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Identifying the signs a dog is pregnant is key to providing proper prenatal care for the mother dog, thus ensuring the health of both her and her developing puppies. If the dog pregnancy is unexpected, it is possible that dog owners may overlook many of the signs a dog is pregnant and fail to seek veterinarian care. However, for dog breeders, the signs a dog is pregnant may be more apparent. Regardless of whether a dog pregnancy is anticipated, all owners of female dogs should familiarize themselves with the signs a dog is pregnant in order to prepare themselves for a possible pregnancy and puppy litter.
Dogs have a relatively short gestational period, lasting 63 days on average. However, depending on breed size and the number of puppies in the litter, it is normal for the dog pregnancy to last anywhere between 54 and 72 days after breeding. The earliest signs a dog is pregnant become evident two to three weeks after breeding, while the more apparent, later signs a dog is pregnant begin around four weeks after breeding.
The early signs a dog is pregnant include the darkening and enlargement of the mother dog's nipples, a clear vaginal discharge, morning sickness, and a hardening of the mother's abdomen. Nipple darkening and enlargement typically begin two to three weeks into the dog pregnancy, followed by the vaginal discharge becoming apparent. The short-lived morning sickness evidences itself in the fourth week of pregnancy. The firming of the abdomen is normally noticeable by touch beginning in the fourth week of dog pregnancy, and the pregnant dog may begin to exhibit mothering behavior around this time.
While it is quite common for unsuspecting dog owners to miss some of the early signs a dog is pregnant, later-term signs of a dog pregnancy are much harder to ignore. Approximately 30 days into a dog pregnancy the puppies can be often be felt by gently massaging the mother dog's stomach. At this point the abdomen of the mother dog will have expanded enough for most dog owners to notice a change in her appearance. The mother dog's appetite should increase noticeably about one month into the pregnancy as the growing puppy fetuses make demands on her body for their own nutrition. Puppy movement can be felt and seen in the last weeks of pregnancy, and the mother dog may begin to release colostrum from her nipples. One of the final signs a dog is pregnant is a nesting behavior the mother will exhibit in the last days of dog pregnancy; she will start trying to prepare a suitable spot to deliver her puppies.
Whether dog owners detect the early signs a dog is pregnant or do not notice until the final stages of pregnancy, the mother dog should always be taken to a veterinarian for proper diagnosis. Beginning in the fourth week of pregnancy, a veterinarian can perform an ultrasound, which will detect fetal heartbeats and can estimate the litter size. Further diagnostic testing is often performed in the final weeks of dog pregnancy to confirm the litter size.
By being aware of the pregnancy signs, owners can properly care for their pregnant dog and even be prepared to aid in the whelping process, if necessary. Pregnant dogs, while they do not require much additional care, should be fed dog food higher in fat content in the latter part of pregnancy and may need additional supplements as advised by a veterinarian. Also, dog owners who know their dog is pregnant and take her for veterinarian appointments will have a good idea of when to expect the birth of puppies. Then they can provide blankets and a whelping box to help the mother prepare her "nest."