This complete guide is for breeders or any owners who find themselves with an upcoming unexpected litter of German Shepherd puppies. If you have never dealt with this situation before, it is important to know all of the signs and stages of a German Shepherd pregnancy. It will help you in your journey from conception to birth and what you can expect every step of the way. This will help you prepare so that you can give your German Shepherd the best possible outcome and hopefully a healthy litter of newborn pups!
German Shepherd Pregnancy Length
Conception isn’t easy to predict and can vary depending on each dog but 63 days is the average gestation period for German Shepherds and dogs in general.
The main reason it is hard to predict is because sperm doesn’t always immediately fertilize the female eggs. In fact, it can take up to 48 hours. This means it is hard to refer to the mating as a starting point when calculating gestation.
However, you can use a dog pregnancy calculator to get a good estimate of your German Shepherd’s due date based on mating.
How Can I Tell If My German Shepherd Is Pregnant?
The first thing that you can do is look for signs and symptoms that indicate your German Shepherd is pregnant. Like humans, there are several tell-tale factors that are common during pregnancy.
German Shepherd Pregnancy Signs:
- Appetite increases or decreases
- Belly looks swollen
- Easily fatigued
- Extra affectionate
- Gets irritated easily
- Nesting or digging bed
- Nipples get bigger
- Weight gain
Keep in mind, just because you notice any of these signs doesn’t necessarily mean your German Shepherd is pregnant. There are other health issues that can have similar symptoms.
There is also a chance that your dog has a false pregnancy or “pseudo-pregnancy.” Referred to as “phantom pregnancy,” an unspayed female dog that is in heat can show signs of a false pregnancy following her estrus cycle.
If you notice any of these signs, the next step is to take your dog to the vet for confirmation that they are pregnant. The veterinarian can use 4 main methods to test for pregnancy.
Testing a German Shepherd’s hormones is one of the most common ways to detect pregnancy. The vet uses a blood test that measures specifically the hormone called “relaxin.”
Relaxin is produced when the placenta grows inside the womb following the embryo attaching to the uterus walls. This hormone is only present during pregnancy which makes the test extremely accurate.
However, it can only be administered a little over 3 weeks after breeding or mating takes place. With the growth of technology, home test kits are now available to owners and breeders. Whether they are as accurate as the vet’s test is unknown.
This is the most traditional method to test for German Shepherd pregnancy. It is called abdominal palpation. It is administered by gently pressing down on the dog’s abdomen using fingers to feel for any pups.
An experienced vet is able to detect the developing pups which are roughly the size of ping pong balls. It is early on in gestation, so the pups are only fluid-filled sacks surrounding the fetus at this stage.
For this test to be successful, it must be done within the window of 25-35 days from conception. Because of the delicate nature of this test, don’t try this at home, and take your German Shepherd to your local vet.
This is considered the most reliable form of testing for dog pregnancy. An ultrasound can be performed and detect the presence of fetuses as early on as 3 weeks following conception.
Similar to human sonograms, an ultrasound uses sound waves to create an image of the puppies. It can also detect fetal heartbeats which can give a rough estimate of the number inside the womb.
Fun Fact: The fetal heartbeat of a puppy is 220 beats per minute which is 2 to 3 times faster than their mom’s.
This is the most effective way to tell if your German Shepherd is pregnant. But unlike some of the other tests which can be done earlier, radiographs can’t be done until 52 days from conception.
The advantage of an x-ray is that it gives you a precise count of the number of pups in your dog’s womb. You can see their little fetal skulls and spines in the image.
This will allow your veterinarian to determine the optimal time to perform the elective cesaren to remove the pups.
German Shepherd Pregnancy Stages
Compared to humans who go through a 9 month gestation period, a German Shepherd pregnancy is much shorter at around 9 weeks.
That isn’t very long in the scheme of things which is why it is so important to have your ducks in a row when it comes to health and nutrition.
The 2 months plus that your GSD is pregnant are a critical time for the developing puppies. The mom needs proper care and nutrients for the best outcome.
Once the eggs are fertilized by the male sperm, the cells begin their journey way up high in the uterus.
