Puppies may be a joyful experience, but raising a healthy litter requires time, hard work and dedication. For the first few weeks life, puppies are dependent on their mother for everything. Make life easier on her, and yourself, by preparing in advance for your impending litter.
Prepare the whelping area as your female approaches the end of her pregnancy. Erect a whelping box in a quiet spot in your home. The whelping box can be as simple as a plastic kiddie pool, or as complex as a custom-built wooden box, but it should be tall enough to prevent the pups from crawling out. Line the box with soft padding, and include a couple of heating pads or heat lamps to keep the puppies warm when the female leaves to eat or go potty.
Assemble a whelping kit a week before your female reaches day 63 of her pregnancy. Dogs normally gestate for 9 weeks, but having your supplies on hand avoids a panic if she whelps early. Pack a small bag with towels, a heating pad, bulb suction device, string, sharp scissors, iodine, thermometer, petroleum jelly, and surgical gloves. Most females will whelp without assistance, but these items make assisted whelping much simpler.
After whelping, you’ll need a digital scale, a few pieces of different colored ribbon and a small notebook. As the female gives birth, she should break the sac and umbilical cord of each puppy on her own. If she does not do this, pinch the sac gently with your gloved hands and pull it away from the puppy’s face. Suction any liquid out of his mouth, and rub the puppy with a towel to stimulate breathing. Tie a piece of string tightly around the umbilical cord, approximately 1/2 inch above the belly, and cut the cord above the string. Dab a little iodine on the cut cord and weigh the pup on a digital scale. Write down each puppy’s weight, and place it back in the whelping box.
Room to Rest
Unless the mother refuses to care for the puppies, she should do most of the post-whelping work by herself. She will clean the puppies, gather them up and let them nurse as she rests. After they have had their first meal, change the bedding in the whelping box. Turn the heating pad or heat lamp on, and place it along one edge of the whelping box. Place a food dish and water bowl near the box for the mother, and give her plenty of time to rest and bond with her new litter.
In Case of Emergency
While most litters are raised by their mother, you should prepare a nursing kit in case she needs help. Call your vet as soon as the pups are born, and explain that the female is unable or unwilling to feed the litter. Your vet may want to examine the litter, and will inform you how much and how often to feed each puppy. Add a bottle of puppy milk replacer, powdered colostrum, small animal nursing bottles, extra nipples, and a large syringe with clear measurements to a small duffel bag, and keep it in the whelping area. If the female isn't producing milk or refuses to nurse the puppies, add a small amount of milk replacer to a bottle, sprinkle in the recommended amount of colostrum indicated in the package instructions and shake to dissolve the powder. Warm the milk to body temperature in a pan of simmering water, and feed each of the puppies until they stop nursing. Colostrum is produced naturally after birth, and provides the litter with essential nutrients and antibodies to help them thrive, and should be fed for the first 24 hours after birth.
Louise Lawson has been a published author and editor for more than 10 years. Lawson specializes in pet and food-related articles, utilizing her 15 years as a sous chef and as a dog breeder, handler and trainer to produce pieces for online and print publications.