Whelping the Litter

Well, it’s show time! Your bitch is ready and, hopefully, so are you!
    On day 58 after the first breeding, you’ll want to start taking your
    bitch’s temperature three times a day. A bitch’s temperature will drop
    from around 101.4 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit or below a few hours before
    she is ready to whelp. A fluctuation in temperature is very normal,
    what you are looking for is a dramatic drop to below 99F. The
    temperature drop is the best indicator of imminent whelping. Other
    signs of imminent whelping are restlessness, discomfort, licking and
    looking at vulva. The bitch may refuse food prior to whelping as well.
    She will probably pant heavily.
    These are all signs that whelping is imminent. Call your veterinarian
    and let them know that the whelping is beginning so that they will be
    ready to answer any questions or give advice if you have any problems.
    The bitch will start pushing and straining at some point and may start
    digging at the bedding. She’ll pant heavily between contractions. The
    contractions should be visible in the muscles along her back. You’ll
    see them start at the top of her body and move down.
    If labor continues an hour or so without producing a puppy, let the
    bitch go outside and walk around. This can help the labor progress.
    Also, the urge to push can feel, to the bitch, as if she has to
    defecate. A well-trained bitch will not want to break housetraining
    and will fight the urge to push, delaying labor. If the bitch is
    willing to go outdoors, keep a close eye on her. A maiden bitch, in
    particular, may not know what to do with a new puppy and may abandon
    If labor continues for more than three hours without producing a
    puppy, call your vet! You will probably need to take the bitch into
    the vet.
    Assuming labor continues normally, the contractions will come faster
    and the bitch will start pushing seriously. The water sac will appear,
    probably break, and then the puppy will be delivered shortly. The
    placenta may or may not be ready to be delivered at this point. You
    can gently pull on the cord to see if it will come but you should
    never pull on the puppy to check. You may pull the cord off the puppy
    and risk an umbilical hernia.
    The bitch may want to eat the placentas. Opinions vary about whether
    or not this is a good idea. Some people think it’s good nutrition for
    the bitch when she’s exerting great effort. Others feel that the bitch
    will get diarrhea from eating them. Some breeders compromise by
    letting the bitch eat one and then keeping them away from her.
    Whatever you do, you want to make sure that you have a placenta for
    each puppy born. If the bitch should retain a placenta, she is at risk
    of having a serious uterine infection.
    If you want to do this, you’ll need to clear the water sac away from
    the puppy’s nose and mouth first. Hold the puppy upside down to help
    drain fluid and mucus from its nose and throat. Rub the puppy very
    vigorously — even roughly — with a dry, clean towel until the puppy
    squeaks. This rubbing will both clean the puppy and stimulate it to
    start breathing.
    Many people allow the bitch to clean the puppy and chew off the
    umbilical cord. Others worry that the bitch may chew the cord off too
    close to the puppy resulting in an umbilical hernia and choose to deal
    with this themselves just to be safe. If you choose to do the task
    yourself, you’ll want to cut the cord about 1″ away from the body and
    tie it with plain dental floss. Dip the tip and the floss in Betadine
    solution (or another disinfectant such as iodine). It will dry up and
    drop off in a day or so.
    Once the pup is breathing and clean, whether you did it or the dam did
    it, you’ll want to check the puppy out carefully, weigh and measure
    the pup, check for abnormalities such as cleft palate, and identify
    the puppy in some way. Rickrack ribbon works very well. Measure and
    cut a piece large enough to tie loosely around the puppy’s neck. This
    is only necessary if your puppies are very similar. Other ways to mark
    the puppies include clipping bits of their fur on different parts of
    their bodies or marking them with nail polish.
    If the bitch is having a break between puppies, you should let the
    puppy nurse. The colostrom (milk produced in the first 24 hours) is
    extremely important for the puppies. It carries immunities that
    protect the puppies from infection. The puppy’s nursing will also
    stimulate the bitch’s contractions allowing her labor to progress.
    Take a chance to rest and relax while you can. Don’t worry, however,
    if you can’t get the puppies on the dam right away. They can go
    several hours without getting milk with no problem. Once labor starts
    up again, move the puppies into to the incubator box for safety while
    the dam is distracted.
