As a pet pregnancy ultrasound scanner, I get asked a lot about the signs of pregnancy and whether I can foresee or guess that a girl is pregnant before I actually scan her.
My answer is always no.
Until I put that ultrasound probe on and I see puppies, I never even contemplate trying to guess whether a female is pregnant. I myself have fallen into many traps thinking they are or they aren't and in fact it’s been the opposite.
In this article I'll go through some of the typical signs of pregnancy and why they suggest they are pregnant but also may be why they aren't.
Loss of appetite and sickness. So typically some females will display morning sickness once they've been mated and some also lose their appetite, I believe this is generally because of their hormones whizzing around their body making significant changes to prepare for the pregnancy. The hormone Progesterone which is required in pregnancy has also been associated with diarrhea regardless of confirmed pregnancy or not. However, what you need to bear in mind is that conditions are also the same symptoms of a dog being ill. If the symptoms are prolonged or in excess, you must decide if you need additional veterinary advice to identify any underlying problems.
Another common observation is that the female becomes very attentive and clingy. She always wants to be around people or her preferred owner. She may want her belly to be rubbed, other females actually prefer people not to touch their belly. So again, you won't always know whether this is due to pregnancy or is she showing additional signs of because she maybe in pain. Again, this behaviour difference is definitely is a sign of pregnancy, but it can also be a sign of other undiagnosed conditions.
She may become more lethargic, not wanting to go out of her bed or on her usual walks, or not for so long. Again, this can be a sign of pregnancy because the hormones are speeding up her metabolism these chemical reactions that are going on in her body require energy to develop the puppies zapping her ‘normal’ energy levels. This could also be a sign of illness in a dog. A dog sleeping a lot, looking unwell, not wanting to do their usual routine can also be a sign of illness. So again, something to bear in mind.
Change of body shape. Generally, maiden females (not previously had a litter) will show very little physical signs of body pregnancy before 35 days gestation. You may have heard about teats becoming bigger and rosy or maybe that the fact that they change shape and they sag more. You can still get these changes with phantom pregnancy. This is where a female displays all signs of being pregnant, even up to the point that they produce milk, but they're not pregnant. I must say that from my experience phantom pregnancies are more prone from females that have had a litter before, Maidens are less likely to phantom but they do still display some of these symptoms if they are generally have quite high hormonal levels and naturally want to be motherly.
It's been known for Estrogen to aid water retention which can visually change the shape of your dog, in particular around her undercarriage, these changes are due to hormones not due to pregnancy.
A change in body shape and weight gain, could also mean that they could possibly have a uterus infection such as closed Pyometra. This is a build-up of infection/puss in the uterus which mean that she gains weight and that she changes body shape. Again, she is not pregnant. Some other signs of Pyometra again would be her being lethargic, raised body temperature, panting to cool down, loss of appetite and increase in drinking water as she’s trying to flush her own system of the poisons.
You may see discharge after mating, this can be a natural sign of pregnancy. If foul smelling or murky in colour, then this could be open Pyometra. Again, a uterus infection where it's open so the puss can be signing trying to drain from the body. Discharge is typical in pregnancy but it may also be a sign other things are going on.
I must stress, if you suspect that your female may have Pyometra then seek veterinary advice immediately, this is a time sensitive condition of which your female will only deteriorate over time. Generally this is more prevalent in older females, but I have witnessed it in younger dog including on their first season (not mated), though this is rare.
Personally, I feel ultrasound pregnancy scanning 28 days from the last mating will give you a pretty clear idea as to whether your female is expecting without all of the guess work. It will also rule out any other conditions or illnesses that I've mentioned along with bladder crystals and untypical artefacts such as tissue masses providing peace of mind, knowing that your dog is fit and healthy, rather than assuming that she is pregnant when in fact she is suffering other conditions that will probably need veterinary advice.
Number one, don't bother trying human pregnancy kits.
They do not work because they are based on a different hormone compared to human pregnancy kits. You can buy canine pregnancy kits, but they can give negative results up to 35 days gestation, of which by then you can use other, more accurate ways of testing. Plus this isn't a product that vets regularly have in stock in their practices, and generally you have to order by the batch, so they're probably going to work out very expensive. Also they aren't based on urine, you’ll require a blood sample, so you will have to incur the cost at the vets too.
