The human gestation period spans approximately nine months, giving us ample time to prepare for a little bundle of joy.
Unfortunately, our canine companions don’t get off so easily. Their gestation period spans approximately 60–64 days, with 62 days being the average. This gives the dam and breeder about two months to prepare for anywhere between one to 13 (depending on the breed and the condition of the dam) pouncing, pawing, nipping, biting, rough and tumble puppies. We’ve got a lot of work to do to prepare!
Day 1: Mating
Keep up with the dates that you witness the dogs mating or in a “tie.”
To estimate the arrival of the pups, count 62 days ahead. If you have witnessed more than one mating on different days, then count 62 days ahead for each day that a mating was witnessed. For example, if you witnessed the dogs mating on June 15 and June 17, then the pups will arrive between September 15 and September 16, give or take a day.
Discontinue any medications without approval from a veterinarian.
This includes herbal remedies, home remedies, over-the-counter drugs, and prescription drugs. Also, read carefully the labels of any topical treatments/ointments that you would use on dogs. Some chemicals can cause severe birth defects in the unborn pups.
Continue feeding and exercising the dam as you normally would.
There isn’t a need for any major changes in her routine until a few weeks down the line.
Days 2–3: Conception and Fertilization
From the time of the witnessed mating and tie, it will take approximately 48 to 72 hours for fertilization to take place in the oviducts. The fertilized eggs are now on their way to uterus.
Days 10–11: Blastocysts? I thought they were puppies!
The fertilized eggs are now called blastocysts, and they have begun to split into multiple cells. Next stop . . . implantation in the uterus.
Days 14–15: First signs of soreness and swelling
The first noticeable physical changes happen after approximately 14–15 days, and they usually include the discoloration and size of the nipples. The nipples will grow larger and become darker in shade.
Days 18–20: Implantation
At approximately 18–20 days, the blastocysts have now graduated to embryo status. The embryos will implant into the wall of the uterus.
Day 20: Hair Loss? What next?
In preparation for the nursing puppies, and also a swelling abdomen, the fur on the dam’s underside (especially around the nipples) will appear thinner and thinner from after day 20.
Days 21–28: Morning sickness, stretching, and loss of appetite.
Around days 21–28, the dam will definitely be feeling the effects of pregnancy. The enlargement and distention of the uterus may cause vomiting and loss of appetite. Now is the time to feed and water the dam more frequently. Because her uterus is taking up most of the room in her abdomen, she can’t eat much at one time. By offering her smaller portions throughout the day, both she and the pups will receive adequate nutrition.
The dam is also undergoing hormonal changes. During this time you want to do everything you can to make her as comfortable as possible. This includes making her a comfy bed to lay in, giving her frequent potty breaks, fixing her favorite (healthy) meals, and giving her a nice long belly rub or massage.
The fluid around the pups increases to protect them. The size of the pups is increasing as well. The pups will go from 1–10 mm to 14–16 mm. The tiny facial features begin to form and the eyes and spinal cords are developed. This period is the most critical prenatal development period because the embryos are most susceptible to birth defects. Ensure that you keep the dam and the dam’s environment free from any defect-causing agents such as medications, plants, aerosols, topical solutions, cleaning solutions, etc.
You should also cut back on any strenuous working activities, such as hard running, running or jogging for long periods of time, or jumping.
30 Days In: One Month Pregnant (or second bi-mester?)
The one-month mark is an especially exciting time for breeders. For the dam it’s the half-way point, which means another month to go. The dam will start showing excitable behavior, although not in the same way as breeders. This can include an increase in grooming, wandering, sniffing, digging, and other nesting and den-seeking behaviors. You can help ease her anxiousness by fixing her a nesting area in a desired—but safe and quiet—location. (Kiddie pools lined with newspapers and blankets work well.) A “nest box” or “den” should be large enough for her to stretch out and move around in without potentially squashing a pup. A nest box with raised sides and a door is ideal. The sides should be low enough for her to step over. If she has to jump over the sides, you could risk injuring or crushing a puppy.
At this point, the dam’s nipples will swell even more, and the pups are approximately the size of golf balls. A veterinarian can make an assessment and give an estimate of how many pups to expect. Also, an ultrasound can be performed around this time.
The fetuses now look like tiny pups rather than tadpoles. They have started to develop their toes, claws, whiskers, and gender specific organs (boys or girls). The eyes that were previously open are now sealing closed and will not open again until a few weeks after the pups are born. The pups are now at a stage in which they are less susceptible to developmental problems.
Consider switching the dam to a quality puppy formula at this time and continue feeding it to her throughout the pregnancy and during nursing. Puppy foods are formulated for growth and development and this includes during the prenatal stages. It also has slightly higher amounts of proteins and fats. Also, now is a good time to increase the amount of food given to the dam to keep up with the demands placed on her by the constantly growing pups. Some breeders recommend a vitamin supplement as well (Ask your veterinarian first!). Remember: keep feedings in small but frequent rations throughout the day.
Day 40: Just three more weeks!
Approximately six weeks in, the dam’s abdomen is extremely swollen and hard. You will be able to feel the pups moving and rolling around. At this point, the dam may lose her appetite entirely. Breeders should do everything they can to ensure that the dam is comfortable and eating a little at every meal. Try adding a little something extra to the meal, such as yogurt, broth, or a favorite canned food. Also, increase tummy rubs and massages (if she likes them.)
Around this time, the pup’s skin pigments begin to develop, and they continue to grow and grow. One suggestion is to make an appointment with your veterinarian to see how big the pups are at around day 45–47. Your veterinarian will help you to decide if a cesarean section (C-section) is needed.
Day 47: MORE FOOD!
A pregnant dam may eat up to three to four times what she would normally eat during the last week of pregnancy and during the first few weeks of nursing. Some dams will lose their appetites all together because of the size of the enlarged uterus. Either way, make food available to the dam at all times. If the dam seems to be losing her appetite, try to add tasty items, including broth, cottage cheese, yogurt, cooked (without seasoning) meats, and gravy.
Day 60: It’s GO Time!
When it is getting time for the pups to arrive, the dam may spend significantly more time in her den area or nesting site. Bring her plenty of water and food, and make sure that the den or nesting site is clean. Disturb her as little as possible; she needs her rest. You can help the dam by wiping the nipples with a warm wet washcloth and by trimming the hair around the nipples, vulva, and anus to help keep things neat and tidy for when the pups arrive.
When the nipples are gently squeezed, they will produce a milky fluid called colostrum. This is the first milk the puppies get, and it is an important nutrient that helps them grow and fight off pathogens.
Begin monitoring your dog’s temperature. The average temperature of a dog should be approximately 101–102.5. The temperature will drop to 98 degrees approximately 12–24 hours prior to whelping.
The drop in temperature, along with a discharge, indicates puppies are very near to arrival!