After your dog goes through labor and delivery, she wants to nurse and care for her puppies. While she's attending to them, you must see to her needs. She should always have food available so her body can meet the demands of nursing puppies -- high-quality puppy food fills the bill. Besides feeding Mom and keeping the whelping box clean, you have several other important responsibilities.
Peace and Quiet
It's important that the mother and puppies experience peace and quiet after delivery. While friends and family members might want to see the babies, discourage this for at least a week after delivery, and even then just allow a brief visit. This is especially important if your dog has a high-strung temperament, as she could inadvertently hurt her puppies if disturbed by people she doesn't know well. Since newborn puppies can't regulate their body temperature, make sure they're in a very warm environment -- at least 85 degrees Fahrenheit -- for the first three weeks of life.
Your dog will clean up her newborn puppies. It's up to you to clean her up after delivery. Use a clean, damp cloth to clean her genitals and hind legs. Dry her completely with a clean, soft towel. For the next two weeks, she'll experience a postpartum green or brown watery discharge. Continue cleaning her daily. While a watery discharge is normal, a blood red or bad-smelling discharge is not. If these appear, take your dog to the vet.
It's vital that puppies receive colostrum, that "first milk" full of antibodies. Make sure all puppies nurse within their first 12 hours and continue nursing regularly. Check your dog's teats daily for signs of mastitis, or mammary gland inflammation. If her nipples become hard and red, and she appears in pain, she might not let the puppies nurse. Call your vet if puppies have difficulty nursing or the mother has milk production issues or appears to have mastitis.
While most canines are just fine after delivery, there's always a chance of postpartum complications. Take your dog's temperature daily for a few weeks post-whelping so you're aware of potential problems. A dog's normal temperature is between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, although it will run a degree or two higher for a few days after delivery. You should also weigh each puppy every day. A puppy might lose a little weight by the day after birth, but should gain weight continuously after that. If your dog spikes a temperature, stops eating or seems lethargic, call the vet. Do the same if any of the puppies don't gain weight, stop nursing or are just "not quite right."
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.