Did you know that from day 3 through day 16, there are a set of easy exercises you can do with your newborn puppies that help maximize their potential as performance dogs later in life? These Bio-Sensor exercises stimulate their neurological and physical development and were developed for the SuperDog program for the US Army. There’s only a small window of time for this program to be most effective, and keeping track on a developmental schedule will help you be sure you don’t miss this opportunity. If you’d like to see a video on the process, one is available here.
You can also introduce scents during this time frame. Each day, introduce a new scent item. While each puppy takes their turn investigating the offered scent, put them on a level surface, or hold them in your lap – so long as they are safe from falling. You can choose a variety of scent items for these few days, focusing on things they might need to be familiar with in their adult life. For example, bird dogs would benefit from exposure to pheasant feathers. Law enforcement dogs could be exposed to some of the scents they might encounter on the job. Therapy dogs could sample some hospital scents, like antiseptics and cleaning products. Blankets that smell like other pets in the household, or dirty laundry from family members are good choices, too.
Hold the scent near their nose, a half inch to an inch away, and allow the puppy to interact with the scent at will for at least five seconds. If the puppy moves forward to engage with the scented item, allow them up to 30 seconds to continue smelling. Repeat the process with each pup.
You can see a video on early scent introduction here.
Keeping track and making little notes of each session may sound like a lot of work, but it’s actually pretty rewarding. As time goes on, you can learn a little bit about the personality of each pup. Who is good at self-soothing? Who is normally quiet, and who is always vocal? Who is the first one to
explore a new scent or toy? All these things can be important later, when deciding which pup is the best fit for which home.
There can be a very thin line between “good” and “great.” Going that little extra step early on can help YOUR puppies stand out as superstars later in the ring, on the field and as pets and companions.
For the people out there allergic to paperwork, keeping a birthing record and using a puppy development schedule probably seems like some kind of exciting new way to take something you love and wreck it with something boring and tedious. You might feel that way, at first, but the first time your poor, sleep-deprived brain blanks on an important piece of information that you NEED, you’ll see this in a whole new light.
The Birthing Record
There are different forms you can find pre-made for a good birthing record chart, but they should all have a few pieces of important data: Puppy, Time Born, Sex, Weight at Birth, Vigor, Conformation, Markings and a place for any other relevant notes, like what color collar they were assigned. This doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t even have to be a form! It just needs to be complete, and filled out at the time each puppy is born so you have something to refer back to. If you have the presence of mind, taking a photo of the front/top and each side of each puppy can come in handy for identification later. It’s amazing how much a litter of spotted puppies can look alike the day after they’re born!
In the previous paragraph, I mentioned assigning collar colors at birth to each puppy to help identify them. Affixing a collar with an identifying color to each puppy right away will help eliminate confusion later on, when you’re all muddled and sleep deprived. Trust me on this! Many people use a soft, chenille yarn that breaks easily under pressure. This has the advantage of being very inexpensive, but you have to change them often because the pups grow, and the “breaking easily” thing is an advantage, but also a detriment. If you go this route, you’re going to be replacing a lot of little yarn collars. We prefer the thin strips of self-sticking velcro. These are nice because they come in many different colors, you can use the same piece you put on them as a newborn for a couple weeks, since they can be removed and resized easily as the pup grows.
The Development Schedule
Like the Birthing Record, the Development Schedule is set up like a chart, but instead of keeping track of puppies as they are born, it’s an indispensable day-by-day guideline for what will be happening in your litter’s development at what time. This gives you time to prepare and be aware of what’s coming down the road. For example, knowing when your pups are going to start opening their eyes gives you a concrete deadline to get your black-out curtains up, set up your outdoor puppy playpen, or make other preparations.
The last couple days, we’ve been doing a series on Labor and Whelping. Today features three potential problems that may affect a nursing bitch post-delivery. Over the next few weeks, we will be doing a series of posts about early puppy care and development.
Sometimes everything can go great during delivery, but problems arise afterwards. Here are a few things to watch out for, as your bitch settles into caring for her brand new litter…
Mastitis: A condition when the bitch’s teats can become red, painful and swollen, making it difficult for her to nurse her puppies without discomfort. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, and some bitches can develop a fever and become lethargic. Warm compresses/hot packing can help alleviate the pain. The puppies should still be encouraged to nurse the affected nippes – it helps flush out the infected material and doesn’t harm them in the least.
Verdict: Not an emergency, but watch to see if it worsens. If it doesn’t clear up after a few days, or your bitch becomes lethargic, feverish, or snappish to her pups DO consult your vet.
