Supervising a newborn puppy involves a lot of hard work and dedication from you and your dam. As a responsible breeder, you must be prepared for every scenario and be there to prevent accidents from happening.
In order to do this to the best of your ability, you will need to understand the process of whelping, how to wean puppies, what entails normal maternal behavior, and how to keep the puppies warm. Newborn puppy supervision is a full-time role and you must be there every step of the way.
Whelping a Dog
Whelping is the name given to the process of a dog giving birth. Most dogs give birth on their own without too much difficulty but it’s always best to supervise the process. Having a good idea of what’s normal in the whelping process will allow you to spot signs of trouble quickly. Be prepared to supervise newborn puppies 24/7.
To prepare for whelping, make sure that you have all the necessary equipment long before your bitch gives birth. You don’t want to find that you don’t have the correct supplies halfway through the birthing process, and you shouldn’t leave the litter unsupervised from birth onwards. This means that leaving your puppies alone to grab more supplies from the store is out of the question.
- A whelping box
- Newspapers to line the dam’s whelping box for easy cleaning
- Comfortable bedding
- Dry, clean towels
- Heating pads or hot water bottles
- Iodine to clean the puppies’ abdomens
- Baby scale
- Your vet’s phone number
- An emergency clinic’s phone number
You should also select the location you want to put the whelping box early too to avoid any unnecessary stress. Make sure that the whelping box is placed in a quiet, warm location that won’t be too loud or stressful for your whelping dam.
Unlike humans, pregnant dogs usually give birth easily and don’t need any extra help. Your role is to assist only when necessary and to give your dog support so that she feels safe and secure. Labor lasts for three to twelve hours and occurs in three stages.
In the first stage, your dog will be restless. She may pant, shiver, and pace the room in an unsettled way. Her vulva swells in preparation for the delivery. The cervix and uterus will contract but the contractions are too small to see. Supervise her closely during this stage.
The second stage involves birthing the puppies. This stage takes between three to twelve hours but can take up to 24 in some cases. You will see strong contractions in this stage. A clear fluid will also be visible on your dog’s vulva. Puppies are typically born within 20 minutes of each other. However, don’t be alarmed if an hour or two passes between puppies – the dam will sometimes rest during delivery.
If labor lasts for a long time, the dam might go to the toilet in between her deliveries. If this happens, keep a close eye on her in case she gives birth to another pup whilst toileting. She should bite through the sac and umbilical cord of each puppy before cleaning them.
In the final stage, your dog will be restless and may pant and shake. This is normal behavior. Make sure that you check how many placentas have passed. Greenish or brown discharge suggests that a placenta has separated from a pup during the birth. If a puppy isn’t born within the next two to four hours, there may be a complication and a vet will need to intervene. Supervise newborn puppies and the dam at all times so that you can spot any problems quickly.
Once you are sure that the labor has finished and that all the pups are healthy and happy, make sure that you get your dog something to eat and drink. Give her the food she has been eating throughout her pregnancy, as she will need food that’s easy on her stomach. You will also need to help her go outside to the toilet and for fresh air. Remove any bedding and newspaper that was soiled during the delivery. When you are satisfied that everyone is doing well, give the new family some quiet time together.
It’s important to supervise newborn puppies constantly, especially with a first-time mother. Ensure that the new arrivals are suckling, warm, and content. Any puppies that are crying or cold should be placed by the hind teats and checked regularly. Other pups could be pushing them away from the teats, or the mother could be rejecting them.
When woken, puppies should search for a nipple vigorously. This is known as the “rooting” reflex. It’s normal for the puppies to vocalize when doing so in a series of squeaks and whines. Once full, the pups nestle back down with the litter and go back to sleep. This occurs every two hours in the first week. It’s vital that the puppies suckle often; the mother’s milk fulfills every nutritional demand, providing antibodies, proteins, and minerals that are necessary for the pups’ growth.
It’s important that you supervise newborn puppies to ensure that the litter is plump and well-fed at all times. Regularly check the puppies’ weight and don’t just rely on visual observation of the litter. If you notice any of the pups being underfed, you may need to supervise them during nursing time. Puppies who cry frequently might be hungry and need extra help during suckling. The nipples closest to the hind legs often secrete the most milk, so make sure that you place the struggling pup there during feeding.
