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Caring for a pregnant dog

Having a sound understanding of what is involved in canine pregnancy is essential whether you are considering breeding your dog or are looking to foster a pregnant dog, and knowing what to expect at each stage means you can rest assured you are providing your dog and her puppies with the best possible care.

Our complete guide to caring for a pregnant dog features everything you need to know to manage each stage of your dog’s nine week pregnancy, including essential veterinary advice around breeds, medication and vaccinations. It also features useful information and practical advice to ensure the pregnancy and birth is as safe and comfortable for your dog as possible. 

A week-by-week guide to pregnancy

Week one (days 0-7)

When your dog has mated during her heat cycle, fertilization can occur within a few days. Your veterinarian won’t be able to confirm the pregnancy until around day 25, however if she has fallen pregnant, she may show some signs of morning sickness. At this stage, you won’t need to make any changes to her diet or exercise regime.

Week two (days 7-14)

In week two, the fertilized eggs descend into the uterus and will begin developing into puppies. Again, no additional nutrients will be required at this stage as the embryos have not yet grown significantly in size.

Week three (days 14-21)

At this stage, the fetuses will have attached to the wall of the uterus. This will enable them to receive all the vital nutrients they need to develop and grow. You may see your dog’s appetite start to increase slightly, however you shouldn’t need to make any drastic changes to her diet. You may see changes in her mood and she may also start developing breast tissue.

Week four (days 21-28)

During the fourth week of pregnancy, the growing puppies are susceptible to developmental issues and defects. At this stage, it’s advisable to limit your dog’s everyday activity to gentle exercise and consult your veterinarian to check whether any dietary supplements are necessary. From around day 25, your veterinarian will be able to confirm the pregnancy by conducting an ultrasound scan, which will also help to determine the size of the litter and detect any abnormalities.

Week five (days 28-35)

During week five, as the amniotic fluid increases in the uterus, the puppies become much less vulnerable. You’ll now see your dog’s weight noticeably increasing, and you should start feeding her a diet which is specially formulated for growth or reproduction. It’s best to feed her little and often and gradually transition any changes in food over a period of a week to avoid upsetting her digestive system. At this stage, your veterinarian will be able to tell you the sex of the puppies by conducting an ultrasound.

Week six (days 35-42)

As she enters the final phase of gestation, your dog will continue to grow in size and her teats will become darker in color. She may want to eat more, however be sure to keep portion sizes small, as her rapidly growing puppies will press against her stomach and limit the amount of food she can eat at a time. There may also be a clear discharge from her vulva, which is perfectly normal at this stage.

Week seven (days 42-49)

By week seven, your dog will have started shedding hair on her abdomen and may have started producing her first milk, known as colostrum. She will be noticeably tired and her puppies will now be almost fully-formed. At this stage, it’s also time to prepare the area your dog will use for whelping. Choose a warm, quiet place and use a bed or box which is padded with plenty of linen. Try and encourage her to sleep there for the remainder of her pregnancy.

Week eight (days 49-57)

With only a week to go, you should be able to see and feel the puppies moving around when your dog is lying still. From this stage onwards, it’s important to limit any strenuous activity, as this could lead to premature labor. Your dog will now be producing milk and may seem restless or start digging in her whelping area. This behavior is known as nesting.

Week nine (days 57-65)

As she prepares for the birth, it’s likely your dog will become restless and will be spending a lot of time nesting in her whelping area. She may also lose her appetite as the time of whelping approaches. Ensure you take her temperature several times a day, as a drop in temperature from 100-101 to around 97 degrees Fahrenheit will indicate that her puppies will be arriving in the next 24 to 48 hours.

Whelping (the birth)

Whelping can last anything from a few minutes to several hours, and while many dogs manage well by themselves, it’s important to monitor her every 15 minutes or so in case you need to intervene. If the contractions are unproductive or if you are in any way concerned about your dog, call your veterinarian for advice.

The first puppy will be born surrounded in an amniotic sac, and if your dog doesn’t break this thin membrane herself, you must remove it to enable the puppy to breathe. Similarly, if she doesn’t break the puppy’s umbilical cord, you can assist by tying a thread around the cord before cutting between the knot and placenta. Your dog will also lick and clean the puppies, but if she ignores them, you can rub them gently with a clean towel to dry them off and stimulate their breathing.

