Everyone in the family gets excited every time somebody in the household delivers the wonderful news that a new member is about to be added. The same is true with our dogs. Unfortunately, unless you have been meticulously tracking its gestation, there really is no way you can prepare for the coming of the puppies until about a month into the pregnancy. If you look closely enough, however, and you’re familiar with your dog’s last date of menstruation as well as the date wherein it mated with a male dog, then you will notice these very familiar signs that your hound is pregnant.
Understanding Canine Gestation
Human pregnancy is composed of 3 trimesters, each lasting about 13 to 14 weeks. On the average, human pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks or 280 days with the earliest at 37 weeks. The gestation in dogs, on the other hand, also comes in three trimesters; although with a much shorter number of days at an average of 21 days. As such, their pregnancy can last about 63 days, plus or minus 5 days typically depending on the dog.
It is important to understand what is occurring in the dog’s body during each of these trimesters since the signs you will be looking for are inherently tied to the physical and behavioral changes that may be present.
The first 21 days are often marked by rapid organogenesis or the formation and building of tissues that will turn into puppies. Each puppy will require a lot of nutrient building blocks like proteins and nucleic acids. During this time, certain hormones are also released to help ensure the viability of the forming puppies. All of these are present to help ensure that all of the vital organs like the brain, heart, kidneys, liver, and others are fully formed. But don’t expect these organs to be mature already.
The second trimester is a continuation of the growth and development of the various organs. Nutrients and other substances continue to build on existing tissues so that the puppies will now start to have a discernible shape. Some organs are already fully functioning by the end of this trimester.
The last trimester is one of stabilization whereby major organs are already in the final stages of maturation. The puppies will also be growing in size, leading to a noticeable enlargement in the mother dog’s abdomen.
Now let’s try to look at the different signs that your dog may be pregnant.
The Early Signs
The signs of early pregnancy in dogs are nothing more than presumptive signs. This means that just because you see these signs doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog is already pregnant. Like we already said, if you know the estrus or the time when your dog was in heat and the possible dates that it mated with a male dog, then you can somehow expect these signs as indicators of pregnancy. However, if the pregnancy was by ‘accident’, then there really is no way you can tell that your dog is pregnant. Let’s see why.
This is almost similar to pregnant humans who may vomit during the first few weeks of gestation. However, dogs typically vomit only for a couple of days and this usually occurs during the 3rd week of gestation. Some may show vomiting during the 4th week. Additionally, not all dogs will ‘throw up’, so this is clearly not a positive sign of canine pregnancy. It can mean other things. Whatever it is, it is best to seek your vet’s professional evaluation especially if the vomiting is already becoming too bothersome. Vomiting in pregnancy is directly attributable to the effects of hormones on the dog’s body.
- Change in Appetite
The first trimester in your dog’s pregnancy is often marked by a reduction in its appetite, although not all dogs will exhibit this sign. Some dogs have been observed to have no change in their appetite at all, yet they are pregnant. In dogs that have reduced appetite, this usually lasts a few days. Towards the end of the first trimester and beginning the second, their appetite will start to pick up because of the continuing growth of the puppies inside the womb.
- Low Energy
The reduction in appetite can inadvertently lead to a reduction in energy. Think about it. The energy of your dog comes from its food. Now, a great proportion of this energy is diverted to supporting and maintaining the pregnancy. Your dog may still be eating the same amount as it used to. But because of the nutrient and energy requirements of the process of gestation, you can expect that this energy level will not be enough to sustain the physical needs of your pet. Moreover, pregnancy can also cause dilution of the blood whereby the water content of the blood is increased relative to the blood components. This can undermine the ability of the blood to deliver oxygen.
- Pale Mucus Membranes
It is possible for some pregnant dogs to show pallor – the pale pink coloration – in their mucous membranes such as the gums and the inner surface of their eyelids. In a non-pregnant dog, this is almost always a sign of anemia. Some pregnant dogs can also show pallor because of the increase in plasma volume of the blood relative to the number of red blood cells. This causes the blood to be quite diluted, leading to what they call as anemia of pregnancy.
- Bodily Changes
By the end of the first trimester or the third week, you may notice that your dog’s nipples are beginning to appear bright pink. In many cases, the nipples might even look bigger than normal. Just don’t expect its tummy to be globular already by this time.
The Late Signs
The last trimester of a dog’s pregnancy offers signs that are definitely indicative of its pregnancy status. These can include the following:
- Darker and Larger Nipples and Fuller Breasts
Towards the last few weeks of your dog’s pregnancy, you will notice the nipples to turn a darker shade. This occurs around days 25 to 30. It will also appear larger than ever before. Even the individual breast of each nipple will be fuller, usually around day 40. And if you try to squeeze the nipple at its base, you might actually be able to express a clear to pale white secretion. That’s milk.
- More Pronounced Abdominal Enlargement
By this time, your dog’s abdomen will already take on a more globular shape. This is especially the case for the last 2 to 3 weeks of its pregnancy or day 40 into the pregnancy. Obviously, your dog will not be able to gain that much weight in so short a span of time. This means it is already expecting.
Most Definitive Sign of Pregnancy
While the late signs of pregnancy are almost always indicative of canine pregnancy, only your veterinarian has the expertise to confirm this. That is why if ever you think your pet is already pregnant, then you should consider getting it to your vet. Here are some of the more definitive, more positive signs of pregnancy in dogs.
- Ultrasound Image of the Uterus
Ultrasound can be used on pregnant dogs as early as 3 weeks into the pregnancy or towards the end of the first trimester. However, most veterinarians do not consider this to be definitive especially when taken too early. At best, it can give you an idea of how many ‘masses’ are in your dog’s abdomen.
- Palpable Puppies in the Dog’s Abdomen
By the middle of the second trimester, the veterinarian can already feel small, walnut-sized balls inside the dog’s abdomen. These small ‘balls’ are typically spaced out or arranged in a V-formation within the uterus of the dog. Each of these ‘balls’ contains embryos or developing puppies. Under no circumstance should you palpate these ‘puppies’ yourself as only a trained professional can. This is to help avoid harming the developing embryos and prevent miscarriage. This can only be performed between 28 and 35 days into the dog’s pregnancy.
- X-ray Outline of the Puppies
Most vets prefer an x-ray of the dog’s abdomen as this will show the outline of the skeleton of the puppies. This will also give you an idea whether the skeleton has formed and that the bones have the right density. Passing through the birth canal can put a lot of stress on these bones. If the bones don’t have the necessary density prior to the puppies being born, there may be some issues later on.
- Elevated Levels of Relaxin
Dogs that are pregnant always have higher levels of the hormone known as relaxin. This is produced and secreted by the dog’s placenta to open up the cervix to allow the passage of the puppies.
Additionally, relaxin helps prepare the uterus as it receives the contraction signals from the hormone oxytocin. If the blood levels of relaxin are already elevated, it is usually a sign that your dog will be delivering really soon.
It’s not easy to tell whether your dog is pregnant or not especially if you don’t have a clue as to its estrus history. Nonetheless, if you see any of the early signs we mentioned here, you can already start bringing your pet to the vet for a more thorough and definitive diagnosis of pregnancy.