The average gestation period for all dog breeds is 63 days, including German Shepherds. However, the 63 days is an average estimate. Canine gestation ranges from 56 to 69 days.
Most dogs do carry their pups full-term. Pre-term birth is quite rare in canines. Usually, if a dog goes into labor early, it’s because of an underlying health issue, such as a bacterial or viral infection.
Being a few days off on either side is normal. Usually, this is caused by inappropriately determining when the dog became pregnant. Just because the puppies are a few days early doesn’t necessarily mean that they are pre-term.
Determining When a Dog Became Pregnant
Determining when your female German Shepherd becomes pregnant is harder than it seems. This is because of the unique reproductive physiology of dogs. When the male and female get together isn’t necessarily when the female becomes pregnant.
A female dog is receptive towards male dogs when they are in estrus, a specific phase of their heat cycle that lasts anywhere from 5 to 10 days. However, just because a dog is in estrus doesn’t mean that she’s released her eggs. Estrus may start anywhere from 5 days before ovulation to 3 days after ovulation.
Luckily for canines, this isn’t an issue, and they can still “do the deed” because sperm can remain viable inside the female’s body for up to 8 days.
The eggs themselves mature after release for about a period of 2-3 days, after which they are fertilized by sperm. They remain viable for fertilization for up to 4 days after their maturation.
This unique breeding physiology is why canine pregnancy can last anywhere from 56 days (for “late” mating) to 69 days (for “early” mating). However, some hormone tests can be helpful. Many professional breeders use these to determine pregnancy length and age. Usually, hormones are taken throughout the breeding process to help determine when the female becomes pregnant. A rise in progesterone signifies the peak of fertility in females.
The 3 Stages of Dog Pregnancy
Dogs are pregnant for a relatively short amount of time – only about 9 weeks. Therefore, their pregnancy usually develops quite quickly.
The first stage of pregnancy reaches from week zero to week four. During this time, the eggs travel to the uterine horns and will embed in the uterine lining and continue growing. The embryos of the puppies enter the uterus by day 12; however, they implant to the uterine wall by day 22.
Though a fetus takes 22 days to implant to the uterus, significant development and cellular division happens before that period. The earliest date of fetal heartbeat detection by ultrasound is on day 24 or 25, though most vets do this slightly later (at around day 28) to more accurately assess fetal heartbeat.
Unless you take your dog in for an ultrasound, it is nearly impossible to determine that your canine is pregnant at this point. The babies are hardly there. They don’t even implant until halfway through this stage.
From week 4 to week 8, the fetuses develop very quickly. By day 46, radiographs can be used to determine how many fetuses are in the uterus, as their skeleton is developed well enough for easy identification at this point.
Usually, those with accidental litter will figure out that their dog is pregnant during this period. Pregnant dogs often develop many of their signs at this time.
Of course, most breeders will already know that their dog is pregnant through the use of hormonal tests. During this month, they will continue to monitor the dog for health and provide proper vet care.
During the final stage of pregnancy, the mother will mostly be preparing for birth. Nesting will start at the beginning of this period if it hasn’t already. Changes often happen quickly over a day or two as the mother’s body prepares for birth.
Puppy development is complete around day 58. Therefore, if the babies are born a few days early, there usually isn’t a problem. However, most puppies take a few days after development completion to move into a whelping position. For this reason, birth itself usually doesn’t take place for a few days after the puppies are entirely developed.
Usually, the female’s waist will decrease in size as the puppies move into the birthing canal. Puppies that were higher towards her ribs will move lower. Sometimes, differences in her body shape are apparent. Once the puppies start moving, there are usually only a few days until labor begins.
It isn’t odd for the female to eat less in the few days leading up to the birth. This time is often a bit stressful for the mothers. They may pant and appear restless. Some act like they don’t have enough time for eating.
Breeders will usually monitor their dog’s temperature during this time. Usually, a dog’s temperature will drop 12 to 24 hours before birth.
How Do I Know if My German Shepherd Is Pregnant?
Dogs do not show many signs when they first become pregnant other than rejecting males that try to mate with them. This is because females are receptive to males only during estrus.
Most people don’t notice that their dogs are pregnant until month two. During this time, the fetuses develop very quickly. They only need about a month to develop. By day 58, puppy development is complete. The extra time on either end of the pregnancy is more setting up for pregnancy and the subsequent birth – not necessarily allowing the puppies to develop.
Dogs will gain almost all of their pregnancy weight during the second month. Very rarely is any weight gained during the first month. Behavior changes happen throughout the process of fertilization, implantation of the embryos, and throughout the pregnancy. However, they are an unreliable way to determine pregnancy.
How Many Puppies Do German Shepherds Have in Their First Litter?
German Shepherds have anywhere between one to 15 puppies. However, most dogs have around eight puppies. There is noway to determine how many puppies your dog might have unless your veterinarian does a pregnancy diagnosis and fetal count.
There are several factors that determine how many puppies a dog has. Typically, larger dogs like German Shepherds have more than smaller dogs. Size also seems to be a significant factor. Larger German Shepherds often have more puppies, for instance.
There is also a genetic component, though it isn’t clear how significant genetics are.
Dogs that have more puppies sometimes have their puppies sooner. There seems to be a correlation between litter length and gestational time. It could be that females find it harder to carry more puppies at once, so they give birth to them sooner.
All dog breeds are pregnant for about 63 days. However, it isn’t as simple as counting the number of days from when your dog mated. Usually, the day a dog mates isn’t actually the day that the eggs get fertilized.
Of course, some slight variation is common. Not all dogs are pregnant for exactly 63 days. It isn’t odd for dogs to go a few days over or a few days earlier. All puppies are done developing around 58 days. It just takes them a bit to move into the birthing position and kickstart labor.
Dogs with larger litters usually give birth earlier than those with smaller litters.
In the end, you can usually guess your dog’s due date within a week – but it is difficult to get any more accurate than that!
- Related Read: How Long Do German Shepherds Stay in Heat?