The developing canine embryo at 20
becomes a foetus after
thirty-five days of gestation and growth in the uterus. It is then recognisable
as a dog and major organ formation is accomplished. It will have grown to about
35 to 40mm (1’/4 to 1’/2in) of the 160 to 185mm (6 to 7in) length it will be at
birth if it is an average-sized breed.
At about thirty-five days after fertilisation,
eyelids, ear-flaps and sex organs are evident; at forty days, paws and claws are
formed and eyelids closed together; at forty-five days, the dog’s colouring
appears as hair begins to grow; and at fifty days the foetus is
well-proportioned. Five days later the foetus is moving around in the uterus
within the placental band with teeth well formed, and at sixty to sixty-three
days it is no longer a foetus but a pup being born blind but well covered in
Gestation Period for Dogs
After you breed your dog you
will probably be surprised by the fact that nothing seems to happen. No
matter how eager you are to find out if your dog is pregnant, there’s
nothing you can do to find out for at least three weeks.
In fact, after breeding your dog it takes several days for the fertilized
eggs to implant themselves along the uterine wall. When this happens, about
the third week after breeding, your bitch experiences a few hormonal changes
which can affect her appetite. This is often the first sign of pregnancy.
She may not feel like eating for a couple of days. Bitches can be prone to
losing their embryos at this time so if your bitch was pregnant she can lose
a litter at this point and you won’t ever know it.
A normal pregnancy lasts 63 days but that time is calculated from the point
of ovulation. Breeders don’t always know the exact time of ovulation so
there is sometimes some guesswork involved in figuring out when puppies are
due. Most breeders calculate 63 days from the time of the first mating and
allow for the puppies to come a couple of days early or late.
There are several ways to confirm that your bitch is pregnant. Between days
28 and 35 you can take your bitch to the vet for an ultrasound. A skilled
vet can usually find the embryos and give you some kind of estimate although
the number can be far off. It’s possible that a vet can miss a pregnancy
with an ultrasound. It’s also possible to ultrasound embryos and for the
bitch to resorb them later on with no litter produced. When this occurs it’s
usually because the embryos weren’t viable or the bitch’s body wasn’t
capable of carrying them to term.
Your vet can also use a canine pregnancy test that measures the Relaxin
hormone in your bitch’s body. This can be done between week three and four
after breeding. These tests are generally thought to be reliable but they
don’t give any information about how many puppies might be present.
The tried and true method of determining pregnancy is palpating the bitch’s
abdomen between 28 and 35 days to feel for the puppies. At this stage they
will be the size of walnuts. The bitch should be lying on her back. If you
know what you’re doing you can gently feel along your bitch’s abdomen and
feel the puppies. Don’t press too hard. You are feeling the puppies in your
bitch’s uterine horns. If you’re good at this you can even get a count of
The puppy embryos
implant themselves in the two horns of the uterus.
After day 35 you won’t be able to feel the puppies for a while because of
their positioning and the changes in the bitch’s body. They don’t show up on
an ultrasound very well after this time either.
Most people can’t detect any physical changes in the bitch’s body for the
first month or six weeks. After about five or six weeks you can start to see
changes in your bitch’s nipples and mammary glands. They will begin to get
larger and darker in preparation for feeding the puppies.
In behaviour your bitch will mostly continue to act the same. She may become
quieter. Some bitches become more affectionate.
After six weeks you will begin to notice changes in your bitch. Her abdomen
will start to get larger as the puppies get bigger. You’ll need to feed your
bitch more but she will need smaller meals since the puppies will be taking
up more room and she won’t be able to eat as much at one time. Your bitch
will also need to urinate more often.
By week eight your dog’s breasts, which are getting larger, will begin to
excrete a white, transparent liquid.
In most cases you won’t need to add any supplements to your bitch’s diet
prior to the puppies being born as long as you’re feeding her a good quality
food. By the sixth week you will need to start feeding your bitch more since
the puppies will be getting bigger. They will deplete your bitch’s own body
if they don’t get the nutrients they need from the food you feed her so make
sure you’re feeding her a good quality food.
By week seven your bitch will probably be looking for a whelping area and
trying out places to make a nest. You should keep an eye on her when she’s
outdoors since instinct often takes over and many bitches will dig holes
under bushes or under porches to try to make their own whelping dens. That’s
not the ideal place to have puppies.
You’ll need to either buy a whelping box or make one yourself for your
bitch. A large, sturdy cardboard box can be used but it probably won’t
survive very long. Some people use the bottom half of a pet carrier if it’s
large enough. Whelping boxes purchased from pet supply stores are an
excellent choice but they can be very expensive. You may wish to check
online for used ones for sale. Whatever you use for the whelping area should
be clean and you need to put down papers underneath with blankets on top. At
this point it doesn’t matter what you do because the bitch will get in it
and rearrange everything. Go ahead and let her since it will make her feel
Make sure you have all of your other whelping equipment ready by at least a
week before your bitch’s due date. You should have a digital thermometer to
take your bitch’s temperature, a small digital scale (the kitchen kind is
good), extra towels and blankets, a bulb for pulling mucous from a newborn
pup’s nose and mouth, scissors to cut the umbilical cord, iodine for the
cord and a good book on whelping. Make sure you have your vet’s phone number
handy and the numbers of some experienced breeders you can call for help.
If all goes well your bitch should have her litter about 63 days after
mating. The entire gestation period is full of excitement and guessing,
waiting and worrying. Is she pregnant? How many puppies does she have? Is
everything going to be okay? Most of the time everything is just fine. Stay
with your bitch and see her through the whelping. Be there with her each
step of the way and you should deliver those beautiful, much-loved puppies