What Do Dogs Nipples Look Like Before Labor?

Anatomy of the Canine Teat

The teats, or mammary glands, of female dogs are located on the underside of the abdomen in two rows running from the chest to the groin area. Dogs typically have 5 pairs of mammary glands. Each teat contains a lactiferous duct surrounded by glandular and fatty tissue that produces and carries milk to the nipple. Male dogs also have rudimentary mammary glands but they are less developed than in females.

The development of mammary glands in dogs is influenced by hormones like estrogen, progesterone, prolactin, and placental lactogens. During puberty, estrogen stimulates mammary duct growth. Progesterone then promotes development of the glandular tissue during pregnancy in preparation for lactation. Prolactin and placental lactogens further stimulate milk production closer to whelping.

For more on canine mammary gland anatomy, see the Michigan State University page on VM 528-Canine mammary glands.

Changes During Pregnancy

Around 2-3 weeks after conception, a pregnant dog’s hormones, especially progesterone, will begin to impact the development of mammary glands and nipples in preparation for nursing pups [1]. The most noticeable changes typically start between weeks 5-7 of pregnancy as progesterone levels peak. At this stage, the nipples will become larger, elongating in preparation for milk production, and the areolas will redden as blood flow increases to the area [2]. The nipples will also protrude more than normal.

Owners may notice as early as week 5 that the nipples seem slightly swollen and pinker than usual. By weeks 6-7, the nipples will appear elongated and dark red, versus the pale pink color of normal nipples. The areolas may also develop small bumps on the surface as the mammary glands swell. These changes prepare the teats to provide nutrition to pups once they are born.

Nipple Growth in Pregnant Dogs

One of the earliest signs of pregnancy in dogs is nipple growth. During the first 2-3 weeks of pregnancy, the nipples will begin to enlarge and redden. By the 3rd and 4th week of pregnancy, the nipples will increase in size noticeably and protrude more. They will also darken in pigmentation and become more purplish-red in color.

The most significant nipple growth occurs between weeks 5-7 of pregnancy. According to Rexipets.com, “Between 5 and 7 weeks of pregnancy, the dog’s nipples undergo noticeable alterations. They become more prominent and take on a darker hue.” [1] The nipples will be larger, fuller, and more bulbous during this time. They will also secrete a waxy, milky fluid to prepare for nursing.

In the final trimester between weeks 8-9, the nipples reach full maturity in preparation for nursing. South Seattle Veterinary Hospital notes, “The milk glands begin developing and enlarging in preparation for milk production. The nipples themselves become firm and enlarged.” [2] The mammary glands will swell with milk, and the nipples will protrude fully.

To prepare the teats for nursing, it is important to gently wash the mammary area daily with warm water during the last 2 weeks of pregnancy. The nipples can also be cleaned with damp cotton balls. This helps remove wax buildup and keeps the area clean for the puppies.

Other Physical Signs

In addition to changes in the nipples, there are other physical signs that indicate pregnancy in dogs. One of the earliest signs is swelling of the vulva, which may be noticeable as early as 3-4 weeks into the pregnancy (https://www.michigananimalhospital.com/). The swelling is due to increased blood flow to the area in preparation for whelping.

As the pregnancy progresses, the abdomen will also expand as the puppies grow and the uterus enlarges. Many female dogs will show obvious abdominal distention by 4 weeks of pregnancy. An enlarging or “pot-bellied” abdomen is a clear visual indicator of pregnancy (https://www.noahsarkvet.com).

Pregnant dogs also often show behavioral changes like lethargy, restlessness, nesting instinct, and changes in appetite. Around 5 weeks into the pregnancy, they may start searching for a quiet and secluded space to give birth and begin gathering bedding material. These are natural instincts as the dog prepares for the arrival of her puppies.

In summary, swelling of the vulva, abdominal distension, behavioral changes like nesting, and alterations in energy level and appetite can all indicate pregnancy in dogs, even before noticeable nipple changes occur.

Preparing for Welping

Welping, the process of a dog giving birth, requires some preparation and supplies. Stock up on supplies like newspapers, towels, scissors, dental floss, heating pad, thermometer, and puppy formula. Designate a quiet, private area in your home for the whelping location. This area should be in a low-traffic area, warm, and lined with newspapers and towels.

Start monitoring your pregnant dog’s temperature 1-2 weeks before her due date. A dog’s normal temperature is 101-102.5F. Right before labor, your dog’s temperature will drop to 98-100F. This temperature drop 12-24 hours before labor is one of the most reliable signs that whelping is close.[1]

Other signs that labor is imminent include nesting behaviors like digging up areas to make a nest, leaking milk, loss of appetite, and restlessness. Prepare all your supplies and whelping area when you see these signs. Your dog will likely go into active labor within 24 hours.

The Welping Process

A dog’s labor typically begins with contractions and straining. This is the first stage of labor, when the cervix dilates and the puppies start moving into position. Contractions may start and stop during this stage, which can last 6-12 hours or longer, especially in first-time mothers.

During the second stage of labor, intense abdominal contractions push the puppies through the birth canal. This is the active pushing phase, which is when you will start to see puppies born. Puppies should arrive every 30-60 minutes on average. Prolonged intervals of over 2 hours between puppies may indicate a problem.

