When a dog gets pregnant, it’s easy to assume it can carry puppies in its rib cage — but that couldn’t be further from the truth. On the contrary, the litter develops in the uterus and is usually too small to notice in the early days of pregnancy.
Typically, the uterus is close to the rib cage, hence the assumption that a pregnant dog carries puppies in the rib cage. The next part of the article explains why puppies appear in a dog’s rib cage and how to determine if your dog is pregnant.
Before scrolling down this guide, “Can a Pregnant Dog Carry Puppies in Their Rib Cage,” check out: 1 Month Pregnant Dog Guide: What You Need To Know! (2023) and How Many Puppies Can A Chihuahua Have? (2023).
Does a Pregnant Dog Carry Puppies in Their Rib Cage?
Dogs don’t carry puppies in their rib cage — they carry them in the uterus. During the early days of pregnancy, the fetus attaches to the upper part of the uterus, close to the rib cage. Although the uterus is in the abdominal cavity, its position changes depending on the pregnancy stage.
In the early days of pregnancy, the uterus is close to the rib cage, but as the fetus develops, it shifts to the abdomen, close to the birth canal, in preparation for birth.
The rib cage consists of 26 ribs (two sets of 13 ribs on either side) attached to a long, flat bone at the center of the chest. The ribs are made from bones which can’t expand. The dog only appears bigger at the rib cage as the litter grows.
What Happens When a Dog Is Pregnant?
Conception begins when a sperm fertilizes an egg. A dog’s gestation period typically lasts nine weeks, but it varies by the dog.
In the first month of pregnancy, the embryo travels to the uterus, where it attaches to the lining. The fetus begins to take shape on the 22nd day, and by the 28th day, the vet may detect fetal heartbeats through an ultrasound.
If the dog is carrying a large litter or the puppies are so hidden in the uterus, it can be challenging to identify a heartbeat. Dogs hardly show any pregnancy symptoms in the first month, but if you’re keen, you may notice an increase in their appetite, nausea, enlarged nipples, and reduced physical activity.
The fetus begins to take shape in the second month as it develops eyelids, claws, toes, a skeleton, and a coat. The bulging rib cage disappears as the weight shifts to the abdomen area. That’s why the abdomen appears enlarged, and the dog seems bigger, having gained weight of 15% to 25%.
Once the pregnancy clocks seven weeks (day 49), it’s safe to perform an X-ray to determine the number of puppies expected. Most dogs begin looking for a place to nest on day 58.
In the third month, fetal development is almost complete, which means the dog is ready to whelp. The puppies take on a whelping position in the birth canal. You’ll also notice symptoms such as:
- Loss of appetite on day 61 or 62
- Panting, pacing, shivering, or digging
- Trimmed waist as the puppies move to the birth canal
- Reduced body temperature 12 to 24 hours before birth
Telltale Signs of a Pregnant Dog
Dogs hardly show signs of pregnancy until the second month. It’s even more confusing when the dog doesn’t develop a big belly or has a smaller litter whose heartbeat can’t be detected through an ultrasound.
Here are signs to look out for when a dog is pregnant:
1. Enlarged Belly
The belly looks swollen at the beginning of the second month, which is the height of fetal development. The fetus no longer ‘appears’ at the rib cage but drops to the abdomen. At this point, it’s essential to visit the vet to rule out possible underlying health problems like a distended belly.
2. Reduced and Increased Appetite
During the early days (weeks one through three) of pregnancy, the dog develops a reduced appetite due to hormonal changes.
The appetite reverts once the body adjusts to the changes and the dog will most likely eat more. The dog will probably act normal even with a reduced appetite, so you must look out for more symptoms.
3. Weight Gain
A pregnant dog gains weight significantly after the fourth week of pregnancy. Most dogs add 15% to 25% of their body weight, but it could be more if carrying many puppies.
4. Larger Breasts
The dog’s breasts enlarge, and the nipples swell as the pregnancy progresses. Sometimes the breasts produce milk during the final stages of the pregnancy.
5. Vaginal Discharge
Pregnant dogs produce a transparent, mucus-like discharge four to five weeks after breeding. It may last throughout the pregnancy, which is normal. However, if the discharge becomes thick and pus-like with a repulsive odor, it’s best to visit the vet to rule out underlying health problems.
