So, your Labrador is pregnant and will soon be giving birth to a new litter of puppies! While it is exciting, it is probably also daunting news, especially if you have never cared for a pregnant dog before. Caring for a pregnant Labrador does not have to be frightening, time-consuming, or overwhelming. What follows is a week-by-week guide for caring for your pregnant Labrador.
How do you care for a pregnant Labrador? During your Labrador’s pregnancy, you will need to ease the effects of morning sickness, provide a highly-nutritious diet, encourage regular exercise, monitor your Lab’s temperature, and prepare a whelping box.
Labradors are pregnant for 9 weeks. After giving birth, your Lab will need assistance with the recovery process.
While breeding Labs is a happy time, it can get complicated when things go wrong. It is important to know what to expect and to have a proper plan in place to ensure the comfort and safety of your pet. Below we cover tips and advice on caring for your pregnant Labrador, helping with the birth, and how to ensure that she has a healthy, happy recovery.
Labrador Pregnancy: From Mating to Birth to Recovery
In order for your Labrador to conceive, she will need to mate with an un-neutered male Labrador when she is in heat, during the Estrus stage. If you are new to breeding, and you are working with a young dog, it is important to avoid breeding too soon. Your female Labrador should have at least 2 heat cycles before she breeds, so wait until she is at least 2 years old. Breeding should not continue after the 7th year of life.
The male Labrador that mates with your pet should also be around 2 years of age as most health tests cannot be carried out until the dog reaches this age. It is not a good idea to allow mating with a male Lab that is older than 7 years. In most instances, mating once is enough to get the female Lab pregnant, but if you want to make sure that she conceives, you can allow the pair to mate every 2 days, while she will allow it.
If this is the first time you are seeing a dog mate, you might be surprised when there is a “tie” between the two dogs. Some describe this as the two dogs being “stuck together” during mating. It is common for the female to remain stuck to the male, but she may turn her back on him. Do not try to pull them apart or interfere at all. This is very important as doing so could cause serious injury or even death to one of the dogs.
Why do dogs get stuck together after mating? A tie is actually completely natural and can last for 20 minutes to 30 minutes. This is caused by the Bulbus Glandis of the male’s penis swelling inside the female dog’s vagina. This is the process of ejaculation and should not be disturbed.
Is My Labrador Pregnant?
The most common (and affordable) way for a vet to determine if your Lab is pregnant is to feel/examine the dog’s abdomen. If you have a bit more money to spend, you can also opt for a dog pregnancy test, but this can only read accurately from day 21 to 25 of her term. Ultrasound is also an option, but this can be quite expensive and can only be done from day 20 to 22 of her term.
If you are not specifically breeding your pet for a reason, you can simply observe your Labrador’s behavior. Pregnant Labradors do not particularly like to be touched, especially on their tummies. They will appear sleepy or lethargic and in some instances will drink a lot more water and urinate more frequently. The new hormones introduced to the dog’s system can also result in the dog becoming moody.
Labrador Pregnancy Duration
Your Labrador will be pregnant for a period of 9 weeks or 63 days. This period is calculated from the first day that the dog ovulates until the day that she gives birth. Labradors go through 3 trimesters, each trimester being 21 days long.
While this time period is typical for most pregnancies, it is not the case for all Labradors.
Labs have also been known to have a gestation period of 58 days or 68 days (roughly a week on either end of the schedule). There is no known reason for this, but more a case of the individual dog’s body and how it handles the pregnancy process.
Week-by-Week Care for the Pregnant Labrador
You can break down your care strategy into 9 separate weeks for your pregnant Labrador. Let’s take a closer look at what to expect, week by week, and what you need to be doing at each stage.
In week 1, mating has just occurred and the gestation period begins. The egg has been fertilized by the sperm and the egg is now a living organism. The embryo is formed, but at this stage, it is still situated very high up in the uterus. As the end of week 1 nears, the embryo makes its way downward, towards the uterine horns to spend some time suspended within the uterine liquid.
During this time, everything feels normal for your pet and there is no need to make any changes to your feeding schedule or exercise routine. You may want to hold off on grooming or bathing at this stage, just to ensure that she experiences no stress. Beyond that, it should be business as usual for both you and your pet.
The initial phase of gestation, called embryogenesis, is often a confusing time for pet owners. They expect the embryos to grow exponentially and do not pay much attention to their pet’s weight gain. This is unfortunately incorrect thinking. Up until day 42, which is the initial gestation phase, your dog’s weight gain should not increase more than 10%.
During week 2, your main objective should be to maintain your dog’s healthy weight and avoid overfeeding. The embryos do not grow as much during this phase and so no additional nutritional supplementation should be required.
If your dog appears relaxed and at ease, you can probably resume regular gentle grooming and continue taking your Lab for daily walks.
During week 3, the embryos have made a lengthy trip and finally embedded in the uterine wall lining. Here they grow in the protective sack for the remainder of the pregnancy, receiving all the vitamins and nutrients they require for healthy growth.
There is no need to make any dramatic changes to your regular routine with your dog. You can feed your Lab as per normal, keep up with regular daily exercise, and keep up gentle grooming. You might notice that your dog has a bigger appetite and you can increase food quantity at this stage, but only slightly.
