Who doesn’t love puppies? These little balls of fur are the perfect playtime companion: cute, cuddly, and usually so small you can hold them in the palm of your hand. But because dogs don’t have a similar pregnancy experience as that of humans - indeed, it can be hard to tell even if a dog is pregnant - many people wonder one specific question: how long are dogs pregnant?
The short answer to that question is simple: around 55-65 days, or around 2.5 months. Not only is the gestational period for dogs considerably shorter than that of humans, but there are several other differences as well, such as the frequency of the reproductive cycle and the signs of pregnancy in the first place. While you may not be able to pinpoint the exact day that a litter of puppies was conceived, if you know what to look for, you should be able to get to within a few days.
How To Determine If Your Dog Is Pregnant
While humans can head down to their local grocery store and pick up a pregnancy test that will tell them almost instantaneously whether or not they’re with child, no such technology exists for dogs (yet). Still, there are ways to tell if a dog is pregnant, but nearly all of them involve making an appointment with your veterinarian who will perform one of a number of tests.
This method can technically be performed at home, but if this is the first time you’re handling a dog that’s pregnant, you’ll want a veterinarian to show you how it’s specifically done. Have your dog stand in front of you, and gently place your forefinger and thumb around the uterus, feeling softly for a ball-like mass. These embryos that are inside the mother’s womb are small enough between 28-35 days that you should feel tiny balls roughly the size of peanuts. After that time span, the sacs enlarge and shed their distinct swellings, making identification nearly impossible until after day 50. Remember to be gentle. If you’re overly rough or squeeze too tight, it could hurt the embryos or cause the dog to have a miscarriage.
Ultrasounds And X-Rays
Just like with human babies, one of the best ways to determine not only whether a pregnancy exists but also how many fetuses are present is by taking a direct image of the womb itself. An X-ray will allow you to count the number of puppies you can expect, as well as decide whether or not to have a C-section. Unfortunately, X-rays can only be performed after day 42, but the image becomes clearer after day 55. Ultrasounds can be done much sooner – around day 25 of gestation – and can be used to determine if the embryo is viable in addition to any malformations that may have occurred.
Once the mother is 30 days into the pregnancy, a veterinarian may elect to administer a hormone test, which is one of the more accurate ways to discover a pregnancy. A dog will only release the chemical called Relaxin when pregnant, so the presence of this hormone during a test is a virtual lock as to the dog’s condition. Although it doesn’t tell as much about the state of the pregnancy, such as number of puppies, deformities, etc., it is still a quick and painless way to find out if the dog is expecting.
A Unique Four-Stage Reproductive Cycle
How long are dogs pregnant? That answer lies in understanding the reproductive cycle of female dogs, which happens once every six months. Breeders use this information to determine when to try and mate their dogs; as the timetable is relatively small compared to humans’, missing an opportunity can set them back quite a bit.
Stage 1: Proestrus
The first stage of the reproductive cycle lasts for about nine days and is signified by either a swelling of the vulva or a bloody discharge from the dog’s vagina. Though female dogs will begin to attract attention from potential mates during this period, they will almost always reject any form of sexual contact until they enter Estrus, which is the next stage.
Stage 2: Estrus
Lasting anywhere from three to 11 days, the second stage is called estrus and is the ideal time frame for a dog to get pregnant. Many breeders will take their dogs into the veterinarian to have blood tests or smear performed in order to double-check that the dog has entered estrus. In addition to positive tests, a dog may also be in estrus if her vulva is larger than normal and discharge begins to decrease. During this period, the dog will actively seek for and attract males to mate with.
Stage 3: Diestrus
The last stage of what is commonly called “heat” is diestrus, and it is when the discharge tapers off slowly and the vulva returns to its original size. The dog will refuse any sexual advances from potential mates and will enter into the period called anestrus, which happens in between reproductive cycles.
Stage 4: Anestrus
Though not technically a stage of reproduction, anestrus is the roughly six-month period where a dog is not in heat and does not show any signs of wanting to mate. Since this time frame is so long, if breeders know when the last heat cycle was, they should be able to accurately assess the date of conception for the next litter of puppies.
What To Expect When Your Dog Is Expecting
Just like with people, there are three distinct phases of pregnancy with dogs, even if the time period is a third of what we experience. As mentioned earlier, the gestation period is only about 55-65 days, so each phase lasts a little less than a month a piece.
During the first month, you won’t notice many signs that your dog is even pregnant, but some things to look out for include a larger appetite, decreased interest in physical activity, and possibly even a dog version of “morning sickness.”
The second month is when you will really start noticing some changes, such as a substantial amount of weight gain, more frequent urination, a little bit of clear discharge, and some puppy movement inside the mother’s stomach. Once the dog moves into the third month of pregnancy, gestation is almost complete. The last few days will involve a behavioral shift, excessive panting and pacing, as well as a loss of appetite. By day 58, the puppies are almost completely developed and ready for birth.
Once the birthing process begins, it can last up to 24 hours; if it lasts longer, call your vet as it could be a sign of complications. The first 12 hours of pregnancy are termed pre-delivery and consist of vomiting, refusal to eat, restlessness, and more discharge. After that, puppies should be delivered every 30-60 minutes. This is just one reason why knowing the number of puppies beforehand is so important: if your dog goes more than two hours between puppies, call your vet as it could be a sign of complications. After all the puppies are delivered, the placenta will follow, and labor is officially over.
How To Determine Pregnancy Length
Even though we would love to know exactly how long a dog has been pregnant, there are several variables that can make that specific determination difficult. For instance, dog sperm can survive within a female for up to a week, and because the eggs can be fertile for two whole days, the date of conception cannot be attributed to the point of physical mating.
Of all the methods outlined above to determine pregnancy, one of the best ways is through hormone testing. Taking a smear of the vagina or a blood sample (or both) can help verify the existence of reproductive hormones inside the female and can help create an approximate date of conception. Gestation length from the first time that progesterone begins to increase inside the female, for example, is about 65 days.
If you want to figure out the pregnancy duration outside of using a hormone test, you’ll have to measure the time from when diestrus begins, as that is when a female typically stops mating. Generally, gestational length is about 57 days from that point. Starting from the other end of the spectrum when a female first started mating, you’re looking at a pregnancy period of 58-72 days.
Ultimately, the answer to the question of “how long are dogs pregnant?” rests within the needs of each individual mother and her litter. It can vary from dog to dog, but however long the animal needs to properly develop her puppies is how long it will take - a process that can change from pregnancy to pregnancy within the same female. Generally speaking, you can expect a time frame of about nine weeks in all. Remember to monitor the mother’s nutrition and well-being during this time. A healthy mom will have a better chance of delivering healthy puppies, giving the litter the best start possible in their new lives.