Caring for Puppies

  • 31/01/2010

Prewhelping preparations

You should have a sturdy, clean, proper sized whelping box for the litter. It MUST include a "pig rail" around the edge to prevent the bitch from laying on or smashing her pups. It should be big enough to allow the bitch to turn around but small enough to prevent the pups from being "lost" in the unused portions. About six inches longer than she is, fore and aft, when laying prone (as in suckling her puppies) and about a foot on either side length wise.

To get the whelping box ready for your bitch, get a sheet of plastic, such as you would use for painting a ceiling to protect the floor. Cut it up into several pieces the size of the whelping box. Put one piece of plastic down, several layers of newspaper, another piece of plastic, more layers of newspaper and so on for four or five layers. Then when your bitch is whelping puppies, you can roll off a layer when it gets messy -- and it will! -- and throw it away to instantly clean the whelping box.


After the puppies are born, there are many strategies for lining the whelping box. Some people continue to use newspapers, but puppies get pretty dirty from both newspaper print and feces. Other people have had success with synthetic materials on top of absorbent materials: the synthetic material provides secure footing, but the urine and other liquids pass through it to leave it dry. Other people use pine shavings (about six inches deep). You will do a lot of laundering to keep things clean no matter what you use. You will also have to clean the feces out of the whelping box after your bitch decides that's no longer her job.

Newborn puppies MUST be kept warm. The temperature in the whelping box at birth should be 90 F. The temperature can then be decreased 2 degrees every other day. NEVER FEED A CHILLED PUPPY!!! If a puppy becomes chilled it will cry continually and it will tuck its tail between its little legs. A healthy, happy, litter will "purr" like a swarm of bees and when feeding their tails will be straight out from their bodies. Warm any chilled puppy by putting the puppy under your shirt and under your armpit. The best method of warming a puppy is to use a special whelping box heating pad with a towel over it to prevent soiling the pad. Make sure the temperature does not go too high. Heating lamps are ok but puppies can become dehydrated. If the litter clumps together and cries, they are too cold; if they separate and try to hide under shade, they are too hot.

Large litters will require supplemental feedings if you want all the puppies to survive. Your bitch may not be able to care for a very large litter. You will need to get the pups rotating on shifts. For the first two weeks you may have to supplement as much as every four hours. Use a good prepared milk-supplement especially formulated for puppies. If you get in a bind you can use a goat-milk recipe available in most books about breeding and whelping pups. You may have to tube feed those pups that will not suckle from a bottle!

Are you going to remove the dewclaws or dock a tail? This must be done by 3 days old at the latest! Any later will not heal as nicely or quickly!

If you have a purebred litter, you must record the date of birth and all of the pups (including the dead ones) in your record book. Then you will need to fill out and send in your litter registration form. You want to do this as soon as possible, since many registries can take up to 6 weeks to return the forms for individual registration to you (which you will want to give to your puppy buyers later).

You will have to keep the whelping box clean. For the first two weeks the bitch will keep the pups pretty clean, but the bedding should be changed twice a day at minimum. Starting week three, the pups start to eliminate some on their own.. then you will need to clean much more often!

At four weeks, the pups usually become very active and it this time may require a larger area then the whelping will need a large ex-pen or some way of confining them safely. You do have a place to keep them that they are safe in and can't destroy? Puppies at this stage can devastate a room or garage in hours.

At week five you will probably want to introduce the pups to weaning food. Usually you will have to mush up the dry puppy food for the pups to be able to eat it. Use warm water and let the food stand in a bowl for about 2 hours.

At week six you should vaccination and worm the pups, and have them checked for heart murmurs, hernias, males for testicles (yes you should be able to feel them at 6 weeks!), deafness, and eye problems.

You should be socializing now too... And are you going to do any puppy testing for temperaments? At seven weeks you should be calling up those people with deposits on your pups and getting your paper work all sorted out. Are your spay/neuter contracts ready? How about pictures of the pups for your clients?

And this is just if everything goes perfectly! What happens if one of the pups has a heart murmur, or a hernia? What about a deaf puppy? What if your whole litter gets parvo or distemper? What happens if one of the pups is affected with "swimmer-puppy" syndrome? What about fading-puppy syndrome? What happens if your bitch gets an infection or mastitis? What if she dies?

Placing the puppies

After the puppies are born, if not before, you must consider placing your puppies. Time and time again, people breed a litter because friends and family want one of their dog's puppies -- and then none of them will take one.

At six weeks is when even seasoned breeders wonder why they do this. A healthy active litter of six will run you ragged at this age. They are so curious, they want to explore everywhere, and they are at the prime age for socialization and exposure to many things that you, as a responsible breeder, want to give them a head start on.

At eight weeks, you may begin placing those pups that are ready to go to their new homes. Insecure pups may need more time, how are those puppy tests coming? You can't place puppies earlier than 7.5 weeks or so (no matter how much you may want to).

Are you prepared to do some legwork to find GOOD homes for them, not just hand them off to the first person who comes by? You are aware that you won't always be able to sell all of your puppies locally, aren't you? What assurances do you have that the puppies will not wind up filling animal shelters, facing death because their parents were thoughtlessly bred? Suppose you wind up keeping more of the litter than you intended to? Suppose some of your puppies are returned? Can you keep the extra puppies?

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