During week 4, around the 25th day of the pregnancy, you will need to make an appointment with your vet to confirm pregnancy. In most instances, the vet will carry out an ultrasound to confirm pregnancy, inform you of the size of the litter, and to investigate if there are any problems or abnormalities.
If you do not wish to have an ultrasound, you can have blood drawn and tested to check for the presence of Relaxin. This is a hormone that is only found in the blood of a pregnant dog.
At this stage, you need to think about changing your exercise routine slightly. Daily walks for a decent distance should be fine, but running, jumping, and rough play should be put on hold until after she has given birth. Your regular feeding schedule can also be very slightly increased as your Lab might start to feel more hungry during this stage. Keeping your pregnant Lab calm and comfortable in week 4 is the only thing you really need to do.
Embryogenesis ends in week 5 and so begins the second stage called the fetal phase. From around day 35, the puppy is forming. In fact, at this stage, the organs are beginning to take on their form and the total weight of the growing pup will increase exponentially.
With a 75% growth in weight, you can expect for your Lab to start feeling tired, hungry and potentially a bit moody. You can provide your Lab with a bit more food and you can expect a bit of weight gain too. Weight gain is not something that happens to all Labs at this stage, so do not panic if you do not notice any.
The risk of miscarriage at week 5 is far less than in the prior 4 weeks. While everything is more balanced, it is still a good idea to maintain reduced exercise routines and to ensure that there is no rough play, jumping, or running.
Week 6 is going to be a challenging week for your pregnant Labrador. While the puppy is growing rapidly at this point (there are already claws and a more rigid skeleton), she will need to get a bit more out of our nutrition. Unfortunately, eating regular sized meals will not be comfortable for her, so try to offer snack-sized portions more frequently throughout the day.
At this stage, you need to adjust her diet to include high-energy and high-protein ingredients. You will find various dog food products on the market aimed at dogs undergoing this particular stage of pregnancy. These are jam-packed with protein and nutrients and are highly flavorful in order to encourage the dog to eat even with a decreased appetite. You can also get a multivitamin from your vet to ensure that your pet’s condition is maintained during this phase.
Week 6 is the start of the third and final trimester. The toll on her body will probably lead to your dog feeling tired, so if she appears lethargic, do not be alarmed. Just focus on making her comfortable.
In week 7, from around the 45-day mark, you will notice that your Labrador starts to shed the hair on her abdomen. This is completely normal. At this phase, the puppies inside are almost fully formed. Their coats are now starting to grow and their skeletons and bones have hardened a great deal more through a process called ossification.
Usually at this stage, during preparations for birth, parasites (worms) become a concern. If your pregnant Lab has worms, they will be passed on to the puppies at birth. To ensure that this does not happen, your dog will need to be dewormed. During pregnancy, it is not a good idea to deworm your pet with their regular medication. Consult with your vet to find out what is the most suitable and safest product to use during week 7 of pregnancy.
During week 7 you will also need to start making preparations for the actual birth. It is important to start making preparations early as you cannot be certain that your Labrador will carry to full term. Creating a “whelping” area or box is a good idea. This is a spot where you can lay some blankets and cushions and where your dog will feel comfortable giving birth and rearing her pups for the first couple of days.
It is also a good idea to include a heating pad so that the pups will be kept warm and that sucking will not be disturbed. Do not set up the whelping area in a busy, high-traffic area of the home. Choose a place that will be relatively undisturbed during the day. It may also help to observe your Labrador’s behavior during this time. She may start visiting certain areas in the house where she feels more comfortable. She is looking for the right birthing spot.
Week 8 it should become much more apparent that your Lab is about to give birth as this is when she will start lactating. While this is not necessary, you can trim your dog’s fur around her nipples to ensure that pups can feed easily when the time comes.
At this stage, it is a good idea to get some alternative milk, just to have at hand. Sometimes newborn puppies have trouble suckling or the mother might not lactate as expected, and then you will need to ensure that there is sufficient milk to feed the pups for her.
It is also not uncommon for some people to visit their vet during this week, usually around day 50, to get an X-ray. This can be uncomfortable for the dog and is not essential, so you can skip this step if you prefer. The reason most people do this is to confirm the size of the litter so that when whelping takes place, those present at the birth can be sure when all of the pups have been delivered.
Your Labrador is soon to give birth and you need to be prepared. You should layer newspaper on the floor around the whelping area and make sure that the room temperature does not drop below 26 degrees Celsius.
You can monitor your dog’s temperature. Something as small as a 1 degree Celsius drop can show that birth is about to happen. At this stage, you need to make sure that your Labrador is comfortable, warm and feels supported. Do not be afraid to shower her with love and affection – this is also an emotional and physically challenging time for your pet.
After week 9, your Labrador will most certainly go into labor. It is best not to get too involved in the process as you could cause more harm than good if you do not know what you are doing. Your only job is to keep your dog calm and provide her with emotional support while monitoring the birth. If something does not seem right, it is best to call your vet for advice and guidance.
