If your female dog is expecting to hear the patter of little paws soon, this is very exciting for the whole family! The expectation of a litter of tiny, adorable puppies is something that few of us can resist, and the female dog will generally go through their entire pregnancy and ultimate delivery without incident or the need for human intervention, as they have been doing for thousands of years.
However, now that dogs live side by side with us in our homes, you will begin to notice a number of marked behavioural and temperament changes in your dog, which will become more pronounced as the time for whelping draws closer. In this article, we will look at the key behavioural changes to expect from your pregnant bitch, and the hormonal changes that she will go through as part of her pregnancy.
The period of gestation, or how long there is between conception and delivery in the dog is much shorter than that of people, averaging between 58 and 68 days, depending on breeding and other factors. Larger dogs tend to carry for longer than smaller breeds, and you should be able to get a good idea of your dog’s due date from your vet when they assess your dog after conception.
As your dog’s pregnancy develops, she will go through a whole range of both behavioural and physical changes, and how you care for her on a day to day basis will also need to change accordingly. As the time of delivery comes closer, your dog’s appetite will become huge, and she might eat twice as much as she does usually!
Canine mothers instinctively know what they need and what makes them feel comfortable when they are pregnant, and your bitch’s behaviour will alter accordingly. In some dams, this manifests as very calm, laid back behaviour and a relatively sedentary pregnancy, while for others, they may become nervy, unsettled and quick to get het up. You should take your cues from your dog in terms of how much exercise she needs and what she wants to do, and never push her to walk further when she is tired.
Particularly as the pregnancy progresses, rough and tumble play and vigorous exertion should be discouraged, and you should try to keep her calm and on all four paws!
Your bitch will also likely seek out quieter areas of the home to relax and be alone throughout her pregnancy, so make sure that she has a safe, calm place to retreat to at all times, which is not close to the centre of the action.
As your dog’s pregnancy progresses, she will naturally begin to look for the right spot in which he feels happy to deliver her litter. This is known as nesting behaviour, and is both perfectly normal and something that you should enable as much as possible.
While you can set up a spot with nice bedding and blankets for your dog to use, don’t be surprised if she turns her nose up at it and finds her own safe space, and unless there is a valid reason why she cannot use her chosen spot, try not to disturb it.
Your dog’s nesting behaviour may also cause her to go around the home gathering up the things that she wants to have for her delivery, such as favourite blankets and nice soft cushions. While your dog may begin nesting at any stage of her pregnancy, the behaviour goes up a notch at the end, and if your dog is approaching full term and suddenly begins nesting, you can probably expect the puppies to appear within a day or so!
Female dogs become fairly defensive when pregnant, and particularly as the pregnancy progresses, try not to bring lots of strangers into the home or into contact with your dog. Ensure that your dog does not get annoyed or agitated by too much noise and activity or overzealous children, and ensure that your children and any other pets that might want to play know when to leave your dog alone.
As well as the whole range of emotional and temperamental behaviours that the pregnant bitch displays, your dog will also show a whole range of physical changes throughout their pregnancy too.
As the pregnancy develops, your dog will of course gain weight, and might find it harder to get comfortable or move around with ease. The mammary glands will swell, and towards the time of the birth, begin to produce colostrum, the fore-runner to milk. She might even suffer from morning sickness, or generalised nausea, particularly during the early stages of the pregnancy. All of this is totally normal, but it is wise to involve your vet in your dog’s pregnancy, in order to ensure that everything is developing as it should, and to identify any potential problems along the line.