Number two, the gums going pale at around 21 days.
It's something to do with the blood rushing to the uterus, so it takes it away from the rest of the body. I don't believe there's any medical evidence to say that this is an accurate way of confirming pregnancy, and even if it was it's not gonna give you an idea of the number of pups to expect, or the possible gestational date if mated over a large period. Even if you take a picture, how do you know it's in the same light, and the same angle with the same exercise and food digestion (speeding up metabolism and temperature)?
Number three, nip pics.
You'll see this plastered all over social media with comments like "Does my dog look pregnant?" Who knows? Because who knows what they looked like beforehand, to what they look like the picture. Old school methodology is that the teats become more pronounced and rosy pink. This will be more difficult to ascertain on a female that's already had a litter (not maiden). But likewise you can still have females who go through these changes of characteristics, but they are actually indeed having a phantom pregnancy. The signs can be very convincing, a phantom can go all the way up to them producing milk, mothering toys and teddies. Again, it most certainly is a sign of pregnancy. Is it an accurate sign of pregnancy? No.
I’m going to group palpation here too, it’s generally only advised that a trained person practice it, which means a vet. By feeling around the abdomen I personally feel there is little accuracy, even if they are fairly confident that she is, still the numbers are a guesstimate.
Number four, using a human Foetal Doppler.
This equipment basically amplifies the sound of a potential heart beat for you to ascertain whether she's in pup or not. The problem with this is the quality of the equipment being used along with the quality of gel, the conductive gel which impacts the sound waves and therefore sound plus the skill of the person using it. What you'll find is that it's quite hard not to pick up the mother's heart beat through various arteries running through her body. So you can hear a lot of swishing and white noise which can be misread as puppy heartbeats.
I've had somebody use this equipment quite late on in the stages, once pregnancy had already been confirmed by other methods, that they were then panicking because they couldn't find any puppy heartbeats and they were concerned they may have died. On further investigation they were all fine. Foetal heart beat monitors are in the same bag as the Draminski pregnancy detectors because I believe they run on the same kind of principle.
So in summary, what I’m saying is don't bother wasting your wonga (or your time) on human pregnancy products such as test kits, or even dog ones. Don't bother with the gum change stuff unless you've got nothing else to do with your time. Don’t post nip pics or waste your hard earned dollar on foetal heart monitors, or pregnancy detectors.
So what do I recommend to spend your money on?
That would be ultrasound scanning because you can ultrasound from as early as 28 days from the last mating. If the person conducting the scan is qualified and skilled they'll be able to give you an actual update with progress of the puppy development. Are they a good size? Do they have the correct development points? Are they picking up heartbeats? Later gestational scans can define organs, observe movement of limbs, skull and body diameter can be measured for size and additional due dates information.
Again, not only will they confirm the gestational status of the puppies, but also the expected numbers. The more skilled the technician the more confident they will be in providing numbers. Nothing is 100% in life, well apart from death and taxes, but it's gonna give you damn good idea of what's going on. You can also pick up things that are not necessarily problematic but untypical such as empty gestational sacs or absorption of puppies.
For dogs that are ‘giving the sign of being in pup’ but they're not, may have other underlying health issues. For instance you can pick up bladder crystals, usual artefacts (tumours or masses) or pelvic kidneys. Closed pyometra (uterine infection) does actually give very similar signs to being pregnant because they gain weight, they become lethargic and change body shape, it’s a very serious condition and veterinary assistance must be sought.
So not only does the ultrasound more accurately determine what to expect and what's coming, but also it give you overall ideas the health of your dog and rules out any other possible issues that may not have been apparent for some time.
I've been busy beavering way again! If you ever asked yourself the following questions I can help!
- Unsure when to mate your dog?
- Want to improve the size of your litters?
- Looking for more successful matings?
- Wishing to reduce financial waste?
Then you need to download the free one pager I've designed on 'Everything you need to know about Progesterone 'ovulation' Testing'.
This is a print off and keep document! If you own a stud dog you can forward to people planning to use your studs or just pass on to follow breeder friends!
