Pregnancy in dogs

Puppies laying and drinking milk

Pregnancy can be a very exciting time, but it can also be quite stressful, especially if you’re new to dog breeding. It’s difficult to always know what to expect, and you may have lots of questions, such as how to tell if your dog is pregnant, when to take her to the vets for a scan, how to look after her and how long until she whelps. To help answer all your questions about pregnancy in dogs, we’ve created this guide to give you all the information you need to know.

When do dogs start showing signs of pregnancy?

Dogs usually begin to show subtle signs of pregnancy from around four-five weeks onwards. Each dog is different, so some dogs may show signs later than others. More obvious signs may appear at around five-six weeks.

How to tell if a dog is pregnant

In the early stages of pregnancy, your dog is unlikely to show any obvious signs, but some owners may notice that their dog has:

  • Larger, pinker nipples
  • Swollen genitals, particularly around her vulva (the outer part of her genitals)
  • A slight mucus discharge from her vagina
  • Sickness due to hormonal changes (if she’s affected by this you could offer her small meals several times over a day, but always speak to your vet if you’re concerned about your dog’s health).

From around six weeks onwards, you may notice more obvious signs of pregnancy, such as

  • Putting on weight
  • A swollen tummy (females with smaller litter sizes may have a smaller ‘pregnancy bump’ than others)
  • Changes in appetite (some dogs may go off their food, while others may be hungrier. This may be led by changes in hormones, so may change throughout pregnancy)
  • Less energy
  • Her nipples continue to get bigger and may leak milk as she gets closer to whelping
  • Nesting behaviour, such as moving blankets to a favourite safe place, shredding up bedding or other materials to make a nest, scratching at the floor or keeping her favourite toys in one area
  • She may have changes in mood. Some dogs become more affectionate and clingier, while others may be irritable and want some space

If you think your dog is pregnant you can take them to the vets to confirm this. If at any point during her pregnancy you become concerned about her health or behaviour then always speak to your vet for advice.

Be aware of phantom pregnancies

Sometimes, due to unusually high levels of certain hormones, a bitch can show some of the typical signs of pregnancy, without actually being pregnant. These phantom pregnancies are quite common after a dog’s season. If your dog is showing any of the signs of pregnancy, regardless of whether she’s been mated or not, it’s always best to consult your vet for advice.

Visiting the vet

If you think your dog is pregnant, a visit to your vet will confirm this. Once your vet has confirmed that your dog is pregnant, they will be able to give her a check over to ensure she’s healthy and that there aren’t any concerns. Your vet may be able to answer any questions about how to care for your pregnant dog, feeding during pregnancy, what to do about vaccinations, flea treatments or worming and whether your dog needs further check-ups during her pregnancy. You can also find out valuable information from the breeder of your dog

Can I get my dog scanned?

Your vet can use several techniques to check that your dog is pregnant, but some are more reliable than others.

  • Palpation - Your vet may be able to tell if your dog is pregnant by feeling their tummy at around three to five weeks. This technique should only ever be carried out by a trained vet, but isn’t always reliable.
  • Hormone tests - Dogs have higher levels of certain hormones when they’re pregnant. Your vet can test your dog’s blood for the hormone ‘relaxin’, which can confirm if they’re pregnant. Relaxin is produced by the placenta and is usually measurable from around three to four weeks. This test is usually accurate, but may give a negative result if used too early.
  • Ultrasound scan - One of the best ways to confirm your dog is pregnant is with an ultrasound scan. Your vet will do this around five weeks and is particularly useful because it:
    • Is a safe, non-invasive way to confirm she’s pregnant
    • Can be used to roughly count the number of puppies
    • Lets the vet listen to the puppy’s heartbeats to confirm they’re still alive
  • X-ray - During the later stages of pregnancy, your vet can take an X-ray of your dog’s tummy to more accurately count the number of puppies and check that their bones are growing correctly. It’s useful to know roughly how many puppies are in your dog’s womb to know if it’s a big or small litter and to know when your dog has finished whelping. Even though this technique is widely used, it can still be difficult to accurately count the puppies.

