If you have a female dog that isn’t spayed, the chances of puppies in the near future is a real possibility. So, how can you tell if your dog is pregnant? While there are pregnancy tests available to buy, they can be expensive, complicated to use, and largely inaccurate.
There are many other indicators that your dog may be pregnant, and if you know what to look for, you can spot the signs of dog pregnancy yourself.
Dog Pregnancy Duration
Like humans, female dogs have 3 trimesters of pregnancy. However, whereas a woman is pregnant for 9 months, a female dog’s pregnancy only lasts around 9 weeks. Therefore, each of their trimesters is just 21 days.
The most obvious signs of pregnancy, such as the enlarged belly, are only visible in the last trimester, so your dog isn’t going to “look” pregnant until she’s a couple of weeks away from giving birth.
Thankfully, there are more subtle signs to look for, which will give you a clue as to whether or not your dog may be pregnant, but please note: not all of the following signs are exclusive to pregnancy so may be indicative of another issue with your dog that may need resolving.
Dog Pregnancy – Early Signs
Weight-gain: while this might sound obvious, it does not refer to the “big belly” we associate with pregnancy, but rather that your dog may put on a few extra pounds all over. Watch for an increase of appetite too, as this could mean she’s “eating for two”.
Slightly enlarged nipples: the onset of large, swollen nipples is something that occurs at the later stages of pregnancy, as your dog’s body starts producing milk for her puppies, but even within the first weeks of your dog becoming pregnant you may be able to see some redness or swelling of your dog’s nipples.
Be sure to check around the nipple area too, as this may be overly sensitive. If you lightly press the area, your dog should give you a sign that she’s feeling a little uncomfortable. Just be careful and don’t press too hard; you don’t want to hurt your dog!
More affectionate behavior: your dog may already be a cuddle-bug, or perhaps she’s always been quite an aloof character. Regardless of how affectionate your dog usually is, if she’s suddenly demanding cuddles, belly tickles, head strokes etc. more than ever, this could be an early indication that she’s pregnant.
Any noticeable change in your dog’s behavior should be monitored, as it could be a sign of another underlying condition.
Less energy: one of the signs of dog pregnancy is that the mom-to-be will become a little more tired; and who could blame her? As with humans, your dog’s body is going through tremendous hormonal changes, and this may well result in less energy throughout the day.
As with the affectionate behavior, a sudden drop in energy could be indicative of something else, so it’s always best to bring your dog to the vet if you suspect that there’s something wrong.
Morning sickness: yes, you read that correctly: female dogs can suffer from morning sickness. Although not very common, some dogs may vomit and/or lose their appetite during the first stages of pregnancy.
This will usually resolve itself, but you may find that your dog won’t eat her usual food and that you may need to pander to her for a while. Dogs need good nutrition in order to develop and produce milk for strong puppies, so keeping an eye on your dog’s food intake is very important for her well-being and that of her puppies.
Vaginal Discharge: this can become apparent around Day 30 of the pregnancy, and can be one of the female dog pregnancy signs. If the discharge is clear, or even slightly pink, it is considered perfectly healthy.
However, if the color is very dark, or contains blood or pus, you should consult your vet immediately, as this could be a sign of a more serious problem and/or complications of the pregnancy.
Dog Pregnancy – Later Signs
Your dog may or may not present any of the signs listed above, but later on in the pregnancy, more signs will become apparent. Look out for:
Large increase in appetite: as mentioned, your dog may be hungrier than usual during the early stages of pregnancy. However, once she is midway through her second trimester, her appetite will increase and she could gain between 20 and 50% more weight.
Such a jump in appetite and weight gain is one of the biggest dog pregnancy signs.
Peeing more often: another sign that is not exclusive to pregnancy, but can be an indicator, is increased urination. If your dog is peeing more than usual, you should consult your vet, as it could be a symptom of many other health concerns. That said, if your dog is displaying any of the other signs mentioned here, as well as peeing more often, it could well point to your dog being pregnant.
Pregnant Belly: the enlargement of her abdomen will start to show around Day 45 of her pregnancy, and is a very good indicator that your dog is pregnant. While there are other reasons for a swollen abdomen, if your dog is a female, pregnancy will be at the top of that list.
The area around her stomach will feel firm to the touch, and after Day 50 you will be able to see the puppies move inside her. By this stage, it will be very obvious that your dog is pregnant!
Showing signs of nesting: although your dog doesn’t have to be pregnant to nest, it can be one of the dog signs of pregnancy. If your dog is digging, scratching, or burrowing into small spaces, she could be preparing a nest for her new puppies. Keep an eye on her behavior and see if she’s displaying any of the other symptoms mentioned here.
Confirming That Your Dog is Pregnant
As we can see, just like people, each dog is different and may show none, some, or all of the signs of pregnancy listed above. Most of the time, one of the signs alone will not tell you if your dog is pregnant, and the best thing to do is to consult your vet. There are 4 ways for a vet to determine if your dog is pregnant, so let’s take a closer look at what they are and how each one works:
Palpitation: this is a diagnostic test performed by vets where they feel the abdomen of the female dog for evidence of the fluid-filled sacs that grow around the puppies during the early stages of pregnancy.
Your vet will be able to feel these sacs, as they are very distinctive in shape, and will be able to tell you if your dog is indeed pregnant. This procedure can be carried out between approx. Day 21 and Day 35 of the pregnancy.
Ultrasound: just like with us, a pregnant female dog’s fetus will show up on an ultrasound. Not only will this confirm if your dog is pregnant in the first place, but your vet will also be able to check for vital signs, like heartbeats, to ensure that your dog’s puppies are growing healthy and safe. Ultrasounds are usually performed between approx. Day 25 and Day 35 of the pregnancy.
Hormone Test: female dogs release a specific hormone, relaxin, in the placental tissue during pregnancy. Your vet can perform a hormone test to see if relaxin is present in your dog, and will be able to tell from that if your dog is pregnant.
Please note, this test can only be done after at least Day 30 of your dog’s pregnancy, otherwise, it can return a false-negative result.
X-Ray: this is probably the most exciting test, as you’ll be able to find out how many puppies are on the way! An X-ray is not usually a diagnostic test, as it can only be carried out after at least Day 42 of pregnancy, and is even more effective after Day 55, meaning you’ll probably know already if your dog is pregnant or not.
Therefore, an X-ray is usually used to check the health of the puppies and momma dog and to count how many puppies she’s going to give birth to.
Thinking that your dog might be pregnant can be an exciting and nerve-wracking time. While there are lots of signs you can look for yourself during the early stages, visiting your vet will ultimately give you peace of mind that you and your (possibly!) pregnant dog are in good hands.
Most dogs will go through pregnancy and birth without needing any outside help, but it’s a good idea to have your vet on standby. And if puppies are on the way, you can be sure that you’re taking the best possible care of your dog during her pregnancy.