There is no hard-and-fast rule about how long it will take for a Labrador to give birth. Some Labradors calmly deliver their puppies in a few minutes, while others can take longer – sometimes up to 4 hours. Do not panic – this is not unusual If you cannot be with her the entire time, you only need to check in on your dog about every 15 minutes.
Some pet owners panic when they see a puppy being birthed “backward” (hind legs first). Do not worry – this is normal. Puppies can be birthed head first or hind legs first. There is nothing unusual about either delivery.
As each puppy emerges, they may still be in a fetal sack which the mother will tear open. If she does not, you can safely tear the sack open yourself. The placenta must come out during birth, the mother usually eats this. Each puppy will have its own placenta attached. She might not eat this immediately, so give her some time and only remove it if it appears that she has no intention of eating it a few hours after birth.
You can throw these away if she has no interest in eating them. This is a behavior that is uncomfortable for many people, but the placentas are packed with nutrients and minerals and by eating them, she can renourish her system. Be aware that in some instances, a puppy will sometimes be stillborn (born dead). This is simply a fact of life that you should prepare for.
But not all puppies that are motionless at birth are necessarily stillborn. If any of the new pups seem a bit still when born, you can safely stimulate them by gently rubbing them with a soft, dry, plush towel. This will often get them breathing and moving.
You need to contact your vet if you notice any of the following:
- Your dog starts giving birth before day 57 of the pregnancy.
- Pups get stuck in the birth canal.
- More than one puppy comes out at the same time.
- Birth of an empty fetal sack.
- The placenta does not come out during birth.
- Pups (one or more) are born with birth defects.
- The first stage of birth takes more than 4 hours.
- More than 3 hours pass between the birth of each puppy.
There is absolutely no circumstance where you should get actively involved in the birthing process. Do not pull pups that seem to be stuck or touch the pregnant dog in her abdominal area.
Helping Your Labrador Recover from Giving Birth
The recovery process for your Labrador starts from the very moment that the last puppy is born.
There is a risk of infection if your Lab and her pups are left ‘as is’. While you should not wipe or clean the puppies, you can use a warm damp cloth to gently wipe the birthing fluid and blood off your dog. She will clean the pups herself – leave her to it.
You should remove the dirty paper and towels from the floor and discard them. You will need to lay fresh paper and towels as it will take a few weeks (up to 8) for your Lab to stop leaking fluid. It is normal for this to happen but if the fluid is grey and has a bad odor it could be a sign that something is wrong or that there is an infection present. Healthy discharge from the dog’s vagina is usually brownish red and stringy with a very mild odor from time to time. Keep the room clean by replacing towels and paper regularly.
Pay Attention to Nutrition
Your Lab will need to be assisted with physical recovery through good nutrition. Increase her food amount as she will need a bit extra to feed her growing pups. It is important to ensure that she is actually feeding her pups, so check up on this. Feeding or nursing is usually accompanied by a larger appetite. But your Labrador might also be more picky about what she will eat. This is fairly normal.
You can change your dog’s food to a palatable brand with high protein content.
It is normal for a dog that has just given birth to have no interest in food for up to 48 hours after giving birth. When she does eat, you might find that she can eat up to 4 times her regular amount. This is normal – making milk for pups takes many, many calories. Let her eat.
Give Her Some Space
Your Labrador will feel very protective of her pups so make sure that no children or other pets have access to them until she is comfortable and settled. She may get aggressive and even bite if she feels they are being threatened in any way.
In the following weeks, your Labrador will need time to bond with her pups and return to a more normal schedule that she can keep up with. It is important to give her some space and time to do this, but have a tally or how many pups there are so that you can ensure all are accounted for at all times.
Protect Against Mammary Gland Infection
Once your dog is nursing her pups, there is a chance that she can still develop an infection. Mastitis is a mammary gland infection that can get quite sore and serious very quickly – it can cause death. It is important to take your pet to the vet immediately if you suspect mastitis has set in.
Signs of mastitis include:
- Red or purple glands,
- Over-swelling of only certain glands,
- Gland hardness.
It is a good idea to visit your vet a few weeks after the birth so that both the mom and pups can benefit from a professional checkup. The health of your dog should be of paramount importance.
Finding Homes for Your Labrador Puppies
After the first week or so, you can start handling the puppies to socialize them a bit in lieu of finding them new homes. If your plan is to find other homes for the puppies, it’s important to know that you should not re-home puppies before 8 weeks of age as this can be stressful for both the mother and the pup. It is also illegal in some states to sell or give away pups before 2 months of age.
By the time you find homes for the new pups, they should be weaned and eating regular puppy food. Before they are placed with a new family, you should have given them their first vaccinations and dewormed them, for the safety of the pups and the convenience of the new owners.
Of course, you should make sure that you are handing the puppies over to responsible pet lovers who can prove their homes and lifestyles are suitable for a new dog.
Caring for your pregnant Labrador and helping her recover after giving birth can be a challenging but highly rewarding exercise. If you are expecting puppies and excited about the prospect, all you can do is make sure that you are fully prepared for the process of birth. Make sure that you have the time and energy to welcome a new litter into your home. Be prepared that after they are born and you and your family have had time to bond with the pups, you may want to keep them all!