Breeding for Pet Owners: Rearing the Puppies and Care of the Bitch

a bitch and her puppies in the whelping boxMy bitch has had her puppies without any problems, what do I have to do now?

If whelping appears to have finished clean up the bitch as much as possible without upsetting her. Remove any of the very soiled newspaper, bedding, etc.

The bitch will spend most of her time with her puppies and for the next few days and it may be difficult to even get her to leave them even to go to the toilet. Do not be afraid of putting her on a collar and lead and taking her out for a short period if she is disinclined to move of her own accord. She will only want to be out for a few minutes but during that time you can clean up the bed, and remove further soiled newspaper and check the puppies.

Before she returns to her puppies check her nipples to make sure there are no problems.

What sort of problems am I looking for?

Check the vulva to see if there is excessive discharge. After 24 hours this should be drying up. It is normally a greenish black colour and if she has not expelled all her afterbirths during whelping the discharge may be blood stained and copious. However it should have lessened after 24-48 hours. If not, call us.

Check the teats to make sure that none are swollen, hot, hard or tender. If worried, please call us.

Do I check the puppies?

With a bitch having puppies for the first time, it is worthwhile checking the puppies every few hours to make sure they are all suckling and warm and contented. Any that are crying or appear cold should be placed on the inguinal teats and checked frequently to make sure they are not pushed out. These teats between the hind legs usually give most milk.

Is it necessary for me to have a post natal veterinary check?

Although not essential this is very worthwhile particularly if it is the first time your bitch has had puppies. We will check her to make sure there is no infection and that she is producing sufficient milk. The puppies will also be checked over to make sure that there are no abnormalities such as cleft palates.

What shall I do if the bitch refuses to stay with the puppies?

This is not uncommon with pet bitches that are particularly attached to their owners. If the bitch will not stay with her puppies it may be worth relocating her and her family so she can be nearer to you. Make sure the puppies are not cold. Remember they cannot maintain their own body heat for a week or two after birth.

During the first four days of life the environmental temperature should be maintained at 29.5-32oC. The temperature may then be gradually decreased to approximately 26.7oC by the 7-10th day and to about 22.2oC by the end of the fourth week.

It is not necessary to heat the whole room to these temperatures. Hot spot heating over the nest with the aid of a heat lamp is usually all that is necessary.

The larger the litter the lower the environmental temperature needs to be since as the puppies huddle together their body heat provides additional warmth.

Their behaviour and condition gives a guide as to whether they are comfortable. If they are warm and content they will be quiet and gaining weight, otherwise they will be restless and vocalising.

thermometer for tracking puppy temperatureShould I weigh the puppies regularly?

Electronic kitchen or postal scales allow regular weighing of puppies. This gives a guide to their condition and progress.

Is it necessary to keep the bitch and puppies in subdued light?

In their natural state bitches find a secluded whelping place, usually a dark or very sheltered spot. Some bitches, if they feel their puppies are too exposed, may become anxious and start carrying them around the house. Try to obscure as much of the light as possible from their area. This may resolve the problem.

Some bitches are more anxious than others, particularly those with their first litter. They try to hide their puppies, even from the owners. If the bitch does not like the place you have selected for her, try to compromise. If she is still unsettled, please contact us since it can affect her milk supply and soon there will be problems with the pups.

I am told that some bitches will actually kill and eat their puppies. Is this true?

In the wild state a bitch with puppies is vulnerable to predators and if the puppies become vocal and distressed the dangers increase. The primaeval protective instinct will sometimes surface in the gentlest pet. This occurs with some breeds more than others. Killing the puppies and sometimes eating them is the usual method of averting perceived danger in the wild.

Since I have not raised a litter before, how can I tell when all is not well?

During the first two weeks of life, before their eyes open, puppies should feed and sleep at least 90% of the time. If you are weighing the puppies regularly (once a day), there should be a consistent increase in weight. If any of the puppies appear restless or make mewing type noises, this can indicate a lack of nourishment or infection. 

"During the first two weeks of life, before their eyes open, puppies should feed and sleep at least 90% of the time. If you are weighing the puppies regularly (once a day), there should be a consistent increase in weight."

If you are concerned please consult us without delay.

Weight records of puppies that arouse your suspicions are even more valuable. Keep careful records. Identify the puppies using a permanent marker on the abdomen.  

How will I know if the bitch’s milk supply is adequate?

A contented litter of plump puppies is the usual indication. Any puppies that appear restless and do not have fat tummies will benefit from supplemental feeding 1-3 times a day. Please contact us and we will supply the necessary food and feeders. It is important that any supplementary feeding is carried out at the correct temperature. One rough and ready method is to drop some of the warm, reconstituted milk onto the back of your hand.

All the commercial products carry detailed instructions regarding preparation and feeding amounts. However these are for puppies that are not receiving any milk from the dam, therefore it is worthwhile consulting us.

a bitch feeding her puppiesI understand it is possible for the bitch to develop inflammation of the breasts without warning?

Acute mastitis can occur very quickly. This is the reason that the bitch’s mammary glands should be regularly checked for any inflammation, tenderness or hardness.

If the mother does not produce milk or it is infected the puppies will not be nourished and will soon start to cry and lose weight. If this occurs, an entire litter can die within 24-48 hours. Total replacement feeding either via a foster mother or with artificial products is necessary. Please contact us and we will advise.

Is this the same as milk fever?

No.  Mastitis is an infection of the mammary glands. Eclampsia or milk fever is due to a depletion of calcium in the blood of the bitch due to heavy milk production and is not due to infection.

It occurs most commonly when the puppies are 3-5 weeks of age and the bitch is producing most milk. Eclampsia is not due to an overall lack of calcium, it merely indicates she cannot mobilise sufficient supplies of calcium quickly enough. Bitches that are particularly good mothers and especially attentive to their puppies, always seem to suffer more severely.

I understand that milk fever is a very serious condition. How can I tell when it is starting?

Eclampsia is a true emergency and you must contact us immediately you think the bitch is in trouble. Initially the signs are subtle. The bitch may be a bit restless and panting. Often the first sign is a stiff movement. This soon progresses to muscle spasms affecting the whole body and she can quickly progress to convulsions.

What can I do?

Prevent the pups from suckling and contact us without delay.

Treatment involves injections of calcium and other drugs, often intravenously. Provided the condition has not progressed too far, recovery is usually spectacular.

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