AKC eNewsletter


4 Keys to Good Litter Hygiene

Keeping a litter of puppies clean and healthy may seem like a simple task to novice breeders, but experience may prove them wrong. Puppies, especially of coated breeds, can develop health issues if their breeder fails to follow basic hygiene practices.

By Loretta Marchese


1. Keep It Short

Bearded Collies
Mom will usually provide general puppy maintenance during the first weeks, but when she can’t the breeder must step in.
Bearded Collie/Chet Jezierski ©AKC

Starting with a well-prepared bitch will minimize the maintenance required to keep her in good condition during and after the delivery. Hopefully, by the time you decided to breed your bitch, she will have completed her show career. This way, putting her into a short pet trim approximately two weeks before her due date will be practical. Since most bitches usually blow their coats after having puppies anyway, most breeders routinely opt for a short trim.

Clipping the chest, abdomen, rectum, and genital areas with either a #10 or a #15 blade is recommended. Not only will this allow for a quicker cleanup after the delivery, but also the puppies will have easier access for nursing and you will be able to easily check the bitch’s milk production and the condition of her mammary glands.

As early as a few days after birth, puppy nails should be trimmed. Continuing to do so weekly will prevent unnecessary scratching of the dam’s mammary glands while the puppies are kneading and nursing.

2. Know When to Step In
For the first two to three weeks after whelping, most bitches tend to the general maintenance of their litters. They keep them clean and help them eliminate. Should the mother be unable to tend to these needs, the breeder must step in. Using a cotton ball moistened with warm water, gently rub the genital and anal areas. This will stimulate the puppy to urinate and defecate.

3. Monitor Problem Spots
As the puppies grow and their coats begin to come in, there are a few areas that will require your attention, even as early as 2 to 3 weeks of age. First is the rectal area. Keep it trimmed short and inspect the area frequently to make sure that the puppies stool does not get stuck in the coat. If this occurs, the puppy will be unable to defecate properly and can become impacted. This can be very serious if not tended to.

When the puppies begin to get up on their feet and start to explore outside of their whelping box, they are somewhat unsteady. Well-trimmed pads and nails will assist them in achieving better traction, which in turn will promote proper muscle development.

The next area of concern would be the eyes. Keeping the hair trimmed or pulled away from the eyes, depending on the breed you have, will help reduce irritation, staining, and possible infection.

Last would be the ears. Unless there is underlying medical problems such as an infection, their ears should naturally be pretty clean. Slowly introducing the puppy to having small amounts of hair pulled from their ear canals will get him used to the procedure as well as maintain a healthy ear canal. Too much all at once would not only be traumatic for the puppy, but could cause unnecessary irritation to the ears.

4. Introduce Grooming—Gently
At approximately 4 to 6 weeks, it is a good idea to introduce puppies to a complete grooming. Since all coated breeds require regular grooming throughout their lives, it is of the utmost importance that you give them a gentle introduction. The sounds of grooming equipment and the procedures involved can be frightening to a young puppy. Consistent, positive experiences at a young age will greatly influence how they accept grooming for the rest of their lives.

Bichon Frise and Poodle breeder Loretta Marchese has been a professional groomer for 26 years. Among her many honors are multiple International Groomer of the Year awards.


  Ronald N. Rella, director, Breeder Services
Email: AKCbreeder@akc.org
Customer Service | Phone: 919-233-9767 | Email: info@akc.org

© The American Kennel Club 2007