Weaning is the process of reducing a puppy’s dependency on their mother’s milk. This involves introducing the puppy to a solid diet while withdrawing milk supply. Puppy weaning begins at around three to four weeks. Up to that point, the puppies will have been relying solely on their mother’s milk. Just like any major change, it’s best to make the transition gradually.
To begin weaning, start by separating the puppies from the mother for a few hours at a time. Whilst the pups are separated, offer a high-quality commercial puppy food on your finger. You will need to soften the food with warm water or canine milk replacer for around half an hour before feeding. This makes the food more appealing to the pups’ sensitive palates. The downside to this is that it makes weaning messy. Puppies often find themselves covered in a mixture of milk and wet food. Be sure to wipe the leftovers from the pups’ mouths and keep them away from drafts. Over time, introduce the pups to a shallow dish of puppy mush.
Over time, weaning reduces the pups’ dependency on their mother and her milk. The amount of food offered, frequency of feeding, and duration of the separation can be gradually increased. Your puppy should be fed puppy mush four to five times per day. By the time a puppy is 7 or 8 weeks of age, they should be completely weaned on to puppy food and off milk entirely.
Making “Puppy Mush”
Your puppy mush recipe should include a high-quality dry puppy kibble and warm water. Many breeders will use a blender to mix these ingredients, but there are other ways to get the same tasty results too. A potato masher can achieve the same oatmeal-like consistency. Over time, you’ll want to increase the consistency so that the food gradually becomes more solid with each week.
To begin making puppy mush you will need a shallow feeding dish. Regular dog bowls are too deep for puppies, so you need to use a bowl with a wide bottom and short sides. Aluminum pie pans are great options for this! In the shallow bowl, place two cups of dry commercial puppy food and pour warm water over it. It’s important to completely cover the kibble with warm water so that no hard pieces of kibble are left. Using a potato masher, mash the kibble and water mix until it has a soft, porridge-like texture.
Helping Puppies Taste Solid Food
Begin by scooping the puppy mush with your fingers and placing it in the puppy’s mouth. It’s normal at this stage for the puppy to wrestle and protest, so just be patient and continue gently introducing the mush to their mouth. This might take several tries, but each time they will start to eat a little more food than before. If you do this consistently, three to four times each day, the pup will begin to recognize the new food and eat it willingly. Always supervise newborn puppies when they feed and continue to supervise them even when they eat puppy mush to prevent choking accidents.
Weaning Orphan Puppies
Orphaned puppies are fed on a strict schedule. Milk must be given every two to four hours around the clock. Commercial milk replacers are labeled to help you decide the total volume of milk to be fed each day. To calculate the amount needed for each feeding, dilute the total daily volume of milk replacer to a final volume of about 180mL/kg of puppy body weight, and divide this total into the number of meals given each day. Six to eight meals spaced over 24 hours are enough for most puppies. It’s best to warm the milk replacer to around 35 – 38.7°C before feeding because cold formula leads to regurgitation and diarrhea.
Weaning orphaned pups can begin at the same age as pups who are cared for by their mother; around three to four weeks. In the same manner as with non-orphaned pups, puppy food should be mixed with warm water to create a porridge-like texture. This puppy mush should be offered four to five times per day. At the same time, decrease the frequency of bottle feeding. Overnight feeding can also be reduced over time. Your orphaned puppy should exclusively eat puppy food by 7 or 8 weeks of age.
Post Natal Checkup
After your dam delivers her pups, you should consult with your vet for a postnatal checkup. You will need to call your vet to schedule an appointment. If possible, check if your vet can offer a home visit to reduce stress on the mother. This allows you to supervise newborn puppies closer. To make the appointment as productive and smooth as possible, you should gather as much information as possible before the visit! This includes: monitoring your dog’s vaginal discharge, taking her temperature, and weighing the puppies every day. Having these details on hand will help your vet to determine if your dam and her pups are happy and healthy.
Daily Weight Checkups
Weighing your pups is a crucial part of making sure they remain healthy. In order to do this accurately, you will first need to recognize the proper birth weights of the breed and to find a way to tell the puppies apart. Often, puppies will look very similar and it may be necessary to mark them with a non-toxic marker to identify the pups.
