Notes On Whelping And Raising A Litter

Notes On Whelping And Raising A Litter

Keeping a log of your just-whelped puppies' actions is a good way to monitor their progress.

I hadn't raised a litter of my own pups since I whelped my wirehair bitch a few years ago. But then recently a client/friend who breeds, shows and judges beagles asked us to whelp out one of her bitches and raise the pups to five or six weeks of age.


Breeding dates indicated that the anticipated whelping date would be within a week after the bitch's arrival at our clinic. The day of arrival we did an abdominal radiograph to determine the size of our anticipated litter and found five pups that appeared large.

The next morning the bitch was put in an inside run to eat and eliminate. By midmorning we began to notice uneasiness in the bitch's behavior and obvious contractions started soon thereafter. In two hours a puppy was presented in the birth canal, head first. We had a great deal of difficulty delivering a large, dead puppy.


One important concept in the management of a whelping bitch is the ongoing assessment process of the delivery with regard to the welfare of both mother and pups. My assessment at the delivery of the dead pup was that continued vaginal delivery would be high risk for the pups and we elected to take the bitch to surgery.


Anesthesia of the dog for C-section is an important consideration as the bitch should be pain-free and the fetuses should not be so depressed that they do not start breathing when removed from the uterus. I have used a combination of glycopyrrolate, diazepam and isoflurane with very good results. Recently, I have used propofol as the induction agent and feel it will make the surgery even smoother.

Another important aspect of a successful C-section is to have experienced people on hand to receive the puppies and to get them dried off and breathing. I am fortunate to have excellent technicians who use towels to rub pups, syringes to suction the mouth, warm beds made from water-filled plastic bags, chest compressions, gentle swinging and doxapram as a respiratory stimulant.

With the four surviving pups active and going, we tied their cords and introduced them to the waking mother for a feeding of her colostrum. When the bitch had completely awakened from the anesthesia she and the puppies were moved to a small crate that was covered with towels to retain body heat and maintain the puppies' temperature. As the pups grew over the next two to three weeks, towels were removed and the family was transferred to a larger crate.

I often see whelping setups where the owners keep the environmental temperature so high that the bitch becomes sick with vomiting, diarrhea and mastitis. The important point is that the puppies need a dry, warm, draft-free area to nest up in and the bitch needs an ambient temperature that keeps her comfortable.

When the pups were up on their feet and walking well I started putting them in a six-foot diameter exercise pen, located in our heated clinic. Gradually they were exercised for longer periods of time. While the puppies were exercising, the bitch had a chance to be alone for some rest and recuperation.

I commonly encourage clients to keep a journal of the puppies' developmental progress, post-partum. I've noticed that as I have become older I have also become more observant or maybe that is a nice way of saying, "more sedentary." Anyway, these are some things I observed in the beagle pups I was raising:

10-14 days: Eyes open, iris color of a mossy gray.

2 weeks: Pushing up onto feet, starting to walk, and lapping water from a shallow pan.

3 weeks: Ears open, walking well, fighting with each other, recognize me, actively starting to come to sound and motion, teeth just visible under gum line.

4 weeks: Walking well, running, fighting, playing with objects, starting to eat well, front teeth starting to emerge.

5 weeks: Dominance patterns forming, running well, fair coordination and good recognition of me, coming when called, eager to interact but with short attention spans, baby teeth fully emerged and sharp.

This is only a partial list of the observations you might make while raising your next litter of puppies. Try keeping a log; it will be rewarding.

Puppy nutrition certainly starts with the bitch as far back as the pre-breeding period. I recommend feeding a normal maintenance ration up to the middle of pregnancy and the switching to a puppy formula that is customized to the adult-sized dog you are raising. Expect the bitch to gain 25 to 30 percent of her pre-breeding weight before she whelps.

The last week of the pregnancy is often a difficult time for the bitch to eat much, as she has an abdomen full of pups. This means her weight gains should come early to mid-part of the last half of gestation.

To start the pups on food I scattered some dry food on the floor of the exercise pen when the bitch was out. This seems to work well and gets the pups eating dry food by the fourth or fifth week. I have also used baby cereal mixed with meat baby food to start pups. This mixture should be prepared fresh at each feeding and the bowl and utensils cleaned well each time. I never feed soaked dry food to pups.

The routine medical needs of puppies in this age range are few. The beagles were declawed at four days of age. This would also be the time for tail docking in breeds where it is indicated.

All puppies should be wormed at two, four and six weeks of age. This is very important, as many pups have acquired intestinal parasites in-utero or through the bitch's milk. I also vaccinated the pups at six weeks for distemper and parvovirus, the most significant dog diseases.

The best thing I did was give these puppies plenty of human contact. This ensures an easy transition to life in the human pack. It also gives the caregiver an opportunity to form a bond with any puppies they intend to keep. I believe if you let newborn pups nuzzle your skin they will establish scent patterns that they will use to recognize you in the future.

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