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Spotting the signs of pregnancy

It is always best to avoid pregnancy by having your bitch neutered, but accidents happen and you may have chosen for your bitch to have a litter. So how do you know your bitch is pregnant? There are a number of signs you can look out for, and tests your vet can perform, but most are not apparent until your bitch is well into her pregnancy (which on average lasts between 61 and 65 days).

Signs of pregnancy

  • A slight mucoid vulval discharge may occur around one month after mating.
  • The teats will become more prominent, pinker and erect, due to an increase in the blood supply around the base of the nipples. This should appear between 25 and 30 days after mating.
  • Body weight will increase from around day 35 onwards and may increase to 50% over normal.
  • The abdomen will enlarge and this should be noticeable from around day 40, although first-time mums and bitches carrying few puppies may not show as much of a change.
  • Mammary gland enlargement is noticeable around day 40 and some bitches may express a serous fluid from the teats from this time.
  • Behaviour may also change, such as displaying slight depression as well as a drop in appetite, but as these signs can also indicate a problem, consult your vet if they occur.
  • Many dogs’ appetite will increase in the second half of pregnancy.
  • Closer to the delivery date, your bitch will probably start to express her nesting instincts, scratching at the floor or in her bed, and displaying signs of increasing restlessness.

On average, you should be able to tell whether or not your bitch is pregnant at around one month after mating.

Veterinary procedures

If you do suspect that your dog is pregnant, you'll need to see your vet for confirmation.

  • The most commonly used method is ultrasound. This can be used after 20 days (no earlier), and foetal heartbeats can be identified at 22 days, but predicting the number of puppies can be challenging. Ultrasound examinations are comfortable because they are not invasive and very reliable in experienced hands.
  • Feeling the abdomen from about 30 days can be accurate if performed by an experienced vet, but this may be difficult if the dog is nervous or slightly overweight. If pregnant, the vet will feel a thickening of the uterus and ‘bumps’ within. The method isn't infallible, however, especially if there is just one pup in the womb or if the pregnancy is not as advanced as first thought.
  • From approximately 21-25 days endocrine tests detect relaxin, a hormone exclusively produced by pregnant dogs.
  • An x-ray will pick up the skeletons of the puppies from around 45 days. It should also be accurate in determining how many there are. However, most vets prefer not to use this method, as there is a possibility that early exposure of the foetus to x-rays can cause problems. This risk is minimal after 45 days, although sedating the bitch to obtain the image may be more of a problem.

Remember to contact your vet as soon as possible if you think your bitch is pregnant. Certain treatments can be given to prevent a pregnancy if you see your dog mating. Neutering, of course, will save you this worry in the future. However, if you are not sure your bitch is pregnant your vet will discuss which test is best for your pet, as some of these procedures may not be suitable at certain stages of pregnancy. Your vet can also advise you on the best care for your bitch during pregnancy, labour and lactation.

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