As Natural as Possible' Puppy Whelping and Rearing! Part II
Counting down to the big day!
It is always exciting knowing your new litter of puppies is about ready to make their way into the world, but there are things you need to do to ensure the smoothest possible delivery! Before anything else, line up these two things:
- Have a veterinarian, that you know and trust, who will be on call and available to help when whelping time arrives.
- If you have never whelped a litter before, arrange to have an experienced friend be with you, or on call, to assist and be an extra set of hands during whelping.
Three weeks before the puppies are due; I start the mother on Whelp Help or raspberry leaf. This herb helps with ease of birth and assists the milk to come in.
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I set up the whelping box early, about two weeks before the puppies are born, and I place the whelping box in my bedroom so I can be near my girl night and day. Usually she doesn't show much interest in the box until a day or so before delivery. Having a good, sturdy whelping box is very important. You want it to be large enough to accommodate your girl's size and the puppies. Having 'pig rails' along the side of the box is also important to ensure mom doesn't crush or lay on a puppy that might get behind her. Check out this website for some good pictures of various whelping boxes:
If you are industrious and interested in making your own whelping box, this website includes construction plans for making your own whelping box:
A week before the puppies are due, it is highly recommended you make an appointment with your veterinarian to have a radiograph done. This will give you an idea of how many puppies are expected. If you know how many puppies are due to arrive, you can save yourself frantic calls to your vet in the middle of the night or an emergency trip to your vet! When you know about how many puppies are expected, you will be more confident knowing that when her contractions have subsided, she is done whelping.
Once I know I am on the final countdown to whelping, I keep a few magazines and books handy and plan to watch some TV because the wait for whelping oftentimes feels like the longest part of the entire breeding process. When I think whelping is finally imminent and now is the time, I quickly realize the actual whelping day is still 2 days away!
When contractions finally start, it is time to move your girl to the whelping box! I use a lot of cotton bedding. This can include towels, fleece, old comforters and mattress covers. Your mom may want to root around and make a bed, but cotton is good for the newborns and for traction. I have found that it is best to assist as little as possible; but it is important to be near her in case she needs help.
When is it really time for puppies to be born?
The hardest part of about whelping a litter is waiting for the puppies to arrive! Mother Nature has her own way of doing things, but there are a few tips that can help you determine the arrival date a little bit better.
The general rule of thumb is that delivery will occur 63 days after breeding. However, this can vary if you have done multiple breedings or had frozen semen implant surgery. Multiple breeding dates give multiple due dates. What is especially important with multiple breedings is that you get your girl in for a check-up if she has gone past 63 days from the last breeding and has not begun to whelp. You want to make sure there are healthy fetal heartbeats and everything is going smoothly. Frozen implant breeding generally occurs 60 days after implant, so again, monitor your girl and know the date of the implant surgery! If she goes too far past her due date, get her to your veterinarian! Then there are those females who like to keep you guessing and may deliver anytime between 60 and 65 days! Occasionally, a small litter or a single puppy litter may not induce contractions. This can bring on other challenges. If this is the case, knowing the estimated due date can be especially important because if she goes too far past her due date, it may mean a caesarian section is required. While exact delivery dates cannot be predicted with 100% accuracy, you can do well to gauge the timing from the breeding date, breeding type and the size of the litter expected.
Regardless of the type of procedure used for fertilization, the most accurate and best way to determine the actual due date is to do progesterone tests prior to breeding and to know the actual date your girl ovulated.
Another good method for determining whelping is close is to take the bitches temperature three times a day the week before the expected due date. When delivery time is within 24 – 36 hours, the rectal temperature should drop to at or below 98 degrees. It is important to take her temperature at the same time each day and record the results in a flow chart. Most of the time the temperature will stay around 100 to 101, and while it may occasionally drop to 99; temperature drop due to hormone change is much more dramatic. Her temperature should go down and stay down for several hours. If you are not diligent with checking her temperature on regular intervals, you can miss this drop. Once your girl's temperature has dropped or you are within 2 days of her due date, it is time to stay home with her around the clock! A great website for taking your girl's temperature and using a chart is here:
What else can I expect?
You may see behavioral changes occur in your girl. Behavior changes vary from bitch to bitch. Some may pant and look somewhat distressed for two to three days while others appear to be very 'nonchalant' up to the time of the first whelp being born. Behavior changes may also vary if it is the bitches first litter or her second or third. Experienced moms may act differently than new moms. Some may vomit up their last meal while others may eat meals up to and during delivery if they are offered food. Some other common signs you can watch for include dilated eyes, panting, restlessness, frequent changing of positions, refusing a meal, digging and tearing paper or bedding and frantically trying to find a 'safe and acceptable' spot to have the puppies. New moms might act desperate to go outside because they may be confusing contractions with the urgency to have a bowel movement.
Some bitches do not want you to watch them and others may need to cling to your side. It is important that you pay attention to the signs they give you so you know how to be there for them.
Below are some websites that provide more information and go into further detail and description of the various signs of labor:
What to watch for:
When your girl is close to delivery, maybe a few days away, you may see she is excreting a clear discharge. This is normal. However, if there is a green, red or dark yellow discharge, it is time for a trip to your veterinarian as this is a warning sign that can mean there is an infection, a loss of a puppy due to a detached placenta, or some other kind of distress. Do not hesitate. Get your girl to the vet!
