AKC eNewsletter


Little Breeds, Special Needs

Tips on small-dog whelping and newbie feeding, from a Chihuahua breeder who has delivered more toys than Santa Claus

by Linda George


Linda George
Linda George with one in a long line of her top-winning breeder-handled Ouachitah Chihuahuas.
Courtesy Linda George

I began showing Chihuahuas 37 years ago, the summer before I started college. Between the time constraints of studying and a lack of money due to part-time employment, I didn’t breed for five years.

Needless to say, that first litter was one of the most exciting and highly anticipated events of my life. Since I had read every book available at my local library on the subject of having puppies, I felt that I was well prepared. Unfortunately, none of the books were geared toward toy dogs, and I didn’t have a nearby mentor to call on for help and advice. (How lucky today’s new breeders are to have the Internet and the wealth of knowledge and people they can access there!)

Everything progressed according to plan until the bitch went into labor. And then ... What? No puppies were appearing!

I waited two hours, the maximum length of time I vaguely remembered reading that you should let a bitch labor before doing something like calling the vet.

In those days my vet still came out in the middle of the night (I’m convinced that there has never been a litter of any breed that has whelped during regular office hours), sparing me the emergency clinic visit that I have come to dread. I took her in, and the vet performed a C-section for three puppies. Wonder of wonders, they were all alive and vigorous, but ... What do you mean their mom doesn’t have milk?

So it was that I began what was to become a lifetime of learning how to care for problem mothers and critical newborn puppies in the smallest of toy breeds.

Tube vs. Bottle

My first lesson was tube feeding. The vet said that bottle feeding was possible but suggested that tube feeding was faster, more reliable, and even easier once the technique was learned. He took considerable time to teach me how to do it, and I have been thankful over and over again for persevering in perfecting the technique. It has saved so many of my puppies, especially those too small and weak to nurse from the mother or a bottle. After all, when you only have one or two puppies in a litter, you don’t want to lose even one—it might be your next BIS winner.

Your vet can advise which size tube to use, based on the size of the puppies. Mine is an eighth of an inch in diameter—not too flexible but not rigid, either. If the tube is too fine and flexible, there is a greater chance that it will enter the trachea rather than the esophagus. I fill the syringe with tube attached, point it upward, and express any excess air.

I then lubricate the outside of the tube with a little formula so it is moist but there are no actual droplets. The distance from the mouth to the bottom rib is measured along the tube. I usually just use my fingers to mark the level that I want to insert the tube, however a pen or pencil line can be made (remember to adjust the line as the puppies grow).

I aim the point of the tube slightly up and to one side of center as I slowly slide it into the puppy’s mouth. If I feel any resistance at all, I back it up a bit and continue. In a weak puppy, it will usually just slide right down. In a puppy that is a few days old and is starting to get some strength it may be a little more difficult, but do not push the tube if there is any kind of resistance.

Once the tube is almost to my “mark,” I watch again for any slight resistance that would indicate that I have inserted the tube far enough. It may or may not be exactly on the mark but should be within about an eighth to a quarter of an inch. I slowly push in the plunger of the syringe, feeling for the resistance from a full stomach. Then the tube is withdrawn in a steady, rather quick motion. It may sound complicated, but I can do each puppy in about a minute or less.

I have tried many different formulas, canned and homemade. The very best I have found was given to me by Steve Hayden, an AKC judge and breeder of Japanese Chin, Chihuahuas, and several larger breeds. (Recipe below right.)

Feeding Time

Steve Hayden’s Puppy Formula
8 oz. plain yogurt
2 T Cairo Syrup, dark
3 egg yolks
1 can Milnot or Carnation whole evaporated milk
8 oz. boiled water or sterile water (cool it down before use)

Mix in blender. Put yogurt, milk, egg yolks, then syrup. Add water last.

The puppy stools using this formula are better than with anything else I’ve tried. I warm only enough to feed the puppies each time and keep the rest refrigerated. It will keep about two days. With especially critical puppies, I add a couple drops of Nutridrops to the portion for immediate feeding.

I tube 2 ccs (adjusted according to the size of the puppy) every two hours, day and night, for the first 24 to 48 hours or until the puppy starts nursing strongly and gains weight daily. With premature puppies that may weigh only one to two ounces, I’ve had to keep this schedule going for as long as 10 days before they finally took off and nursed. Even with cases that appear hopeless, as long as the puppy is alive and has no visible defects, I do not give up. I may lose about 75 percent of the preemies but save 90 percent or more of those in the two-to-three-ounce range.

Once in a while a little formula might come back up through the puppy’s mouth or nose. Don’t panic. Wipe off the excess and use a bulb syringe to suction out the mouth and each nostril. Cut back on the amount fed the next time and check the mark made on the tube to be sure it is being inserted far enough.

Besides keeping the puppies hydrated, the other critical factor is warmth. I use a heating pad placed under a half of a plastic box (about 15 by 17 by 6 inches) available at Wal-Mart.

In the box is a pad made of a layer or two of towels in a pillowcase that has the open end folded over and taped closed. The temperature is monitored to maintain 85 to 90F, and the 18-by-24-inch crate containing the box is covered with a sheet to avoid drafts. Heat lamps are also commonly used instead of heating pads.

C Notes
Many Chihuahua breeders use larger, longer-bodied “brood” bitches to minimize the possibility of needing C-sections. Since the bitch passes along 50 percent of her genes to the puppies, I’ve never believed in that philosophy. My show bitches are the bitches I use for breeding. Since I also don’t want to take the chance on losing a puppy because it gets stuck while being pushed out by the mother, I do a section on nearly every bitch.

Unfortunately, a couple of years ago my vet stopped coming out in the middle of the night and referred clients to the emergency clinic. My experiences with the local emergency clinic were very unsatisfactory, with a high number of stillborns and bitches that bled heavily during and after the surgery. Consequently, with the cooperation of my vet, we started planning sections.

Starting at about the 55th day, I take in the bitch every one to two days for progesterone testing. My vet uses the Target Canine Ovulation Timing Kit. Twenty-four hours before whelping should occur, the progesterone level drops. When the test indicates that this is happening the section is done that day, or the next at the very latest.

This method has resulted in live puppies and a healthy, vigorous mother. The only problem to have come up is that the mother takes one to three days to fully accept the puppies. Some have acted aggressively toward the puppies. When that occurs, the mother is never left alone with the puppies until she starts to lick and snuggle with them. In rare instances, the bitch has had to be muzzled or a surgical cone put around her neck while the puppies nursed.

Although I have had only one case of eclampsia, it can be a problem in small dogs. My vet recommends feeding a high-quality puppy food, especially near the end of the pregnancy. A veterinarian should be consulted about supplements.

Chihuahuas and many other toys are artificial breeds that have often been bred for physical characteristics which preclude easy whelpings and problem-free puppies. Always consult your veterinarian throughout the pregnancy and whenever a problem develops.

I caution new breeders to be prepared for the worst scenario to have the best outcome. Hopefully, the topics discussed in this article will help toward that end.

Linda George has bred and exhibited Chihuahuas under the Ouachitah banner for more than 37 years. She was the 2002 AKC Toy Group Breeder of the Year.


  Ronald N. Rella, director, Breeder Services
Email: AKCbreeder@akc.org
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