Metritus: Usually occuring the first couple days after deliver, metritus is caused by trauma during delivery or a retained placenta. Metritus is a serious condition and should be seen by your vet sooner rather than later. Signs to watch out for include:
Loss of Appetite
Lack of Interest in Puppies
Foul Smelling Vaginal Discharge
Decreased Milk Production
Eclampsia: More common in small dogs and usually seen in the first three weeks of lactation, eclampsia is caused by a calcium deficiency, as the dam’s stores are depleted by the demands of nursing her litter. Oddly enough, regular calcium supplementation pre-pregnancy can predispose a bitch for this condition.
Early stages include:
No interest in her puppies.
As the condition progresses and becomes more serious, look for:
Inability to stand
Eclampsia is a serious medical emergency! Get your bitch to the vet immediately!
Most bitches are great mothers to their pups, and any sudden disinterest or lethargy is worth your attention. Paying attention to the dam and her needs is important to noticing an illness while it’s in it’s early stages, which can save money at the vet, not to mention lives.
Yesterday we featured the first part of Labor and Whelping, covering how to predict when labor will occur based on body temperature, the first stage of labor, a list of things to worry about during delivery that probably require veterinary attention, and another list of things that can seem troubling but are NOT emergencies. To visit that post, click HERE. Over the next few weeks, we will be doing a series of posts about early puppy care and development.
Stage 2 Labor = Hard Labor
When most people think of “labor” this is what they are thinking of. Heavy contractions, and the regular expulsion of puppies. For those who are new to the process, the expectation is puppy, placenta, puppy, placenta, etc. in regular intervals until the litter is entirely birthed. But it doesn’t always work out that way, and that’s ok.
Stage 2 Labor is when a puppy is being birthed, and Stage 3 is when a placenta is being expelled. They don’t always come in that order, or one after another. As we mentioned yesterday, sometimes a couple of puppies can come, then a couple of placentas and that’s fine.
Her water may have broken at some point before, but if it hasn’t, it will. Sometimes it can pass unnoticed. Start the clock with your bitch’s first hard contraction. Unlike the internal contractions in Stage 1 Labor, you’ll be able to see her abdominal and flank muscles ripple and she may let out a grunt. If hard contractions persist. If she’s having regular hard contractions, less than 5 minutes apart, and she hasn’t produced a puppy in an hour, call your vet. If she’s been having frequent hard contractions and still hasn’t produced a puppy after two hours, she should go in for an exam right away.
Most labor and deliveries go smoothly. Each puppy will be born one at a time, wrapped in a membrane. Some of these sacs may be intact, some will already be torn and open, but don’t worry too much. A puppy can live for a few minutes in his membrane before his mother has time to open it up and tend to him.
Encourage her to investigate her puppy and placenta. Her licking is rough, and it’s goal is to start the bonding process and distress the puppy enough that it starts protesting. It’s cries put those brand new lungs to good use! If she doesn’t tear the membrane and clean the puppy herself, you’ll have to. A rough towel and firm rubbing is a good substitute for her tongue bath and nosing around. Hold the pup head down to dry them off, listen to be sure their squalling is free of any raspiness and their lungs sound clear.
If the dam eats the placentas, it pushes the umbilical cord blood up into the puppy. – so let her, if she wants to, even though she might vomit them back up or have diarrhea from them later on. She may chew through the umbilical cord, or you can tear it yourself, clamping it off with a hemostat for a few minutes or tying with clean dental floss about a half inch away from the puppy to prevent bleeding.
Be watchful… this is a painful and occasionally confusing process, especially for a maiden bitch. Be sure she doesn’t bite you, or her newborn puppy, as she’s trying to figure out how to be a mother.
Other pups will come, usually within an hour and after 10-30 minutes of hard contractions for each. Some can come very close together. As long as your bitch is calm and not in distress, everything is probably just fine. Feel free to offer calcium-rich refreshments, like vanilla ice cream (which they usually love, AND it provides glucose for easy energy), Tums, cottage cheese, and yoghurt, as well as keeping water on hand. Without getting too technical, calcium aids her body with contractions. She can have up to 1000 mg of calcium between each puppy, and an additional 500-1000mg if she goes more than a half hour between puppies while still having contractions. Although your bitch might prefer the ice cream, the Tums are a handy way of keeping track of exactly how much she’s getting.
It’s not uncommon for a bitch to take a pause during the delivery of her litter to rest up and care for the pups she’s already had. This can be up to 4 hours with no ill effects.
Ideally, puppies should be nursing within 30 minutes of being born. You can continue to handle and rub weak or limp puppies with a towel, and when you set them down, put them down near a ready nipple. You can’t force them to nurse, but you can make a tunnel with their hand and kind of guide them along.
