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How Long Does It Take a Dog to Have Puppies: A Definitive Guide To How Long Dogs Are Pregnant For

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

how long does it take a dog to have puppies

If your pooch is pregnant, and you naturally want to know how long it takes for a dog to have puppies. One of the most exciting events for a breeding dog owner is anticipating the birth of new puppies and it’s vital to know how long dogs are pregnant. If you don’t, you won’t be prepared for potentially life-threatening complications.

My personal venture into this realm began unexpectedly when I took in two pregnant Bullmastiffs from a breeder who could no longer care for them. This experience on my farm provided a rapid and intense education in managing canine pregnancy, rearing puppies, and eventually led to a lifelong bond with my Bullmastiff, Jack. 

Through this process, I learned firsthand the stress, joy, and responsibilities involved in caring for a pregnant dog. In this article, we will delve into the duration of canine pregnancy, guided by both my experiences and the expertise of Dr. Gary England, DVM, and whelping studies to explore the doggy delivery and pregnancy timeline, giving you all the signs that tell you it’s finally time for those furry newborns. So let’s delve in.

But, every dog is different. Dr. Gary England says the dog gestation period can vary because dogs have a longer time when their eggs can be fertilized compared to other animals. This is why one litter can have multiple dads.

So, normally, it’s around 63 days, but it can differ a bit, as dogs may mate multiple times when a female is in season. The number of puppies is also a factor, as dogs with a large litter of puppies may give birth a littler earlier. So, going to an animal hospital and having x-rays taken is essential to know how many puppies are on their way, and also let you know how far into the pregnancy you may be.

So, the easiest way to determine your dog’s due date is to take note of the time she mated. Our article on how to know if mating was successful will help you know if breeding worked.

However, even without the mating date, research on canine gestation shows that measuring hormone levels, simple ultrasounds, and radiographs can determine gestational age. So, while breeding management is paramount,  it’s vital to work with your vet to know when you can expect puppies, as litter born to early and too late can be in serious danger.

If you suspect your dog is carrying puppies, work closely with your veterinarian to ensure she receives the proper care and attention throughout her pregnancy. This includes regular check-ups, a healthy diet, and plenty of rest.

Overall, while the gestation period for dogs is relatively short compared to some other animals, it’s still important to be patient and prepared for the arrival of the new puppies.

Stages of Dog Pregnancy (Gestation): How Long Are Dogs Pregnant?

So, dog pregnancy, also known as gestation, typically lasts between 58 and 68 days, according to PMC in a study of 162 pregnancies.  During this time, the dog’s body undergoes several stages of development to prepare for the arrival of the puppies. Check out our article on how to tell if a dog is pregnant for a deeper look into these signs.

A pregnant dog preparing to have puppies

Stage One: Early Signs (Day 7 to 21)

The first stage of dog pregnancy begins with early signs, which may include:

  • An increase in appetite (or decrease): PubMed research shows that a dog’s appetite can increase by as much as 1.5% in pregnancy onset.
  • Less playfulness: Some dogs become less interested in physical activities or exercise during early pregnancy. 
  • Increased sleeping and resting.
  • Behavior change: Depending on personality, the dog may become more affectionate or withdrawn. 
  • Enlarged nipples: Nipples may become slightly enlarged and pinkish.

At this stage, it is important to provide the dog with a comfortable and quiet space to rest and relax.

Stage Two: Mid-Stage (Day 21 to 42): Physical Changes 

As the pregnancy progresses, the dog’s body will begin to undergo physical changes. 

  • Nipples enlarge and darken in color in response to increased blood flow to the mammary glands in preparation for nursing. 
  • Swelling abdomen to facilitate the growing pups.
  • Morning sickness, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Appetite changes mostly increased appetite. 
  • Ultrasounds can notice the fetuses from day 20 to 22.

Stage 3: Fetal Development & Preparing for Birth (Day 42 to 58/68)

During the third stage of dog pregnancy, the fetuses will begin to develop rapidly. Therefore:

  • Swollen abdomen: The stomach will swell even more as the growing puppies’ bones begin to harden, and they will start to develop fur.
  • Increased appetite, so it is important to provide her with a high-quality diet to support the growing puppies. 
  • Tiredness and restlessness as the body continues to facilitate puppy growth.
  • Possible vomiting due to morning sickness.
  • Weight gain by about 20 to 50%.
  • Discharge: You may notice a clear fluid from the vulva from week 7 or day 49.

Preparing for A Dog To Give Birth

In the final stage of dog pregnancy, the dog will begin to prepare for birth. She may become restless, and you may notice her nesting behavior, such as digging in blankets or towels. You may also notice vaginal discharge and contractions.

 It is essential to provide her with a comfortable and safe space to give birth, such as a whelping box.

