Pregnant Dog Guide

What to Expect When Your Dog is Expecting

MON 9 SEPT 2019

This article is written by Pet Circle Veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski BVSc.

Looking after your dog through pregnancy can be fun and exciting, but it's important to know the basics. We've put together a complete guide to nutrition, parasite prevention, vaccinations, possible complications, recommended products, and more.

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1. The Basics: How Long Are Dogs Pregnant For?

2. Signs of Pregnancy in Dogs

3. Nutrition During Pregnancy

4.a) Parasite Prevention Schedule: When To Worm A Pregnant Dog

4.b) Parasite Prevention Products: Which Preventatives Are Safe For Pregnancy?

5. Vaccinations

6. Whelping: What To Expect At Labour

7. Possible Complications

8. Essential Pregnancy Checklist

9. Further Reading


1. The Basics

How long are dogs pregnant for?

Pregnancy in dogs lasts for around 60 days. Whelping (giving birth) occurs 59-63 days after a successful mating.

The reproductive cycle of the dog isn't the same as that of humans. Unlike humans, dogs don't experience monthly cycles and they don't menstruate. Instead, undesexed female dogs usually experience a 'heat' twice a year, during which they ovulate and are fertile. Their first 'heat' may occur as early as 5 or 6 months of age, however most dogs typically have their first heat around 7-12 months.

How to tell if your dog is on heat:

When a bitch is 'on heat', she will exhibit behaviour such as restlessness, crying, 'sookiness', and may try to escape your yard in search of a mate. Physical signs may include a swollen vulva and a bloody discharge. Entire (non-desexed) males are very receptive to the pheromones of an on-heat bitch, and may 'go crazy' trying to reach her.

2. Signs of Pregnancy in Dogs

How can you tell if your dog is pregnant? Unfortunately, there isn't an easy at-home urine test to diganose pregnancy in dogs like there is for humans. In most cases, your female is likely to be pregnant after a successful mating due to the efficient reproductive cycle of the dog. To be sure, you can get a blood test or an ultrasound at your vet from day 21-25 after mating.

Signs Your Dog is Pregnant

  • Early Signs: In the first few weeks, you may not notice any signs. Nausea (morning sickness) can occur in some dogs, but only for a few days during the 3rd or 4th week. Your dog may seem tired or less motivated to play, and she may have a reduced appetite.
  • Around day 30: You may notice weight gain, enlarged teats with some mammary leakage, and some clear or opaque mucusy discharge from her vulva.
  • Around day 40: The abdomen will start to become noticeably larger - however this can vary between dogs.

How can you tell how many puppies your pregnant dog is carrying? The only accurate way to assess how many puppies your dog will have is via ultrasound or xray at your vet. Your vet will also be able to perform an abdominal palaption, however this is not always accurate.

3. Nutrition During Pregnancy

What should you feed a pregnant dog? Proper nutrition is absolutely vital for dogs during gestation. When a female dog is towards the third trimester, her nutritional needs change as the litter inside her grows at a rapid rate. She requires higher levels of energy, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins.

But before you go in search of recipes for pregnant dogs, or reach for dog prenatal vitamins, know this: Any premium food formulated for 'growth' is also balanced for pregnant and lactating bitches. Because a pregnant or lactating female has such similar nutritional requirements to young infant pups, you can feed a premium puppy food as it contains all the nutrients your gestating girl needs.

In the first two trimesters (prior to week 6), a pregnant dog can be maintained on a regular premium adult food. However, it is vital that she doesn't lose weight in this period. If your pregnant dog is losing body condition, a transition onto a puppy food may be required sooner.

In the final trimester (from 6 weeks onwards), a puppy food is required - not just because her nutritional demands increase by 30-60%, but also because the puppies grow and take up more space in her abdomen, which means she may not tolerate as much food in her stomach and require a much more nutritionally-concentrated diet. However, keep a close eye on her weight at this point. It's important to ensure your girl remains active, because obesity can cause birthing difficulties.

