My friends, I have some wonderful news to share with you! I have every reason right now to believe that my Janice and Leroy are going to be presenting me with a litter in a couple of months. Needless to say, I’m just over the moon!
Of course, there are other feelings in there, as well; I know that this will be the last litter. Why? Well, it’s because over-breeding is a bad idea.
How Many Litters Can a Bitch Have?
A bitch can conceive many, many times over her lifetime; there is no such thing as menopause in dogs. However, the conventional wisdom suggests that a female really shouldn’t have any more than three litters over her lifetime, and this will be Janice’s third.
Additionally, a bitch should rest between breedings. Theoretically, I could have two (or sometimes even three) litters per year out of Janice, never mind how many I could have over her lifetime, but it would put a horrible strain on her. I’m not operating a puppy mill here.
Finally, Janice is five-years-old. The longer I put off having her spayed, the more likely she is to develop pyometra (see Pyometra – The Uterine Infection That Can Kill Your Dog) or mammary cancer. A bitch shouldn’t be bred before she’s at least two-years old, and then a rest of at least a year between litters is in order. So, this will be it; I love having litters of puppies, and I love placing good puppies in good homes, but I love Janice more than anything and I’d never take chances with her health.
Back to the Original Question
If you’re thinking about breeding your dog, one of the first questions you probably want answered is, “How long do dogs stay pregnant?”
Of course, the obvious and most correct answer is, “From the time they are fertilized until the time they give birth.” You probably don’t find that response overly helpful, though.
The better answer is, ‘It varies.” Assuming that your dog has been fertilized, and that the pregnancy will result in the birth of a healthy litter, it could be anywhere from 58 to 65 days. 63 days is about right. Now, if your dog is pregnant and hasn’t given birth by Day 65, that’s not cause for concern right away. If she goes more than a few days longer, though, and especially if you’re not feeling any movement in her belly, get her to the vet.
Now, you undoubtedly have other questions about dog pregnancy beyond, “How long do dogs stay pregnant,” so let’s get down to it. We’ll call it… oh, I dunno, how about…
…Dog Pregnancy 101
If your dog is pregnant, and this is your first experience with looking after a pregnant bitch and ultimately her litter, you are in for the most magical time of your life! There are things you’ll want to know, though, so let’s do a bit of Q&A here. These are the questions most first-timers commonly ask.
1. How Did the Pregnancy Happen?
Oh, come on! Didn’t you take sex education in school? Didn’t your mom give you one of those cute little picture books depicting the adventures of Sammy Sperm and Emma Egg? Didn’t any of your little friends in the schoolyard clue you in as to the “facts of life”?
I’m kidding, okay? Look, this is my blog, and I’m entitled to have a bit of fun, even if it is at your expense!
Of course, there are differences between how pregnancy occurs in dogs and how it occurs in humans. I can verify that Leroy never asked Janice out on a date, never sent her flowers, never gave her a ring and never expressed his undying love before essentially communicating, “Let’s get down to it!” He just waited until Janice went into heat and then did what was necessary. No courtship rituals whatsoever, unless you count a bit of ear cleaning.
As for Janice, she presented Leroy with a swollen vulva and dripped blood all over my floors in the early stages. This didn’t mean that she was ready for romance, though; she was just in the early stages. Leroy was interested, but this stage can continue for anywhere from a week up to 10 days, and a heat can go on for as long as three weeks. Leroy had to wait until she was raising her hindquarters when he approached.
Breeding usually takes place around this point. However, your female may be reluctant to start with, and your male may become very frustrated. This is normal.
2. Should I Try to Help?
If you Google “How to assist with dog breeding,” you’re going to find a ton of answers, many of which will be contradictory. You’ll find what seems to be very scholarly, knowledgeable information to the effect that you should hold the female in a certain position, guide the male inside, wait for a specific amount of time, and then separate the dogs and facilitate another breeding in 48 hours, supposedly to optimize the health of the male’s sperm and the female’s likelihood of receiving it.
Look, I’m not a veterinarian or a geneticist or anything other than someone who loves dogs and has a fair bit of common sense, but when I ask myself the question, “Who knows most about breeding dogs?” that common sense leads me to answer, quite simply, “dogs.”
Dogs have been breeding for millennia without any help from humans. The whole point of breeding is to keep the species alive, and to make that happen, Mother Nature has her own way.
I know that there are many people who will disagree with me on this, but the litter-to-be from Janice and Leroy is not my third litter. I’ve had other litters out of other dogs, and my approach has always been to let them do their own thing and find their own way. And I have never had a problematic pregnancy or an unhealthy litter. I never intervene, and I’ve never had a bad outcome.
3. How Can I Tell if My Dog Is Pregnant?
Usually, you’ll identify pregnancy in your dog in much the same way as you would with a human. Her tummy will get bigger.
4. How Many Puppies Can I Expect?
Sometimes, I’m asked, “How long do dogs stay pregnant, and will there be more puppies if she stays pregnant longer?”
This is a “newbie” question. Experienced people know that dogs only stay pregnant within the usual 58-68 day window. There will not be more puppies if she stays pregnant for longer.
