It can be difficult to tell whether a dog is pregnant until the last few weeks of her nine-week gestation, when her belly's increase in size is hard to miss. The best way to find out is by taking her to a vet, but being aware of physical and behavioral changes that may take place is also useful. Pregnant dogs show some signs of being pregnant in the early, middle, and late stages of pregnancy.
Watching for Physical Changes
1. Watch for nipple color change. One of the earliest hints that a dog might be pregnant is if she “pinks up.” This refers to a change in her nipples which makes them appear a rosier color than normal, slightly swollen and more prominent. This sign can develop 2 - 3 weeks after conception.
2. Be aware of body changes. A pregnant dog’s body shape doesn't change until the second half of pregnancy. Between about 4 - 5 weeks her waist begins to thicken and her tummy fills out.
3. Do not increase food ration prematurely. A pregnant dog should be given increased food in the final third of pregnancy, but many owners tend to increase their dog's food ration too early. The additional calories lead to fat being laid down in the abdomen, which is often mistaken for a sign of pregnancy. It is not possible for the layman to discern whether her enlarged abdomen is due to fetuses taking up room, or fat.
4. Monitor continuing body changes. In the final third (weeks 6-9) of pregnancy, the dog’s belly becomes rounded and distended. Her mammary glands start to develop and become more obviously swollen, as they get ready to produce milk.
5. Look and feel for puppy movement. In the final third of gestation, you may be able to see the dog’s flanks moving as the puppies wriggle around in her womb. If you place your palm flat against her side where you see the rippling, you might be able to feel movement.
Noticing Behavioral Changes
1. Do not expect drastic changes. All dogs react individually to pregnancy. Some may be quieter and more tired early on, but a dog who is unwell may also be quiet, so this sign is an unreliable predictor of pregnancy. The average female dog behaves largely the same as usual until the last third of the gestation.
2. Expect appetite changes. Towards the end of pregnancy, the dog’s will womb grow larger and take up more space in her belly. She won't be able to accommodate large meals, so she'll start wanting to snack, eating a little at a time more frequently.
3. Watch for nesting. When it is nearly time for her to deliver the pups, the dog may start to nest.
Getting a Professional Diagnosis
1. Visit a veterinarian. If you suspect that your dog is pregnant, it is worthwhile to visit the vet to confirm your suspicion. There are various methods a vet can use to definitively confirm pregnancy.
2. Get a physical examination. The vet will examine the dog and pay special attention to gently feeling her tummy.
3. Check for heartbeats. In late pregnancy (week 6 onwards), the vet can sometimes hear fetal heartbeats by holding a stethoscope to the dog’s belly.
4. Perform a blood test. The gold standard to test for pregnancy is for your vet to run a blood test that looks for the presence of a pregnancy hormone called Relaxin.
5. Have an ultrasound. The method that can confirm pregnancy the earliest is an ultrasound.
6. Ask about getting an x-ray. With the widespread use of ultrasound, the need for x-rays in pregnancy has decreased.