How to Estimate Litter Size for Dogs

by Sandra Ketcham
    Knowing how many puppies to expect can be important for planning proper care.

    Knowing how many puppies to expect can be important for planning proper care.

    Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

    If your dog is pregnant, you're probably eager to know how many pups to expect. This may be curiosity alone, but it's also good to begin making plans for proper placement of the puppies in good homes. Knowing the size of the litter is also important for anticipating and dealing with complications that may arise during labor and delivery. If the litter is very large, you also must make plans for helping the mother feed and care for all of them. Estimating litter size is not difficult, but a totally accurate count is never assured.

    Step 1

    Take the mother dog to your veterinarian for a complete examination. Some conditions can mimic pregnancy, and your vet must rule out that possibility. Your vet will also check the overall health of your dog, and look for any problems that may affect the pregnancy or delivery, such as nutritional deficiencies or a small pelvis.

    Step 2

    Consider the mother dog's breed and size. In general, smaller breeds tend to carry smaller litters than larger breeds. Toy breeds rarely carry more than four pups. Litters of more than 17 puppies are possible in large breeds, according to Dr. Debra Primovic, a veterinarian at

    Step 3

    Place your hand on the mother dog's abdomen, and gently feel for puppies in the area of her uterus. Puppies can be felt about 45 days into the pregnancy, but a very large or active litter may be difficult to count this way. Because there is some risk associated with palpating the uterus, check for puppies this way only under your veterinarian's instructions.

    Step 4

    Ask your vet to perform an ultrasound to count the puppies. Ultrasounds can estimate litter size as early as 21 days into the pregnancy. They are useful for checking the health of the puppies and the overall progress of the pregnancy.

    Step 5

    Ask for an abdominal X-ray if you cannot afford or do not have access to ultrasound. The radiograph will show the puppies after 45 days of pregnancy. It shows the skeletons of the pups. Because it is a still image, it cannot tell you much about whether all of the pups are alive.


    • Some veterinarians may be able to estimate the number of puppies through feel as early as 21 to 28 days.

    Photo Credits

    • Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

    About the Author

    Sandra Ketcham has nearly two decades of experience writing and editing for major websites and magazines. Her work appears in numerous web and print publications, including "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "The Tampa Bay Times," Visit Florida, "USA Today," AOL's Gadling and "Kraze Magazine."

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