Factors Influencing Pregnancy Duration

The gestation period for dogs can vary depending on several factors, including breed, size, age, and health status. Here are some of the most common factors that can influence pregnancy duration in dogs, potentially prolonging gestation:

A mixed breed dog giving birth.Due to small size she took less than 63 days to have her puppies

Breed

Different dog breeds have different gestation periods. Smaller breeds tend to have shorter gestation periods than larger breeds. For example, Chihuahuas have a gestation period of around 58-68 days, while Great Danes have a gestation period of around 63-68 days.

Size & How Many puppies

The size of the litter can also affect the length of the pregnancy. Dogs carrying larger litters may have a shorter gestation period than those carrying smaller litters, says ReasearchGate. This is because the puppies can stimulate contractions and help to move the process along.

Age

The age of the dog can also play a role in the length of the pregnancy. Younger dogs may have shorter gestation periods than older dogs. This is because their bodies are more efficient in the process of pregnancy and childbirth. However, first-time dogs may take slightly longer to deliver the puppies.

Health Status

The health of the dog can also affect the length of the pregnancy. Dogs with health issues may have longer gestation periods than healthy dogs. This is because their bodies may not be able to handle the stress of pregnancy and childbirth as well.

Environmental Factors

Environmental stressors, such as changes in living conditions or exposure to excessive noise, can impact the hormonal balance of the pregnant dog, potentially influencing the length of gestation.

Hormonal Factors

Hormonal regulation plays a fundamental role in gestation. Any hormonal imbalances or irregularities can affect the timing of labor. PubMed cites corpus luteum insufficiency, a severe disorder at the ovarian level, as a common hormonal issue that could prolong gestation.

Signs of Labor in Dogs

A puppy being born in the amniotic sac

As the due date approaches, it is essential to know the signs of labor in dogs.

Pre-Labor:

Here are some indications that a dog is about to give birth:

  • Temperature Drop: A dog’s normal temperature is between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. However, when labor is about to start, the temperature drops to 98-99 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Restlessness and Nesting: The dog may become restless, pace, or whine. She may also start to shred paper or blankets to create a nest for her puppies.
  • Loss of Appetite: As labor approaches, the dog may lose interest in food or refuse to eat altogether.
  • Excessive licking of the genital area as she prepares for birth.

Active Labor

Active labor in dogs is the stage where the actual birthing process takes place.

  • Panting and heavy breathing: As labor begins, the dog will have contractions, and her breathing will become more rapid. She may also start to pant heavily.
  • Visible Contractions: One of the most obvious signs of active labor is the presence of visible contractions. These contractions will be noticeable in the abdominal area as the dog works to expel each puppy.
  • Breaking of Water or increased discharge: The amniotic sac will rupture, and the water will break. This usually happens during active labor. The dog’s water breaks each time a new puppy is delivered.
  • Trembling: Some dogs may experience shivering or trembling during active labor. This is a natural response to the exertion of labor.
  • Continuous licking of the puppies and genitals.

It is essential to monitor the dog closely during labor and call a veterinarian if there are any concerns or complications.

Caring for a Pregnant Dog

Nutrition

Pregnant dogs require a balanced and nutritious diet to support their growing puppies. The food should be rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Many people cite the need for feeding puppy food at the latter pregnancy stages due to the increased caloric density and boosted nutrients.

Our article on what to feed a nursing dog suggests going for a diet with 30% high-quality animal protein and 20% fat. The same can apply to pregnant dogs. Additionally, pregnant dogs should be fed smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day to prevent any digestive issues.

Exercise

Pregnant dogs should continue to exercise, but it is important to avoid strenuous activities that could harm the mother or her puppies. Short walks and light playtime are recommended, but any signs of fatigue or discomfort should be taken seriously.

Veterinary Care

Regular medical check-ups are crucial during a dog’s pregnancy. A veterinarian can monitor the dog’s health and ensure the pregnancy progresses smoothly. They can also advise on nutrition, exercise, and any necessary vaccinations.

Whelping

Whelping is the process of a dog giving birth to her puppies. It is important to prepare for this event by creating a comfortable and safe space for the mother and her puppies. Additionally, re recommend having a  veterinarian on call in case of any complications during the birthing process.

Potential Complications

While most dogs have successful and uncomplicated deliveries, potential complications can arise during the whelping process. Here are some of the most common complications that dog owners should be aware of:

Dystocia

Dystocia refers to difficult labor or delivery. This can occur when a puppy is too large to pass through the birth canal or when the birth canal is too small for the puppy. This is the most common complication, with an occurrence of 2 to 5%.

Signs of dystocia include prolonged labor, weak contractions, or the appearance of greenish-black discharge. If a dog is experiencing dystocia, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately.

Retained Placenta

After delivering a litter, it is normal for a dog to expel the placenta. However, in some cases, the placenta may be retained in the uterus.

This can lead to infection and other complications. Signs of retained placenta include fever, lethargy, and a foul-smelling discharge. If a dog is experiencing retained placenta, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately.

Maternal Aggression

While rare, some dogs may become aggressive toward their puppies after delivery. This can be due to hormonal changes or stress. It is important to monitor the mother and her puppies closely and seek veterinary care if there are any signs of aggression.