Each puppy emerges encased in a sac that the mother will break open and clean off. Contact your veterinarian immediately if the sac does not break or the mother fails to clear the puppy’s airways. After each puppy, the mother should pass the placentas as well.

The third and final stage of labor involves the passing of any remaining placentas, which may take up to 4-6 hours after the last puppy. The mother will likely seem more settled and comfortable when labor is complete.

It’s very important to monitor the birthing process and know when to call your veterinarian. Seek immediate help if strong contractions last over 1 hour with no puppy, the mother is in distress, a puppy appears stuck, or more than 2 hours pass between puppies. With assistance, complications can often be managed during whelping.

For more details on what to expect during normal dog whelping, check out this helpful guide from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: The normal whelping process.

After Welping Care

After giving birth, your dog will need special care as she recovers from the welping process and begins producing milk for her puppies. It’s important to provide a quiet, comfortable area for the mother dog to rest and bond with her litter during this time.

The mother dog should have access to plenty of fresh, clean water to avoid dehydration after whelping. Offer small amounts of a high-quality puppy food or gruel several times a day as her appetite returns. Avoid any dietary changes right after giving birth. Her nutritional needs will increase dramatically as she nurses the litter, so she may need up to three times her normal amount of food.

Monitor the mother dog closely for any signs of postpartum complications like vaginal discharge, fever, loss of appetite or lethargy. Consult your veterinarian if you notice anything abnormal. Most discharge tapers off after a few days, but foul-smelling discharge could indicate infection. Postpartum depression is also possible if the mother dog seems anxious, agitated or rejects her puppies.

Make sure the mother dog has a comfortable whelping box lined with blankets, and limit interaction with other household pets during this critical bonding period. Allow the mother dog to clean and feed her puppies on demand. Provide support, but allow her natural mothering instincts to guide the process.

With plenty of rest, a healthy diet and a quiet space to bond with her litter, your dog can focus on recovering from the whelping process and caring for her newborn puppies. Monitor her closely and consult your vet at the first sign of any postpartum complications.

Caring for Newborn Puppies

Caring for a newborn puppy is a big responsibility. Puppies cannot regulate their own body temperature for the first few weeks of life, so it’s important to keep them warm by providing a warm whelping area. The area should be around 90°F for the first 4 days. After that, the temperature can be reduced to 80°F (Hill’s Pet, 2023).

Puppies need to eat every 2-4 hours for the first few weeks. They should be allowed to nurse from their mother when possible. If they are orphaned, they will need to be bottle-fed a puppy milk replacer formulated for newborns. Overfeeding can cause aspiration pneumonia, so only small amounts should be fed at a time (PetMD, 2022).

After feeding, the puppy’s genital area should be gently stimulated with a warm washcloth to encourage elimination. Puppies cannot urinate or defecate on their own at first. Watch for signs of dehydration and contact a vet if the puppy isn’t eating well or seems lethargic (AKC, 2023).

Other signs of health issues to look out for are crying nonstop, difficulty breathing, tremors, and a failure to gain weight. It’s critical to monitor each puppy closely and get veterinary care immediately if problems arise.

Weaning the Litter

Weaning is the process of transitioning puppies from nursing on their mother’s milk to eating solid food. Puppies should begin the weaning process around 3-4 weeks of age, when their baby teeth start to erupt. The discomfort from nursing puppies with sharp teeth motivates the mother dog to begin weaning her babies. This gradual process typically lasts 4-6 weeks as the puppies are introduced to solid foods while still nursing occasionally.

It’s best to start slowly by offering the puppies small amounts of softened kibble mixed with warm water or formula. The texture should be mushy and easy to consume. Feed the weaning mixture several times a day, monitoring the puppies to ensure they can digest the new food. Gradually decrease nursing time with the mother dog while increasing the amount of solid food offered. By 6-8 weeks old, puppies should be eating completely solid food.

During weaning, continue to monitor the puppies’ weight, energy levels, and stool quality to ensure proper nutrition and health. Provide ample opportunity for socialization and handling to get them comfortable around people. Soft toys, chews, and interactive feeders with kibble help puppies explore and develop. With patience and care during this transition, the puppies will be fully weaned and ready for their future homes.

Preparing Puppies for New Homes

Getting puppies ready for their forever homes is an important part of the breeder’s responsibility. This involves both medical care and screening potential owners.

Puppies should receive a full course of vaccinations, starting at 6-8 weeks old, to protect them from dangerous viruses like parvovirus, distemper, and rabies. They also need regular deworming to eliminate intestinal parasites. A vet should examine each puppy and certify they are healthy before adoption. Some states require breeders to microchip puppies or provide municipal licenses before selling them.

Thoroughly screening applicants is key to finding good homes. Require potential adopters to complete a detailed application, conduct interviews, check vet references, and do home visits. Avoid placing puppies with owners who seem unreliable or unable to provide proper care.

Have adopters sign a contract covering things like spay/neuter requirements, health guarantees, and permission for follow-up. Provide new owners with health and vaccination records, sample food, and instructions for care. With preparation on both sides, the puppies and new families will be set up for success.

For more information, see: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/preparing-puppy-new-home/

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