Monday, August 23, 2010

How to Get Puppies Off to a Great Start

By Suzanne Alicie

I was toying with the idea of titling this “What to Expect When Your Dog is Expecting,” but because I’m going beyond simple dog pregnancy and into caring for your puppies successfully in order to give them a great start in life, the chosen title is more appropriate. 

Confirm Your Dog’s Pregnancy

A visit to the vet will confirm or deny your suspicion that your dog is pregnant. If the result is positive, the vet will advise you as to what stage your dog is in and what care you need to provide. The length of time a dog gestates is around 9 weeks. Much shorter than a human, this gives you only a little time to prepare. Depending upon the stage of pregnancy when you determine your dog is expecting, your vet may vaccinate her to help protect the new puppies after birth until they are able to be vaccinated.

Care During Pregnancy

The stress level of your expecting dog should be kept to a minimum to avoid problems. A proper diet of a good nutritional dog food and plenty of water is all that your female dog requires to keep her healthy through her pregnancy. When your dog is about 4 weeks from whelping the puppies, increase the food intake a little each day. Puppies this close to birth are quite demanding on the mother and can take the nutrition from her body leaving her underweight and on the verge of being ill. At this time it is also a good idea to worm your dog. Never worm your dog before the midway point of pregnancy, and consult your vet to ensure the timing. Worming helps make sure that the mother does not pass round worms to the new puppies through her milk.

Watch for Laboring

Signs that indicate your dog is preparing to give birth include:

• A hollowing of the hip area which indicates that the puppies have moved and are getting in place for birth.
• A temperature of less than 100. 
• Nesting behavior, including digging at covers, hiding or being determined to stay in a certain area. This is your dog deciding where she will have her puppies and means that the hormones which trigger labor are working.
• Shivering is actually a sign of contractions, if the dog is calm, or possibly eclampsia.
• Irritability is common in laboring dogs; try to keep her calm and relaxed just as you would a human giving birth.

Giving Birth

You dog will move into the second stage of labor known as hard labor, which will expel the puppies. Puppies are born enclosed in a membrane that must be removed for the puppy to breathe. After the first puppy appears, give the mother a few moments to chew and lick the membrane from the pup. If she doesn’t, you will have to do this for her by removing the membrane and rubbing the puppy with a warm towel. The umbilical cord can be tied and cut about an inch from the puppy. Because it is natural for mother dogs to eat the placenta and often later vomit, it’s best if you clean the placenta up and dispose of it. Generally you can expect one puppy every hour until she is finished. With several puppies the mother may take a break and not push or strain for up to 4 hours before birthing another puppy.

Watch for Illness after Giving Birth

Consult your vet if your new mom has any of the following symptoms, which could be signs of a serious condition like metritis or eclampsia during the days after whelping her puppies.

• Fever
• Loss of appetite
• No interest in puppies
• Vaginal discharge with foul odor
• Not enough milk production
• Stiff painful walking
• Nervousness or restlessness
• Muscle spasms or seizures
• Hard painful mammary glands

The area where the mom and new pups will live temporarily should be in a warm (no less than 70 degrees F) and dry area where the puppies can be enclosed while the mom can come and go. Puppies and mom will enjoy newspapers or disposable diapers to shred and make a soft absorbent nest.

Caring for New Puppies

Nature equips the new mother dog to do most of the work when it comes to caring for her puppies. Nursing and learning from the mother during the first weeks of their lives give puppies the necessary nutrition and basic survival skills they will need. A vet should examine the puppies within a few days of their birth and if any tail docking is to be done it should be taken care of before the puppies are 5 days old.

Puppies’ nails can be clipped when they get sharp. The eyes will open around 2 weeks after birth. To assist your mother dog with weaning, starting at about 4 weeks provide a mixture of puppy food and water or milk. As weaning progresses, establish a regular feeding and toilet training schedule. Encourage socialization by cuddling each puppy for a few minutes twice a day.

At 6-8 weeks of age, puppies should be checked for internal parasites and receive their vaccinations for distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis and parvovirus. The rabies vaccination should not be given before the puppies are 3 months old.

Begin separating the puppies from their mother for a length of time each day when they are around 6 weeks old. This will help the mother stop producing milk, and allow the puppies to learn to spend more time away from mom until they are only together at night. For some excellent advice that goes into more detail on specifically caring for newborn puppies, read this article by Julia Williams.

While much of this may seem to be a natural occurrence, any help you provide as a responsible pet owner will make the whole process easier on your dog and her babies.

Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie

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