After whelping: during lactation, the mother’s energy requirements will actually increase even more. 3-5 weeks after whelping she may require 2-3 times the calories of a normal adult. Maintain her on the same premium puppy food during this period, and consider offering some puppy milk and a little extra meat such as cooked chicken breast. The mother’s energy requirement will reduce and return to normal by about 8 weeks post-whelping – once pups are weaned.

What to feed in the third trimester and during lactation: it's important to seek a premium puppy food. Don't be tempted to save money and opt for a cheap pregnant dog food. For the sake of a few dollars, it could be the difference between producing a litter of thriving pups and a litter with stillborn pups. Your girl is growing new life inside her and really needs quality food now more than ever!


Best Food For Pregnant Bitches

Shop Hill's Science Diet Puppy Food

A high quality, premium puppy food brand formulated with optimal levels of calcium, phosphorus and energy for growth and pregnancy.

Shop Advance Puppy Food

Advance puppy food is Australian made and premium quality, with optimal levels of calcium, phosphorus and nutrients to support growing foetuses.

Shop Meals For Mutts Puppy Food

Formulated with premium meats, this Australian made puppy food contains all natural ingredients to nourish pregnant females.

Shop Royal Canin Puppy Food

Tailored with highly digestible protein, antioxidants and prebiotics, as well as balanced levels of calcium and phosphorus to promote healthy bone and joint development.

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4. a) Parasite Prevention: When to Worm a Pregnant Dog

While all forms of parasite prevention are important during pregnancy and lactation, worming is particularly vital due to the risk of infection to pups. Flea and tick prevention should remain as per usual throughout your dog's pregnancy - provided your chosen preventative is safe for pregnancy (read more about this below).

- Leading up to a mating, a female dog should receive worming as normal (3 monthly for intestinal worms and monthly for heartworm).

- During pregnancy, worming should continue as normal plus an extra dose 10 days prior to giving birth (approximately 50 days after mating).

- While nursing, the mother dog should be wormed every 3 weeks. See our recommendations for safe wormers during pregnancy below.

When to worm newborn puppies:

Pups need to be wormed at 2 weeks of age, and then every 2 weeks until 12 weeks of age. At 12 weeks they should receive their first heartworm treatment. After 12 weeks of age, they can receive worming every month until 6 months of age, and then 3 monthly for life. Read a full guide to puppy parasite prevention in our Complete New Puppy Guide.

4. b) Parasite Prevention Products: Which Preventatives Are Safe For Pregnancy?

While most parasite preventatives are generally believed not to cause issues during pregnancy, only some have actually been tested to prove their safety. Therefore, we recommend only using products that have had their safety evaluated during pregnancy and lactation.

A broad wormer which covers all intestinal worms is recommended for a pregnant dog. Worms of concern include hookworm, whipworm, roundworm, and tapeworm.

Safe Wormers for Pregnancy:

The following wormers are tested for safety during pregnancy and lactation:

Safe Flea and Tick Prevention During Pregnancy:

The following flea and tick products are tested for safety during pregnancy and lactation:

For a complete table of all parasite prevention products and which ones are marked as 'evaluated safe for pregnancy' in dogs, see below. Please note that those marked with an 'X' are not necessarily "unsafe", rather they do not have a "safe for pregnancy" statement on their label. This may mean they have simply not received testing to establish safety.

5. Vaccinations

An up-to-date vaccine schedule is vital for pregnant dogs. Parvovirus is a common cause of death in puppies, but it is easily preventable. Vaccinating the mother prior to whelping creates parvovirus antibodies, which she will transfer to her pups.

When to vaccinate a pregnant dog: If a pregnant bitch has not been vaccinated at some point within the previous 10-12 months, a parvovirus booster is recommended prior to mating. For cases of unexpected pregnancies, it's important to vaccinate no later than 6 – 7 weeks into the pregnancy.

