Can You Always Feel Puppies in a Pregnant Dog?

How Long is a Dog Pregnant For?

Breeding is very exciting even for experienced breeders and the period of time between mating and delivery can feel like an age but is in fact only around nine weeks long. The canine gestation period is on average only 63-65 days however just like with humans, this can vary slightly on either side.

Viable puppies can be born anytime from day 57 to day 70 of pregnancy and vary a little from breed to breed. Day 63 from ovulation is when most female dogs will give birth and it is this date that is classed as your dog’s ‘due date’.

Progesterone testing plays a useful part in calculating when your dog will give birth as this can pinpoint ovulation so will be much more accurate than going by the day or days that she mated especially if you have both the male and female dogs at home as they may have mated over a period of several days.

How Soon Can You Tell that a Dog is Pregnant?

It’s only natural that once your girl has been mated you will be extremely keen to be able to confirm that the mating was successful. The good news is that you won’t have to wait too long. There are no home pregnancy tests that work for dogs though so unlike humans you can’t get your dog to urinate on a stick and wait for a blue line to develop, there are tell-tale signs from as early as 21 days from ovulation that experienced breeders will spot.

The first sign that most people look for is known as ‘pinking up’. This means that your dog’s nipples become larger, more noticeable, and take on a darker pink hue. Sounds simple and rather obvious? Sadly, no not always as if your dog has dark skin or is long-coated it can be very hard indeed to detect nipple changes.

Another curveball here is that for a few weeks after your female dog has been in season her nipples will very often be somewhat engorged whether she is pregnant or not due to hormonal changes. If this is not the first time the female has been pregnant her nipples may never have returned to their pre-pregnancy size and shape (some of us ladies might know that feeling) which can make it harder still to detect pregnancy this way.

Another sign that some breeders look for is slightly paler gums around 21 days into the pregnancy but again this is very hard to recognize. In order to compare the gum color in a pregnant dog to a non-pregnant dog, you would need to have taken photos of your dogs’ gums before she was mated.

There is one sign that I look for when my girls are pregnant which has never let me down so far but it is a little gross, so you have been warned! I always notice a clear mucous type of discharge from my girls’ vulvas from approx. 21 days after ovulation, so keep a check on your girls’ private parts. You are more likely to notice this when she has just urinated or during daily grooming. I always clip my Doodle girls before they are mated and keep their nether regions and bellies trimmed a little shorter than normal for hygiene reasons and also to make these signs easier to spot.

From day 22 -28 the pregnancy can be confirmed by your veterinarian by palpation however this is a very outdated way of confirming pregnancy and is not 100% reliable. Palpation is carried out by very gentle pressing on the female dog’s abdomen and trying to feel for spherical swellings in the uterus. It is vital that this is done extremely carefully to avoid damaging the tiny fetuses. Many female dogs carry their puppies high up under the ribs and if this is the case pregnancy can easily be missed by even the most experienced vets, especially if your dog is large and muscular.

A far more reliable and much safer way to confirm the pregnancy is by ultrasound scan performed around 28 to 35 days post-mating. This is exactly the same as human ultrasound scanning and the vet will rub a little gel on your female dog’s tummy before rolling the probe over her abdomen and looking for fetuses on the screen.

Most vets don’t even need the dog to lie down for this and will simply carry out the procedure while she is standing. This is by far the best way to confirm the pregnancy and also to see if the fetuses are alive as tiny heartbeats can even be seen. Your vet will be able to give you a rough count of how many pups to expect but please keep in mind that it really is just a rough count as with multiple fetuses it is very difficult to be exact.

Can You Always Feel the Puppies Shape in the Mother’s Stomach?

The short answer here is no you can’t. In fact, as your female dog will usually be having multiple puppies it is very difficult to even tell where one puppy ends, and another begins even in late pregnancy.

From around 2 weeks before the puppies are due to be born you can feel them wiggling and often even see them moving but even with very large litters you won’t be able to feel their shape or tell if it is a paw or a head that you can feel bumping against your hand.

The reason for this is that puppies are very tiny compared to their mothers when they are born (think of a human baby compared to his mother in comparison to a newborn pup and his mother) and rather than just one fetus being in the womb there are many crammed close together.

The largest litter I have ever had born to any of my girls is 15! If you have a large breed bitch that is carrying a small number of pups you may not even be able to feel or see the pups move at all as due to the physical conformation of the dog the pups may be carried high up under the rib cage.