    Very often there will be a longish break between puppies about half
    way through. You can take the bitch outside, although she may not want
    to leave the puppies (you should encourage her!). Again, you’ll want
    to keep a close eye on her to make sure she doesn’t deliver a puppy
    out there and not know what to do with it.
    The puppies can come as quickly as 15 minutes apart or as long as an
    hour apart. If the bitch goes more than an hour and you are think
    there are more puppies, call your vet! There may be a puppy stuck and
    you’ll want to ensure that you get it out as soon as possible.
    When your bitch is finished whelping, you’ll notice her calm down. Her
    breathing will slow and the contractions will stop. You should take
    the bitch and her puppies to the vet within the next four or five
    hours if at all possible. Don’t go more than 24 hours without having
    them checked out. If the bitch has a retained puppy or placenta, she
    is at risk for serious infection. If any of the puppies have cleft
    palates or other deformities, you need to know as soon as possible.
    Such puppies are usually humanely euthanized by your vet as they are
    generally not likely to live.
    There are a variety of problems you may run into. Again, keep your vet
    and/or emergency vet’s phone number handy in case you run into a
    situation you aren’t prepared for. If you have any question about what
    is happening or what you should do next, don’t hesitate to call the
    vet. You really are dealing with life or death situations and it’s
    much better to be safe than sorry.
    Some breeders suggest keeping some drugs on hand to help the bitch
    should she have trouble delivering. You can discuss this with your vet
    but I don’t recommend this practice. This drug is very strong and can
    cause serious complications if the problem is a large puppy blocking
    the birth canal. A better option is to keep in contact with your vet
    and take your bitch in if necessary.
    There are some alternative medications that many breeders are using
    and recommending now that have similar results without the risk of
    injury. For a bitch whose labor is slowing down, there is a
    homeopathic treatment called Caulophyllum (Blue Cohash). This should
    be administered when the bitch is in a non-productive labor. Do not
    use it unless the bitch is clearly in labor. For puppies-in-distress,
    you can try a product called Bach’s Rescue Remedy. It is a good gentle
    “kick start” for pups in trouble. You would just put a couple of drops
    on the puppies tongue. The nice thing about these remedies is that
    they can’t be overused. They are extremely gentle. Detractors from
    homeopathic or alternative measures will tell you that these
    treatments won’t do anything, good or bad. (For more information on
    this topic, see the Resource section below. There are a couple of
    books on Natural Health.)
    The first problem you might see is a bitch that starts labor but
    doesn’t proceed to delivering. First you should try walking her around
    outside to see if that helps her relax enough to start pushing. If
    that doesn’t work in about 15 minutes, you can try a technique called
    “feathering.” Put on surgical gloves and apply a small amount of
    lubricant such as KY Jelly. Gently, gently, gently insert one finger
    into the bitch’s vulva and gently tickle — or feather — her along
    the top of her vagina. This can help stimulate stronger contractions.
    If this doesn’t produce a quick result or the bitch is getting tired
    at all, call your vet. You will probably be making a trip in to get
    some expert care.
    The vet will probably x-ray your bitch to determine how many puppies
    are waiting to be born and whether or not you are dealing with a
    malpresentation (puppy trying to go out the wrong way). If all looks
    well, the vet will probably give your bitch injections of calcium
    and/or pituitary oxitocin. These injections often stimulate strong
    contractions and get the labor moving along. If they don’t work, or if
    you are dealing with an overly large puppy or a malpresentation, the
    vet will probably recommend a cesarian section. C-sections should not
    be taken lightly but they are often unavoidable. They are very
    expensive and put the life of the mother and puppies at great risk.
    You should decide at this time whether or not you want the vet to spay
    your bitch during the C-section. Sometimes, there won’t be any choice.
    If the uterus is badly damaged or infected, they will have to spay
    your bitch at this time. Once you reach the point of a c-section, many
    of the decisions will be taken out of your hands.