For information about when to vaccinate newborn pups, see our Complete New Puppy Guide.

6. Whelping: What To Expect At Labour

Labour in dogs occurs in 3 phases:

Stage 1: Primary Labour

Stage 1 usually lasts for 12-36 hours. During this phase, you may notice nesting behaviour; where the female will seek out a safe 'den'-like space to settle into. Try to provide blankets and newspaper if you see this behaviour. Some females prefer to be alone in their nest, others may seek out the company of their owners.

Contractions will begin here and your dog may become restless, standing and sitting frequently, and she may vomit. Oxytocin is released in her body which causes the uterus to contract.

Stage 1 tends to last longer for first-time mums than in dogs who have had a litter before.

Stage 2: Secondary Labour

Stage 2 is where birth of the pups occur, and it may last anywhere from 2-5 hours, depending on how many pups are in the litter. Labour consists of active straining and resting. The active straining shouldn't last longer than 15-20 minutes at a time - any longer and there may be an issue. The resting time can vary between bitches.

As each pup is born, it will first appear in its amniotic sac at the vulva. The mother will lick and chew until the sack is broken, and she will also eat the umbilical cord and amniotic sac contents. The mother should then lick and roll her newborn pup, which stimulates breathing. This is completely normal behaviour, and your girl will know how rough to be with her pups.

If your girl doesn't seem to be attending to her pup within a few minutes of giving birth, you should ensure all the sack and membranes are removed from the pup’s mouth. You should also try to stimulate breathing by gently and quickly rubbing the pup over with a dry towel. Keep the pup’s head pointed downwards so that any fluid can drain out of the nose and mouth.

If you need to separate the pups from their mother, ensure they are kept warm at around 30-32 degrees C.

Stage 3: Post-Birth

The final stage of labour involves the contraction of the uterus to discharge the fluid and excess membranes. For the first 48 hours after whelping, the discharge is normally a green or black colour. After this, the discharge will appear as a bloody colour like red wine for a few weeks. The discharge should not have an excessive odour - if you are concerned always seek veterinary attention.

A vet check should be scheduled 24 hours after the birth of the final puppy. Your vet will examine your dog and check for any retained foetuses, assess adequate milk production, and check her vitals. The pups will also be examined and checked for any physical abnormalities.

In the days after giving birth

After the birth stage, your girl will be exhausted and looking to feed her babies. Provide her with clean blankets and a quiet, undisturbed environment free from loud noises. Some dogs may become anxious or even aggressive while feeding their pups, so it's best to respect her space and keep children away.

After giving birth, provide food ad libitum to your dog so that she can eat as much as she wants. Leave dry food out for her throughout the day, but remove any moist or canned food that doesn't get eaten after 20 minutes. Of course, fresh water should be provided at all times and close by.

Your dog may have green or black diarrhoea for a few days if she ate the foetal membranes at birth. This is normal and should resolve after a few days to weeks.

7. Possible Complications: When to Seek Veterinary Attention

Possible Complications During Labour

If you notice any of the following signs during labour, it's important to seek veterinary attention:

  • A period of active pushing longer than 30 minutes which does not result in the birth of a pup
  • Pale gums
  • Vulval discharge with a foul odour
  • Seizures

Complications During Lactation

Problems to watch out for in nursing bitches include:

1. Mastitis: infection of the mammary gland. Signs of mastitis include a swollen, hot, firm and painful teat. Often the affected teat/s will not produce milk, or may produce a thick discharge with blood clots. One or more teats may be affected, and you should not allow pups to feed from any infected glands as they may become sick.

2. Pyometra or Metritis: an infected uterus or inflamed uterine lining, often caused by retained foetal membranes. Pyometra is a medical emergency and usually requires a hysterectomy (spay). Signs to watch out for include inappetence, fever, vomiting, or odourous vulval discharge.

