be necessary under veterinary guidance.

How Long Should The Whelping Process Last?

The duration of the whelping period can vary.

However, it’s generally expected to last between 6 and 24 hours. If it goes on for an unusually long time, or if there are any signs of distress or complications, it’s important to contact your veterinarian (or emergency veterinary clinic) as soon as possible.

Signs that there may be serious complications include:

  • Contractions without progress
  • Continuous straining without results
  • Green discharge
  • Weak or unproductive contractions
  • Maternal distress (extreme exhaustion, extreme pain, heavy bleeding, etc.)

If you have any reason to believe your dog is having problems with the natural birthing process, please contact a veterinarian. Medical intervention, such as a cesarean section, may be required.

5 Early Signs of Pregnancy in Dogs

The signs of pregnancy in dogs can start to appear within a few weeks. Physical changes, like those mentioned below, are the most obvious.

However, your dog will also experience behavioral changes that could be missed, especially if your dog is particularly affectionate or attention-seeking to begin with.

Wondering if your dog is pregnant? While a veterinarian can confirm pregnancy in dogs, there are some signs of pregnancy that pet owners can detect at home.

1. Changes in Nipple Appearance

Physical changes, such as nipple enlargement and darkening, may be observed within the first two to three weeks of pregnancy.

2. Physical Changes

As the pregnancy progresses, you may notice that your dog’s belly is starting to expand. The increase in size is due to the growing puppies and the development of the uterus.

3. Behavioral Changes

Pregnant dogs often display behavioral changes.

They may become more affectionate, want more attention from their owners, or exhibit nesting behavior by trying to create a comfortable space for the impending birth.

4. Changes in Appetite and Energy Level

Some dogs may have a temporary decrease in appetite during the early stages of pregnancy.

They may tire more easily and have a decrease in energy levels. Likewise, as the pregnancy progresses, your dog may also develop an increased appetite.

5. Nausea or Vomiting

Some pregnant dogs may experience episodes of vomiting in the early stages of pregnancy. It’s similar to morning sickness in pregnant humans.

However, not all dogs will experience this. In fact, it’s not as common as it is in human pregnancies.

How a Veterinarian Can Tell if Your Dog is Pregnant

The most accurate way to detect pregnancy in dogs is through a veterinary examination. Common diagnostic tests used to detect pregnancy in dogs include the following:

Physical Examination

The veterinarian may palpate the dog’s abdomen to feel for changes in the uterus. They may be able to detect an enlarged uterus or the presence of developing fetuses.

Ultrasound Imaging

An ultrasound scan is a commonly used diagnostic tool to confirm pregnancy in dogs.

It allows veterinarians to visualize the uterus and developing puppies. In fact, ultrasound can usually detect pregnancy in dogs as early as 25 to 30 days after mating.

Listening for Fetal Heartbeat

At around six weeks into the pregnancy, using a high-quality stethoscope, the veterinarian may be able to detect fetal heartbeats.

Hormone Testing

Pregnant dogs release a hormone from the placenta known as relaxin. Veterinarians can detect this hormone through a simple blood test or urinalysis. Although these are both reliable ways of detecting pregnancy in dogs, testing too early may produce false-negative results.

Relaxin can only be measured once the embryo has been implanted, and it takes about 3 weeks for that to occur. For that reason, the test is most accurate if performed at least 21 days after mating.

Radiography (X-rays)

X-rays are best performed later in the pregnancy to determine the approximate litter size.

Progesterone Testing

Progesterone testing involves taking a blood sample from the dog and analyzing it in a laboratory. It can help confirm pregnancy in dogs because progesterone levels increase significantly during pregnancy.

By monitoring progesterone levels in pregnant dogs, a veterinarian can estimate the stage of pregnancy and whether the levels are consistent with a viable pregnancy. Progesterone testing is typically used on conjunction with the other diagnostic methods mentioned above.

Will a Human Pregnancy Test Kit Work on a Dog

No, a human pregnancy test will not work on a dog because they’re designed to detect the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCD). To confirm pregnancy in dogs, the test would need to detect the hormone relaxin.

Are Dog Pregnancy Tests Reliable?

The reliability of dog pregnancy tests on the market can vary. The sensitivity of the test, the timing of the testing, and proper administration are crucial for obtaining reliable results.

While they are safe to administer (follow the instructions very carefully), dog owners should approach them with caution. False negatives or false positives can occur, especially if the test is conducted too early or not done properly.

READ: 5 Exciting Signs Your Pregnant Dog is Ready to Give Birth

Signs of pregnancy in dogs infographic.

How Do I Know if My Dog Has a Phantom Pregnancy?

A phantom pregnancy, also known as pseudocyesis or false pregnancy, is a condition in which a female dog displays signs of being pregnant even though she is not.