Milk Quality and Quantity
You may be surprised at first at how little milk your bitch seems to produce for her newborns, but don’t be. A brand new litter doesn’t require a lot in quantity, but what they ARE getting is crucial to their survival. Their mother’s first milk contains colostrum, which contains all her antibodies and sets their immune system up for success for the first few weeks of their lives. As more time passes and the puppies begin to grow, their dam’s milk quality will increase in richness, and her diet will need to reflect the extra demands milk production makes on her system. But, for the moment, the puppies will get what they need.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s article on the aftercare of your new mother and potential problems for bitches, post-whelp.
Today’s post will be covering Labor and Whelping – how to predict when labor will occur based on body temperature, the first stage of labor, a list of things to worry about during delivery that probably require veterinary attention, and another list of things that can seem troubling but are NOT emergencies. Over the next few weeks, we will be doing a series of posts about early puppy care and development. We will pick up the second part of Labor and Delivery next weekend
Predicting Labor by Body Temperature
Hopefully by the time your bitch starts the first stage of labor you’re ready – all your supplies are set up, notebook and pen at hand to record puppy arrival times and keep track of number of placentas, sexes, birth orders and everything else you’ll want to refer to.
If you’re waiting for the water to break before you consider your bitch, “In Labor” you might be missing out. First of all, the water breaking for a bitch is only about a half cup of fluid, and you could miss it, depending on where it happens and how fastidious she is. Second, the water breaking happens in the second stage of labor. Her body has already begun the birthing process before this happens. Third, a better and more accurate way to tell if labor and delivery is near is to pay attention to your bitch’s body temperature. Before delivery, a bitch’s body temperature lowers. Checking her temperature twice a day is a much more accurate way of predicting when the big event is going to occur. Look for two temperature readings of less than 99 degrees, or a single temperature reading below 98. Then, you’ll know labor is due within the next 36 hours, although you might want to finalize all your preparations because 12-24 hours is probably more accurate!
The First Stage of Labor
A lot of what happens during first stage of labor is invisible to the human eye. In fact, even your bitch might sleep through some of it! For about 6-36 hours, your bitch has uterine contractions, her progesterone levels drop and her cervix is beginning to dilate, getting puppies into position and preparing for actual delivery.
During this time, your bitch can sleep lightly, sleep deeply, or be restless, whiny, vomit, pace, pant, dig, shiver and/or generally appear anxious. She could also be aloof, or completely clingy and in your lap, depending on her personality. All of this is normal. Just offer her calm reassurance. Encourage her to spend some time in the whelping box at this point, but if she won’t stay, sometimes it’s helpful to tether her to your side with a leash attached to your belt, so she can’t sneak off, dig through your mattress and deliver puppies on your bed!
Keep food and water on offer, but don’t be surprised if she doesn’t make use of them just yet.
We’ll talk about the Second and Third stages of Labor tomorrow, but for now, let’s talk about a topic that the first-timers and worry-warts will want to know about….
When to Involve the Vet During Labor
The wait before that first puppy can feel like a million years. There’s a lot to ruminate on, and some people are prone to worrying. To alleviate some concerns, and to help you feel prepared, here’s a brief checklist of situations that constitute an “emergency” and mean it’s time to get your vet involved. Hopefully you’ll never need this, but in the case it will help someone feel better to have it handy before labor begins, I thought this was a timely opportunity to share.
Things TO Worry About During Labor: CONTACT YOUR VET!
If your bitch is in extreme pain, obviously above and beyond normal labor pains.
If the first puppy hasn’t arrived within 24 hours of the bitch’s temperature drop (or her due date, if you aren’t keeping track of temperature.)
If hard labor contractions have been happening for 60 minutes, without producing a puppy.
If more than 4 hours pass between puppies, and you are certain there are still more puppies to be delivered. (This is the big advantage to prenatal x-rays!)
If your bitch seems lethargic and shows no interest in her puppies. Offer a calcium source (vanilla ice cream, Tums, cottage cheese, Citrical, OralCal Plus, and/or yoghurt and monitor as delivery progresses. Give the bitch a couple minutes after the birth to break the sac on her own and clean the puppy before interfering. If she doesn’t, you will need to.
Things NOT To Worry About:
That First Yelp: Though the birthing process is painful, most bitches (especially maiden ones) only yelp at that first puppy is born. Other than that, your bitch probably won’t vocalize much unless she is the very sensitive type.
Breech births: About 60% of puppies are born head first and the other 40% comes tail first. Both are normal for dogs and no cause for concern.
Placentas: They don’t always immediately follow the puppy. Sometimes a couple puppies will come, then a couple placentas. Just keep track of how many of each, so you can be certain nothing is retained.
Placenta EATING: Oh yes. They do that. It’s ok and normal. Gross – but ok. Eating the placenta stimulates the bitch to sniff and clean the puppy.
