Your female dog has just given birth to a litter of pups and you’re glad that ordeal is over. But wait! Now comes your part of the job – caring for new puppies.
The mother will be good and ready for some food and water. Bring both dishes to the whelping box, as she won’t want to leave her newborn puppies. Don’t set the dishes on the floor inside the whelping box because the puppies could crawl into them and drown at this stage. Either hang the dishes on one side of the whelping box or give her food and water at least every 2-3 hours to start. She should be taken outside on a frequent and regular basis to do her duties.
You’ll find that within 2-3 days, the mother’s appetite will considerably increase to as much as 2-4 times her pre-pregnancy intake. She will need a constant supply of a high quality puppy food and plenty of water to maintain her weight and health while feeding her puppies. Don’t use puppy formulas marked for larger breeds because they are generally lower in protein, fat, and minerals. Ideally, she should weigh the same at the time of weaning as she did when she was bred.
Healthy puppies are plump and vigorous. They should nurse approximately every 2 hours. If they nurse until their stomachs are round and they sleep quietly, then they are getting enough nourishment. If they cry and move around a lot, this indicates that they are not eating enough. If their stomachs appear larger but they are restless and crying, it could be because they are swallowing air while nursing and that makes their little tummies look bigger.
Puppies may lose some weight in the first 24 hours after birth, but after that their weight should increase steadily. A good rule of thumb is that their weight should double in the first 7-10 days of their life.
Before, during, and after nursing, the mother will lick their stomachs and the areas around their anuses and sexual organs to help stimulate the puppies to urinate and defecate. She will continue to do this for 2-3 weeks.
Weigh the puppies daily for the first 2 weeks; after that at least once a week. A food scale works well for weighing the puppies. If they fail to gain weight it is often the first sign of illness.
After the puppies reach about 3 weeks of age, they will begin to imitate their mother’s eating and drinking habits. It is now safe to place a shallow water dish where the puppies will always have access to fresh, clean water. When they reach 3½ weeks of age, you can start feeding them soft puppy food.
To prepare food for the puppies, put 2 cups of dry puppy food in a blender and add 12 ounces of milk, then fill the rest of the blender with hot water. Blend until the dry puppy food has the consistency of a baby’s cereal. This will feed 6-8 medium-sized puppies. Feed the puppies 3-4 meals a day to start. Each week, increase the amount of food, and decrease the amount of milk and water you add and the amount of time you blend the ingredients. By 7 weeks of age, the puppies should be eating dry food.
By the time the puppies are 6½-7 weeks of age, they should be fully weaned from their mother’s milk, be eating dry food, and drinking water on their own. If you don’t rush the weaning, the mother will naturally start decreasing milk production as the puppies increase their intake of solid food.
The whelping box should be cleaned at least once a day at this stage, and 2-3 times a day as the puppies begin eating solids and the mother stops cleaning up after them. Put down several layers of newspaper and then stretch a blanket over the newspaper. The blanket should be big enough to fit under all 4 sides of the box to keep the puppies from becoming lost under the blanket.
The puppies dewclaws should be removed between 2-4 days after birth, and their tails docked at the same time if you choose to have this procedure done. Your veterinarian will perform these procedures on the puppies. Once the puppies are finished at the vet and are put back with their mother, they will nurse and then sleep. Don’t be alarmed when the puppies twitch and jerk while sleeping. This helps with the development of their nerves and muscles.
They will be crawling well in 7-14 days; they’ll walk a little wobbly by the 15th day, and walk normally by the 21st day. By 4 weeks of age, they’ll be following each other all over the house.
They will begin to learn how to play with each other and learn how to restrain their biting. If a puppy bites a littermate too hard, the littermate will yelp and stop playing. But if the puppy is allowed to bite humans, it will not learn to inhibit its bites which will be a major problem when the puppy reaches adulthood.
If you plan to keep all the puppies, you’ll have a lot of work cut out for you. If you plan on selling or giving away some or all of the pups, be sure they are vaccinated, and have all their necessary shots before they leave your home. Be sure they are not separated from their mother before they are 8-10 weeks old.
Puppies are beautiful little animals, no matter what breed they are. The joy of raising a puppy and having it bond to you and your family is an experience that can fill your life with absolute joy, happiness, and also, a little frustration when the puppy begins chewing on your shoes or clothes and urinating on your good rug or carpet. This is the time to practice patience, patience, and more patience!