Understanding the Canine Heat Cycle, Gestation Period and Birth
Who doesn’t get excited about the prospect of puppies? It’s a good thing that the canine gestation period is far shorter than that of a human. Typically, dogs will be pregnant for around 63 days – i.e. nine weeks. It may end up being a few days longer or shorter, depending on various factors. If you suspect your dog to be pregnant, your vet can run various tests to accurately determine how pregnant she is, how far along she is and when she is estimated to give birth.
Dog pregnancy, similar to human pregnancy, is divided into three trimesters, each lasting for approximately 21 days. But before we get into the stages of pregnancy, we first need to look at the canine reproductive or heat cycle.
The Stages of the Canine Reproductive Cycle
Unspayed female dogs ordinarily go into heat every 6-8 months, but this can, once again, vary. The canine heat cycle is between 18-21 days long and is divided into four stages. Please keep in mind that your dog will go through the heat cycle repeatedly until she is spayed. She will, however, only fall pregnant if she is mated during this fertile period. Breeders use these stages to determine when the optimal time for breeding their dogs are.
The four stages of the heat cycle are:
- Proestrus – The first stage lasts around nine days. During this period, the female dog will start to attract males but the female will reject any advances made toward her.
- Oestrus – This second stage can last anywhere between 3-4 or 7-11 days and it’s when the female becomes receptive to mating.
- Dioestrus – The third stage usually begins around day 14. It’s characterised by the female no longer showing an interest in and disallowing mating. Their cycle comes to an end.
- Anoestrus – Finally, the fourth stage refers to the period between the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next. In most cases, it usually lasts around six months.
For more details on the physical signs of the canine heat cycle, we highly recommend reading up on it with the American Kennel Club.
The Stages and Symptoms of Pregnancy in Dogs
Blink, and you’ll miss it. The canine gestation period typically lasts for 2-3 months. Dog pregnancy progresses rapidly and before you know it, a precious litter of puppies will be bringing joy to the world and all they encounter.
The First Trimester
During this first month of the pregnancy, the embryos will make their way to the dog’s uterine horns at about day seven. Around day 16, the embryos will be embedded in the uterine lining. Foetuses should be taking form by the twenty-second day and a veterinarian will be able to use an ultrasound to detect foetal heartbeats between days 28-30.
Your dog is unlikely to display symptoms for the first three weeks of pregnancy. Symptoms in the first trimester may, however, include:
- A decline in physical activity
- An increase in affectionate behaviour
- An increase in appetite
- Clear vaginal discharge at about week four
- Moderately enlarged nipples
- Morning sickness
The Second Trimester
The foetuses start developing more rapidly during month two of dog pregnancy. By day 32, eyelids will form and by day 35, toes will become visible. The puppies’ claws will form by day 40, while their coats and skeletons follow by day 45. An x-ray done by day 50 will show the number of puppies in a dog’s litter. Your dog will start to look for a place to have her pups at around day 58.
Symptoms of dog pregnancy become much more noticeable during the second trimester. These tell-tale signs include:
- A 20-50% gain in weight
- A clear and odourless vaginal discharge
- A noticeable increase in appetite, followed by a decrease in appetite at around day 45
- An enlarged and firm abdomen from day 45-50
- Changes in ‘normal’ behaviour
- More frequent urination
- Visible foetal movement in the abdomen by day 50
The Third Trimester
By the beginning of month three, your dog is ready to give birth at any time. At around day 58, the puppies’ development is nearly complete. During the last few days of pregnancy, the pups will start to move into what is known as whelping position.
A pregnant dog will start showing the following signs and symptoms during her final days of gestation:
- A drop in body temperature approximately 12-24 hours before the start of labour
- A slimming waistline due to the pups starting to move into her birth canal
- Digging, shivering, panting and pacing
- General restlessness
- Loss of appetite at around day 61-62
Your Pregnant Dog and Labour
The culmination of pregnancy is labour. A dog’s labour also consists of three distinct phases.
Your dog’s first phase of labour will usually last between 12-24 hours. Uterine contractions start, although your dog might not show any outward signs of contractions just yet. A dog in the initial stages of labour might grow restless, start panting, begin to intermittently nest, refuse to eat or vomit, amongst other things.
The pups finally make their appearance as the mother gives birth during phase two. This may take up to 24 hours. It’s typical for the mother to give birth to one pup every 30-60 minutes. Take note that it shouldn’t take more than 2 hours in-between delivering puppies. During this stage, it’s especially useful to relay on your vet’s x-rays as it will help you identify when the birth is over (i.e. when all pups have been delivered).
Phase three and phase two take place almost concurrently. It is marked by the delivery of the placenta. This phase is considered complete once the final placenta is delivered, which should be shortly after the ending of phase two.
How You Can Be of Help to Your Dog During Her Pregnancy and Birth (and What Not to Do)
When you first suspect that your dog is expecting, it’s important to have your trusted vet look her over to confirm the pregnancy. Symptoms of dog pregnancy often resemble other medical conditions, so it’s important for you to rule these out. Pregnancy in dogs can be confirmed by the vet performing hormone tests, palpations, x-rays and/or ultrasounds.
Abdominal palpations are the most cost-effective way to confirm a pregnancy and can be performed by your vet when a dog is between 28-35 days pregnant. Your vet can show you how to perform this check as well. If your vet hasn’t given you the proper guidance and instruction to perform the check yourself, don’t attempt to do it! Doing it incorrectly may harm the unborn pups or even result in a miscarriage. At this stage, the foetuses should be the size of grapes or small golf balls.
If you are giving your dog any supplements or medications, speak to your vet about continuing with, temporarily stopping or replacing them for the time being. Many of these aren’t recommended for use by pregnant dogs and can cause harm to the unborn pups. Your vet will know how to best proceed.
When labour comes around, your dog will likely (and hopefully) be the one doing most of the work. As the owner, you can do your part by keeping a close eye on the situation and offering support or intervening when necessary.
Warning signs that indicate your dog and her pups may be in distress during birth include:
- Contractions are visible for longer than half an hour without a pup being born
- She first experiences a drop in body temperature, followed by a rise, without any pups being born
- There are more than 2-4 hours in-between the birth of pups
- The amount of bloody discharge increases and doesn’t show signs of stopping
- The appearance of a green discharge before the first pup is born
If your dog is pregnant for the first time, stay in close contact with your vet throughout your dog’s pregnancy to discuss any possible risk factors she may have. Your vet will recommend the best course of action for your dog’s upcoming birth.
Making Sure Mom and Pups Remain in Good Health
Ticks, fleas and mites can affect dogs of all ages and backgrounds. Bravecto® knows this, which is why both Bravecto® Chew and Bravecto® Spot-On for Dogs may be used in pregnant, breeding and lactating dogs. Puppies older than 8 weeks and over 2 kg can also enjoy the benefits.
Keep your fur babies and their babies protected with your treatment of choice. By feeding your dog a single chewy treat, you will help keep them safe from fleas and ticks for 12 weeks. Opting for the topical spot-on treatment will protect your pooch for 4 months against ticks and 6 months against fleas, all in a single dose!
Trust Bravecto® if you want fast-acting and long-lasting protection against external parasites for your dog.