Fifi survived the clumsy loving of that overweight, overexcited male who could not figure out which end was the one he wanted without a road map and some help from you and now the two of you are sitting on the couch eating bonbons and wondering whether or not she is 'in the family way'. You are hoping she is preggers after all the headache but not as much as the four-legged hormone case may be dreaming of puppies in her oven - anything to keep from submitting to that oafish male for another year!
Early Signs of Pregnancy in Dogs
Detecting whether your dog is pregnant is a waiting game, much as it used to be for humans before the first 'pee on a stick' type pregnancy tests were developed. Due to hormone changes and the progesterone levels of the reproduction cycle being identical in both a pregnant bitch and a non-pregnant bitch, there is no urine or blood test that can be run as there is with pregnant women. Blood work can be done to test for relaxin, a hormone released during pregnancy that will confirm a pregnancy. However, it can only be detected from mid-cycle on, about the same time that a veterinarian can palpate her abdomen to feel the pups inside.
This means for the first few weeks all you can do is watch and wait. Early signs of pregnancy include a decreased appetite or the equivalent of 'doggy morning sickness', a decrease in energy and dropping activity level, her mammary glands will become 'puffy' or more evident and her nipples will grow. She may become more affectionate and needy or she may show a desire to be left alone. These mood swings may fluctuate from day to day.
The first test that can performed is an abdominal ultrasound. At twenty-five days from the first breeding, the fetal heartbeats can also be detected. An ultrasound can give you an idea of how many puppies are present and between twenty and thirty days, an experienced vet should be able to palpate the abdomen, counting how many hard lumps they can discern. However, the most accurate test for this is an x-ray. At forty-five days into the pregnancy, fetal skeletons are visible and a proper head count can be performed.
For the first half of the pregnancy, around 31 or 32 days, feed the mommy-to-be her regular food. Although it sounds backwards, over supplementation with added vitamins and minerals or puppy food can cause problems down the line with her ability to absorb calcium. After the first month has passed, switch her to a puppy or growth formula food.
Late Term Signs of Pregnancy in Dogs
If you do not know for sure whether Miss Fifi is pregnant, by midterm it should begin to become obvious in her ever-expanding waistline and appetite. Depending on what size of dog she is and how big her litter will be does have some bearing on how much weight she gains. Large dogs have a bigger area for the pups to stretch out in and if it is only a small litter, she may only become a little portly looking. Small dogs, on the other hand, will begin to show far sooner and by the end, their belly will nearly touch the ground.
During the second half of the pregnancy, her appetite will be voracious. For bitches that are carrying a large litter for their size, a series of small, frequent meals may be necessary, as the pups will restrict how much food can fit in the stomach at any one time. Monitor for continued weight gain and be concerned if her appetite drops off dramatically or she begins to lose weight.
Lastly, her milk will come in. As the delivery date approaches, her teats will expand with milk and she may begin leaking colostrum a day or two before the pups are born.
Signs on a False Pregnancy
Dogs suffer from false pregnancies, called pseudocyesis, where they will display some of the same symptoms as though she was pregnant. It happens to bitches that were bred but did not take as well as ones that went through the heat cycle without being bred.
False pregnancies are a harmless psychological reaction to the hormonal changes throughout the heat cycle. She will adopt some 'babies' of her own including socks, toys or stuffed animals and treat them like she would her puppies. Give her a few weeks, humor her doting on the sock babies and she will get over the false pregnancy.
Going through a pregnancy with your registered purebred dog can be an amazing and worthwhile experience but not one to take lightly. Do your homework and make sure you are ready to handle nine squealing babies as well as the hormonal mother!