Caring for a Litter of Puppies
For those who are looking forward to their favorite companion delivering her puppies, they should be aware that quite a lot of effort will probably have to be expended for the litter to be successful. Puppies are born prematurely and are completely helpless – their eyes and ears are closed and they have only a limited ability to move.
It is possible to lose some puppies every litter but you can greatly increase the survival rate of your dog’s litter if you prepare for every eventuality beforehand. Expect to spend a considerable amount of time caring for puppies, especially if the mother is unresponsive or absent.
If you have bred your female dog you will first have to prepare a nest box for her. This can be a cardboard box that will be large enough to accommodate her and the puppies. The box should be twice the size of the mama dog when she lies down. The sides should be low enough so that she can leave easily, but high enough to keep the puppies in.
A layer of newspapers should be put in the bottom of the box first, and then this should be covered with clean rags. It’s a good idea to have an abundant supply of rags ready as it is inevitable that the puppies will soil the nest on a regular basis, and both mother and pups should be kept as clean as possible.
In some cases the mother will be unable or unwilling to care for the puppies, and the owner will have to take on some or all of the duties of raising the litter. Even a capable, alert mother dog will not turn up her nose at some help along the way. Before the litter arrives, the following supplies should be on hand, even if you don’t ever have to use them. Canine replacement formula is available as a pre-made liquid or as a powdered formula. If the latter is used, use only distilled water or water that has been purified and boiled – the intestinal systems of puppies is extremely delicate and they will develop diarrhea if untreated tap water is used. Cow’s milk will also give puppies diarrhea. Nursing bottles designed for newborn puppies should also be on hand.
A puppy heating pad can provide added warmth for the litter, even if the mother is present. Tiny puppies have no way of controlling their body temperature, so must be kept warm. Heating pads designed for puppies will not overheat – regular pads can become too hot and kill the puppies so be sure to use the correct ones.
Toilet tissue should be available to help the puppies go to the bathroom and to clean them up. Newborn pups need the stimulation of their mother’s tongues or a moistened tissue to be able to urinate and defecate; this is a way to help keep the den clean. This should be done after every feeding and every several hours as well if the mother does not perform this duty herself. Pasting can be a real problem; feces can accumulate on the rear end of a puppy and block normal processes. If a puppy becomes listless and stops feeding, check their hind quarters. Use a warm, wet cloth to loosen the hardened stool and remove it, but be prepared for an explosion.