3. Hypocalcaemia: also known as 'milk fever'. This can occur during pregnancy or lactation due to calcium lost from milk production. It is more common in small breed dogs nursing large litters. Signs of hypocalcaemia may include muscle tremors, hyperexcitation, panting, weakness, vomiting, or seizures. Hypocalcaemia requires calcium substitution via an IV drip. Low calcium can usually be avoided by feeding a high quality puppy food, however you may wish to provide extra puppy milk mixed in with your bitch's food.

4. Agalactica: a lack of milk production. If your dog isn't producing any milk, you may notice excessive crying from the pups and sunken bellies rather than nice plump little abdomens. Pups will quickly become hypoglycaemic without milk for evey just a few hours, so ensure supplementation with a puppy milk formula is provided immediately. A lack of milk production can indicate that your girl is debilitated or malnourished, so seek veterinary attention immediately if this is the case.

5. Poor Mothering: Not all dogs will take to motherhood as naturally as others. Some dogs may not show diligent mothering to their pups and may not ensure all pups are getting fed. Keep a close eye on feeding as you may need to take over and feed them if this is the case. Unfortunately, poor mothers tend not to develop a mothering instinct as they grow, so it is not ideal to breed from them again.

8. The Essentials: A Complete Pregnancy Checklist

It's important to keep the following items on hand during each stage of your dog's pregnancy and nursing stages:

1. Essentials Prior to Mating

Premium Adult Dry Dog Food

Your girl will need top quality nutrition to ensure she's in peak condition prior to falling pregnant. From Hills to Instinctive Bite, click the image above to view our top recommended adult diets.

Premium Adult Wet Dog Food

Keep your girl eating well with some premium wet food in addition to premium dry food. Wet food can help keep your dog hydrated, and it also adds variety. Click the image above to view our top recommendations for adult wet food.

Broad Coverage Dog Wormers

Ensure your dog's worming is completely up to date to reduce the risk of parasites. Any parasite can reduce your dog's immunity and overall health.

Dog Dental Health

It may seem strange, but any form of dental disease can affect reproductive health. Good oral health can help increase your dog's chance of falling pregnant and carrying a successful pregnancy to term.

2. Essentials for a Dog During Pregnancy

Premium Puppy Dry Dog Food

Puppy food is important during pregnancy as it contains optimal levels of calcium and nutrients to support growing foetuses. Click through the link to view a range of recommended premium puppy diets for pregnant dogs.

Premium Puppy Wet Dog Food

Wet puppy food will help add some variety to your pregnant girl's diet and keep her eating well. Be sure to alternate between a variety of flavours to allow her growing pups exposure to different meat proteins.

Broad Spectrum Wormers

Your dog should be wormed as normal and then again 10 days prior to mating. We recommend a broad spectrum wormer such as Drontal.

Milk Formula

Your dog should receive all the calcium they need from a balanced puppy food, however if your vet recommends it, a puppy milk formula may be indicated to help maintain calcium levels.

3. Essentials for A Dog Nursing Newborns

Premium Puppy Food

Puppy food is balanced for mum and her pups, who will start eating solid food at around 4 weeks of age. Click through the link to view a range of our top recommended premium puppy diets for mum and bubs.

Fresh Water

Having plenty of fresh water nearby is important to ensure your lactating dog maintains hydration. A water fountain with a built-in filter is the perfect option for keeping your girl hydrated as it can encourage drinking.

Puppy Wormers

Your newborn pups will need to be wormed at 2 weeks of age, so make sure you've got a trusted and vet-recommended puppy wormer on hand.

Milk Formula

It's important to keep a puppy formula on hand while your bitch is nursing, in case of poor mothering or agalactia. You may need to take over feeding and it's important to have a stock of formula ready to go!

Further Reading

Want to read more? Check out our other articles:

New Puppy Guide

Premium Pet Food: Is It Worth It?

Guide to Fleas, Ticks and Worms

What is the Best Puppy Food?

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