Author's note: This article, originally published in Collie Expressions Magazine© in 1993 & 2005. Updated continuously! Most recent update - March 30, 2014. Material is copyrighted, so if copying for another website, please give proper credit!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: I have been breeding and showing Collies for 44+ years, using the "CHELSEA" prefix. I am an owner, breeder, handler and an AKC judge and have finished multiple generations of champions in a very limited breeding program. Currently I am working on my 13th generation descending from two foundation bitches purchased in 1972. In spite of a small breeding program and keeping a limited number of adults, I have created a successful family of Collies and bred multiple generations of specialty winning champions. I love all aspects of the "dog game", but whelping and raising puppies is my favorite part of "being in dogs". Author of two award winning books on the Collie!
Puppies are one of my very favorite subjects, and my experience in the areas of whelping and raising them, is extensive. My first litter was whelped in 1970 and most recent one was whelped in March 2014. In between I have successfully raised hundreds of puppies for myself and others. I can still honestly say, after all these years, nothing is more exciting than an upcoming litter! Over the years, I sometimes think I have seen or experienced it all. I have done everything wrong at least once and have learned many things the hard way. For those breeders strictly adhering to no intervention during whelping or postnatal care, this article is not for you!
It is estimated that 15% or more newborn puppies die before they reach two weeks old. I hate puppy losses. It is such a terrible waste and in many cases, puppy deaths can be prevented. Since I don’t have that many litters (usually one a year), each one is a very special occurrence. If something happens to any of the puppies, I don’t have multiple litters or bitches to fall back on. Consequently, I take a very proactive approach. It’s not that I don’t believe in survival of the fittest, I do….to a point. But I also believe sometimes, in the case of an emergency, a breeder needs to step in and give “Mother Nature” a helping hand.Here’s the way I see it after years of experience……..“survival of the fittest” doesn’t always mean that those puppies that survive will be the most fit, the strongest or the best ones!
Keep in mind that there are as many different ways of raising puppies, as there are breeders. Much of puppy rearing is intuitive and automatic and with each and every litter comes the added experience of knowing when things are right and when they are not. For instance, I can spot a puppy in distress or trouble just by looking in the box. I can immediately confirm this by the "feel" of the puppy. This is something that only comes with experience. A person can read about puppies and whelping all they want, but the true test comes from actual experience and/or the learning from others.Over the years, I have picked up helpful tips based on successes and failures of my own; that of close friends; and sage advice from wise breeders before me.
Ch. Chelsea Blonde Bombshell (Harlow) - about an hour before whelping 8 puppies. She did a temp drop of 99.7 the day before and spent the entire previous night asking to go out to the bathroom. She had her first contraction at 10:15 am and had her first puppy at 10:35. Her last puppy came at 3:40 pm. A typical whelping......
Gestation lasts approximately 63 days. BUT....some bitches whelp earlier and some go longer than that. Learn what is appropriate for your breed and if in doubt, never be afraid to contact your Veterinarian.
It should go without saying that the dam, her whelping box and the general area should be a clean and a suitable environment. It doesn't have to be spotless because bacteria is everywhere, but the whelping box should be disinfected in between litters and all whelping material should be clean and sanitary. If you want puppies to survive, the dams should not be left to whelp outside in the dirt, under porches, or other inappropriate places. The best place is in a whelping box inside the house (preferably in its own room) where the temperature can be controlled.
IMPORTANT PLEASE NOTE: Newborn puppies cannot see or hear or eliminate on their own. They are not able to walk. When they are born, about all they can do is smell, suckle and crawl. They are totally dependent upon their dam and their environment in order to survive for the first 2 to 3 weeks. The eyes and ears are closed at birth. For the first couple of weeks they are not able to eliminate on their own without licking stimulation by the dam. They are not able to maintain their own body heat. In essence.....they are completely and utterly helpless! Also please note that all healthy/contented pups “twitch” while sleeping. This is an activated sleep, characterized by muscle twitches.
The same bitch, Harlow, following the whelping of 8 puppies
Items needed for whelping: a whelping box*, thermometer, cotton balls, lots of towels (big ones and smaller lightweight hand towels), a small warming box (see below), a heating pad and/or heat lamp, a baby scale, baby ear syringe, pad of paper and pencil (for keeping track of birth times and weights), small clean scissors (dull and sharp), surgical gloves (not really necessary but some recommend using), alcohol, iodine (or Betadine), Vaseline, dental floss, newspapers, bedding, a big garbage bag, a wall thermometer (for reading whelping box temperature…not room temperature), a flashlight, syringes, Calsorb, Oxytocin, lots of reading material and/or a TV, and a huge amount of patience!