    Discussing this possibility with your vet ahead of time is a good idea
    so you can find out what procedures they use and how amenable they are
    to your helping to revive the puppies as they are delivered. Many vets
    will not allow you into their examination area, however, some are
    grateful for the additional hands in reviving puppies. One of the
    biggest problems with a C-section is the anesthesia given the bitch.
    Because the puppies are still attached to her system, they will,
    inevitably, be anesthetized as well. It is really important that your
    vet take this into consideration when anesthetizing the bitch. Many
    vets will mask her down and this is the recommended procedure. This
    means that the vet administers isoflourene gas to start her off,
    rather than administering a drug like Valium-Ketamine (SP?) to put her
    to sleep before starting the gas. If your bitch is high-strung and/or
    aggressive, the vet will probably insist on doing the Valium-Ketamine
    option, but if your bitch is placid and biddable, you should ask that
    they mask her down. The gas is much easier on the puppies systems and
    they will be much easier to revive. The recovery of your bitch will be
    difficult after a c-section. It is major abdominal surgery and puts a
    huge strain on her system. However, if all goes well, she should still
    be able to care for and nurse her litter. Your vet will give you
    detailed instructions for her care. They will often prescribe
    antibiotics to help her avoid infection. You should be careful
    administering any antibiotics as they will generally cause both the
    dam and the pups to have diarrhea.
    A case when you won’t have time to get to the vet is when you can’t
    get a puppy breathing. Every puppy should be rubbed vigorously until
    they squeak and start moving around. Some of them are born with a
    squeak and don’t need any additional help but more often than we’d
    like, puppies need extra help. If the vigorous rubbing doesn’t work,
    you’ll want to act quickly. The fastest way to get fluid out of the
    puppy’s throat and nose is to hold the puppy firmly and raise it above
    your head and swing it quickly down between your legs. The centrifugal
    force can clear the nose and throat. Make sure that you support the
    puppy’s head and neck while you do this so its delicate neck is not
    damaged. If this doesn’t work, you can try using a bulb syringe to
    aspirate any possible fluid. While you are working on the pup, keep
    rubbing it vigorously and make sure it stays warm. Hopefully you’ll be
    rewarded with that gasp of life and a healthy puppy.
    At some point, however, you may have to give up on a puppy. This is an
    extremely difficult decision but if you’ve worked on the puppy for 15
    minutes without response, you are unlikely to revive the puppy.
    Consult with your veterinarian about what to do with the dead puppy.
    Sadly, this isn’t an uncommon event in a whelping.
    Again, there is no shame in calling your vet for help. If you are
    unsure what to do or are presented with a situation you or your bitch
    don’t understand. Get professional help!
    Once the whelping is over, you’ll be ready to let the new family
    settle d own and get some well-deserved rest. And you’ll need that
    rest yourself. Make sure the bitch has relieved herself and gotten
    some fluids. Give her a sponge bath so she is clean and fresh. Feeding
    her chicken broth with rice is a good first meal after whelping as it
    will be gentle on her stomach but give her plenty of fluid and
    A first-time mother may have some serious doubts about these puppies,
    particularly if the delivery was painful for her. This is another time
    where obedience training comes in handy. It is extremely important
    that you get the puppies nursing both for their sake and hers. Put the
    bitch on a down-stay, get in the whelping box with her to reassure
    her, and put the puppies on her. If she growls or complains, just keep
    her head away from the puppies. She’s going to be tired and won’t
    fight you too much — besides, she’s used to obeying your commands,
    right? The obvious benefit here is that the pups will get that
    necessary colostrum which will provide them with their mother’s
    immunities. The added benefit, however, is that the nursing triggers
    the release of hormones into her bloodstream. These hormones help
    promote the bitch’s mothering instincts. The more the puppies nurse,
    the more loving the mother will feel towards them. (It’s true of
    humans as well.) Hopefully, the bitch will settle down and feel
    content as the puppies nurse. You should still supervise her with the
    puppies until you are sure she has fully accepted them and her new
 Raising Puppies Timeline
   Week One (Days 1-7)
           + 90% of time spent sleeping
           + 10% eating
           + Susceptible to heat/cold
           + Instinctive reflexes: crawl, seek warmth, nurse
           + They can right themselves if placed upside down
           + Needs stimulation for urination/defecation
           + Rapid development of central nervous system
           + Need constant care from bitch
           + Rectal temperatures 94-97 degrees Farenheit
           + Pups may lose 10% of weight after birth, but should start
             gaining again
           + Weight should double by end of week
           + Chart weight daily (2 x daily first 2 days)
           + Examine puppies daily
           + Trim nails weekly
           + Keep whelping box around 85 degrees Farenheit (this means if
             it’s hotter than that out, put a fan in the room or turn on
             the air conditioning, if it’s colder than that get a heat
             lamp to put above the whelping box)
           + When you handle the puppies, it’s a good idea use a towel
             when you hold them. The puppies urinate upon stimulation and
             will inevitably find your attention stimulating!