Taking a Pause During Whelping: Once labor begins, some bitches will deliver part of their litter and then take a break in whelping to nurse, rest and care for her puppies before resuming delivery. Sometimes this can last up to 4 hours with no ill effects to the pups or their dam. Now’s a good time to offer up those calcium-rich snacks and water! Your bitch will be grateful.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a few of the more common things you might run into. Tomorrow, we’ll go into more depth on the second and third stages of labor.
On July 5, 2016, Encore x Zen had a litter of borzoi puppies here at Aria Borzoi, with Rita L.Rice. “Zen,” the dam of the “Firesongs” litter is pictured below, heavily pregnant and just hours from delivery. As part of our “Photo Flashback Fridays” we’ll be showing photos of the Firesongs litter at about the same age as the 2017 “Van Morrison” litter (Seamus x Melody) we’re featuring, just for fun and the sake of comparison. Every litter is a little different and there can be a quite a range of “normal” for strong, healthy pups. Over the next few weeks, we will be doing a series of posts about early puppy development here at Aria, using photos and examples from the current 2017 “Van Morrison” litter (Seamus x Melody), the 2016 “Fire Songs litter (Encore x Zen) and the 2015 “Irish Airs” litter (Lancelot x Bridget).
I kept thinking “Catch that nap while you can, Zen. You’re on the hook for at least 8 more weeks….”
Finally, it’s time! The puppies have all arrived. Melody has done a fine job cleaning them and letting them nurse for the first time as a litter while they all catch their breath. It’s a special moment, a pause before the serious business of life, growth and motherhood begins in earnest.
Individual pup pics and profiles are coming, including other puppy goodness from previous litters, and the inside scoop on how we use the neonatal experiences a puppy has to condition them to be successful in later life. Stay tuned!
The closer you get to the due date, the more important it is to have everything you and your bitch will need already in place and ready to go. You need to carefully choose her den for her, and set up her whelping box. If you don’t, you run the danger of your bitch making that decision on her own – and it’s pretty much a guarantee you won’t like where she picks! (hint: your bed, deep in a closet, behind the couch – all popular places!) Each bitch is an individual, and will have different levels of sociability, but most are at least a little protective of their new puppies, so keep her emotional well-being in mind and try to choose a place a little out of the way where she can feel her puppies will be safe.
When you’re deciding where to put the whelping box, there are a few important things to think about. Temperature, privacy, ability to control drafts, room to move around, access to enough outlets to keep you entertained and still run a fan/heater/light etc. Most puppies have a sweet spot between 72-76, but different breeds may vary. Drafts can be fatal to a young pup. Also, you’ll need good curtains, or a foolproof way to darken that room for a few days as the pup’s eyes begin opening. A spare bedroom or an office is usually a good choice to set up as a puppy nursery, especially if there’s already a bed, or at least room for a cot.
Once the whelping box is set up, it’s a great idea to spend a little bit of time in the room with your bitch every day – her in the whelping box, and you chilling out nearby, busy with her stuff. This will help your girl see this as a safe space, and already be comfortable in there when it’s time for the big event.
Here’s a very basic checklist that might help get you through whelping and the first few days:
Floor Pillows/Step-stools for sitting
Flashlight -handy for head counts in the middle of the night
TV/ Music/Computer. You’ll be glad you have it.
Record-Keeping Notebook/Clipboard. You’ll be weighing/measuring pups daily. Keep all your notes handy.
Puppy Jail- Either a laundry basket or appropriate sized Rubbermaid tote with a heating pad and towels to stash newborn puppies. You’ll also be using this when you’re cleaning the whelping box later on.
Spare Towels & Rags. From covering the laundry basket of pups to wiping up all the little messes, you can NEVER have enough of these around.
Collar materials. Some people like to use soft chenille yarn in different colors to help tell their puppies apart. We like colored velcro strips because they can be taken off of and loosened as the pups grow.
Digital scale with weighing box and towel. You’ll be weighing pups daily, and so you’ll want to have this already calibrated so it sits at 0 with the box and towel on it. That way, it’s only weighing the pup.
Spare fleece/Sheepskin blankets cut to fit the bottom of the whelping box. Change when things get messy.
Cleaning spray and a couple rolls of paper towels. Some people like a dilution of white vinegar. I happen to love Myers “Clean Day” products, myself.
Trashcan with LOTS of extra bags. You are going to generate an amazing amount of really fragrant trash. You’ll be emptying it regularly. Trust me on this.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means. If you’re planning to breed a litter of your own and your bitch is getting ready to deliver, we hope you’ll do scads and scads of your own homework, and tailor your whelping situation to fit your bitch’s specific needs and comfort!