Journey to Motherhood - From Conception to Birth

Ch Setherwood Hazel with her litter of 11.

It is always exciting as we wait for the delivery of the next litter. Although we have tended to more than 100 litters in the past 40+ years, we are still amazed by the whole process. We thought that you - particularly if you are also waiting for the birth of "your" puppy - would enjoy a week-by-week description of the development of the pups from conception to birth. What follows is based on the 2012 pregnancy of our girl Hazel.

Week 1

During this first week after breeding, mature eggs are fertilized and begin to divide, beginning as a single cell and reaching 4 to 8 cells by the end of the week. They are not attached but are free to move around. As they are tiny at this stage, there is no outward sign.

Week 2

During this week, the cells continue to divide. At about 9 days, a 32-cell "morula" is formed. By the end of the week, the morula has moved into the uterus but has not attached itself to the uretus.

Again this week, the prospective mother shows  no sign of pregnancy. She continues to enjoy her walks, meals and her friends.

Week 3

Early in the third week, embryos are formed. These attach to the uterine wall and the development of the organs begins, starting with the nervous system. 
The foetal sacs which will contain each embryo until birth are formed.

Early embryo attached to the uterine wall.
Source: Animals in the Womb - National Geographic

Again this week, the Mum shows no signs of pregnancy. There is no mammary development or thickening at her waist. Her behaviour is normal. At about this point we start the inevitable guessing game: "Is she?" and "I think she is."and "Do you think she looks thicker?" and "Maybe a little." and on and on until we are finally sure, one way or the other. Great fun!

Week 4

The development of the organs has continued during this week. By the end of the fourth week, the embryos are oval-shaped, about the size of walnuts (between 1.4 and 1.8 cm long) and evenly spaced in the uterus.

Embryo at about 25 days.
Source: Animals in the Womb - National Geographic

Again this week, there are no definite signs of pregnancy but given the small size of the embryos and the lack of fluid production at this point, we would not expect obvious signs. The dog's behaviour continues to be normal.

Week 5

By the end of the 5th week, the formation of organs is complete. The eyes have formed and are covered by the eyelids. Sexual organs are evident. Toes, whisker buds and claws begin to develop. At about this stage, the pups graduate from "embyros" to "foetuses".

Often by this point, the new mother will show definite thickening at her flank and rib areas and there will be some mammary development. Although her behaviour is still normal, we become convinced that she is pregnant. No change to her exercise or feeding is needed at this point.

Broader across her back.

Thicker at her flank.

Week 6

The foetuses now look like dogs, showing head and trunk differentiation. The skin pigment is developing. The hearts are beating. Fluid is being produced to protect the pups during the rest on their time before birth. So far, there has been a lot of development but they are still quite small. Most of their growth will occur in the next 3 weeks.

Foetus at 39 days.
Source: Animals in the Womb - National Geographic

By the end of this week, most dogs will be thicker at the flank and will show some mammary development. We normally will change from adult to a starter food in the next week to give the extra nutrition she will need as the pups enter their growth phase. She may be slowing a little during her daily walks but otherwise usually behaves normally.

What's all the fuss about?

Week 7

The foetuses are now in the accelerated growth phase. There is more fluid in the uterus. The heartbeats can be seen using ultrasound and the bones are being mineralized.

At this stage, we normally see the results of the pups' growth in the mothers profile and behaviour. Her stomach area is swelling,
her nipples are enlarging and she is slower when she is out for her walks.  We are now feeding her a starter ration but are otherwise treating her as usual.

Obvious pregnancy - end of week 7.

Week 8

The foetal skeletons are now calcified and can be seen on an x-ray. This was mostly a week of growth as pre-natal development is almost complete.

The new mother is now moving very slowly when she goes for a walk. Her belly is much larger and there is more mammary development. If we are patient, we can feel the pups moving. Many dogs start to lose some of their appetite in the next week as abdominal swelling continues.

Week 9

All pre-natal development is now complete and the pups can be born at any time.

Full term - about 63 days.
Source: Animals in the Womb - National Geographic

Normally, appetite has decreased during this week due to the mass of the uterus and puppies so we will be feeding 3 smaller meals each day. Toward the end of the week, she may refuse some of the smaller meals as well. This is normal behaviour at this stage. Her mammary system will be producing milk and we can easily feel the pups move. She usually still goes for the daily walks but will be very slow as she is carrying a lot of extra weight (could be 15 to 20 pounds).

Here are full-term pictures.

By now, we will have made sure that the whelping area is ready. We will now watch for signs of impending labour (restlessness, nesting behaviour, heavy panting) so that we are with her when she delivers.

Delivery day.

The outcome of all of the above was a litter of 11 pups born on June 17, 2012. Please click HERE for pictures of the development of these pups from birth to about eight weeks of age.

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