How Long Are Dogs Pregnant?

Cute puppies

You may find yourself fostering a pregnant dog for an animal shelter or rescue group and wondering how long are dogs pregnant? For most pregnant dogs, the dog gestation period can last up to nine weeks or 58 to 68 days, with puppies arriving on average in 63 days from ovulation.

What are the dog pregnancy signs and stages?

Foster homes play an important role for both an animal shelter and the pets in care, particularly in the case of pregnant pets.  A foster home provides many benefits to a pregnant dog during each of the dog pregnancy stages including helping to reduce stress, personalized care, keeping the mother healthy and securing a place where she feels safe to deliver adoptable puppies. 

There are generally three dog pregnancy stages in the dog gestation period before birth. The most noticeable signs that a dog may be pregnant in the first, second or third stage of gestation may include:

Week 1 - 4 Week 4 - 6 Week 6 - 9
Darker nipple color Belly size increase Swollen abdomen
Lethargy Weight gain, normally up to 20% Slight transparent fluid from nipples
Appetite decrease Morning sickness vomiting Coat starts to shed around belly in preparation for suckling puppies. 
Quieter  or more needy, affectionate behavior Enlarged nipple size Nesting begins where a dog looks for a safe place to deliver her pups.
Regular walks recommended, no over-exerted exercising Appetite increase Restless behavior in week 9 and may seem unsettled.
  Shorter walks advised, no rough-housing or strenuous exercising. Lactating may begin a week before she gives birth.
  Appetite increase, add 25% more food to her mealtime until her final week. Limit walking, no exercising.

Some signs of pregnancy may be immediately obvious, others might be subtle. Stand-alone symptoms of pregnancy can suggest other health issues, and it’s highly recommended that you consult with a veterinarian to ensure the safety of a pet’s health.

What to feed a pregnant dog?

The most nutritionally complete dog food to feed a pregnant dog is an all life stage puppy food made up of approximately 1600 kcal digestible energy per pound and at least 22% protein. It’s important to provide a pregnant pup with a complete and balanced diet that ensures optimal intake of calories, which provides nutrients that support fetus development, and promotes healthy milk production for the dog’s newborn puppies. 
To feed a pregnant dog a healthy and balanced puppy diet, check that the food is:

  1. Highly-digestible, high quality, premium dry dog food  
  2. Has a minimum of 25% protein  
  3. Includes real meat, fish or poultry as the first ingredient  
  4. Does not need added supplements or vitamins  
  5. Is nutrient-dense to provide more energy 
  6. Contains at least 1600 kcal of digestible energy per pound 
  7. Enriched with fat and water soluble vitamins, minerals, and fats 

Most dry puppy foods are nutrient-dense, offering pregnant dogs the highest protein content enriched with fats and water soluble minerals, as well as essential vitamins. A dry dog food exception is large breed and large breed puppy food, which should not be given to a pregnant pup, even if she is a large breed type dog; these foods are nutritionally and minerally deficient for an expecting dog.

How to feed a pregnant dog?

As a pregnant dog foster parent, planning a high-quality food schedule ahead of time will help you maintain the dog’s ideal body condition, weight and muscle toneA veterinarian working with the foster dog’s shelter will recommend the appropriate food and schedule, which could be similar to the tips listed below on how to feed a  pregnant dog.

  • Week 1 - 4

Feed as usual according to the feeding guidelines found on the back of the food.

  • Week 5

Transition to high-quality puppy food over 7 to 10 days, which contains ideal quantities  of protein, fat, energy and minerals.

  • Week 6 – 7

Increase food portion by 20% to 25% and break meals up into smaller servings through the day.

  • Week 8 – 9

The dog should be eating up to 50% more than her pre-pregnancy period; calorie content should be increased by 30% to 50%.

  • Week 9

Refusal of any food means the dog is preparing to give birth within the next 24 hours. It is important for the health of the pregnant dog that the shelter and/or veterinarian caring for the new mother’s health is contacted immediately for consultation. A veterinarian may recommend that at this time, the pup should not be forced to eat, and must be kept well-hydrated. The pregnant dog will be uncomfortable with the puppies pushing up against her stomach, so smaller portions, regularly through the day will help her maintain condition and nutrient levels. Alternatively, food can be left down for her all day and she can eat at her own pace. Ensure that the shelter is updated on her health status at this crucial moment.

  • Week 10 – 14

Once the foster dog has given birth, increase meal portions by 2 to 4 times to accommodate for the lactation period. If the dog is not enthusiastic about her meals, try moisten the food to encourage eating.

Should the dog refuse food or vomit food up, it’s important to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible for advice. If you will go on to foster the puppies as well, you can help the shelter or rescue group get a great head start on successful adoptions and explore helpful tips on Petfinder on feeding puppieshouse trainingpuppy proofing your home, and how to prevent teething puppies from chewing on things they shouldn’t.

Why it is important to spay or neuter dogs?
Once the puppies are weaned, spaying will be the crucial next step to prepare a foster dog for adoption. Spaying or neutering a dog supports the end to pet homelessness. Medically, spaying or neutering may also minimize the risk of common cancers, reduce the incidence of uterus infections, limit prostate cancer and testicular tumors, and decrease behavioral issues in male dogs.

Helping your local shelter by fostering a pregnant dog can be fulfilling, most veterinarians strongly advise spaying once the pregnant dog’s litter is weaned. Consult a veterinarian, shelter or rescue guidelines on low-cost spay/neuter programs in your area.