If your bitch has hard contractions for more than an hour with no sign of delivery, it is another sign of distress and you need to get her to a vet immediately! It is important to know the difference between a normal contraction and a distressed or hard contraction. When she starts to have contractions, she may push with her feet, grunt or turn to look at her side. This reaction is normal if she is having mild contractions. Hard contractions are obvious! You can see the muscles ripple on her sides and there is a distinct 'compression' in her loin area. Another warning sigh is if your girl goes more than two hours with contractions and no puppy is born. If you see these signs, please get her to your veterinarian immediately! For more information on signs of trouble and what to do, go to this website: http://labbies.com/reproduction3.htm.
Once whelping starts:
Once whelping begins, you want to make sure you capture the birth records. I keep detailed records of birth order, sex, breech or head presentation, weight, and any other distinct characteristics about the birth and the puppy. This is when having an experience friend can come in handy!
You want to make sure the mother knows to remove the birth sac. Do not assume this is instinctual! You may need to assist with this and with tying off the umbilical cord. For more information on typing off umbilical cords, go to this website and watch this YouTube video:
During whelping, I offer the mother a selection of goat's milk, yogurt and vanilla ice cream. She may or may not accept it, but these foods offer energy and calcium and help with contractions. Try to get the newborns nursing right away because this also helps with contractions and stimulates milk let down.
There can be a fine line between trying to do too much or too little. In the past, I used heating pads and/or heat lamps to try to keep the puppies warm, but I have learned from experience that when I do NOT use these, the puppies stay closer to the mom, nurse more frequently, and in turn help mom produce more milk. I keep the room temperature over 70, but not much warmer than that. The normal boy temperature of a newborn puppy is much lower than the mother's body temperature, usually at about 94 – 96 degrees. Most of us think it is higher than mom's is and we oftentimes end up overheating the puppies.
The first rule of thumb for newborn puppies is to know they need warmth and quality groceries. If puppies chill, it is imperative to warm them immediately! To do this, I have placed them in my shirt to share my body heat. You can also use a heating pad, but if you do, please keep it on low and cover the pad with two thicknesses of towels. I put a heating pad at the bottom of a laundry basket, cover it with a towel and then place a towel across the top. Having a laundry basket set up this way is also a great way to rotate puppies if mom is nursing a large litter. However, if you do this, you have to check the heat in the basket often as puppies can over heat and dehydrate easily.
Ensuring puppy health:
Once your litter is on the ground, it is important to make sure they are healthy and stay healthy! Healthy puppies twitch and move. Weak puppies stay stationary and whine or cry a great deal. If you have puppies that whine or do not move much, be sure to consult your veterinarian right away! Don't wait or hesitate!
Colostrum is the first food for the puppies and the mother will produce this for one to two days. Her regular milk will be whiter, thicker and more profuse when it comes in. If the mother does not have enough milk to feed her puppies or the puppies appear to be dehydrated, you will need to supplement feed the puppies. The best method for doing this is tube feeding. You will need to have your veterinarian show you how to do this. You can bottle feed the puppies, but it takes much longer and if you are dealing with weak puppies, you may find they have difficulty with bottle-feeding. This 'YouTube' video is a good one to watch. It shows a veterinarian demonstrating how to tube feed puppies. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIKWr7yRU2g.
I make my own puppy formula, however your veterinarian will have puppy formulas you can purchase if you want to go this route. The best food in the world to feed puppies less than four weeks of age is their own mother's milk as it is "complete, balanced," and is the most nutritious food for the puppies. The milk from a nursing female canine is higher in fat and protein than both cow and goat's milk. It contains all the nutrients puppies need and in it is all in the proper balance. A young puppy's digestive tract is designed to digest this whole food perfectly. Until a puppy is four weeks of age, their digestive system is not properly equipped to digest any other whole food. However, occasionally there are circumstances that arise where it is not possible to feed them mother's milk until they are four weeks of age. If this happens, it will be necessary to feed them food other than mother's milk. This can happen because the mom has a lack of milk production, the litter is too large for the mom's milk supply or the mom has an illness or dies. While it is impossible to reproduce mother's milk exactly, you may be faced with a situation when it is not possible to feed mother's milk. In this situation, the food substituted should be as close to it as possible. Below is a recipe that comes as close as you can get!
Recipe: Mother's milk replacement formula for puppies up to four weeks of age:
* One pint of goat's milk. This can be either goat's milk fresh in cartons from the store or evaporated goat's milk in cans. (If evaporated, be sure to dilute as directed with water)
* Two egg yolks
* Two EPA Fish Oil capsules
* 1/2 teaspoon Berte’s Ultra Probiotic Powder
* Four to six tablespoons whole milk plain yogurt
The egg yolks offer the extra protein that is needed. The EPA Fish Oil offers the extra fat and Omega-3 fatty acids, and the Ultra Probiotic Powder and yogurt provide the beneficial bacteria needed for proper digestion. Be sure to mix the mixture well and serve it to the puppies warm (about body temperature).
Next month, please join us for Part III of 'As Natural as Possible' Puppy Whelping and Rearing! — The puppies are here, now what?
In the meantime, we want to wish you all a Wonderful and Happy Thanksgiving!