6. High Hormonal Levels
While the production of hormones like progesterone reduces during pregnancy, blood tests will likely show elevated levels of the relaxin hormone.
The developing placenta produces copious amounts of the hormone after the embryo’s implantation — usually 22 to 27 days after breeding. The levels remain elevated throughout the pregnancy and decline quickly at the end of the pregnancy.
Tests to Determine if a Dog Is Pregnant
Knowing the signs of a pregnant dog is essential, but it may not provide an accurate diagnosis. It’s best to visit a vet who will perform the following tests:
Abdominal ultrasound is the most reliable and accurate way of determining if a dog is pregnant. An ultrasound can detect embryos as early as three weeks after breeding and their viability.
Moreover, a vet can accurately determine the number of fetuses in the early stages of pregnancy and listen to their heartbeats. Also, a vet can estimate the dog’s due date using the ultrasound image.
Abdominal palpation is the easiest way to determine if a dog is pregnant, as it involves touching the dog’s belly to feel the puppies. Palpation starts when amniotic vesicles (puppies) develop within the amniotic membranes.
The vesicles feel like hard-boiled eggs, and experienced vets and breeders can count them to determine the number of puppies you should expect. Abdominal palpation can’t determine if a dog is pregnant in the early days of pregnancy (i.e., less than three weeks of breeding).
Also, it isn’t the most accurate method of determining the litter size because some of the abdominal space extends to the rib cage, which can’t be palpated. If you prefer this method, it’s best to visit an experienced vet who can feel the pups even in the early stages of pregnancy without applying too much force.
Also, a dog’s size, temperament, and body condition can determine if the method will be effective. Abdominal palpation is performed when a dog is calm and well-rested. If your dog is restless and aggressive, it’s best to explore other methods for more accurate results.
Abdominal X-rays are most effective when determining the number of fetuses. The procedure illuminates the skeletons of each puppy, making it easy to count them accurately.
However, X-rays are most useful in the late pregnancy stages (three weeks before birth) when the puppy’s bone structure is fully developed. Also, X-rays can’t detect the sudden death of a puppy in the uterus.
A blood test will show an elevated relaxin level, indicating that a dog is pregnant. As highlighted earlier, relaxin is a hormone produced by the placenta after implantation. The test is best performed 22 to 27 days after breeding to avoid getting a negative result.
If the test shows a negative result, take the test a week or two later to confirm the negative results. Multiple tests are necessary when unsure about the breeding dates or if the test is performed too early.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are commonly asked questions regarding a pregnant dog carrying puppies in the rib cage.
A pregnant dog can carry puppies high up in the uterus. It happens in the early stages of pregnancy and when the litter is small. An ultrasound can help determine the exact location of the puppies.
Dogs carry puppies in the uterus and by the scruff on the neck after birth. They grab this part of the puppy’s neck with their front teeth and carry them around. The scruff is the loose skin behind a puppy’s head.
Puppies don’t stay in the rib cage. As the fetus grows, they drop down in the abdomen close to the birth canal in preparation for whelping.
The abdomen is the best place to feel puppies. Place your palm on either side of the dog’s abdomen and gently apply pressure. You should be able to feel large, hard lumps in the lower body, indicating the developing puppies.
Conclusion for “Can a Pregnant Dog Carry Puppies in Their Rib Cage”
Pregnant dogs don’t carry puppies in their rib cage. There are two reasons a dog appears to carry puppies in the rib cage. The first is when the puppies are tiny, and the second is in the early pregnancy stages when the uterus is close to the rib cage.
If you find this guide, “Can a Pregnant Dog Carry Puppies in Their Rib Cage,” check out:
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Learn more about dog pregnancy by watching “Tips for FIRST TIME PREGNANT DOG parents | Hunter’s pregnancy journey FIRST LITTER PART 2” down below:
Garrett loves animals and is a huge advocate for all Doodle dog breeds. He owns his own Goldendoodle named Kona. In addition, he volunteers at the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, where he fosters dogs and helps animals. Garrett enjoys writing about Doodles and believes that dogs can teach humans more about how to live than humans can teach a dog.
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