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Diagnosing pregnancy in a dog is extremely difficult unless you are experienced at looking for the signs and symptoms. Diagnostic tests, such as ultrasound, are unable to detect early pregnancies in dogs. The period during which puppies are developing inside the mother's uterus is known as the gestational period. While gestation in dogs normally lasts for nine weeks, the puppies may be born anywhere from 58 to 68 days after the pregnancy begins. During pregnancy, a dog goes through several stages, similar to those that occur during a human pregnancy.


·       Pregnant dogs require special care just like pregnant humans. As a dog's pregnancy progresses, her nutritional needs change and her activity limitations expand. Moreover, preparation for labor and delivery must be made before the dog is ready to give birth to her puppies. For these reasons, it is important to determine what stage of pregnancy a dog is in, and to learn to recognize the symptoms associated with each pregnancy stage.


·       Pregnancies in dogs are divided into four stages: stage one, stage two, stage three and imminent delivery. In the first stage, which lasts approximately three weeks, the pregnant dog will typically show no signs of being pregnant. However, some dogs in this stage of pregnancy may be reluctant to eat or may seem unusually tired. As the pregnancy progresses into the second stage, or weeks four through six, the dog's appetite begins to increase and she may begin to gain weight. Nipple growth typically begins at the beginning of stage two.

Stage three symptoms include an obvious increase in abdominal growth and the beginning of milk production. The puppies may be felt moving in the abdomen during the end of stage three. This stage of pregnancy concludes near nine weeks. When delivery is imminent, the pregnant dog may begin nesting, appear restless and begin seeking a place to have her puppies. A temperature drop to 97 to 99 degrees F is a sign that delivery will occur within the next 24 hours.

Time Frame

·       While most dogs typically come into heat every six months, larger breeds may come into heat less frequently. Vaginal bleeding and swelling of the vulva are obvious signs that a dog is ready to breed. Once conception takes place, a dog's gestation period lasts for an average of nine weeks. Three weeks after breeding, or after the first stage of pregnancy, female dogs should be examined for signs of pregnancy. Symptoms typically do not begin until the second stage, but dietary changes should be made if a pregnancy is suspected. The third stage of pregnancy begins near week six and lasts until a day or two before delivery begins. Because the time line of the pregnancy is important, and because pregnancy dating cannot be done until near delivery, the dates of breeding and symptom development need to be kept on record.


·       Because pregnancies in dogs cannot be confirmed by urine or ultrasound until late in the pregnancy, knowing what symptoms and signs are associated with pregnancy in dogs can help tremendously in making the diagnosis. During the first month of pregnancy, most pregnant dogs will gradually begin to put on weight. This is especially true for dogs carrying many puppies. Generally, a diagnosis cannot be accurately made at all until nearly a month after breeding. At this time, the pregnancy may be detected by feeling the dog's abdomen for signs of developing puppies. X-rays can confirm the diagnosis and detect the number of puppies after approximately six weeks. About this time, mammary glands may also begin to enlarge, but milk may not be present until a week before delivery occurs.

During the final few weeks of pregnancy, your dog may become irritable and should not be left alone with small children or other pets. As the birth gets closer, pregnant dogs often become restless, withdraw and may urinate or defecate in the house. Nesting typically takes place during the final week of pregnancy.


·       There are some things to look out for in pregnant dogs, both during pregnancy and during the delivery process. If your pregnant dog stops eating and drinking, appears to be ill or begins bleeding during the first stages of pregnancy, she should been seen immediately by a veterinarian. During delivery, if a puppy becomes lodged in the birth canal, if strong labor persists for more than two hours without delivery of a puppy or if labor becomes weak, intermittent or lasts longer than six hours without giving birth, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately. Your pregnant dog should also be seen if her pregnancy continues beyond 68 days, and she should be seen in emergency care if she begins panting, vomiting or develops tremors.


False Pregnancy in Female Dogs

Pseudo-pregnancy in Female Dogs

False pregnancy, or pseudopregnancy, is a term used to denote a common condition in a non-pregnant female dog that is showing symptoms of pregnancy, lactation, or nursing, without producing puppies. The affected female dog shows these symptoms about a month or two after her estrus (heat) is over. A hormonal imbalance is thought to play a central role in affected female dogs. Depending on the severity of problem, the symptoms may last for more than a month.

Symptoms and Types

Behavioral changes

Non-pregnant female dog may show symptoms of mothering activity, nesting, and self-nursing


Abdominal distention

Enlargement of mammary glands



Loss of appetite (anorexia)

Brownish watery fluid or water secretion from the mammary glands 


The exact cause for this condition is unknown. However, hormonal imbalances, especially of progesterone and prolactin, are thought to play an important role in its development. Some female dogs have been found to show such abnormal symptoms within three to four days after after an ovariohysterectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus).


You will need to give a detailed history of your dog’s health, and the onset and nature of the symptoms. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam to evaluate all body systems, and to evaluate the overall health of your dog. Routine blood tests will include a complete blood count, biochemistry profile and urinalysis, all of which usually reveal normal results, unless an underlying disease is present. And diagnostic imaging such as abdominal X-rays and ultrasound is used to rule out infection of the uterus or normal pregnancy.


Unless symptoms persist, treatment is typically unnecessary. Otherwise, your veterinarian may recommend hormonal supplementation or ovariohysterectomy (removal of ovaries and uterus) to prevent further episodes.

Living and Management

To reduce mammary gland secretions, your veterinarian will advise you on using cold or warm packs to minimize the stimulation that promotes lactation. An Elizabethan collar (cone) can also help prevent the self-nursing or licking behavior that can stimulate lactation. In some patients, reducing the daily food intake can help to reduce the production of milk.

For those owners who are not planning to breed their dog, and do not want their female dogs to reproduce in the future, ovariohysterectomy is recommended for preventing future episodes of false pregnancy behavior. The overall prognosis is good and most dogs improve within two to three weeks, even without treatment.

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