Canine pregnancies occur relatively quickly compared to human pregnancies. After mating, the young pups can emerge after only 58 to 68 days of gestation! It's a miracle of life right before your eyes. But how can you tell if your dog is pregnant?
Obvious signs aside, a few oddball changes occur shortly before your female dog starts showing. Many owners of unfixed dogs and seasoned breeders will look to the nipples.
The Role of Nipples in Pregnancy
If you've never taken the time to look, get your pup on its belly! Both male and female dogs have nipples. They have a total of ten, with five on each side. Like in humans, the male nipples are virtually useless. However, female nipples help with nursing.
All mammals must breastfeed, and that's precisely what the nipples are for. They connect to milk-filled mammary glands and give puppies easy access to feed.
Dogs have ten nipples because that's roughly how many puppies dogs can have. Even if they have less than ten, the numerous nipples ensure that all pups are capable of feeding.
Breastfeeding is crucial to the development of young puppies. While you may move them to bottle feeding not long after birth, those first few weeks of breastfeeding help puppies grow strong and healthy.
It's a way for mothers to provide all the nutrients young canines need. Plus, it transfers immunity to fragile babies, ensuring their little bodies can fend off diseases.
How the Nipples Change During Pregnancy
When you're dog isn't pregnant, her nipples are relatively flat and small. They're usually light pink and don't stick out too much.
Depending on your dog's color and the thickness of its coat, you may not even see them! However, that all changes after she becomes pregnant.
Shortly after breeding, your dog's body goes through many changes.
Hormonal fluctuations prepare the body for the intense transformation it'll go through as your dog brings new life into the world. One of the first changes you may notice is the nipples getting lighter.
They go from pale pink to an even more subtle flesh color. It's as if the color drains from the nipples. This occurs within the first week after fertilization. You may not notice it, but it's most evident in the nipples closer to the hind legs.
After that, more nipple changes happen.
Around two to four weeks after breeding, the mammary glands begin to produce milk. It's the body's way of preparing for all the breastfeeding your dog will do once the babies come into the world.
The glands swell up, creating a noticeable plumpness.
That process is slow-going, and the mammary glands will only continue to get larger as the pregnancy progresses. But before you see that change, you might notice that the nipples become more prominent.
The areolas get more expansive, and the nipples start to protrude more.
The color changes, too. Instead of the blush of light pink or flesh-toned hue, they become intensely pink or red.
The nipples get flushed with blood, changing color and size. With more blood flow to the area, the nipples also become increasingly sensitive.
Can You Tell if a Dog is Pregnant from the Nipples Alone?
The nipples are a great, telltale sign of pregnancy. But it's not the best way to confirm the pregnancy alone. There are other potential causes for changes to the nipple appearance.
The only way to know for sure is with help from your vet.
That said, many breeders use the nipple method to check for successful mating.
Most dogs don't start to show until the five or six-week mark. But nipple changes will occur within the first two to four weeks!
Breeding happens so fast, and it can be quick enough for most dog owners not to notice it happened at all. Keeping an eye on the nipples will let you know if you should take your dog to the vet for full confirmation.
Other Signs of Pregnancy
Nipples might be your earliest indicator of pregnancy, but it's certainly not the only sign. Here are a few other symptoms that can occur before a pregnant dog starts showing.
Pregnancy takes a toll on mothers. That's true for humans, elephants, and any other mammal! Your dog's hormones will fluctuate dramatically, creating many weird emotions.
It's common for pregnant dogs to act strangely. They might become withdrawn and distant, preferring to keep to themselves as their body undergoes this unique transformation.
Alternatively, your female furry friend might turn to you for support. She could become increasingly clingy, hoping to grab your attention at every waking moment.
The new behavior can be alarming but have patience. Provide your dog with all the support and love she needs. She's going through a tough time, so be there whenever possible.
Another common sign is general tiredness.
Bouts of lethargy can start within the first couple of weeks! Instead of her usual peppy and active self, she may spend less time wanting to play and more time napping.
Many dog owners will start to worry because their dogs no longer run to them when they get home or jump all over them as they try to sit down.
Don't fret: The tiredness is typical. It's another response to those changing hormones. Trying to wake your pup up and get them active will only cause trouble.
Lack of Appetite
Most people associate pregnancy with non-stop eating. But in the early stages, that's not the case. Dogs often lose their appetite entirely in the first few weeks. If they do eat, it may come out due to morning sickness!
Those hormones are no joke, and the constant sick feeling will make dogs want to avoid food as much as possible.
Once again, don't worry. Her appetite will return, and she'll make up for what she's not eating now later!
Related: What to Feed a Pregnant Dog?
Supporting Your Pregnant Dog
If your dog's nipples get large and pink, it's time to visit the vet for a pregnancy test! The gestation period is relatively quick, but it's still intense for your dog.
Work with your vet and support your dog to ensure the pregnancy goes as smoothly as possible. Do your part, and you'll be the proud owner of a young, healthy litter in no time!