Although most owners are careful to keep their pets confined when they are in heat, sometimes a breeding takes place - perhaps without the owner even realizing it. In other instances, the breeding is planned to produce a litter. According to Doctors Foster and Smith, it can be difficult to tell if your dog is pregnant during the first few weeks of gestation, but there are a few signs to look for.
Hormonal changes during the heat cycle cause the vulva to swell and soften to prepare for breeding, and this swelling subsides as the cycle ends. If the female conceives, or if she goes through a classic false pregnancy, some swelling usually remains right from the onset. So even though this can be an early sign of pregnancy which you may notice immediately after her cycle ends, it's not a sure sign and should be accompanied by other early indicators.
Decreased Appetite and Vomiting
A lack of appetite is one of the earliest signs your female might be pregnant. Not all females go through this doggy version of "morning sickness," but some dogs do eat less during the first two weeks of gestation and make up for it later in the pregnancy.
If your pet does lose her appetite during the early weeks of pregnancy or throws up occasionally, don't try to force her to eat. You can tempt her with some boiled ground beef and rice mixed with her kibble, but try not to worry too much if she still doesn't want food. Most dogs won't skip more than a day or two without eating something. If she refuses food three days in a row, then it's time to call your vet for some advice.
Sometimes a female experiences a marked increase in appetite almost immediately on becoming pregnant. If this is the case, she will gobble down her food and remain by her bowl as if asking for more.
It's fine to let her eat more, but take care not to overload her tummy. Instead of providing her with one large daily feeding, try offering two or three feedings smaller meals a day, so she always has something in her stomach. This should keep her satisfied and provide the extra nutrition she'll need for her developing pups.
Sudden Decrease in Activity
If your female is normally energetic, a sudden slowdown might be another indication she is pregnant. Just like some women, dogs may also experience feelings of exhaustion as their hormone levels change to support a growing embryo. This typically begins about two weeks into the pregnancy, and it may subside a few weeks later as she adjusts to her new condition.
Breast development is a good indicator your dog's body is going through pregnancy changes. The nipples of an unbred female are usually small, and the area beneath them feels flat. Once a pregnancy is in progress, the milk glands begin to develop beneath the nipples, which also enlarge slightly in preparation for eventual milk production and nursing. You should be able to feel a bit of development about two weeks after a breeding has taken place.
Change in Nipple Color
In addition to breast development, the nipple color becomes more rosy, especially the last four to six nipples that are closest to the dog's hind legs. The nipples are usually a very light pinkish-gray, but they become flushed due to the increased blood flow to the area. This change takes place around the same time when breast development begins approximately two weeks after conception.
Nearly all newly pregnant dogs display some behavior change. Some females become extra affectionate and may even cling to their owners as they become unsure about all the changes they're feeling. Other dogs turn a little grumpy and prefer to remain by themselves unless they actively seek their owner's company. Behavioral changes often happen as early as a few days after a successful breeding.
Vaginal Discharge During Pregnancy
While vaginal discharge often occurs during a dog's pregnancy, it typically doesn't show up until about four weeks gestation or even later, so it's not regarded as an early sign a dog is expecting a litter. You should consult your vet right away if you see discharge before mid-pregnancy, especially if it's:
- Heavy bloody discharge
- Mucus tinged with blood
- Mucus that is any color other than clear or slightly cloudy
- Mucus that has a bad odor
Your female might have picked up an infection during her heat cycle or after mating.
Difference Between False and Real Pregnancy
It can be difficult to determine if your dog is pregnant or if she's just going through a false pregnancy. That's because, according to VCA Hospitals, the signs for both conditions are virtually the same. The main difference with a false pregnancy is you probably won't see them occur until at least four weeks after the heat cycle ends, and they may not even occur until nine weeks afterward. In a true pregnancy, you'll notice several signs within the first two weeks of gestation.
The Veterinary Exam and Beyond
Whether a breeding was planned or unplanned, it's a good idea to take your dog to the vet for an initial pregnancy exam to make sure her symptoms aren't related to an illness. If she is pregnant, she'll handle most of the pregnancy without assistance. Your primary job will be to:
- Provide her with the best nutrition you can.
- Make sure she gets moderate exercise - nothing too strenuous or tiring. You just want to help your dog stay toned and not become overweight.
- Make sure she has a comfortable place to rest as her belly grows.
- Keep household stress to a minimum.
- Prepare a box she'll use when she whelps her litter.
This Is Just the Beginning
It takes a keen eye to spot pregnancy in the earliest stages, but the signs become more obvious as the weeks go on. Try to learn everything you can about canine gestation and other pregnancy symptoms, so you understand what's happening inside your dog's body.