Signs of false pregnancy in dogs includes:

  • Nesting behavior
  • Mammary gland enlargement
  • Milk production
  • Behavioral changes
  • Abdominal distention
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy

Phantom pregnancies in dogs are relatively common and usually resolve on their own within a few weeks.

However, if you suspect your dog may be experiencing this phenomena, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian to rule out underlying health issues.

Causes of phantom pregnancy in dogs can be related to hormonal imbalance, breed disposition, or lack of spaying. Intact females are more likely to experience this condition that spayed females.

How to Take Care of a Pregnant Dog

Looking after a pregnant dog involves appropriate care, nutrition, and monitoring to ensure the health and well-being of both the mother and her puppies.

The following are some essential guidelines for caring for a pregnant dog:

Veterinary Care

Veterinary care is important in confirming whether the dog is pregnant, and to monitor the health of the dog.

The veterinarian can assess vital signs, check for any underlying conditions that may affect the pregnancy, detect potential complications, and provide you with an estimated due date.

In addition, a veterinarian can provide specific dietary recommendations, provide assistance during whelping, and provide postnatal care to the newborn puppies.


Pregnant dogs require good quality dog food. Look for commercial dog food labelled specifically for pregnancy or all life stages.

Pregnant dog need extra calories, although the exact increase varies depending on the dog’s breed, size, and the number of puppies she is carrying. It’s normal for a pregnant dog to have an increased appetite.

Consult with a veterinarian for a tailored nutritional approach for your dog.

Increased Food & Water Intake

Your pregnant dog should always have access to fresh, clean water.

Exercise During Pregnancy

Wondering how much exercise a pregnant dog should get? While it’s best to consult with a veterinarian, here are some general guidelines:

  • Moderate, regular exercise (walks, swimming, etc.) is good for maintaining muscle tone and mental stimulation.
  • Adjust intensity and duration as the pregnancy progresses. You may need to slow the pace, shorten the walks, or provide more frequent breaks.
  • Avoid overexertion and watch for signs of fatigue including excessive panting, or difficulty keeping up. Allow your dog to rest if she appears tired or uncomfortable.
  • Avoid exercising your dog during the hottest part of the day.

Prepare for Whelping

As your dog’s pregnancy progresses, she may need your help in getting comfortable. Create a calm and stress-free environment for her where there is no excessive noise, disruptions or chaos.

Now is a good time to secure a safe, warm area where she can give birth when the time comes. That said, allow your dog to instinctively seek out the area of your home where she feels most comfortable, as long as it’s in a safe, warm location.

To create your own Be Vigilant as the Delivery Date Draws Near

Watch for signs that your dog is ready to give birth. She may experience nesting behavior, restless, discomfort, decreased appetite, and her mammary glands may being to produce colostrum.

Colostrum may appear as a yellowish fluid on her nipples. This can occur in the days or hours leading up to labor.

Your dog may exhibit nesting behavior as the due date approaches. This can include pacing, restlessness, digging or scratching at the whelping box, or even moving toys, blankets, or pieces of your clothing into the box for her own comfort.

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If you’re noticing signs that your dog may be pregnant, the first thing to do is have that confirmed by a veterinarian.

The earlier a pregnancy is confirmed, the sooner you begin taking steps to provide prenatal care and prepare for the ultimate arrival of her litter of puppies.

Animals, including dogs, have strong maternal instincts that usually kick in when they become pregnant.

They know what they need to do, so it’s often best to follow your dog’s.

When the time comes, your dog will look for a suitable location to have her puppies. Just make sure that location is inside your home, and not outside where she and her puppies will be vulnerable.

Witnessing the labor and delivery of puppies is an amazing experience.

Your female dog will instinctively know when to push, how to push, how to break the amniotic sac, and even how to clean the newborns to stimulate their breathing and circulation.

The best thing you can do is ensure your dog’s safety while giving her some space to birth her pups.

Be prepared to contact your veterinarian or emergency clinic should something go wrong. Also, don’t forget to schedule a follow-up appointment for your dog and her new puppies!

Works Cited

Burke, Anna. “Gestation Period: How Long Are Dogs Pregnant?” American Kennel Club, Accessed 21 June 2023.

Jay. “7 Signs a Dog Is in Labor, and Close to Giving Birth — Breeding Business.” Breeding Business, 6 June 2022,

“Pregnancy in the Dog: A Little Known but Dangerous Complication.” Pregnancy in the Dog: A Little Known but Dangerous Complication, Accessed 21 June 2023.

“Progesterone Levels and Vaginal Cytology – Wetaskiwin Animal Clinic.” Progesterone Levels & Vaginal Cytology – Wetaskiwin Animal Clinic, Accessed 20 June 2023.

“Spotting the Signs of Dog Pregnancy | Purina.” Signs of Dog Pregnancy & Dog Gestation Periods | Purina, Accessed 21 June 2023.

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