           + If your breed requires tail, ear, or dew claw docking,
             schedule this with your vet.
           + Keep dam on fluids for first 24 hours (i.e.. chicken broth,
           + Feed three full meals a day after that
           + Supplement with 250 mg Vitamin C twice daily
           + If puppies are fussy, supplement bitch with Vitamin B complex
           + Check mammary glands twice daily (looking for signs of
             mastitis — swelling, hardness, pus, etc.)
           + Keep an eye on vaginal discharge (looking for signs of
           + Make sure bitch eats, drinks, and relieves herself
           + Keep detailed records on puppies’ weight and behavior
           + Keep charting bitch’s temperature
           + Call puppy buyers with results of whelping
   Week Two (Days 8-14)
           + Eyes should open around days 8-10
           + Ears should open around days 13-17
           + Temperatures should be around 97-99F
           + Keep whelping box around 80-83F
           + Begin holding puppies in different ways (applying light
           + Trim nails weekly
           + Bitch should get three times her normal amount of food
           + Continue as above
   Week Three (Days 15-21)
           + Teeth begin to erupt
           + Puppies stand up and start walking
           + Begin to lap liquids
           + Defecate/urinate without stimulation
           + Start becoming aware of environment
           + Start playing with littermates
           + Develop sense of smell
           + Puppies will start to discriminate as to where to relieve
           + Start adding stimuli (toys) to puppies’ life
           + Start giving specific stresses when handling (i.e.. pinch an
             ear or toe gently).
           + Start giving pups milk replacer to lap for one meal a day —
             after two days, add some very mushy food
           + Weigh puppies every 2 days
           + Give puppies a dirty shirt of yours to play with
           + Start weekly grooming sessions (brush, trim nails, look at
             teeth, etc.)
           + Continue as above
           + Purchase milk replacer to feed puppies
   Week Four (Days 22-28)
           + Begin to eat food
           + Begin to bark, wag tails, bite, paw, bare teeth, growl and
           + Use legs well
           + Tire easily
           + Depth perception starts
           + Keep mom with them a lot! Things can get overwhelming at this
             age and Mom will add stability for them
           + Each pup needs individual attention
           + Offer food that is the consistency of cooked oatmeal
           + Continue as above
           + Start limiting bitch’s access to pups before offering them
   Week Five (Days 29-35)
           + Group activities and sexual play will begin
           + Dominance order starts
           + Rapid growth/development
           + Reduce fluids in puppies’ food
           + Make sure other people start coming to see pups
           + Begin weaning
           + Play radio at normal volume near pups for 5 minutes at a time
           + Start reducing amount of food to discourage milk development
           + Keep a careful eye on mammary glands
           + Discuss vaccination schedule with veterinarian
   Week Six (Days 26-42)
           + Growth and development continue
           + Offer soft, damp food
           + Chart weekly weight
           + Individual attention crucial — give each puppy time with you
             away from litter
           + To prepare bitch for weaning: Day 1 — no food
             Day 2 — 1/4 normal maintenance meal
             Day 3 — 1/2 normal maintenance meal
             Day 4 — 3/4 normal maintenance meal
             Day 5 — full amount of normal maintenance meal
           + Keep bitch on puppy food for several weeks to help her
             recover from the strain of breeding, whelping, and raising
           + Keep careful eye on mammary glands
           + Continue as above
   Week Seven (Days 43-49)
           + Total hearing/visual capacity
           + Will investigate anything
           + Can’t respond yet to name
           + Pups should be weaned and on regular puppy food
           + Pups can go to new homes
           + Keep careful eye on mammary glands until milk is completely
             dried up
   Week Eight (Days 50-56)
           + First fear period
           + Starts learning name
           + Don’t ship puppies
           + Can start training puppies in small steps
           + Continue as above
           + Continue as above
   Week Nine (Days 57-63)
           + Develops strong dominant and subordinate behavior among
           + Begins to learn right behavior
           + Motor skills improve
           + Short attention span
           + Starts focusing attention on owner rather than other puppies
           + Separate littermates
           + Start house training
           + Continue lots of individual attention
   Week Ten (Days 64-70)
           + Safe to ship puppies by air
    For more information on puppy development and raising, see Your New
    Puppy FAQ.
