A Guide to Breeding Your Dog

AKC Breeder Resources

A Guide to Breeding Your Dog
Step Twelve - Keep Your Puppies Warm, Fed and Clean
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Temperature. A newborn puppy cannot control its body temperature and must be kept in a warm environment. Chilling will stress the puppy and predispose it to infectious disease; overheating can kill it. The environmental temperature can be controlled with a well-insulated electric heating pad or a heat lamp. But make sure the puppies have a cooler place to crawl to if they become too warm.

The immediate environmental temperature should be kept between 85 and 90 degrees for the first five days of life. From the seventh to the tenth day, the temperature can be gradually reduced to 80 degrees; by the end of the fourth week it can be brought down to 75 degrees.

Nursing. The first milk produced by the bitch after whelping is called colostrum. Every puppy needs to ingest colostrum as early as possible after birth and certainly during the first 24 hours of life. Colostrum contains a number of substances that are beneficial to the puppy, including immunoglobulins that protect newborns from the infectious diseases to which the mother is immune.   

For your nursing bitches, one thing to keep a look out for is canine mastitis. It is not that common, but you should be aware of it. Canine mastitis is a breast infection in bitches, usually occurring a few weeks after whelping. Normally, the breasts of a lactating bitch are warm and enlarged. If the breasts seem to be red, dark, hot, or painful when touched, then you should contact your vet immediately. Advanced canine mastitis presents itself as a hard, hot and almost black breast segment, which is extremely painful for the bitch when touched. Canine mastitis can be caused by weaning puppies too early, severe scratches from puppies’ claws, or some other infection. A bitch with canine mastitis may be running a fever, be listless, and may not eat. She also may not allow her puppies to nurse, and if she does, she will be "snappy" when they touch the affected area.

Caring for your bitch after whelping

Some bitches eat very little for the first day or two after whelping. Then their appetite and need for all nutrients rises sharply and peaks in about three weeks. During this entire period, adequate calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin D must be fed to avoid the onset of eclampsia. Optimal amounts of these nutrients are already present in a high-quality diet so further supplementation is unnecessary. Eclampsia causes nervousness, whimpering, unsteady gait, and spasms. Although very serious, it is readily cured by prompt veterinary treatment.

After whelping, the bitch ideally should be about the same weight as when she was bred, but not more than 5 to 10 percent heavier. For three weeks after whelping, she will need two or three times more food than her normal maintenance diet to help her provide nourishing milk to her puppies. This food should be divided into three or four meals.  The composition of the food should be the same as it was during the last third of her pregnancy; only the amount per day should change.

Care for Orphaned Puppies

Newborn puppies must be hand fed if their mother is either unable or unwilling to nurse them. Cow's milk is a poor substitute for bitch's milk, which is more concentrated and has twice the level of protein, almost double the calories, and more than twice the calcium and phosphorous content. For feeding puppies, a commercial puppy formula is recommended; carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Remember that puppies grow very rapidly so make sure you weigh them every day before you calculate how much to feed them.

You may need to start with slightly less formula at each feeding and gradually increase the amount as the puppy responds favorably to hand feeding. Steady weight gain and well-formed feces are the best evidence of satisfactory progress. If diarrhea develops, immediately reduce the puppy's intake to half the amount previously fed, then gradually increase it again to the recommended level. Diarrhea in newborns can be very dangerous so consult a veterinarian for advice.

Never prepare more formula than is required for any one day because milk is a medium for bacterial growth. Maintain sanitary conditions at all times. Before feeding, warm the formula to about 100 degrees or near body temperature. Using a bottle and nipple, hold the bottle at an angle to prevent air bubbles. The hole in the nipple can be enlarged slightly with a hot needle to let the milk ooze out slowly when the bottle is inverted. The puppy should suck vigorously, but should not nurse too rapidly. Consult a veterinarian if the puppies are not nursing well. You may need to resort to tube feeding, which is best taught by a health professional.

Newborn puppies must be stimulated to defecate and urinate after each feeding. Ordinarily the mother's licking provides this stimulation, but orphaned puppies will need human intervention. Gently massage the puppy's anal region with a cotton ball that has been dipped in warm water.

Gentle body massage is also beneficial for any hand-reared puppy. Massage stimulates the circulation and thoroughly awakens the puppy. Stroke the puppy's sides and back with a soft cloth. The best time for a massage seems to be when the puppies are waking up and you're waiting for the formula to get warm.

Additional reading:

Ensuring a Good Start: Newborn Pups Sometimes Need Nutritional Boost
By Arliss Paddock