Make sure the puppies are warm and dry and receive some of the dog’s first milk within 24 hours. It’s a good idea to take your dog and her puppies to the veterinarian 5-6 hours after the birth for a check-up to ensure the whole litter and placentas have been delivered safely and all dogs are in good health.

Medication and vaccination advice from Trupanion veterinarian, Dr. Sarah Nold

If you are thinking about breeding your dog, ensuring your dog is in good health before deciding to breed her will help increase the chances of her staying fit and well throughout her pregnancy and delivering healthy puppies. While some medications are safe for pregnant dogs, many should be avoided and could even prove harmful to your dog and her unborn litter.

Trupanion veterinarian, Dr. Sarah Nold, offers advice on which vaccinations and medications are safe to administer during pregnancy, and provides some healthy diet tips for pregnant or lactating dogs.

Which vaccinations should you ensure your dog has before and during pregnancy?

Vaccinations such as rabies, canine distemper, parvo and hepatitis should be up-to-date before breeding and should be avoided during pregnancy, if possible. However, your veterinarian may recommend vaccinations depending on where you live and your dog’s specific level of risk.

Is it safe to use parasite control and worming medication during pregnancy?

Some parasite control and worming medications are safe to use, including Fenbendazole (Panacur, Safe-Guard), Revolution and Frontline Plus, however, you should check with your veterinarian before giving any medication to a pregnant dog. Your dog should be routinely tested for heartworm, and treated with safe heartworm prevention medication in at-risk areas.

Are there any foods which should be avoided during pregnancy?

Raw diets are not recommended for pregnant or lactating dogs. A high quality maintenance dog food is usually sufficient for most dogs and you should avoid feeding your dog additional vitamins or supplements unless your veterinarian advises otherwise.

Specialist breed information from Dr. Lisa Boyer of The Puppy Project

All dog breeds are pregnant for a period of around nine weeks, however smaller breeds of dog and Brachycephalic breeds are more likely to experience complications during pregnancy.

Dr. Lisa Boyer, Education and Certification Coordinator for The Puppy Project – an organization dedicated to promoting ethical and responsible breeding – offers advice around issues affecting different breeds, and highlights the risk of Eclampsia in canine pregnancy.

Large breeds vs. small breeds

Generally speaking, there are only a few minor differences between pregnancies in large breed and small breed dogs:

  • Litter size can vary from a single puppy in small breeds up to 17 puppies in some large breeds. However, the age of the mother, timing of the breeding and quality of the semen can also affect litter size. 
  • The ease with which a dog gives birth also varies by both the size of the dogs and the puppies. In comparison to large breed dogs, smaller breeds are more prone to needing veterinary intervention, whether a C-section or assisted birth.
  • A major difference between large and small breed pregnancies is the dog’s nutritional requirements. To properly support her puppies through pregnancy and lactation, a small dog requires more calories per pound than a larger dog. By the time of parturition (birth), the female dog's food intake should be approximately 15-25% more than her normal, non-pregnant intake. At peak lactation (three weeks), she may need three times her normal food intake to maintain body weight and milk production.

Brachycephalic breeds

Brachycephalic breeds, those with a flat and wide skull shape, tend to have a higher rate of pregnancy complications. Pugs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Shih Tzu and Pekinese are some of the more common brachycephalic breeds which may need medical assistance with whelping.

Risk of Eclampsia (also known as Milk Fever or Puerperal Tetany)

Small breeds of dog, and toy breeds in particular, are prone to Eclampsia – a seizure-like disorder which, if left untreated, can prove life threatening.

What is Eclampsia?

Eclampsia usually occurs during the later stages of pregnancy or the first three weeks after birth, and occurs when the body's demand for calcium is higher in order to enable fetal skeletal maturation and milk production. This leads to a hormonal mechanism triggering the release of calcium from the dog’s bones to increase intestinal absorption.

Safely administering calcium supplements

While it seems counter-intuitive not to increase calcium when there is increased demand, supplementing calcium while the dog is pregnant can shut down this function and result in calcium levels becoming dangerously low.

Your veterinarian may recommend supplementing calcium after birth to support lactation demands, however only administer their advised dosage and never give your dog calcium or phosphorus supplements without first consulting your veterinarian.

Upgrade your pet's policy

On top of our standard medical insurance coverage, we offer a special Breeding Rider at an additional cost, which covers you and your pet for a range of health conditions specific to breeding, whelping, and queening. Read more about our Breeding Rider here