 Finding And Dealing With Puppy Buyers
    Finding good homes for your puppies should be one of your highest
    priorities. This is not an easy task but it is a very rewarding one.
    Matching the right dog with the right family is a great feeling!
    Responsible breeders try to have a list of interested buyers before
    they do the breeding — or at least before they whelp the litter. As
    stated before, there is a serious pet overpopulation problem in this
    country and no litter should be bred without a purpose. That purpose
    should include providing wanted puppies to good homes.
    The most effective way to find homes is by connecting into the network
    of breeders in your area. This is best done by finding a breed or
    kennel club in your area, joining, becoming active, and taking
    advantage of their resources. Many clubs publish litter listings in
    their newsletters and then club members refer callers to those
    litters. This is another way that your active participation in
    showing, training, and working your dog makes you a better breeder. By
    building a network of resources doing these activities, you open
    yourself up to puppy referrals.
    Advertising can be useful but should be done with care. Many breeders
    advertise upcoming litters in breed publications. Newspaper ads should
    be considered a last resort as you should have homes lined up before
    the puppies are born.
    When word gets out that you are doing a breeding, you’ll probably
    start getting phone calls from potential buyers. You should carefully
    screen these buyers over the telephone and ideally in person before
    putting them on your puppy list. The type of information you should be
    trying to get from the buyers should focus on their potential as dog
    owners. Try to evaluate their intentions and their understanding of
    what is involved in raising, training, and caring a dog. You should
    try to evaluate their home in terms of things like whether or not they
    have a fenced yard, if they will be able to provide the type of
    exercise appropriate to the dog. If your breed has special grooming
    considerations, you should make sure that they understand these as
    Part of your job as a breeder is acting as a counselor of sorts to
    your puppy buyers. In addition to the above information, you’ll want
    to make sure they understand all the health concerns for your breed.
    If they don’t ask the right questions, you should be prepared to fill
    them in on the information while explaining everything you have done
    to avoid these problems. Also, make sure that a puppy is the right
    choice for them. When I’m screening puppy buyers, I end up referring a
    lot of them to Rescue organizations if I don’t think that they have
    the time or energy to raise a young puppy.
    Most breeders provide a packet of information with their puppies.
    These packets include the bill of sale, any health guarantees (as
    discussed below), details on what the dog should be fed, details on
    what shots and worming the dog has been given, etc. Puppy packets can
    also include descriptions of the breed, pedigrees, photos and health
    clearances on the parents, information on training, and other items of
    A breeder should be willing to make a lifelong commitment to the
    puppies they produce. They should be willing to answer questions or
    concerns at any time in the dog’s life. Many breeders make a further
    commitment to take back a dog at any time in the future should the
    owner’s be unable to keep the dog. People’s lives can change with
    little or no notice and dog’s sometimes suffer. Rather than seeing one
    of their puppies end up in the pound, breeders often put a “right of
    first refusal” into their contracts.
