The gestation period or the time of pregnancy from breeding through to whelping for a dog can be relatively low key and very easy for the mother to be or it can be stressful and problematic. Typically the first pregnancy is going to be the most challenging for both the dog and the owners, however some female dogs are just prone to difficult pregnancies and will continue to have the same issues should you decide to breed them again in the future. Most breeders recommend that if you breed a female twice and she has a difficult gestation period she should be removed from the breeding program since she is likely to pass these traits on to her female offspring, especially if it is a physical condition or a genetic issue that is causing the difficulty. Females should not be bred in their first heat and ideally most females should be at least one and a half and preferably two years old and fully mature before breeding. Keep in mind she may come into heat at as early as six months, requiring that you keep her safely confided to prevent unplanned breedings.
The gestation period for most dogs is approximately 63 days however depending on the female the puppies can be delivered anywhere from 58 to 68 days after the end of the estrus cycle. In smaller dogs gestation may be slightly shorter and closer to 60 days while in larger and giant breeds it is not uncommon for the time frame to be up to 65 days.
Unlike human pregnancy, dog pregnancy test that are accurate and cost effective are not available until about the 26th day after breeding. In large breeds a vet or experienced breeder can general palpate the female's abdominal area and detect the little bumps that will eventually develop into puppies. Usually these are fairly easy to identify even for the novice breeder after about 35 days. It is important to only palpate the abdomen if you know what you are doing and to never push or poke as this can cause serious damage to the developing fetus and discomfort for the female. At about 45 days the vet can provide an x-ray confirmation of pregnancy if you wish to have this done. These x-rays are very accurate and can typically allow the vet to let you know the number of puppies to expect if there are no complications.
Most females will not really show many if any changes in behavior for the first 5 weeks or approximately 35-38 days of the pregnancy. Some may be slightly listless and low energy closer to the 35 day mark, but typically most will continue on being the same old dog they always were.
After about the five week mark, often into the sixth, there are some definite physical changes you should notice, especially if she is carrying a larger litter of puppies. The first and most obvious sign is that she will become much heavier around the abdomen, with the weight carried on the lower part of the belly. In dogs that are cut up on the abdomen their belly becomes deep and wide, no longer sleek and greyhound looking in silhouette. In larger breeds or in very lean dogs this noticeable increase in size in the belly girth may actually occur earlier at closer to the end of three weeks, and will definitely occur with large litters.
In some mothers to be the nipples will enlarge and begin to slightly protrude, even at this early stage. There will not be the swelling associated with milk production but the glands themselves will become more pronounced. You may also notice that her appetite increases as does her thirst. Providing lots of fresh, clean water as well as high quality food is very essential both for the mom and the growing puppies.
Some mother dogs will experience the human equivalent of morning sickness early in their pregnancy. This may include eating and then vomiting, or bouts of diarrhea. Any of these conditions that continue for more than a 24 hour period should result in a trip to the vet to make sure there is not some type of viral or bacterial issue that is causing the problem. Some mother dogs may become more aloof and less inclined to play or engage in socialization with other dogs or even their owners, especially during the first few weeks of pregnancy.
After the seventh week of gestation there are some fairly dramatic changes that occur in most mothers to be. You may notice that she is less active and more interested in cuddling and being made a fuss of. Often these soon to be moms want to be with their owners all the time and may be more attention seeking than they have been in the past. Physical movement may be more challenging and these dogs should not be exercised strenuously or in very hot or cold conditions. Light to moderate exercise and routine walks are still important but if they are very active you may notice a natural drop off in energy levels and activity.
In some breeds the female may start to show rapid expansion of the mammary glands about 10 days before delivery. Some breeds may not have milk present until a day or two before whelping and this is really a variable trait between breeds and even individual females. During these last days before the puppies are born the mother will often be very restless and will begin looking for a whelping area or nest. She will typically find a quiet spot, often in a closet, behind furniture or even under a bed if you don't provide her with a whelping box. Nesting in the whelping area can include digging in the bedding, bringing all her favorite toys into the area or even hiding bones and food in that spot. She may whine and pace and even have mild discomfort in lying down or standing.
Some females go through another period of morning sickness in the last week or so of pregnancy. By this time she should have been switched to high quality puppy food given free choice. If you are feeding in set portions be sure to feed multiple times a day, ideally more than 3, so that she doesn't have one or two large meals. She will also need more frequent outside trips to both urinate and defecate as her system is preparing for whelping.
During the last two to three weeks of gestation it is very important to avoid stressing the mother dog. Don't bring new animals into the house and try to avoid any changes in routine or the environment that may be potentially problematic. The calmer and more relaxed she stays the less stress both you and the dog will experience leading up to the much anticipated birth of the puppies.