Pregnancy and labor are an arduous and lengthy process, for dogs the same as for people. Of course, at the end, it’s all worth it when new life has begun. For people, the process of pregnancy takes nine months and usually produces a single child. Pregnancy is quite different for a canine. To start with, they produce litters of several puppies to as many as 15! You might think this means that a dog’s pregnancy would have to be drawn out much longer than a person’s, but that’s simply not the case.
So, exactly how long is a dog’s gestation period? Once your dog is pregnant, how long will it take before you can expect puppies? The basic answer is about 60-65 days. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the canine gestation period and what you can expect at each stage along the way.
The 4 Ways to Determine if a Dog is Pregnant
Before you should even worry about gestation periods, you must be certain that your dog is even pregnant. Four ways exist to tell for sure.
Early on in your dog’s pregnancy, ultrasound is generally the most accurate way to tell. It’s recommended by vets that you get ultrasound testing 25-35 days into gestation. An ultrasound test can estimate the age of the fetus, detect pregnancy, and ensure the fetus is alive after its heartbeat is detected.
21-35 days into gestation, fluid-filled sacs that surround each fetus can be felt. In a 45-pound pooch, these sacks can be tennis ball-sized. After 35 days of gestation, these sacs lose their shape. At this point, they can be mistaken for a fat deposit or pyometra instead. Feeling for these fluid sacs is called palpation, and it’s generally one of the cheapest and easiest ways to test for canine pregnancy.
Generally, by the time you start considering X-rays, you already know for certain that your dog is pregnant. It takes more than 40 days for fetuses to develop a skull and spine that can even be detected by X-ray. Once detected, you can be sure that your dog is pregnant. Moreover, using X-rays, you can get a count on how many puppies to expect. Furthermore, the vet can even determine what the best time would be to administer a C-section if that’s deemed to be necessary.
4. Hormone Tests
When a dog is pregnant, a hormone called relaxin is released from the placental tissue. This is the only time that relaxin is present in a dog’s body, making hormone tests a very accurate pregnancy detection method. The only problem with this method is that your dog must be at least 30 days into the gestation period to produce enough relaxin to set off a positive result on the hormone test.
Canine Gestation Period
Now that you’re absolutely certain your dog is pregnant, how long can you expect to deal with the pregnancy? On average, a dog’s gestation period lasts 63 days. Of course, many factors can affect the length of gestation. Plus, it’s difficult to precisely determine the moment of conception since eggs remain fertile for up to 48 hours and sperm can remain alive inside of a female for multiple days.
On average, you can expect a dog’s pregnancy to last about nine weeks. Variance from this will not usually be more than a couple of days. Should your dog’s pregnancy last significantly longer, there’s likely a problem that requires veterinarian assistance.
Dog Pregnancy Month by Month
If your dog is pregnant, you’ve got a little more than two months until you can expect pups. Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect during these months.
1. First Month
Once your dog becomes pregnant, it takes about a week for the embryos to even travel to the uterine horns. A little more than another week is needed for the embryos to implant in the uterine lining. Three weeks after conception, the fetus is finally beginning to take shape. One more week and fetal heartbeats should be detectable by ultrasound.
Until you can get some type of test administered, which requires your dog to reach a certain point in gestation, you can look for some indications that your dog is pregnant. While the first three weeks usually go by without any visible signs, you might start noticing the following signs of pregnancy near the end of the first month.
2. Second Month
The first month of pregnancy is like a warmup. By month two, things start to take off. By day 35 of pregnancy, the fetuses have formed eyelids and toes. Five days later and claws have become visible. Just five more days and you can see a coat forming, plus, the skeletons are becoming visible.
After 50 days of gestation, you can tell how many puppies are in the litter by X-ray. About eight days later, you might start noticing your dog attempting to build or find a place to nest, if you haven’t already provided one.
While it was a bit difficult to tell if your dog was pregnant during the first month, the signs are far more noticeable in month two. Signs you might see include:
3. Final Month
Once you’re through two months of gestation, you’re in the final stretch. By day 58, the puppies are practically fully developed and ready for their entry into the world. This means that they’ll start moving into position for birthing, indicating that the final days of pregnancy have arrived.
How Long Does Labor Last for a Dog?
After about nine weeks of gestation, your dog will go into labor, which means the puppies are on the way. But they’re not just going to fall out. The labor process is quite intensive. For most dogs, labor lasts between 12-48 hours. During this time, the dog will go through three labor stages.
The 3 Stages of Dog Labor
1. First 12-24 Hours
If you’re not looking for the signs of labor, you might even miss the first stage. This part lasts for about the first half of labor and will take 12-24 hours for most dogs. During this stage, contractions begin, growing in both strength and frequency throughout the whole first stage. These contractions are only in the wall of the uterus though and will not be externally visible, so you can’t watch for them. However, these signs can also indicate that your dog is in the first stage of labor:
2. Delivery: 1-24 Hours
Stage two is the delivery stage. This can take a mere hour or an entire day. Only one puppy is delivered at a time, which is why it can take so long for large litters. The delivery of each puppy will last about 1-2 hours with a 30-60-minute break between deliveries. Without an X-ray, there’s no way to guess how many puppies your dog should be birthing, which means that if a complication halts delivery, you wouldn’t know. Instead, you might think that your dog is done delivering when there’s actually a major medical issue occurring.
3. Placental Delivery
At this point, most of the hard work is done. Placental delivery is the final stage of labor and it usually occurs immediately following stage two. Once all of the placentas have been delivered, labor is concluded.
A dog’s gestation period generally lasts about nine weeks or 63 days. While there’s room for a little variance in this number, most canine gestations will be very close to this in length. After gestation, labor will take an additional 12-48 hours. The actual delivery of puppies should take less than 24 hours. If your dog takes longer than 24 hours to deliver the puppies or more than two hours go by between puppies, you should contact your vet for assistance as this could be an indicator of a serious complication.