That said, though, a female can conceive many times over the course of a heat. The longer the bitch is exposed to the dog, the more puppies she is likely to have.
This is where the myth of the “runt of the litter” comes in. If a puppy is born healthy and within the normal weight range for its breed, it is not a runt. It is most likely simply the puppy that was fertilized last. The puppies are all born at the same time, but some could actually be several days younger, and therefore smaller.
Because of the ability of the bitch to be fertilized over and over, she could even have puppies in a single litter that have different fathers. This is why most owners of purebred dogs make it a point to keep the bitch away from other dogs once she’s bred to the “approved” father.
5. How Many Puppies?
Oh, boy! I’ve been told many times, “Ash, there must be something in the water where you live!” This is because Janice has never had small litters. Her first litter was 11 puppies, all strong and healthy. Her second litter was nine. For the one that’s coming, I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
Most bitches can carry up to 12 puppies, although I have heard of larger litters. Much of the time, the size of the litter will correspond to the size of the breed. This is simply because something like a Boxer (Janice) can hold more puppies in her uterus than, say, a Toy Poodle.
6. What Should I Look for During Pregnancy?
In addition to keeping an eye on how long your dog should stay pregnant, you should watch for behavioral changes (reduced appetite and activity, and a tendency to want “private time”). These are indications of pregnancy in the same way as an enlarged tummy and distended nipples. When your dog is getting close to her delivery date, you’ll probably also notice that she is leaking milk from her nipples.
During the first month of pregnancy, you probably won’t notice much. That said, some of the early signs may include behavioral changes, such as decreased levels of activity, reduced appetite, and a tendency to want to be left alone. You may also notice a few physical changes, like enlarged nipples.
Once the delivery date approaches, you will notice very significant changes. Your dog might start shredding up pillows, bedding, paper, or other materials to make a space to give birth. She might also become irritable.
7. What’s Going on Inside?
This is where the miracle happens; inside your dog’s uterus, the embryos are developing. By the time the embryos reach about 32 days (about half of the gestation period), they actually begin to look like little dogs, with eyelids, toes and discernable faces. By the 50th day (usually just a week or so before birth), your veterinarian can do an x-ray and tell you how many puppies are in utero.
8. What About Nutrition and Exercise?
During the first stages of the pregnancy, your dog should receive foods that are high in protein. Good sources of protein are beef, chicken, eggs and liver, and you can find these in most quality dog foods. As she approaches her delivery date, make sure that she has as much as she wants to eat; this is a good time to free-feed, if you’ve otherwise been doing it on a schedule. Right now, she knows better than you do how much she needs.
Make sure, too, that she gets enough exercise. Just don’t plan any marathons as she gets really close to her due date; the last thing you want is to have her giving birth on the sidewalk.
9. How Can I Help My Dog When She’s Giving Birth?
Just stay close by. Don’t intervene if it’s not absolutely necessary. First-timers are often prone to panic when delivery time comes, and that’s not entirely unusual. After all, you’re seeing a greenish sac full of something that looks pretty strange, and then you’re seeing the mother dog pull vigorously on that sac in order to extract what’s inside.
Just chill out, pull back and re-group. Your dog knows what she’s doing, so try to avoid going “Ohmigodohmigodohmigod” and displaying other histrionics that are going to stress her. She’ll get the puppies out of the sacs in her own time, and even if she seems a bit confused, instinct will take over and it won’t be long before she figures out what needs to be done.
You need to take a Valium or go get a glass of wine or something and let your dog do what has to be done. I know this, because I’ve been down that road.
The occasions when your assistance will be needed are very few and far between. The only time you should try to help is if it appears as though a puppy is stuck in the birth canal. In this case, get a clean cloth, and try to slowly, steadily, assist the puppy out of the birth canal. If you think you’re in over your head, call your veterinarian.
Whew! All Done!
Once all the puppies have been birthed, go and find something to do. The new mama needs time to rest and get used to her puppies, and she doesn’t need to have you in the picture. Just wait for things to get back to normal.
Once mama and babies are all settled in, you can check the bitch’s nipples to make sure that there is no infection. Watch the puppies to make sure that they are peeing and pooing, but keep in mind that in the early days, the bitch will simply lick “product” away. The bitch will also usually produce soft stools in the days immediately following birth; this is not a cause for concern.
Usually, you don’t have to do anything at all for the mom or the litter; the bitch’s instincts will tell her what is needed. Also, don’t be upset with her if she doesn’t want you near the litter; most of the time, the bitch will allow you to approach but some can be very territorial. She’s just doing her job, looking after her puppies, and as they get older, she will be more receptive.
The Final Word
How long do dogs stay pregnant? As I said, until they’re ready to deliver. Usually a couple of months. It’s an exciting time, and it gets even more exciting when the puppies are born. However long it takes, it’s going to be an exciting, magical time. And then you can look forward to finding just the right homes for the little ones.
I can’t wait to see what Janice and Leroy give me this time around! I’ll keep you posted.