    The AKC has recently started offering limited registrations. This is a
    great option for breeders who want to ensure that the puppies they
    produce don’t get used in the future to add to the pet overpopulation
    problem. Limited registrations mean that the dogs so registered can’t
    be shown nor can their offspring be registered with the AKC. The
    breeder can change the registration in the future should the owners
    decide they want to show or breed it. The breeder is the only one who
    can make that change. If you go with this option, you’ll want to
    explain this carefully to the pet buyers so that they don’t
    misunderstand or have a problem with it when they come to collect
    their puppy.
 Health Guarantees
    Every dog breed has health problems associated with it. Responsible
    breeders do everything in their power to avoid these problems in their
    litters. More and more breeders are finding some way to stand behind
    their breeding program by providing guarantees or warrantees on their
    puppies. The details will change depending on the breed and the types
    of problems seen in the particular breed. You’ll have to decide what
    you want to guarantee. Many people offer money or a replacement puppy
    upon receipt of proof of the particular problem.
    One example is with hip dysplasia: many breeds have a problem with
    dysplasia and it is extremely common to evaluate the parents’ hips.
    However, even with these measures, there is no way to ensure that the
    puppies won’t be affected. If the puppies end up having problems, some
    breeders will refund the purchase price with the intention of easing
    the veterinary bills for the owners. Other breeders will offer a
    replacement puppy to the owners for sometime in the future. Some
    breeders insist that the affected puppies are returned. Some breeders
    will insist that the affected puppy be spayed or neutered before
    honoring their guarantees. Whatever you do, you need to be very clear
    with your buyers about your policies to avoid problems in the future.
 Financial Considerations
    Many people go into breeding thinking that it’s a great way to make
    some easy money. Nothing could be further from the truth. Done
    correctly, breeding is rarely a money-making venture. If there are any
    problems at all , breeding generally becomes a financial disaster. So,
    you have to be prepared for possible expenses that may or may not
    occur. Keeping a credit card cleared off in case it’s needed can be a
    good way to handle this type of problem.
    Most breeders get a deposit of some sort from potential buyers at some
    point during the process. Some breeders require a deposit before
    putting buyers on their list. Some don’t accept deposits until the
    puppies are born and they are sure they have a puppy for the buyer.
    Whatever you decide to do, please be sure to carefully explain under
    what circumstances you will or won’t return the deposit so as to avoid
    unpleasantness in the future.
    Whatever your deposit arrangements, you should require payment-in-full
    before turning your puppies over to the new owners. The price of the
    puppies depends on your breed and the market in your area. Ask around
    among other breeders, consider your expenses, and set a fair price for
    your puppies.
    If you have a large litter with no problems, you can expect to pay
    your expenses and, perhaps, make a little extra money. If you have any
    problems at all, including a small litter, you will probably loose
    money on breeding a litter. Done correctly, breeding puppies is no way
    to make your fortune.
    All of the above information is very general, please be aware that
    certain breeds have very specific needs and/or problems during
    breeding, whelping, and puppy rearing. Please contact your breeder or
    veterinarian or refer to a good book on your breed for more
    information on how to deal with these specific issues.
    _Canine Reproduction_, Phyllis A Holst, MS, DVM, Alpine Publications,
    _Dog Breeding for Professionals_, Dr. Herbert Richards, TFH
    Publications, Inc., 1978.
    _Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook_, second edition, Delbert G
    Carlson, DVM and James M Giffin, MD, Howell Book House, 1992.
    _The Joy of Breeding Your Own Show Dog_, Margaret Ruth Smith and Ann
    Serrane, Howell Book House, 1980.
    _Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats_,
    Richard H Pitcairn, DVM and Susan Hubble Pitcairn, Rodale Press, 1995.
    _Successful Dog Breeding_, Chris Walkowicz & Bonnie Wilcox, DVM,
    Howell Book House, 1994.
    _AKC Gazette_, August 1995.
   Web Resources
      * AKC Policies and Guidelines for Registration Matters
      * Lactation in Dogs and Cats
      * Responsible Breeding of Female Chihuahuas
      * Should I Breed My Poodle?
      * Things to Think About Before You Breed Your Dog
      * Breeding Medical Information
   Raising Puppies Timeline                                    

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