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Planning for Healthy Puppies
By Theresa A. Fuess, Ph.D. Information Specialist University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine
"The starting point for a healthy litter of puppies is a healthy, active bitch," says Dr. Thomas J. Burke, professor of small animal medicine at the University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital. "It is important to have vaccination and deworming programs updated before the dog is mated. Most drugs and vaccines are not tested or cleared for use in pregnant dogs.
Heartworm preventative, however, is approved and should be continued throughout the pregnancy." About a month after the breeding, a veterinarian can conduct a pregnancy exam. False pregnancy, a physiological condition in which the bitch displays all the signs of pregnancy (except puppies), can fool owners and lead to undue anxiety.
Nutritionally, everything a bitch needs for the duration of pregnancy is in a good quality, balanced, commercial (not generic) dog food. Supplemental minerals or vitamins will only unbalance a balanced diet.
During the first six weeks of the pregnancy feed the usual pre-pregnancy maintenance diet. The mother's caloric requirement increases during the last three weeks of the pregnancy, when the pups grow the most in size, and during the first three weeks after delivery, when she is producing the most milk. Gradually increase the daily food intake over this six-week period from maintenance to three times that amount.
Set up a whelping area early so
that the mother has time to become comfortable with it. A whelping
box should be big enough for the bitch to stretch out and turn
around in, bedded with sheets or towels that can be easily
cleaned, and located in a quiet, secluded, draft-free area.
The bitch's rectal temperature will indicate when she is about to whelp. A dog's normal temperature is 101 or 102. In late pregnancy it will run below normal, around 100. Within 24 hours before delivery it drops to 97 or 98. Toward the end of the pregnancy, the dog's abdomen will balloon out, her mammary glands will enlarge and may drip milk, and she will display nesting behavior.
However, the only sure sign of impending labor is the drop in rectal temperature. Dr. Burke recommends taking her temperature twice a day (always at the same times each day) so as not to miss it.
Labor begins with contractions of
the uterus and abdominal muscles. The amniotic sac will protrude,
followed by a pup and placental membranes.
Puppies are generally born in pairs, maybe 15 minutes apart, followed by a rest period that lasts up to an hour or, in large litters, even longer. The mother may take a break and walk around during this rest time.
Each pup is delivered enclosed in an amniotic sac that the mother breaks open. The mother then chews the umbilical cord and cleans the pup. The placenta is delivered with or right after each puppy.
The bitch often eats the placenta, but it is not necessary for her to do so and it can cause vomiting and diarrhea. The mother also licks the pups' bottoms to stimulate urination and defecation, and it is normal for her to eat the babies' faeces.
If the bitch does not do these things, you should get the pup out of the amniotic sac so it can breath, tie off (one inch from the body) and cut the umbilical cord, dry the pup, disinfect the navel, and let the pup nurse. Use a warm wet hand towel to lightly stroke the pup's anal and genital areas to stimulate urination and defecation.
Any of the following conditions call for veterinary assistance in delivery. (1) The rectal temperature drops and labor does not begin within 24 hours. (2) The temperature does not drop within a week after the due date. (3) Labor contractions continue for more than 30 minutes without producing a pup. (4) All the pups are not delivered within 24 to 36 hours of labor. (5) There is not a placenta delivered with each puppy.
Healthy puppies will nurse right away and then every few hours. The pups must nurse from their mother within 12 hours of birth to receive her anitibodies against disease. After 12 hours, their stomachs will not absorb antibodies. After this first 12 hours, if the mother does not have enough milk, or if her litter is too large, then the pups' diet can be supplemented with commercial puppy milk replacer. Cow's milk is nutritionally inadequate for puppies.
Supplemental heat should only be used for orphans or if the room's temperature is too cold for the mother's comfort. A newborn pup can't generate body heat until it develops the shiver reflex, at about two and half weeks of age.
Orphan pups need an environmental temperature of about 97 the first week, in the mid 80's the second week, then in the 70's. If the mother is there to keep the pups warm, high temperatures are unnecessary and will make her uncomfortable.
Good health can be monitored by weighing the pups every day. A healthy pup's weight will increase daily. A sick pup won't gain or will lose weight, and this will be the first sign of illness. Good health can be maintained by disinfecting the pups' navels with half-strength tincture of iodine a couple times a day until it dries up and falls off. The most common cause of puppy death is infection via the belly button.
Dr. Burke recommends that bitches be given a shot of oxytocin within a day of delivery so that all placental remnants are expelled from the uterus. Normal discharge can last for two to three weeks.
"Good planning is the key. Most bitches whelp without a problem," says Dr. Burke. "However, when a problem occurs, time is critical. Plan in advance with your veterinarian for the possible emergency at odd hours."
For more information on animal health, contact your local veterinarian.