If taking care of a pregnant dog, you need to do your homework and learn some basic facts about canine pregnancy. If you are a first-time dog owner, you can get confused by many things.
For example, is a pregnant dog carrying puppies in a rib cage normal? Yes, during fetal development, some puppies might be located under the ribs. However, they are still in the abdomen – just the part of the abdominal cavity that falls under the ribs.
In this article, we will talk about the basics of canine pregnancy. We will discuss the location of the puppies within the abdomen and how their positions change. We will also review the telltale pregnancy signs and the tests for reaching a definitive diagnosis.
WHERE DO DOGS HOLD PUPPIES WHEN PREGNANT?
As in all mammals, in dogs, the canine babies are situated in the womb or uterus, which is located inside the abdominal cavity. However, based on the pregnancy stage and fetal size, the uterus position within the abdomen varies – at the initial pregnancy stages, it is closer to the rib cage, and by the end of the pregnancy, it falls in the abdomen and closer to the birthing canals.
DO DOGS’ RIBS EXPAND WHEN PREGNANT?
While it is true that in certain phases of the pregnancy, some pups may fall under the ribcage, the ribs do not generally expand during pregnancy. Namely, there are two basic reasons.
First, the pups are not truly within the rib cage – they are still inside the womb in the abdomen. It just happens that the uterus in the part of the abdomen falls under the ribs. Second, the ribs do not have the capacity to expand. In simpler words, the skeletal anatomy of the rib cage is not able to expand – it is a fixed structure, as the cage name suggests for itself.
However, in some pregnant dogs, the rib cage may seem enlarged. This is not real enlargement, but it seems bigger because the whole dog looks like it increased in size. Plus, when the puppies drop in the womb, the abdomen weight may visually decrease the dog’s waist size. Then in proportion to the small waist, the rib cage might appear bigger than it is.
WHEN DO PUPPIES DROP IN THE WOMB?
Usually, the puppies drop in the womb when the female is around 40 days pregnant. At this point, the belly will start to gradually but progressively increase in size. As the pregnancy comes to terms, the belly distension will move backward.
The puppies’ drop into the womb coincides with the fur loss on the abdomen. Namely, when around 6 to 7 weeks post-mating, the dog will start to lose abdominal hair to make the nipples easier to find and enable proper milk suckling.
Also, at this point, the mother’s appetite may decline, which often seems contradictory considering her belly keeps increasing in size, and she keeps gaining weight.
THE TELLTALE SIGNS OF PREGNANCY IN DOGS
With the puppies’ positions within the mother’s body covered, it is time we discuss the pregnancy in general and go through the basic signs indicating a dog is expecting babies.
Sign number 1: A bigger and rounder belly
The first thing that one notices when looking at a pregnant female is the size of the belly. The belly starts increasing at the beginning of the other half of the pregnancy when the puppies drop in the abdomen. However, not all expanded bellies are pregnancy signs. Sometimes a distended belly can be indicative of a serious underlying disease.
Sign number 2: Increased food intake
A pregnant dog eats for more than for herself – she eats for the puppies too. Therefore, appetite increases are common in pregnant dogs. Interestingly, same as in humans, some dogs may experience morning sickness. However, this phase is short and usually does not last for more than a couple of days.
Sign number 3: Bigger breasts and nipples
As the pregnancy progresses, the dog’s breasts will enlarge, and then the nipples will start to swell. At the final stages of the pregnancy, the breasts may even start producing milk or a milk-like substance.
Sign number 4: Few extra pounds
Depending on the number of puppies inside the belly, a pregnant female is likely to gain between 15% and 25% of her body weight. This is an expected change and is transient. Obviously, the more puppies the mother is carrying, the more weight she will gain.
Sign number 5: Persistent vaginal discharge
A pregnant dog is likely to have transparent and slimy vaginal mucous discharge. This is completely normal. On the other hand, if a pregnant dog develops a thicker, pus-like discharge with a repulsive smell, you need to make an emergency trip to the vet’s office.
HOW TO KNOW IF MY DOG IS PREGNANT?
The telltale signs are helpful, but you cannot rely on the expanded belly and increased nipples to diagnose pregnancy. Luckily, there are objective methods and tests for determining whether a dog is pregnant. They are performed by a licensed vet.
Test number 1: Abdominal palpation
This is the simplest and obviously the least accurate test (it does not provide exact answers earlier than three weeks post-mating). Abdominal palpation refers to touching the dog’s belly and trying to feel the babies.
Just because the test is simple does not mean you can try it on your own. Abdominal palpation must be performed by a vet because of two reasons. First, it takes a great deal of experience to feel the pups during their early developmental phases. Second, using too much force can hurt the puppies.
Test number 2: Relaxin levels
Relaxin is a specific hormone produced only during pregnancy. Therefore, the presence of the relaxin hormone in the dog’s circulation is a concrete pregnancy sign. The test can be performed as early as four weeks after the mating, and luckily, it is very inexpensive. However, once again, it must be performed and interpreted by a veterinarian.
Test number 3: Abdominal ultrasound
The ultrasound is the golden standard for diagnosing pregnancy in dogs. It can be performed as early as 21 days after mating. Plus, when performed during early pregnancy, it can help the vet count the number of fetuses.
Counting the fetuses is possible in the later stages too, but it may result in inaccurate numbers as the fetuses tend to overlap. Another benefit of the ultrasound is that it allows seeing the puppies’ heartbeats, thus giving an insight into their vitality. Plus, the ultrasound image based on fetal size allows the vet to estimate the dog’s due date.
Test number 4: Abdominal x-rays
Ultrasound might be the golden standard when diagnosing pregnancy, but when it comes to counting fetuses, the method of choice is radiography. The x-ray visualizes the skeletons of the puppies, thus allowing precise counting.
However, there is one drawback to this test – to achieve accurate results, you need to wait until six weeks of pregnancy. This is because prior to this moment, the skeletons are not fully formed and, therefore, poorly visible.
It should be noted that there are some concerns about the strong radiation of the x-rays and their ability to harm the puppies inside the dog’s womb. However, so far, there are no scientific studies supporting these claims.
SUMMING UP: PREGNANT DOGS AND PUPPIES
If you are the proud owner of a pregnant dog – congratulations. It is the beginning of an amazing experience. Also, be prepared as pregnancy in dogs can be just as delicate as pregnancy in humans.
Being a responsible parent of an expecting dog means knowing the basics of canine reproduction and literally being prepared for different scenarios. In this journey, your vet can be your best prepared – collaborate with your vet closely and do not hesitate to clear all your concerns.
How long is a dog pregnancy?
The dog pregnancy usually lasts for about 9 weeks (around 60 days). However, it can last a few days less and a few days more depending on various factors, including breed, number of babies, sex of the babies, etc.
When do dogs reach sexual maturity?
The exact age of reaching sexual maturity in dogs depends on various factors, but in most dogs, it occurs when between 6 and 12 months old. The biggest factor affecting the maturity age is the dog’s breed or, better said, adult size – larger dogs mature sooner than smaller dogs of the same age.
When can you see puppies moving in a pregnant dog?
After around 5 weeks of pregnancy, you will be able to touch and feel the puppies inside the dog’s belly. However, after week 7, you might even be able to see the pups move under the mother’s abdominal skin.
Are the dog’s nipples indicative of litter size?
There is a popular misbelief that the number and size of the nipples indicate the number of puppies the pregnant mother is expecting. As mentioned, this is a misbelief – there is no way of predicting the litter size based on nipples. All dogs have the same number of nipples, while their size is an individual factor.