Around day 5, they will slowly start to make their way down the fallopian tube to the uterine horns.
Action: Nothing to do yet. You can feed and play with your dog as normal.
Changes: Internal hormones. No physical changes yet.
Things get a little more exciting in week 2 as the cells begin to grow, separate and then transform into little embryos that will eventually turn into little pups.
They continue their descent towards the uterus arriving at around the 12-13 day mark. They will remain here floating around the liquid in the uterus seeking a good place to nest.
Fun Fact: At this point, the embryos measure between 0.5 and 0.8mm which is roughly half the size of the tip of a pencil.
Action: Diet stays the same. Gentle grooming is recommended to reduce stress.
Changes: No physical changes yet.
Week 3 is packed with developments. Between 14 and 18 days, the embryos will start to implant themselves into the uterine walls. They will continue to develop here as they receive vital nutrients from their mother in the womb.
Around day 18, the placenta and nervous system begin to develop and the embryos grow to around 2-3mm in size. You may notice a small discharge from the mom coming from the placenta.
At the end of the third week, the placenta should be fully formed and the fetuses will be in the range of 5-8mm in size. The mom may begin to feel a little sick as the fetuses’ nest further into the uterine wall.
At this time, the mom will be very susceptible to any major changes in her normal routine. The embryos are still little tikes measuring under 1cm.
Action: Continue normal routine with food and exercise. Avoid using any flea or worming medications.
Changes: Nipples may get bigger and turn pink.
Week 4 is the most crucial stage of development. The fetus really starts to develop. The head starts to grow and it develops its ears, eyes, jaw, nose, teeth and first vertebrae.
It also starts to develop its limbs and vital organs. The fetus changes from its original egg shape to a more spherical shape reaching 1.5cm by day 28. This is roughly the size of a walnut.
The fetuses are extremely vulnerable during this 4th week and could sustain defects if the mom plays too rough.
Action: Separate food into smaller portions. Avoid strenuous exercise or rough play for the remainder of her pregnancy. Take to a vet for a checkup and ultrasound.
Changes: Dog may get morning sickness. Teats will probably swell and there will most likely be a clear discharge from vagina.
By week 5 development is in full swing and the fetus continues to grow reaching new milestones. The fetus is now resembling more of a puppy growing sensory hairs, nails, teeth, fingers, toes and whiskers.
By the end of the week on day 35 all of the major organs should be developed and the fetus is approximately 20% of its future birth size. It will be around 30mm at this point.
Action: Increase portions of food by 25%. Any supplements should only be given according to the vet.
Changes: Behavior tampers down as mom becomes quieter and more sensitive. Increased urination and weight gain. Clear vaginal discharge. Abdomen and genitalia get bigger.
At week 6, the fetus starts to develop much more rapidly. The eyes are closed but the head starts to grow hair for the first time. The skeletal bones continue to form through ossification.
At this point, the young pups should have their skin color and sex organs determining male or female. The embryo is now close to 30% of its future birth size measuring 6.5-7cm.
They now look much more like pups with little legs, toes and claws visible. You may be able to get a glimpse of them via ultrasound. It will still be hard to determine how many boys and girls are in the litter.
Action: Continue feeding your GSD 25% bigger portions. You should switch to a high-quality pregnancy dog food for the remaining 3 weeks. You should slowly transition by mixing it with their old kibble.
Changes: Weight gain continues. You may see increase in size of mammary glands.
At week 7, the bones are still forming and the little puppies now begin to grow fur. Pigmentation continues followed by the eyelids forming.
The embryos start to put pressure on the mom’s internal organs mainly in the digestive tract. This can make her uncomfortable. You will now be able to physically feel the pups in her stomach.
You should also be able to see the puppies move around inside her belly. The pups are now close to 75% of their future birth size.
Action: Continue feeding mom 25% higher portions of high-quality pregnancy kibble. Avoid calcium rich foods or supplements that can cause calcification of soft tissues or birth defects.
Note: This is a good time to prepare a whelping box in a nice quiet place for your dog to nest and give birth a few weeks from now. Get your dog used to it now so she won’t try to give birth somewhere else.
