Bitches/Whelping

written and submitted by Linda Rayman, Array Dobermans

Bitches that are being considered for breeding should have had all had their basic tests done (hips, eyes, vWD, thyroid) and be up-to-date on vaccinations as well as negative for internal parasites done prior to being bred.

After I have bred a bitch her life stays pretty much the same until she is about five weeks into her pregnancy.  She remains on a high quality maintenance diet and receives lots of exercise.  I usually do a couple of ultrasounds – one at thirty days and then another about ten days later.  The technician I use is incredible at coming up with an accurate number (unless there are over 8 or 9) and she can see if the uterus is healthy and all the little placentas firmly attached and of equal size.

If the bitch is carrying only one or two puppies, I supplement very little.  If she is carrying a healthy number of puppies, I switch her over to a puppy or performance food after the fifth week.  I also begin supplementing with cottage cheese, yogurt, cooked eggs, and a tablespoon of raw liver two to three times a week.  I have never x-rayed my bitches ahead of whelping but do rely on the ultrasounds.

I’ve always used a wooden whelping box with a fixed pig rail.  During the actual birthing process I keep a thick amount of newspapers for the bitch to “dig” in and shred.  As the babies are born I allow them to nurse until the bitch begins to deliver another puppy.  Then I remove the puppies that are with her and place them in a towel-lined box alongside the whelping box.  I set this box on top of a heating pad set on low and pull a towel over the top of the box to keep out drafts and cool air.  After the bitch delivers the next puppy I put all of the puppies back with her and let them nurse.  The nursing stimulates further contractions and lets more milk down.

Every few hours I take the bitch out into the yard to let her relieve herself.  I do not leave her unattended and I let her right back in with the puppies when she is finished.  If she seems overly tired I will give her some honey, orally, for an energy boost.  One can also use Nutrical.  If I’m not sure that every puppy has been delivered, I will take the bitch to the vet for an x-ray.  I will also continue to take her temperature several times a day following the delivery to make sure that she is not developing an infection.  I do not routinely give antibiotics or clean out shots.  Everything depends on the individual bitch and the situation.

Once the whelping is completed I place a layer of egg crate foam on the bottom of the whelping box.  On top of that I place a piece of carpeting that fits snugly to the sides of the box.  On the very top I have a soft blanket that the puppies are able to get good traction on.  The carpeting underneath the blanket keeps it from sliding all around unless the bitch in inclined to dig up her bedding.  I usually change the blanket every couple of hours.

At this age, the puppies should be either nursing or sleeping.  I check to make sure that the nursing puppies are actually receiving milk.  Just because they are sucking does not mean that there is actually milk there.  The puppies are checked several times a day to make sure that they are hydrated.  If I have a puppy that I want to monitor I will shave a little patch on it so that I can pick it out easily.  I also don’t leave collars on the puppies.

The puppy room is heated to between 85 and 90 degrees for the first three weeks.   This serves several purposes:

  • It encourages the mother to lay flat out giving easier access to the babies to nurse.
  • It leaves the mother a bit warm thereby encouraging her to drink more water and thus to produce more milk.
  • It keeps the puppies from becoming chilled.

I have two whelping boxes  One is 4 x 4 and the other is 4 x 6.  I like to start out with the smaller one as it keeps the puppies closer to the mother.  If the litter is large I will graduate to the larger box, if necessary.

I don’t allow any of the other dogs near the puppy room.  I want the mother to be relaxed and comfortable that she and her puppies are safe.

I begin to feed the puppies when they are 22 days old.  I buy a case of Science Diet Growth canned food and mix it with goat’s milk to form a runny gruel.  I’ve always felt that the canned food was better balanced than some of the recipes I’ve seen others use.  I feed them this gruel every six hours and I allow them to continue nursing during the whole weaning process.

When they are about 4 1/2 weeks I begin to add their puppy kibble to the gruel mixture.  I soak the kibble at one feeding and use it the next thereby giving me softened kibble at each feeding.  As the pups grow they gradually eat more of the kibble and less of the canned mixture until they transition to just the softened kibble (around 5 1/2 weeks of age).  The puppies have unlimited access to water after 4 weeks of age.  I always use bottled water for drinking and to soften their kibble.  The mother has generally tired of the whole puppy business by this time and pretty much weans herself from them on her own.

Once they are weaned I move them into the kitchen where there is more noise and exposure to various people, television and curious older dogs hanging their heads over the two foot barrier into their room.  The kitchen also has a dog door with access into the puppy yard.  They begin exploring the outdoors and by the time they are about 7 weeks they go outside almost every time to relieve themselves (unless it’s raining).  Their play yard is about 40 x 40 and has a layer of wood shavings to cushion any falls or tumbles.  They have a multitude of toys, tunnels to crawl through and a Little Tykes cube to crawl in and out of.  They have an Igloo house outside in case they choose to stay outside instead of returning to the kitchen.  I’m in Southern California so the weather is very rarely too cold for puppies to play outdoors during the day.

I worm puppies with liquid Panacur for five consecutive days, beginning at four weeks of age and then every 10-14 days after.  I begin their vaccinations at six weeks, using a DHPP (distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvo) shot. I repeat this vaccination every three weeks until the age of 18 weeks.  I do not give Lepto or Corona vaccinations at all.

I used to start my shots at five weeks and alternate the DHP (distemper, hepatitis, para-influenza) with Parvo but I think the way that I currently do it is easier on their immune systems.

I normally crop ears at 8-9 weeks of age.  Since I usually sell pet puppies into local homes, those babies can go to their new homes at seven weeks and bond with their new owners.  They return to have their ears done and are sent back to their owners the same evening.  This seems to be less stressful for the puppies.

Show puppies are usually x-rayed to make sure they have full dentition and they go to their new homes between 10-12 weeks of age.

After the puppies have had their first vaccination, I recruit neighborhood kids to come and play with them every day.  The puppies that are still in my home at twelve weeks will start going to handling classes and visits into town as often as I can possibly take them.  I can’t emphasize how important early socialization is in a well rounded adult dog.

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