Health & Care

Help! I Think My Dog is Pregnant

how to tell if your female dog has mated

Did you witness your dog mating? This is the most common question your veterinarian will ask the moment you suspect your dog might be pregnant.

Perhaps the simplest way to determine the answer is to wait and see if she has puppies. Yikes! That method isn’t helpful for breeders, your dog, or for unprepared owners.

Maybe you’ve been trying to breed, but you’ve been unsuccessful. Perhaps you weren’t trying, and your dog escaped when you thought she was in heat.

Understanding how your female dog mates can assist you in determining whether you should expect a litter.

Just because you didn’t see it happen doesn’t mean your dog can’t be pregnant. Catching her mid-act also doesn’t mean she is pregnant. Let’s look at some frequently asked questions about heat cycles, mating, and canine pregnancy.

Has Your Female Mated With a Male?

If your female has been in heat and safely kept away from unneutered males, she isn’t pregnant. The same applies to be in the vicinity of an unneutered male, but he didn’t mount her.

In some instances, females will mount other females when they’re in the heat too. Of course, your female dog can’t be pregnant if this is the case.

Some females become notorious escape artists when in heat. Males can also go out of their way to access an in-season female roaming a fenced in the backyard too. If possible, keep your female inside and supervise her outside at all times.

Even if you’re attempting to breed your female, your watchful eye can solve part of the question. Do your best to supervise mating sessions. If a litter of puppies isn’t your goal, consider having her spayed.

Was Your Female Dog in Season?

A female heat cycle lasts about 18-21 days, but it does vary. Dogs typically have two seasons per year, starting around six months old. The official term for this part of a dog’s reproductive cycle is oestrus.

During this time, your female dog will bleed. Amount of blood and its color both vary during the cycle. If you’re concerned, you can take her to your veterinarian for a checkup.

In season female dogs might also need to urinate more frequently while peeing smaller than usual amounts. This is normal behavior, but it does mimic territory marking as well as a urinary infection.

Your dog is essentially releasing pheromones to alert and attract potential mates. If you’re concerned or would like to rule out an infection, you can take her to your vet.

How Do You Know if Your Dog is Truly in Heat?

Other than the physical signs discussed above, you can have a vet perform tests.

Common Canine Ovulation Tests

  • Vaginal smear
  • Serum progesterone

If you’re a breeder, you likely want to use testing to ensure your female is in the heat before attempting mating sessions.

This is largely due to false seasons and associated costs of shipping. Most stud services require assurances your female is ovulating.

Her Ovulation Tests Came Back Positive! Now What?

Knowing your female is now in heat gives you two options: keep her away from unneutered males or introduce her to a stud.

Many experts believe female dogs are most fertile around the 11th day of their cycle. To further support a successful conception, breeders should consider two attempts at mating about 48-72 hours apart from the first attempt.

After your sessions, all you can do is wait until the pregnancy is far enough along for your vet to detect it.

Your dog might or might not be fertile throughout their entire cycle, meaning they can copulate and still be unsuccessful. This isn’t the same as a false season; it’s simply a fact of timing.

False Seasons and Other Heat Abnormalities Explained

Abnormalities in cycle and conception are normal. Your dog’s age, general health, and stress levels can play a role.

A false season generally will occur once in every female dog’s life. They can occur at any time past their first cycle and to any breed. Some breeds are more susceptible, though researchers don’t have an answer as to why.

During a false season, your dog might show the signs of a heat cycle and a pregnancy, but she isn’t pregnant.

This can last up to three weeks after mating or the end of her cycle. In rare cases, it can last longer to the date your dog believes they should be delivering puppies.

Other Season-related Abnormalities That Can Hinder Your Female Dog’s Conception:

  • Silent season—you don’t notice your dog’s in heat
  • Absent season—your dog doesn’t go into heat or stops suddenly
  • Split season—a break occurs during your dog’s cycle
  • Prolonged season—your dog’s heat cycle lasts an abnormally long time
  • Prolonged interestrus interval—more than six months passes between heat cycles
  • Shortened inter estrous interval—your dog goes into heat again too soon
  • Premature ovarian failure—your dog’s ovaries no longer work properly at an early age
  • Your female is spayed or naturally sterile

If your female exhibits any of the above, you should take her to the vet. Underlying medical conditions can affect your dog’s cycle.

How Your Female Changes During Her Season

The first notable change in behavior you might notice is excessive licking and attention to her private area. She might have some red to brown tinged discharge too. As soon as you see blood, her heat cycle has started and she is fertile.

When near other dogs, she might lay her tail to the side. This exposes her vulva and gives male dogs a visual cue that she’s ready to mate.

Female dogs might begin humping other dogs, humans, or mounting other animals and toys. Again, this is a signal that she’s in heat.

Her vulva will swell too. This change will be noticeable to the human eye. Check the video below for example images of a swollen canine vulva.

As noted in the video, you can expect changes in her behavior too. Sweet temperament dogs can become standoffish or possibly more aggressive during their cycles. Each female is different though, and some dogs might show zero differences.

Only be concerned if she becomes lethargic, refuses to eat or drink, or begins vomiting. These could be signs of life-threatening illness, and they require immediate veterinary intervention.

The Male is Neutered. My Dog Can’t be Pregnant, Right?

