4 min read
Can Dogs Get Pregnant While Not in Heat?
By Mel Lee-Smith
Published: 08/20/2017, edited: 09/07/2022
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You may be reading this article for one of two reasons: You are considering breeding your dog or you are worried your dog may become pregnant. A litter of puppies along with a pregnant mother may not be every female dog owner’s dream.
If you are worried about dog pregnancy, the most efficient and safest method to prevent one is to have your dog spayed. A bonus is that you’ll no longer have to try and keep track of your dog’s cycles, which are somewhat complicated and change with age.
If you are familiar with her cycles, then you may be wondering if she is fertile when she isn’t ovulating.
Can dogs get pregnant if not in heat?
Female dogs have four stages in their reproductive cycle, which denote their ability to breed, successfully fertilize, and birth puppies. We may be familiar with the term “in heat” or ovulating, but to veterinarians, being in heat or “season” is referred to as the “estrus” cycle.
It’s during this stage, and only this one, that a dog can become pregnant. However, the stages of the cycle can be difficult to ascertain. Every dog is different, with cycles occurring regularly or irregularly every six to eight months. Dogs are also different in terms of when they mature (smaller breeds will have their first estrus cycle younger than larger breeds), and how long their cycles last (typical length is two to three weeks).
In short, your dog cannot become pregnant when not in heat, but many dog-owners have a hard time identifying and keeping track of when their pet is fertile.
How do I tell if my dog is in heat?
Because no dog is the same, the estrus cycle expresses itself in different ways. Additionally, no cycle is the same. Your un-spayed dog may exhibit certain symptoms during her first heat cycle, and then show little to none at all the next cycle.
However, there are several signs you can look for in order to determine when your dog is in heat.
- Slightly bloody or pinkish discharges
- Increased urination
- Swollen vulva and/or nipples
- Raised tail or tail flagging
- Initial interest from males, her interest will increase further into the estrus cycle
- Temporary mood or personality change
The four stages of the dog’s reproductive cycle are not dissimilar to other mammals in the animal kingdom: The cycles work without any effort from the female with the higher goal of furthering a species with procreation.
If you’re having issues determining and recording your pet’s heat cycles, seek the advice of a veterinarian. If you don’t plan on spaying your dog and don’t want to be surprised with a litter of puppies, ensuring she isn’t unattended in the presence of male dogs during her estrus cycle is essential.
To learn more about what to look for and preventative measures, review heat cycles in females.
How can I treat my dog during her heat cycle?
Your dog will thoroughly clean herself with routine licking; this is an essential practice in her feeling she’s doing what’s best for her body. Don’t discourage her from this practice. During bath time, be cautious not to hurt her as her swollen nipples and vulva may be sensitive to the touch.
During the few weeks of her heat cycle, she may be temperamental or even more loving than usual. This will express itself in her unwillingness to leave your side or by seeking less frequented parts of the house to be alone. Respect these decisions, as a dog in heat may be more prone to agitation.
Be sure that your back yard is properly fenced and be extra cautious of her bounding out of the front door when you come home from work. Her body is telling her it’s time to mate and her keen sense of smell is telling her where the nearest male is available to her. Additionally, you may notice strays or other dogs in the neighborhood sniffing and urinating around your house more frequently.
Your dog’s cycle should not last longer than three weeks, and can sometimes be as short as five days. To learn more about the reproductive cycles of female dogs as well as the benefits and precautions of spaying, check out our guide on estrus symptoms after spaying in dogs.
How is pregnancy similar in dogs and humans?
With their powerful noses and our changing hormones, there are many facts that point to a dog’s ability to “sniff out” pregnancies. While we may not be able to smell to that degree, there are some similarities between canine and human pregnancies which may help us notice when our furry companions become expecting mothers. Both pregnant dogs and pregnant humans will experience:
- Weight gain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Larger appetite
- Frequent naps
How is pregnancy different in dogs and humans?
There are a few differences between canine and human pregnancies, including:
- Duration – Human pregnancies typically last up to nine months, while puppies only need eight to nine weeks before being birthed.
- Diagnosis – Dogs don’t need a urinalysis to confirm pregnancy, whereas humans do.
Reproductive conditions in unspayed female dogs can be expensive to treat. To protect your fur-baby (and your budget), start shopping around for pet insurance plans today. While most pet insurance providers don't cover spay procedures or vet costs related to breeding, most plans cover newly diagnosed illnesses in unspayed females, like pyometra.