|TL;DR: Typically, the canine gestation period is 63 days after conception. It may not be precisely 63 days, but it won’t stray too far from this figure.
Your dog will go through three stages within those 63 days. The embryo is formed and later becomes a fetus, which begins to grow.
Across the growth journey, you’ll find its heartbeat can be detected, eyelids, toes, bones, skin and fur develop and the number of puppies becomes visible via X-ray. At the start of stage three, your dog will be ready to whelp (give birth).
Whether you’re a first-time dog breeder or have a pregnant stray in your care, it’s vital to know the pregnancy journey of a female dog. Visits to the vet and physical/behavioral changes will indicate how far along she is and if all is going well.
It all begins with determining whether your dog is pregnant, which can be done in several ways. Then, as your dog progresses through pregnancy, you should cater to her needs and look out for signs she’s reached the next stage.
Eventually, she will give birth to a litter of healthy puppies.
The Stages of Dog Pregnancy
Dogs go ‘into heat’ about every eight months, where they experience a fertile window for up to three weeks. After conception, it may be a while before you notice any physical signs of pregnancy in your dog.
The gestation period for dogs is typically around 63 days, but this depends on their breed and health. 63 days equates to two full months and the start of a third. From conception to birth, there are three stages your dog undergoes.
Here’s what to look out for.
Dog Pregnancy: Month 1
After mating, fertilization ideally takes place. The male’s sperm fertilizes the female’s ova. The embryos, at first very high up in the uterus, trickle down to the uterine horns, where they hover in the uterine liquid.
The embryos embed themselves in the uterine lining before they start to develop. Your dog may not show any symptoms of pregnancy at this stage.
|???? Dog tip: During these early stages, providing a stress-free environment and a nutritious diet is essential.
Around day 25, your vet can perform an ultrasound to see if the conception was successful.
You’ll get a rough estimate of the number of puppies at this stage.
Dog Pregnancy: Month 2
At around day 35, the puppies’ organs form. This is where they change from ‘embryo’ to ‘fetus’. Their skin, hair and skeleton will start to develop — rapidly. During this rapid growth, your dog’s energy requirements will shift.
|???? Dog tip: Make sure to give her a diet with more minerals, protein and energy than usual during this stage of her pregnancy.
Dog Pregnancy: Month 3
At the end of their pregnancy, your dog will experience contractions, making them restless. They might vomit, wander around, dig or whine. You can expect the puppies to pop out when the labor gets going.
If all goes accordingly, you will end up with a tired dog and however many puppies she birthed encased in membranes. She will begin to clean them up so they can start their lives.
|???? Dog tip: This Canine Pregnancy Calendar can help you plan the pregnancy and tick off the boxes as you go.
How to Tell if a Dog Is Pregnant
Thanks to science, we now have non-invasive and effective ways that don’t rely on physical appearances. For dogs, this entails an ultrasound, abdominal palpation (where a vet feels for sacks), or a hormone test (to detect the Relaxin hormone).
An ultrasound can be performed around 20 days after conception occurs, but day 30 is more reliable. Your vet can’t accurately say how many puppies there are at this stage, but they can determine the number of heartbeats.
The ultrasound is non-invasive and typically involves gliding the transducer (hand-held device) over your dog’s belly.
If your dog is relaxed and doesn’t mind being touched by the vet, abdominal palpation is very effective. It’s the most accurate method, though puppies can be missed if your dog’s body is tense.
A Relaxin test is done by drawing blood and measuring its hormone levels. The dog’s placenta produces the hormone ‘relaxin’. However, this method can produce false negatives, so a repeat test or a different method on top of it is recommended.
Tell-tale signs to look out for include”
✅ Increased appetite or weight gain (higher energy requirements)
✅ Swollen nipples and belly
✅ Nesting behavior (creating a cozy ‘nest’ for the puppies).
|???? Dog tip: Consider this — has your dog been around other male dogs? These symptoms could mean something else if she’s been kept inside or only out on a leash. Contact your vet to be sure of what’s going on.
How Long Are Dogs in Labor?
When a dog is about to go into labor, their body temperature will drop from 38.5°C to 37°C (101.3°F – 98.6°F). Half a day to a day later, the labor will start. Typically, your dog will handle everything just fine, lasting 3-12 hours.
|???? Dog tip: During this time, try not to interfere unless things go wrong. Stand by to help if necessary, but let things happen naturally. Have your vet’s phone number at the ready. The labor itself happens in three stages, just like the gestation period.
Dog Labor: Stage 1
This is where the cervix, uterus and vulva prepare for the birth. The cervix and uterus will contract slightly and the vulva will swell. Your dog may shiver or breathe heavily now — that’s normal.
Dog Labor: Stage 2
Stage two is the main event and the longest stage of the three. After some intense contractions and a release of clear fluid, soon-to-be Mum will pass the puppies individually. She will tear their delivery sacs and cut the umbilical cords using her teeth.
She may take a break between pups, usually 20 minutes to two hours. If she waits longer than two hours, call the vet. Your dog may be struggling to pass a puppy or a sac.
Dog Labor: Stage 3
In stage three, the afterbirths should be passed (some may be eaten). Count each placenta as it comes (or goes) and see if it matches the number of puppies. If they don’t add up, there may be a puppy stuck.
At this point, a little family should have collected in your dog’s nest. She will be tired and so will they! After 3-12 hours of labor — or potentially more if there are complications — she will need to go to the toilet, eat food, drink water and rest with her babies.
Compared to us humans, dog pregnancies are short and sweet. After a successful conception, your dog will be pregnant for approximately 63 days — just over two months.
The following labor will be about 3-12 hours, and you probably won’t need to be too involved. Generally, dogs are pretty good at sorting the birthing out on their own.
Regular vet check-ups will help you guide your pet through its gestation period and birth. If anything seems wrong at any time, consult your vet. That will increase the chances of your dog having healthy puppies. If this was an unwanted litter or the only litter you wish your dog to have, speak to your vet about neutering options.
Baldivis Vet Hospital. (2023). Your Dog’s Pregnancy Week by Week. baldivisvet.com.au
East Central Veterinary Hospital. (2023). Canine Pregnancy. eastcentralvet.com
Meyers, H. (2021). Dog Pregnancy: Signs, Care, and Preparing for Puppies. akc.org
Purina. (2023). What Are the Signs of Dog Pregnancy? purina.co.uk
Roper, K. (2018). Canine Pregnancy Calendar.lovetoknowpets.com