If she is only expecting 1 -3 puppies the weight gained will not be significant enough for her uterus to drop into her undercarriage and cause the typical pregnancy ‘belly sway’. Without ultrasound examination, even experienced breeders can be tricked into thinking that their dog has failed to conceive if the litter is very small.

Can you Determine how many Puppies by Touch Alone?

Absolutely not! As previously discussed, you can’t always confirm pregnancy at all by touch alone let alone accurately count puppies. The only way to know for sure how many pups to expect is by an x-ray carried out from day 53 of pregnancy onwards.

By this stage, the puppy’s skeletons will have calcified sufficiently to be seen on a radiograph and a vet can count spines and skulls for you. Even this method is not foolproof however as if the litter is very large it can appear like a big jumble of tiny bones that are incredibly difficult to count.

If you are in any doubt as to whether or not all the pups have been born during whelping the vet will x-ray again to check for any remaining inside.

How Reliable is Touch to Determine Pregnancy in a Dog?

Touch is not a reliable way at all to confirm pregnancy in the early stages. However, once the female reaches 6- or 7-weeks’ gestation you will be able to tell that she is pregnant by feeling her tummy (unless she is having a singleton or very small litter).

By 6 weeks in most cases you won’t even have to touch your girl to tell she is pregnant you will be able to see how much she has thickened around the middle just from a glance. Even with a very slender dog, you will see when looking from above that her ribs have started to expand.

Often, I notice this while walking my girls and in the case of curly-coated Doodle girls I spot her curls starting to stick out a little more. While mistakes can be made, I have always known my girls are pregnant before confirmation by ultrasound on day 28.

What is a Phantom Pregnancy?

Phantom pregnancy in canines is extremely common and, in some breeds, can even affect up to 75% of un-neutered female dogs at least once, often even if they have never been mated.

If a female dog experiences a phantom pregnancy once there is a high chance she will suffer again after every heat period unless she is mated or spayed. If your girl has been mated phantom pregnancy can be impossible to distinguish from the real thing without ultrasound scanning as all of the previously mentioned signs can be present including the large tummy!

Some girls will even produce milk and appear to show signs of labor including nesting, digging, and panting. The good news is that ultrasound examination will confirm the presence or absence of puppies so while phantom pregnancy can not be avoided you will know that your girl is not really expecting even if she thinks she is.

If your dog is unlucky enough to suffer a phantom pregnancy you must not indulge her and feed her extra as she will just become very overweight with no pups to nourish.

Many female dogs will attempt to mother toys or other animals after a phantom pregnancy and again, as cruel as it seems you mustn’t encourage this and should take the toys away and try to distract her by way of taking her for more walks, training, or play sessions.

Phantom Pregnancy Symptoms

Can You see the Pups Move?

From around week 7 in all but small litters, you can see the pups move. You may even be lucky enough to be able to film the pups moving in their mum’s tummy.

Will Mom be Happy with You Touching / Feeling?

In most cases, yes, your girl will lap up the extra attention and tummy rubs. My girls get a wonderful, dreamy expression when I snuggle up to them to feel their unborn babies move.

It may be wishful thinking, but I often think they look very proud of themselves, but this could be because I am fussing them and telling them what clever girls they are while stroking their tummies.

Do they Move More and Less at Different Stages of Pregnancy?

Between weeks 7 and 9 the pups can become very active and occasionally the female dog will jump up from a sleeping position and move to attempt to get comfortable if the pups are kicking her a lot.

Occasionally they even seem to make her jump, especially when they first become very active. Often in the final 48 hours or so of pregnancy by contrast the pups will seem to go quiet and move less.

Don’t panic this is perfectly normal, they are simply resting and preparing for their journey into the world. If you take the female dog’s temperature at this time you may notice it starting to drop a little which is a sure sign of impending labor.

What Other Methods are there of Determining Pregnancy in Dogs?

There is one other reliable method of confirming pregnancy in female dogs that we have not discussed yet which involves a blood test taken at 22 -28 days gestation.

Your vet can take a blood sample and test for a hormone known as relaxin which is produced by the placenta when it implants into the wall of the uterus. Relaxin levels stay stable throughout the pregnancy and decline rapidly afterward.

Blood testing is offered if ultrasound is not available and is extremely useful for differentiating between phantom and true pregnancy as with a false pregnancy there are no placentas present to produce the hormone.

Most breeders prefer ultrasound to blood testing as it is obviously exciting to see fetuses on the screen. You can at least get an idea as to whether your girl is expecting a large or small litter as well as confirming her due date by assessing the size and developmental stage of the fetuses.