After your dog gives birth, her life for the next several weeks is significantly different from before. From the moment her puppies are born, she takes care of them, and they depend on her for survival. While you may need to step in on occasion to help out, the mother is generally able to care for her pups on her own -- knowing what to expect, though, can prevent a dangerous situation down the line.
Immediately After Birth
You can expect the mother to care for her puppies immediately after birth, starting by licking them clean and severing their umbilical cords with her teeth. Licking the puppies not only cleans them, but also stimulates their circulation and first breaths -- if she doesn't do this, you can step in and help by gently rubbing them down with a clean, warm towel. The puppies will start suckling almost immediately, taking in nutritious fluids that also supplement their immune systems. If the mother refuses to allow her pups to suckle, you may need to bottle-feed them a newborn puppy formula.
The Newborns' Health
As puppies are born, the mother will eat their umbilical cords and placentas. Eating more than two placentas may give her a stomachache, but generally it neither harms nor hurts. Puppies are born blind and heavily dependent on their mother. For example, they're unable to go to the bathroom on their own, relying on the mother to use her tongue to stimulate defecation and urination for several weeks. If she does not assume that role, you'll have to do so yourself -- your veterinarian can advise you on the timing and technique, which calls for you to softly rub the puppy's nether regions with a soft, warm cloth that mimics the mother's tongue.
Expect to take the new mother to the veterinarian within 24 hours of delivery, and make an appointment to get the puppies checked at your vet's recommendation. Even an apparently incident-free delivery may not be as simple as it appears -- your dog could retain fetuses or placentas, which cause discomfort and can eventually lead to devastating infections. Your veterinarian will ensure that your dog's post-delivery health is as good as it should be, and he may give her an injection that shrinks her uterus to help prevent infections.
Caring for Puppies
Though you should be prepared to offer assistance to your dog's new family, you can expect her to do all the work herself. If you notice that she isn't nursing her puppies, consult with your vet, who can recommend a formula for the pups and a method of bottle-feeding them. You should also expect to keep your home relatively warm, as chills are one of the leading causes of premature puppy death. Maintain a room temperature of at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and provide your dog and her puppies with soft, clean blankets to snuggle in. Expect to provide your dog with more food and fresh water than usual -- your vet will recommend changes to her diet that will accommodate her milk production.
Be prepared to help your dog wean her puppies about 3 to 6 weeks after birth, as they'll be ready to transition from consuming only their mother's milk to eating solid foods. While the mother initiates and this final stage between the little ones' birth and autonomy, she may require some assistance, so expect to separate her from her pups. They must be separated for gradually longer periods of time until they are only reunited at night -- during this period, offer puppy food to the young ones and cut back the mother's diet as per your vet's recommendation, so she doesn't produce as much milk.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.