Digital scales are the most convenient option to use for weighing puppies. They give the most accurate reading, which is vital in the puppies’ first weeks. As you weigh the puppy, always be gentle. A good way to do this is by placing the pup in a bucket wrapped in a blanket or wrapping the puppy in a blanket before placing them on the scale. If you do this, make sure you subtract the weight of the extra materials. To record the puppies’ weight, create a chart and record the date and weight every day.
Monitoring the Mother's Behavior
Directly after giving birth to the pups, the dam should instinctively clean each of them. If she doesn’t, this is an early sign of rejection. Later signs of rejection to look out for include: spending long periods away from the litter, physically moving the pups away, purposely injuring the pups, and excessive crying from the pups. If the dam exhibits these behaviors, you will need to jump in to make sure that the litter survives.
Check the dam frequently for any signs of infection. If you suspect that your dam is unwell, seek veterinary advice immediately. Infections like mastitis are treated with antibiotics and can be life-threatening if left to get worse. In early cases of mastitis, the dam won’t show overt signs of illness, but her puppies won’t gain weight as quickly as expected. As the infection progresses, the mammary glands become swollen, inflamed, and discolored. This makes nursing her puppies very painful and leads to rejection.
If you think that the dam is rejecting her litter because of tiredness or feeling overwhelmed, be prepared to help her wherever possible. The bonding process is underlined by hormones that are stimulated during labor and nursing. If the pups don’t automatically latch onto a teat, you should introduce them yourself – get the dam to lay on her side and place the pups near her teats. Ensure that any help you enlist is from a trusted person so as not to cause unnecessary stress and anxiety for the mother.
Keeping the Puppies Warm
Newborn puppies cannot regulate their temperatures on their own. This makes the temperature of the whelping box very important. Ideally, your box should be approximately 30°C throughout the first week. In the second week, the temperature can drop to 28°C. By the third week, it can drop to 27°C. At week four, a comfortable 24 to 25°C is appropriate. To maintain these temperatures, you will need:
- An infrared lamp
- Hot water bottles
- A thermometer
Always keep any hot water bottles away from direct contact with your puppies’ skin. You will need to wrap the hot water bottles in towels or blankets to prevent burns.
To check the effectiveness of your heating, take the rectal temperature of the puppies. Your objective is to keep their body temperatures above 36°C. By the fourth week, your puppies should have a rectal temperature of 38.5°C. At this stage, it’s safe to end consistent monitoring of their temperature.
Supervising Newborn Puppies – FAQs
Have any more questions about supervising a newborn puppy? Our Frequently Asked Questions section further discusses how to supervise newborn puppies, and should have all the answers you need.
Most responsible breeders do not leave newborn puppies alone with the dam. There are many reasons why it’s best to supervise the dam and her litter at all times. Inexperienced dams can quickly become overwhelmed by the new litter and not being present might cause you to miss signs of rejection. Your dam can suddenly fall ill and might need veterinary assistance. A puppy could be squashed or suffocated in a few seconds.
Raising the litter properly involves huge amounts of effort from the breeder, and you must be prepared to give the litter your full, undivided attention for the next four weeks. You should move your bed into the same room as the whelping box and sleep beside it during this time.
Newborn puppies need constant supervision. Not only can they not hear, see, or walk, but they also can’t defend themselves if anything happens to them. Supervising a newborn puppy is the only way to prevent life-threatening accidents and injuries. Puppies can be easily squashed or suffocated if they become trapped under the dam. You will also need to monitor the litter closely to make sure that the individual pups aren’t being rejected by the dam. The dam may single out one pup and reject it entirely.
One of the most common tragedies in dog breeding is the accidental death of a puppy. Some dams will sit on or lay on their puppies, which suffocates them. If you notice this behavior in your dam, re-evaluate the size of your whelping box. Your box might be too small.
In addition, consider finding a box with pig rails (also called roll-bars) installed inside it. Pig rails are bars fixed to the inside perimeter of the box. They protect the puppies from being trapped between the mother and the side of the box. This is especially important for larger dog breeds.
The dam can leave her pups for very short intervals but only for toilet breaks. In the first few days, she will be unwilling to leave the whelping box and thus might refuse to go to the toilet. This is because she instinctively wants to supervise newborn puppies. It is your responsibility to get her to urinate and defecate normally during this time. Try to stick to her normal schedule.
Supervising a newborn puppy is a full-time role and it’s vital that you are prepared. Ensure that you are aware of the signs of labor and that you have all the necessary equipment before whelping occurs.