What to Expect When Your Dog Is Expecting

In May 2016, I had the joy of embarking on the journey to breed my Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Maia. After countless tests and searching for the perfect fit for our girl, a stud was carefully chosen, and she was bred.

Pregnancy in dogs lasts approximately 63 days (9 weeks), and the due date is chosen from their ovulation date, rather than the date they were bred. Just like in humans, they go through 3 trimesters, each lasting 21 days. For the first 2 weeks, it was business as usual: there was no need to increase her food or limit her exercise. As the third week approached, Maia started showing symptoms of “morning sickness” (lip smacking, drooling and reluctance to play/exercise) and became significantly more needy and clingy. By week 4, the development of the puppies starts to kick off. They begin to form internal organs and facial features, and it’s at this time that you may be able to feel them in the uterine horns. This window of time is very small, however, and you may not be able to feel them for another few weeks. At week 5, the puppies develop their sex organs. Their leg buds lengthen, and toes begin to form.

By this week, we could tell Maia was pregnant – she ballooned seemingly overnight. At this point, we chose to do an ultrasound, to potentially count how many puppies were present but more so to confirm that she was pregnant. We were able to see more than one puppy, and watch their tiny heartbeats! At week 6, the puppies’ pigmentation and distinctive markings become established, and nail growth begins. It’s at this stage that we slowly start to increase Maia’s food – combining her regular diet with a puppy development diet. At 7 weeks in, we were able to put our hands gently on her belly while she lay on her back (Tollers love to lay on their back!). We could feel gentle kicks and the movement of the pups. Their skeletons begin to solidify at this stage, and by week 8 they are solid enough to be visible on x-ray. It is a great way to get an idea of how many puppies to expect, just in case anything goes awry during delivery. At this stage, Maia started showing signs of nesting, meaning she was getting ready to give birth. She dug a lovely hole in the yard to hide in, and when inside she started pawing at and moving blankets around. It’s very important at this stage to prepare a “whelping box,” ideally in a safe, quiet room for the delivery so that the dam can get used to her new surroundings.

At 9 weeks, her restlessness continued with more nesting, and finally, she started becoming agitated, panting, and turning down food. As her due date came closer we started taking her temperature twice a day. If the temperature dropped from the normal 37.8 degrees for consecutive checks, it is a good indication that the puppies would be born within 6-24 hours. We were very careful at this point that if she needed to go outside that she was always with us on a leash and monitored closely. Delivery day came, and Maia’s complete refusal of food was a pretty good clue as to what’s to come. She did vomit a couple of times as contractions started, which is not uncommon. In just under 2 hours, she safely delivered 5 healthy puppies: 2 girls and 3 boys. We couldn’t have asked for a better first-time mother: Maia did everything by the book, making the whole journey a very positive experience.

Written by: Rachel, ACA/Groomer