In most cases, you’re absolutely right. If you found your female in your neighbor’s yard with their neutered male, the chances of her having a litter are almost none.

Almost.

One major exception is if the male received its castration within four weeks to the suspected mating. The risk is more theoretical than confirmed, according to Dr. Theresa Welch Fossum DVM in her book Small Animal Surgery.

How Do You Know if Your Dog is Already Pregnant?

dog’s gestation period is only 63 days long. By the time you notice major signs, it will likely be closer to delivery than conception.

As the video above suggests, you should take your female to the vet around the 30-day mark. They will confirm whether the mating was successful. In some cases, despite the signs, your dog will not be pregnant.

Your vet will perform a series of tests based on the information you provide. Two popular tests are an x-ray and ultrasound, but your vet might want to run additional tests or procedures.

This is why witnessing the mating is essential; it gives your vet a date so that they aren’t putting your dog through unnecessary tests or testing too soon.

Remember, you should continue veterinary care for the mother dog while she’s pregnant. Also note of any recommendations, such as switching to a higher calorie food, and restrictions your vet suggests.

Early Signs Your Dog Might Give You That Say She’s Expecting

Like humans, a dog’s body goes through rapid changes during her pregnancy. Her behavior can alter too, mostly due to the hormones rushing through her body to support new life. However, few early signs exist.

You won’t have a missed a cycle to answer the question, and a human pregnancy test won’t let you know since they read a hormone only humans create.

You could try a canine pregnancy test instead at the 20-30 day mark after suspected conception. These tests are accurate, and your vet will administer the blood test.

It looks for relaxing, which is the canine equivalent to the human growth hormone used in human pregnancy tests.

Some breeders claim the earliest sign is your dog’s behavior from her heat cycle doesn’t revert back to normal. Since some dogs show zero signs, this isn’t always helpful. Your best bet is to relax until enough time has passed for a vet to check.

How Long Does a Dog’s Pregnancy Last?

Your dog’s pregnancy will last between 58-66 days with little variance. Dogs have a short gestation period, which also makes it easy for owners to miss early signs.

However, if you believe your female is pregnant, you should take her to the vet for confirmation. Be prepared to answer questions about her mating, history, and her heat cycle.

Before breeding, you should consider a good visit, make sure your dog is healthy and up-to-date on their immunizations, and speak with your veterinarian first. Some dogs appear healthy, but they might not be strong or well enough for breeding.

Does Your Pregnant Dog Require Special Care?

Yes, they do. As mentioned above, if possible, a vet should give your female a clean bill of health before you breed her.

About 20-25 days after conception, your vet can confirm conception and should frequently monitor your female’s pregnancy until after delivery.

Your vet will also provide you with information that can assist you through the birthing process.

Your Vet Can Provide:

  • Number of expected puppies via ultrasound or x-ray
  • Advice on feeding, including certain foods, frequency, and calorie needs
  • Advice on birthing puppies and aftercare
  • Advice on birthing technique, such as natural birth or c-section
  • Estimated costs for emergency procedures

Will Your Female Dog Require a C-section?

Many dogs have healthy, natural births. However, some breeds require or are more prone to needing medical intervention to assist their birthing. Your veterinarian can help you determine which birthing method is best for your dog.

9 Reasons Your Dog Might Need a C-section

  • Breed
  • Age
  • Large litter size
  • Your dog’s body shape
  • Long birth canals
  • Puppy’s head size
  • Puppy’s chest size
  • Anasarca, which causes the mother to swell
  • Edema, which can occur in their third trimester and is life-threatening
  • Your dog has been in labor for too long
  • Your dog’s labor isn’t starting or progressing

13 Dog Breeds That Frequently Have a C-section Birth:

  • Chihuahua
  • English bulldog
  • French bulldog
  • Pug
  • Pekinese
  • Scottish terrier
  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • German wirehaired pointer
  • Great Dane
  • Mastiff
  • St. Bernard
  • Dandie Dinmont terrier

How Much Does a Canine C-Section Cost?

Prices vary depending on the area, but you can expect to pay between $600 and $2,000 for a c-section. Breed and litter size can affect the price. This price range might not include other costs, such as aftercare of the puppies.

Also, keep in mind that dog breeds not listed can still require an emergency c-section during their labor or if they don’t start labor naturally. Other reasons include a pregnancy posing a risk to the mother’s health.

Ask for your vet for a quote in writing as well as an itemized list of services covered in the costs. Ask about prices for both a planned and an emergency c-section. This ensures you of no hidden costs and allows you to better plan for the litter’s arrival.

Final Thoughts on Mating and Pregnancy Signs in Female Dogs

Dog mating is part science and part luck. Safe and responsible breeding practices ensure breeds continue to thrive.

However, if you don’t actually witness their copulation, it can be difficult to know if your dog was successful until late pregnancy signs, tests can confirm, or labor occurs.

Common conditions and abnormalities can affect conception. Closely monitoring your female’s cycles and having regular vet visits to rule out underlying conditions can help.

Be sure to take your dog to the vet. They can perform tests and provide invaluable advice to carry you through from conception to the delivery. They might also recommend assistance or a c-section based on test results or breed.

Finding yourself with an unplanned litter can be joyous but costly. If you have a female dog and wish to prevent pregnancy, you should keep her isolated indoors during her cycle and consider having her spayed.

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