How accurate are dog pregnancy scans?

Ultrasound scans are an accurate way of checking that your dog is pregnant and that the puppies are still alive. They can be used to estimate how many puppies there are, but it’s very difficult to do this accurately. X-ray scans are usually used towards the end of a dog’s pregnancy to get a better idea of how many puppies to expect.

How much is a dog pregnancy scan in the UK?

The price of a pregnancy scan will vary depending on:

  • Whether you’d like an ultrasound or an X-ray
  • Whether you’re having any other test alongside the scan
  • Whether you’re having an in-depth veterinary consultation
  • Which veterinary practice you’re using

Speak to your vet about how much these services will cost. 

Do pregnancy tests work on dogs?

Human pregnancy tests can’t be used to check if a dog is pregnant. These tests check for a specific hormone called hCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin), which, as the name suggests, is only produced by humans. If you think your dog is pregnant, speak to your vet for advice about the checks that need that need be carried out.

How long are dogs pregnant?

On average, a dogs pregnancy lasts for around 63 days (nine weeks), plus or minus a week, but this can vary depending on the breed, litter size and how accurately you’re able to predict when she became pregnant.

Can dogs go overdue in pregnancy?

Dogs can go past their due dates. There’s no need to panic if your dog does go over, but if they’re over by a day or two then you should contact your vet to be reassured that everything is okay.

What to feed a pregnant dog

One of the most important things you can do to support your dog and her puppies during pregnancy is to make sure that she’s on a high quality diet, what you feed her and how much you give her may depend on what stage she is during her pregnancy. What you feed your bitch during pregnancy can make a real difference to her and her puppies health and development. 

Learn more about the dos and don’ts of feeding during pregnancy.

How do I look after my dog while she’s pregnant?

You’ll be able to carry on as normal for the first four-five weeks, but as your dog’s pregnancy continues, you may need to become more conscious of the changes she’s going through and the effect it has on her. As her pregnancy continues, let her do as little or as much as she wants to.

Here are some tips on how you can help your dog during pregnancy:

  • Make sure your dog has somewhere to go that’s quiet and away from busy areas. Some dogs may need some time away from hectic family life or other dogs
  • Try to avoid changing things around the house too much, particularly towards the end of pregnancy. New sounds and unfamiliar smells might be upsetting for her, especially if she’s getting ready to whelp
  • Try not to have too many unfamiliar people coming around to the house, especially in the later stages of pregnancy
  • If you have children, try to minimise or, even better, stop any play dates or sleepovers and remind your children to be gentle with your dog
  • Remember, every dog is different and most dogs will instinctively know how much rest they need, but if you are in doubt, please speak to your vet
  • Keep your vet’s number somewhere obvious in case of an emergency. Make sure you have your veterinary practice’s emergency number in case you need them out-of-hours

When to stop exercising a pregnant dog

Exercise plays an important part in keeping your dog healthy and is still just as important when she’s pregnant. You can exercise your dog as normal until her tummy begins to get bigger. After this, make sure she’s not engaging in anything overly strenuous and stick to gentle exercise, such as walking or light play. As she gets closer to whelping, let your dog guide you on how much exercise she wants to do and let her rest when she’s tired. Each dog and each pregnancy is different and her increasing size, how many puppies she has and how she’s feeling will all determine how much exercise she'll want to do. If she becomes tired from her usual longer walks, try taking her for shorter walks more often.

Can you give a pregnant dog medication?

Talk to your vet about giving medications, worming or flea treatments, as some of these may not be suitable for use in pregnancy.

Where can I find out more?

You can find out more about breeding, pregnancy and raising puppies in a number of films available on The Kennel Club Academy.

Next steps - whelping your first litter

Whether you are a first time breeder or have had a litter before, the whelping of the litter is always to most nerve-wracking part. Our step-by-step guide about whelping your first litter will walk you through the process so you can be prepared.