Changes: The mom’s abdomen gets much bigger and she starts to shed hair on her belly preparing for birth. Her appetite decreases.
The embryos are in the home stretch and look like little puppies. Their skeletons have most likely solidified. They are covered in fur now with the exception of the feet. Claws are developed and pigmentation of the skin continues.
They are much larger now measuring 14.5cm or 5.5 inches. That is roughly the size of your average cell phone.
Towards the end of week 8, the teeth should start to calcify. Lungs should be almost fully formed.
Action: Feeding should be increased by 50% but in smaller portions throughout the day. The vet can x-ray to determine the number of pups.
Changes: Belly will be big and movement of the puppies may be visible. Mom may lose her appetite. Mammary glands will be swollen. She will start to produce colostrum.
At week 9, the pups now have lungs and are ready to be born. They have finished developing and may be moving towards the birth canal.
The mom will start nesting and looking for a place to give birth. You may be able to see the puppies moving around in her abdomen.
Action: It is time to prepare for whelping. Continue to feed her with a 50% increase in her normal food intake but in smaller portions. Take her temperature several times daily. A drop from 100-102 to 97-99 means contractions are coming within 24-48 hours.
Changes: Mom will be restless and spend most of her time nesting. She will lose her appetite close to whelping.
The pregnancy is over and your German Shepherd is ready to whelp its newborn pups. Once she starts to have the pups, it can take anywhere from 3 to 12 hours.
During this time, you will be able to see abdominal contractions and your GSDs water may break. She may strain off and on for a few hours before giving birth to her first puppy.
Action: Monitor her closely for any problems during whelping. Keep the temperature at 85 degrees. Call your vet if any issues arise.
- Break their amniotic sac if the mom doesn’t and suction mucus from mouth and nose.
- Clean each puppy with a dry clean towel.
- Check them for cleft palates. They may need a feeding tube to survive.
- Cut the umbilical cord an inch from the belly if the mom doesn’t and tie off with floss.
- Get an ultrasound to make sure all of the puppies and placentas came out.
- Make sure that each pup receives some of the mom’s colostrum within the first 24 hours.
- Make sure vaginal discharge is green or red to reddish-brown. If black contact vet ASAP!
In some cases, a c-section is necessary. This should be scheduled ahead of time based on your veterinarian’s recommendation following x-rays.
How Many Puppies Will A Pregnant German Shepherd Have?
On average, a pregnant German Shepherd will have 6.1 puppies but the range is usually anywhere between 4 to 8 depending on the circumstances.
There have been rare occasions with much bigger litters. In late 2021, Unity the German Shepherd gave birth to 16 mixed breed pups as part of the U.K. Guide Dog Breeding Program. It was their biggest litter in history.
German Shepherd Pregnancy Supplies
It is important to know exactly what you will need for your pregnant German Shepherd. This list should cover all of the necessary supplies.
- Baby scale to measure their weight in ounces.
- Bulb syringe for cleaning the puppies’ mouth and nose.
- Clean scissors that have been sterilized for cutting the umbilical cords.
- Dental floss that is unwaxed to tie off the umbilical cords.
- Garbage bags to clean up and throw away dirty lining.
- Heating pad for the pups if they need to get warm but not the entire box.
- Iodine for cleaning the puppies’ abdomens prior to cutting the umbilical cords.
- Light corn syrup or honey to rub on th gums if necessary.
- Newspaper to line the inside of the whelping box.
- Paper towels for cleaning up post-birth.
- Soft non-skid bath mats for bedding post-whelping.
- Thermometer to check temperature leading up to birth.
- Warm bottle of water that isn’t too hot for keeping the pups comfortable.
- Whelping Box for nesting during pregnancy.
Make sure that you have your local veterinarian’s phone number and the location of an emergency clinic close by during the whelping.
If you have never dealt with a German Shepherd pregnancy before, make sure you do your homework and research. While dog birth is a beautiful thing, a lot of complications can arise during the whelping. We recommend making a checklist of everything you are going to need along with a plan for any problems at birth.
Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think!
Have you ever had a pregnant GSD and delivered her puppies? What is one tip you would give to anyone who is about to go through the process? Let us know! We would love to know what worked for you!