How to Tell If Your Dog is Pregnant

Is this dog pregnant?Is this dog pregnant?After getting my dog Lulu as a puppy, I kept her on a very short leash until we could set up a spay appointment. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I could hear dogs howling every time we stepped outside for a potty break. Fortunately, Lulu did go under the knife and we remain puppy-free, except for the occasional foster. But some pet owners choose not to have their female dogs "fixed," leading to the possibility of extra mouths to feed or worse.

Since there isn't a pet pregnancy test at the local drugstore (yet), how do you know if your dog is pregnant?

Dr. Jennifer Monroe of the Eagle's Landing Veterinary Hospital in Georgia offers a few tips to detect whether your pooch is "in the family way."

"The first thing is knowing whether or not your pet has mated with an intact male recently," Monroe said. "You've got to have that to start."

Also see: 7 CEOS who work like dogs

To prevent the risk of an unwanted pregnancy, be sure to monitor dogs when they are outdoors. If your dog has mated, look for an enlarged belly. Monroe said the mammary tissue also will develop. Those are the primary signs that your pooch may be having pups. For confirmation, you will need to schedule a visit to the veterinarian.

"[The vet] can perform an ultrasound or, later in the pregnancy, check the X-ray for puppies," she said. An exam provides the only real confirmation of whether puppies are present, and vets also can detect how many pups are on the way. But not every symptom leads to a pregnancy. "Female dogs can go into false pregnancy where the belly gets big, mammary tissue may develop and they may exhibit nesting behavior, but it's not a real pregnancy, so that behavior can fool you."

False pregnancies tend to be fairly rare among dogs. The signs typically occur after a heat cycle and go away over time, said Monroe. When a false pregnancy does occur, veterinarians typically wait for the symptoms to fade before scheduling a spay procedure.

"When you have mammary tissue that is so developed and swollen, the blood vessels are larger, there's more bleeding and dogs don't heal as quickly," she said. "It's the same reason why we don't spay dogs when they are in heat. When dogs are in heat, the uterus can tear very easily, vessels are larger and distended. They bleed more. It's an unnecessary risk you have to take."

If you are ready to end the guessing game and make potty time less stressful, consider having your dog spayed. It's much less expensive than caring for litters of puppies, and several organizations offer low-cost spay or neuter services. Start by checking with your local animal shelter. Many offer deeply discounted procedures, particularly for bully breeds. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals joined forces with PetsMart Charities to offer a searchable database of low-cost clinics across the country.

Related pet stories: