What to Expect When Delivering Puppies
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOUR DOG IS DUE?
In order to calculate the due date of your female, mark your calendar each day that you observe them. This established the first day of the range of possible due dates. The last day that she allows the male to mount her is the last day in the range of possible dates. The catch to that is that dogs tend to mate a few times over a few days, so determining the day to begin counting can get tricky. I note the first time I see them mating and each subsequent amorous encounter. I count 62 days from the first day that I see them mating and I count 65 days from the last day that I see them mating. That gives me the range of when to expect puppies.
The gestation period for dogs averages about 62 to 65 days. Each dog and each litter may differ from this by a day or three. About two weeks before the mother is due, you may notice that the area between her last rib and her hips begins to grow. This usually means your dog is definitely pregnant. (Some dogs experience false pregnancies where they exhibit all the signs of a pregnant female.) At about 45 to 50 days, you may lay your hand along the side of her belly with your fingertips just touching her ribs. Gently apply a little pressure and leave your hand there for a few minutes. You may feel puppies moving around. Once you feel the little ones moving about, you know for sure she is pregnant.
I admit that I am a little nutty when it comes to my dogs. Here is the proof: Once I feel the puppies moving around, I like to pet them and talk to them while they are still in their momma. The ears on puppies remain closed until a few days after birth, but I believe the vibrations caused by my voice reaches them. I have done this with every litter I have delivered. Sometimes it seems like the puppies are jockeying for their turn to have me pet them. The momma loves this as she is getting all of that loving too. I have noticed that after the birth of the puppies they seem to follow my voice about as well as the scent of their mother. This comes in handy once the mother begins leaving the nesting area for potty and sanity breaks.
VISIT YOUR VET A WEEK OR TWO BEFORE YOU EXPECT THE PUPPIES
About a week to ten days before you expect the puppies to arrive, take the momma to the vet for a quick health check. Ask the vet to X-ray the momma so you know how many puppies to expect. The X-ray dosage is very low and does not harm the puppies. The total office visit plus the X-ray should run around $70. If money is an object, call your vet and find out what they charge. If you are a long time customer, some vets allow you to spread the charges out over a few months. You can see what the X-rays show by looking at the pictures on our puppy pages:
WHAT TO FEED THE EXPECTING MOTHER
Puppies obtain all of their nutrients from their mother while in utero and while nursing once they arrive. In a sense, the puppies act as parasites literally sucking the nutrients from their mother's teats. This puts the mother's calcium supply is under a severe strain. Once the mother begins showing signs of pregnancy, change her diet to a quality puppy food. We use Purina Dog Chow for our adult dogs, but change the expecting mother's diet to Purina Puppy Chow. Since we have eight dogs, we mix the regular food with the puppy food in case she decides to dine from the regular food bowls. The other dogs do not mind the puppy food, but they tend to put on a little weight.
Until the puppies wean off the mother's teats, continue feeding her puppy food. Since the mother will still be tending to the puppies, she will continue to eat puppy food along with the puppies. You should ask your vet about a calcium supplement specially formulated for dogs. The tablets we get are not expensive. Calcium becomes critical as the puppies enter their fourth week of life. They experience their largest growth rate about that time and stay greedily attached to their mother’s spigots for long periods.
After the puppies complete their fourth week of nursing you may want to begin offering them what I call “puppy mush.” I grind Puppy Chow in a blender to make a grainy dry mix. I add filtered water until the mixture is about as thick as a cake mix. I heat this in the microwave on 33% power for 30 seconds, 70% power for 30 seconds, and full power for 30 seconds. After I remove it from the microwave, I make sure that the mixture is a little thicker than cake batter. I add more water or more mix as needed. I then spread the mush in a circle around the outer edge of small plates. By the time I put it down for the puppies, the temperature is slightly warm to the touch. Every couple of days I add an increasing amount of whole, dry food to the mix AFTER I remove it from the microwave. By the sixth week, the puppies start getting whole, dry puppy food.
GETTING READY FOR THE BIRTH DAY
I have a list of items that you may want to have ready for the birth of the puppies. Click the link below to see my personal “get ready” list, you may add to it or leave some items off the list. Put all of your items in handy places around the whelping box so that you do not have to strain to get to them, as you need them. Print a copy of my "get ready" list here:
THE WHELPING BOX
As expecting mothers approach their due date, the begin preparing for the big day by going through actions called “nesting.” Nesting is the mother preparing a place for the birth of the puppies that is safe and away from the rest of her pack. Canines tend to dig a den or burrow into some type of cover to provide that nesting area. Obviously, our domesticated mother cannot do this as freely as the wolf running free in the wild. We may provide an adequate substitute for this “nesting” area in the form of a whelping box.
The box should allow enough room for the mother to lie down completely while leaving room for the expected number of puppies. The box needs to accommodate the puppies for at least the first two weeks. The box also needs to stay as small as possible to keep the puppies near enough to their mother and litter mates for warmth. There are some safety considerations to bear in mind while choosing the whelping box. If the sides of the box attach to the bottom at a right angle, then we need to provide a way to prevent the puppies from suffocating should they find themselves trapped between the mother and the side of the box. Some people use elaborate set-ups with rails running around the box about four to five inches up from the bottom. You may search online for some of these designs if you wish.
We read of people using small kiddie-pools for their whelping boxes, but decided that they were too large for what we needed. While walking around Lowe’s picking up some items for another project, I noticed a black tub in the cement section of the store. I pulled one out, looked it over good, and decided it fit our needs. The sides gradually slant as the approach the bottom of the box; the box has rounded corners as well as a rounded lip along the top. It had the added benefit of fitting inside of the area we decided to put mom for the birth of the pups. Constructed of plastic, cleaning the box poses no problems.
While preparing the box for the big day, I placed a folded beach towel in the bottom of the box. I draped the sides of the towel so that they hung over the sides of the top. Using large plastic clamps, I secured the towel in place on three sides. Before securing the fourth side, I rolled some tennis balls against the sides of the box to prevent accidental suffocation. Once I clamped all four sides into place, I lined the bottom of the box with non-scented pee-pee training pads. We knew ahead of time how many puppies to expect, so I used two pads per expected puppy with another two added just in case. The idea here is to avoid disturbing momma and puppies as much as possible during the already stressful ordeal of birth.
LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION!
You should find a quiet spot away from high traffic areas to place the whelping box. Make sure that there are no drafts in the area of the box. The babies can survive cold temperatures, but they cannot survive a draft that robs them of warmth. If your puppies arrive during the winter months, you may want to add a heat lamp to your list of items to have ready. You do not want to get the babies too warm, but a temperature of about 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.
The space we chose for our puppies was in the seldom-used main bathroom area. That bathroom consists of a tub and toilet area and a separate sink/dressing area. The cabinet included a knee space perfectly suited for the purpose. The added benefit that is perfectly accommodated our chosen whelping box made it even better. For some strange reason, whoever built this house placed the electric hot water heater in the closet area of that sink/dressing area. This provided a great heat source as it keeps that small area quite warm. The area also provided easy access to the sink for hand washing, counter space for all of the accoutrements, and plenty of lighting. The area also made it easy for me to hear the mother and puppies after their birth in case they needed me for some reason.
Once the puppies open their eyes, they begin to explore further and further away from the whelping box area. By setting up in that small area, we already had the perfect pen area once the puppies found a world existed outside of that box. When the puppies began escaping the whelping box on a routine basis, we lined the carpet in that room with a couple of felt lined vinyl tablecloths that we purchased at Wal-Mart for $1 or $2. This made it easy to clean the area every couple of days. Then we covered that with some old sheets or blankets. Using the clamps, I rigged the cloth from the sheets so that it created a high enough barrier to keep the puppies in that room, but still low enough for their mother to hop over when needed. We left the area under the cabinet lined with towels so that the puppies had somewhere to go for sleeping. We also placed a training pad in the main part of the room and hoped that they used it more often than not. Keep a roll of toilet paper handy for picking up puppy mines between changing the training pads. I also kept a small stepstool on the counter top for me to use when going into that area to play with the puppies.
THE SIGNS OF LABOR
Keep in mind that every dog is different, so no hard fast rules exist about what constitutes impending labor. Approximately twenty-four hours before contractions begin the mother's body temperature may drop one degree Fahrenheit. Unless you have a dedicated rectal thermometer for your dogs, this indicator is likely useless. The first times I used this method I found that the physical signs I describe in the next paragraph indicated the beginning of labor better than the mother's temperature.
Most expecting mothers avoid food several hours prior to delivery. If you notice that the mother is not eating, watch for some other signs to follow soon. Probably the most noticeable symptom is that the mother begins panting non-stop. This is her body getting ready for the ordeal of labor. The panting may begin twenty-four hours ahead of the first puppy, or it may begin a few hours before the first puppy. The next signal is that the mother begins to "den." This means she begins gathering bedding material or burrows under the bed covers so that she has a secluded warm area to have her puppies. This is a good time to take her to the whelping box and sit with her for long periods. Naturally, you cannot spend your whole day and night sitting in wait for the arrival of the puppies, but you should have your schedule as clear as humanly possible. Encourage the mother go walk around, go outside, do her business, etc. Keep a close eye on her so that you do not miss the first hard contraction. The contraction is so strong that you will definitely notice it. Again, since all dogs differ, it may take two or three contractions to have the first puppy, or it may take ten or twelve.
ACTIVE LABOR, CONTRACTIONS & DOES IT HURT?
Once the contractions begin, if the mother is not in her whelping box, get her there as quickly as possible. Have your gloves and towels ready, as you will need them soon! I like to sit with the mothers and stroke their fur, massage their hips, massage their backbones, and gently rub her belly area. Most contractions come in quick succession until the puppy arrives. We do not let the mother eat the birth sac or the afterbirth. We generally wrap that up in the disposable pads after each puppy arrives.
Offer praise and love all during labor, especially during the active pushing. This serves two purposes with a common theme: the first purpose is to keep the momma calm; the second purpose is to keep YOU calm. Some dogs may whine, cry, whimper, etc., as they push each puppy through the birth canal. One of my females makes no noise at all, she simply shifts around, has contraction, and plop comes the baby! Since some mothers have more pain that other mothers, be prepared in case the mother reacts to the pain. She may react by trying to bite you! Remain calm and understanding, as you know she would not ordinarily try that. One of the reasons I stay in constant physical contact with my dogs during the contractions is to let them know that I am there for them if something goes wrong. None of them has ever attempted to bite me, but I have a friend whose dog bites her every time one of her females has a litter. Thankfully her dogs are small like ours.
CLEANING THE NEW PUPPY & CUTTING THE UMBILICAL CORD
Once the puppy is clear of the mother, pick it up and tear the sac away from the puppy. Using a clean towel, vigorously rub the puppy as if attempting to dry the puppy. You will not completely dry the puppy, so do not over do it. If the mother has not already chewed through the umbilical cord, you may need to tie it and cut it. Use a piece of dental floss to tied the cord about one finger's width from the body of the puppy. Pull the string tight, then cut the umbilical cord about half an inch from the string going towards the mother. Use you baby mucous suction bulb to clear each nostril and the mouth. The puppy should begin mewling as soon as you begin the drying efforts. Listen for bubbly mewling, and continue to use the suction bulb until the mewling has no bubbly sounds.
The mother will be doing her best to get to the baby and you want her to help. While you go about your tasks, allow her to help by licking the baby, etc. Once you have cut the umbilical and have dried the baby as much as possible, place the puppy against the mother's warm belly. In most cases the puppy will find a teat without any help. If the baby acts lost, it is OK to help get the puppy to a teat. If the baby's mouth does not open, gently rub the side of the mouth and it will plop open. When it opens, stick it on a teat and let Mother Nature take care of the rest!
HOW LONG UNTIL THE NEXT ONE?
The period between puppies may last eight hours or more. Usually that is the extreme, but I have had one litter where as many as twelve hours passed before the next puppy. After four hours of no contractions, you may need to contact your vet. It is a good idea to alert them that it has been four hours since the last puppy's arrival. Trust me here, just talking to the office staff relieves a lot of anxiety, so it is worth the call. The call also alerts the office that you may need to get the mother in to see the vet should the birthing process completely stop. If it has been a few hours since the arrival of the last puppy, encourage the mother to get out of the whelping box and walk. Take her outside for a potty break. If she refuses to leave the box, do not force the issue. Mothers of first litters will likely stay in the box for the first day or two. Experienced mothers leave the box the second she realizes the babies are sleeping.
For each subsequent birth, you need to keep the older puppies out of the way of their mother's toenails. When momma pushes, she may inadvertently step on a baby. I keep a small box lined with a towel beside the whelping box. Once the next set of contractions begins, I move the older puppies into this box. Since the mother's attention has refocused to areas a little south of her teats, she will not complain about you moving the puppies. Once you clean the new arrival and discard the disposable pad, put the older puppies back in the box with momma.
I like to record the time of birth for each puppy. I also make notes about colors, gender, markings, etc., so that I can identify the puppies by order of birth later. I may sketch unique chest markings as one means of later identification. After the baby has eaten a little, I hold the puppy and take several pictures of them from the front, the back, and of their chest and belly. In between pictures of each puppy, I snap a picture of the wall. This serves as a marker between puppy pictures. During this time, I also weigh the puppies and record the information. I do this so that I can track their growth. A puppy that does not grow at a steady rate may need to see the vet.
Before leaving the mother alone with the puppies for some bonding time, make sure the bedding is clean and dry. You need to keep an eye on this throughout the next few days. It is important that the babies not get cold because of excess moisture in their box.
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