Last night was not only Guy Fawkes night, I’ll bite my lip and not mention the fireworks for the last week already and the fact I’ve seen displays advertised for this weekend too so no chance of it being over just yet!
It was also the final of the last Big Brother to be aired! I watched ‘What you talking about Willis’ YouTube blog by the BB presenter Emma Willis which was not only very heartfelt and in her au natural state (go Emma!) but I connected with her emotions pretty quickly.
Not only because in the early days many a Big Brother was my only source of entertainment doing the 3am puppy feeds, infact I even decided on a Kennel Club name LaRoyal Big Brother (pet name Arnie), but her words caught my attention:
I really do feel these sentiments are so closely aligned with breeding, Breeding is hardwork but I normally tell people it can’t be ‘that bad’ otherwise no one would do it! I agree with Emma it’s handwork but it is fun and the sense of achievement is huge! Breeding at times will bring you close to tears (if not so) like Emma in her video, but as she said you ‘muster on’.
There will be highs and lows, you might experience this in just one litter or over time the longer you commit to breeding. It is indeed impossible to know was going to happen, but I truly believe by following some simple guidance you can avoid some of the more obvious pitfalls! So check out HomeScan's Puppy Portal to set you on the right path to breeder success!
What's detailed here is for your eyes and your eyes only! Forget the Illuminati or Freemasons, everything you need to know is here, with respect to specific dog related breeding stages from fertility to pregnancy and puppyhood.
If you missed where I've referred to these products then sign up to my free tip sheet "8 vital considerations when your dog is expecting puppies".
After a recent and significant experience at the vets with a very poorly pregnant dog, I decided to reflect on the situation and collate a checklist for consideration for any future scenarios.
I had a female who's health had deteriorated rapidly in 48hrs. She was approx 52 day gestation and very comfortable.
Full details are in the video but ultimately I decided to c-section at 53 days. The results 8 dead pups, 1 spayed bitch and a £3,000 vet bill due to suspected Canine Maternal Hydrops, would I make the same decision again? YES!
Points to consider when making difficult health related decisions about your dog:
I'm super pleased with my new leaflets that have just arrived! They will be given to all future customers!
I want to provide as much information/education as possible adding as much value to my services as my lovely customers deserve!
I've written the '8 Vital considerations you need to make when your girl expecting puppies' answering the most popular questions I'm normally asked!
I have to say they are beautifully printed on some high quality paper, I've impressed myself ! I'm really pleased with them!
If you're not booked with me any time soon you can still download a copy by clicking here!
Time seems to go so slow once you've mated your female until the point pregnancy is confirmed (or not!). This video talks through pros and cons of the following pregnancy detection methods:
During the video two ultrasounds are conducted on two separate dogs, whilst I talk through how a correctly, skilled technician should conduct the scans.
To me ultrasound scanning when operated by a trained and experienced individual is by far the best method of detecting pregnancy and giving an idea of litter size. To find out why check out my video!
When you own more than two breeding bitches it can be difficult to detect when they came into season and who came in first, or in what order and ultimately when to mate!
My current situation of owning 7 dogs - 2 breeding retired, left me with 5. 1 of which was a male, so I was left with 4 bitches in season all mixed (housed) together. Did I have a clue who was in first, just about? Did I know who was second? Nope, plus I was hoping to breed 2 of them!
Check out my video below walking through the cycle of a season, the benefits of progesterone testing, the process, what the results mean and actions I took and why.
I will continue to blog the progress of these two females so you can follow the journey I'm on. Don't forget to down a copy of the '8 Vital considerations when your dog is expecting puppies' it answers the most frequent questions I'm ask when confirmation pregnancy via ultrasound.
New to breeding? or need a refresh?
Then check out my 30 minute Facebook Live video walking you through the options available to you, when it comes to ovulation testing.
Every breeder should be ovulating testing. WHY?
If that doesn't convince you I'll give up now!
Option covered include:
I'm Sara, a premium pet-care professional that founded HomeScan Breeder Services in 2014. I am an experienced and educated breeder, who specialises in domestic animal reproduction. I bred my first litter 20 years ago whilst in my teens and tend to breed annually. Breeding is pretty much in my DNA – a way of my life if you will! I've started this blog to share some of my knowledge and if possible help out a few like minded animal owners!