Hypocalcemia

Hypocalcemia, also known as milk fever, is a condition that can occur in lactating dogs. It is caused by a deficiency of calcium in the blood and can lead to muscle weakness, tremors, and seizures. Ironically, supplementing dogs with calcium increases hypocalcemia risk because it suppresses parathyroid hormone production and increases the risk of developing eclampsia.

If a dog is experiencing hypocalcemia, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately since death can occur in minutes.

Overall, it is important for dog owners to be aware of the potential complications that can arise during the whelping process. By monitoring their dog closely and seeking veterinary care when necessary, owners can help ensure a safe and successful delivery.

Post-Pregnancy Care

After giving birth, a mother dog needs proper care to recover from the delivery process. Here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Rest: The mother dog needs to get enough rest after giving birth. She should be given a quiet and comfortable place to rest, away from other animals and children.
  • Nutrition: The mother dog needs a well-balanced and nutritious diet to support her recovery and milk production. You may need to switch her to a puppy food formula to provide the necessary nutrients.
  • Hydration: It is vital to ensure that the mother dog has access to clean and fresh water at all times. She needs to stay hydrated to produce enough milk for her puppies.
  • Exercise: While the mother dog needs rest, she also needs some light exercise to prevent muscle stiffness and promote circulation. Short walks or gentle playtime can be beneficial.
  • Postpartum Checkup: It is important to take the mother dog to the vet for a postpartum checkup. The vet can check for any health issues and provide guidance on caring for the mother and her puppies.

By following these guidelines, you can help ensure that the mother dog recovers from the delivery process and produces enough milk for her puppies.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does it take for a dog to get pregnant?

A dog can get pregnant around every six months. This is because the heat cycle usually occurs every six months, but it can vary depending on the breed and individual dog. If a female dog mates during her heat cycle, she can become pregnant within a few days.

How many months is a dog pregnant for?

The gestation period for dogs is approximately 63 days or nine weeks. However, this can vary slightly depending on the breed and individual dog. It is important to note that the gestation period begins from the date of ovulation, not from the date of mating.

How long does it take a dog to have puppies after mating?

After mating, it can take anywhere from 56 to 72 days for a dog to have puppies. This time frame can vary based on factors such as breed, litter size, and individual dog.

How long does it take for a dog to deliver puppies?

The delivery process for dogs usually lasts between 6 to 12  hours, but it can take up to twenty-four hours in some cases. It is important to monitor the dog during labor and delivery to ensure that everything is progressing normally.

How long after mating can you tell a dog is pregnant?

It can take up to three weeks after mating for a veterinarian to confirm a dog’s pregnancy through blood tests or ultrasound. However, there are some early signs of pregnancy that dog owners can look for, such as decreased appetite, lethargy, and nipple enlargement.

What are the first signs of a dog going into labor?

The first signs of labor in dogs include restlessness, nesting behavior, panting, and loss of appetite. As labor progresses, the dog may begin to have contractions and show signs of discomfort. It is important to provide a safe and comfortable environment for the dog during labor and delivery.

Final Thoughts

Knowing the time it takes for a dog to give birth is an essential piece of information for any dog owner. It takes around 63 days for a dog to whelp(give birth). It is also important to understand the various stages of pregnancy and what to expect during each stage.

Note that each dog is unique and may have a different gestation period. Therefore, it is always best to consult with a veterinarian to ensure your dog is healthy and the pregnancy is progressing as expected.

References

  • England, G., 2012. Dog breeding, whelping and puppy care. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Baqueiro-Espinosa, U., McEvoy, V. and Arnott, G., 2022. Factors influencing ease of whelping and its relationship with maternal behaviour and puppy perinatal mortality in commercially bred dogs. Scientific Reports, 12(1), p.6680.
  • Lopate, C., 2008. Estimation of gestational age and assessment of canine fetal maturation using radiology and ultrasonography: a review. Theriogenology, 70(3), pp.397-402.
  • Lopate C. Estimation of gestational age and assessment of canine fetal maturation using radiology and ultrasonography: a review. Theriogenology. 70(3): pp 397-402. 
  • Fontaine, E. (2012). Food Intake and Nutrition During Pregnancy, Lactation and Weaning in the Dam and Offspring. Reproduction in Domestic Animals . Zuchthygiene, 47(Suppl 6)
  • Eilts, B.E., Davidson, A.P., Hosgood, G., Paccamonti, D.L. and Baker, D.G., 2005. Factors affecting gestation duration in the bitch. Theriogenology, 64(2), pp.242-251.
  • Uchańska, O., Ochota, M., Eberhardt, M. and Niżański, W., 2022. Dead or alive? A review of perinatal factors that determine canine neonatal viability. Animals, 12(11), p.1402.
  • Scully, C. M. (2023) Dystocia in Small Animals – Reproductive System, MSD Veterinary Manual. MSD Veterinary Manual.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

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Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.