By Catherine B. Nelson, The
American Kennel Club's 2004 Breeder of the Year
No Broadway director would raise
the curtain without rehearsals, but an astounding
number of owners face their first litter without ever
having witnessed a whelping. Granted, nature is wonderful,
and the majority of new mothers instinctively know
what to do, needing only the owner#8217;s comforting presence. However, statistically
30 percent of puppies delivered do not survive to
3 weeks of age. While this statistic may seem daunting,
take heart. There are some extra steps each owner
can take to maximize the chances that their first
litter will be in the living 70 percent.
Becoming knowledgeable about the delivery process;
arranging for veterinary help, if it should be needed;
and understanding the correct care for the neonates
are as important to a first-time breeder as memorizing
the script is to an actor.
Many excellent books deal with reproduction and whelping.
Most have detailed illustrations, timetables and checklists.
Get several and read them cover to cover. Discuss
any questions with your vet and with experienced breeders.
Nothing beats firsthand experience. In the months
leading up to the big event, try to witness a whelping,
perhaps with the breeder of your own bitch or with
another experienced breeder in your area. The books
say to stroke newborns briskly but gently with a rough
cloth until the puppies take a breath. It#8217;s very comforting to have seen how
fast is #8220;brisk#8221; and how firm a stroke qualifies
as #8220;gentle,#8221; particularly at 2 a.m. For the event
itself, cultivate a good (emphasis on good) friend
who has whelped puppies and is willing to drop everything
and come to keep you company and assist, if necessary.
When planning the breeding, talk with your veterinarian
about her availability after regular clinic hours,
should you need professional help. If she is willing
to attend in case of emergency, thank your lucky stars,
and provide her with a written note of the due dates
as soon as you know the bitch is in whelp. Remind
your veterinarian again the week before the due date,
especially if a weekend may be involved. Notify her
when the temperature drops, and reconfirm telephone
numbers. If an emergency clinic will be your only
option, locate the clinic, and drive there ahead of
time, planning the route and timing the drive. Go
in and ask about their procedures for whelping problems
and C-sections. Such advance preparation saves much
Caring for the newborns starts with building or buying
the whelping box and planning temperature control.
Every breeder will be happy to detail her #8220;ideal#8221; whelping setup, and most books contain
excellent suggestions and diagrams. To thrive, neonates
need warmth (since they cannot regulate their own
body temperature for several weeks), food and the
physical stimulation of the mother#8217;s licking.
As far as whelping boxes are concerned, bigger does
not equal better. A box long enough for the bitch
to stretch out in one direction and slightly longer
than shoulder to rump in the other will give her space
to get relief from a heat source at one end and will
be small enough to keep a wandering pup from getting
When using a lamp above or a heating
pad below, do a trial run with a thermometer on the
floor of the box. Pups instinctively seek their mother#8217;s body, the key heat source for the
pups. Conveniently enough, this comfort zone is also
the breakfast bar, so with minimum effort expended,
pups can eat and sleep and eat and sleep. Too hot
of a setup makes the dam restless, and the pups scatter
rather than pile up next to their mother. During their
first weeks of life, puppies stop nursing when they
are tired rather than when they are sated so their
staying next to the bitch for both energy conservation
and warmth is very important. (For more information
on whelping boxes, see article on page 8.)
good preparation, your first whelping can
realize your dreams.
Even with a normal, healthy litter, a small or weak
puppy may need supplemental nutrition. Every breeder
needs to know how to tube feed. Intubation involves
inserting a catheter down the esophagus into the stomach
and administering the formula with a syringe. This
is a scary prospect for the novice, but a foolproof
procedure when instructions are carefully followed.
Again, watching an experienced breeder is a big confidence-builder.
At the very least, keep the necessary supplies and
directions on-hand prior to the whelping. Time is
of the essence when trying to save a weak or sick
And, finally, consider getting a baby monitor, an
indispensable, little-mentioned item that helps you
care for a new litter. A baby monitor allows one to
occasionally step away from the puppy room but still
listen to every little sound.
With good preparation and common sense, your first
whelping can realize your dreams, raising the curtain
on a batch of happy, healthy puppies.
Catherine B. Nelson, the 2004 AKC Breeder of
the Year, whelped her first Pennywise Dandie Dinmont
Terriers litter in 1975. To date, Nelson has bred
or owned seven Register of Merit titled dogs; 70 champions,
including five all-breed Best In Show winners; and
eight Best of Breed winners at eleven National Specialties.
She has bred, owned and handled the number-one Dandie
in breed standings for 12 of the last 14 years.
|| Ronald N. Rella, director,
Theresa Shea, editor | Email: AKCbreeder@akc.org
Customer Service | Phone: 919-233-9767 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
© The American Kennel Club 2005