*Whelping box - every bitch should have a box or confined area of some sort in which to have her litter. A good sized whelping box for a Collie is 4 feet by 4 feet. You don't want it too big nor do you want it too small, but you want an area of confinement so the puppies are able to stay close to the dam (and thereby staying warm), but you also want it big enough so the dam can lie down without being scrunched and can safely turn around. A whelping box can be made out of plywood or it can be purchased. There are several good ones on the market. I use a Dura-whelp box. It is reasonably priced; easy to put together and it can be easily moved around. The “Cadillac” of all whelping boxes is Jonart. However, it is quite heavy and is pricey, but it is extremely well made and chances are, if you buy one, you will never have to buy another! Both of them are easy to clean in between litters. Whatever type of box you decide upon, make sure it has a pig rail, so a puppy cannot get squashed on the side of the box. Make sure you put the whelping box in an area away from other dogs and make sure it is quiet, warm, dry, and free from drafts. You do not need a lot of distractions when the bitch is in labor and trying to push out a puppy. And it should go without saying that this is not the time to parade the neighbors or friends through the area.
When the whelping is over, I put a whelping pad in the box. Dura whelp makes makes wonderful whelping pads. I don't use it during whelping because of the mess, but once the bitch is done, down goes the whelping pad. These are such that the surface stays clean and all urine goes below the surface onto the newspapers below. It gives great traction to nursing puppies and has a non-skid" backing so it stays flat. They come with velcro in each corner to aid in a secure placement. The last thing you want is a puppy wandering underneath a pad or towels, making it easy to step on or crush. I have several and they are machine washable.
Predicting whelping - There's no hard and fast rule of predicting when your bitch will whelp. However, there are a few ways to make an educated guess. The main one is by taking the bitch's temperature. I usually start around day 58 or 59, taking the bitch's temp twice a day. Typically the week before whelping a bitch's temp fluctuates between 100 - 100.7 degrees (normal dog temp is 101.5). Typically before whelping, a bitch will do a temperature drop. Each bitch is so different. I have had several over the years that dropped to 99 degrees. Others did a 99 drop and the next day did another drop to 98. Still others just did one drop and went as low as 97-98. And I have had a few that didn't drop at all. A recent bitch that just whelped a litter of 8, did one drop to 99.7 and that was it. There's no figuring or guessing ahead of time. Just keep good records as most of them do the same thing with every litter (but even that isn't a hard and fast rule). Usually a bitch won't whelp while the temp is down. The temp will stay down for a few hours or as long as 12 hours and then go back up. At that point, I figure, I have 12-24 hours before they start whelping.
Other signs that whelping is getting close: the bitch will be very restless and cannot get comfortable. She will want to go outside frequently and will constantly be going to the bathroom. She will start exhibiting nesting behavior and will start digging at the bedding and newspapers in the whelping box. Or she may seek out a protected area that's dark, enclosed and quiet. Many of mine love the cubby hole of my roll top desk. Many a first puppy has been born in that enclosed, protected area. Some bitches may refuse food, but don't let that fool you as I have had plenty of bitches eat right before whelping. Some may vomit. She will probably have a discharge (preferably clear or creamy color) and her back end will get very puffy with an enlarged vulva. These are just a few signs but not every bitch does all of the above. Just remember there's no sure fired rule, so be prepared. At some point, hopefully the bitch will start having contractions....intermittent. As time goes by, the contractions will become stronger and closer together. I have had these first contractions last as short a time as 15 minutes and/or up to an hour. Just keep in mind that strong contractions should not go on for hours. If they do, call your Vet as there may be a problem. I do not like to see a green discharge before the first puppy is born. It usually means early separation and can mean a dead puppy. Sometimes though it doesn't mean anything. I recently had it occur in a bitch with a litter of 10, right before the first puppy was whelped and there were no problems whatsoever. But I have also had it occur when there were problems. If in doubt, call your Vet. A green discharge after the first puppy is born is totally normal and no cause for alarm.
When whelping starts, keep a small box handy, with a heating pad set on low, with several layers of towels. When puppies are being whelped, nothing is more confusing than to have pups roaming around the whelping box while the dam is having contractions and trying to expel a puppy. I let the newborn puppies nurse, but as soon as new contractions start, I put the newly born pups in this separate box. When the new pup is born and dried off, I put the pups back with the dam to nurse, since nursing stimulates contractions.
If a bitch is taking a long time in between puppies and if her contractions don't seem strong enough, try giving her Calsorb©. Calsorb is a fast acting calcium supplement. It supposedly has an awful taste so some bitches will throw it up. It can be given in conjunction with Nutri-Stat™ which reportedly increases palatability. The other alternative is another fast acting calcium supplement, Breeders Edge™ Oral Cal Plus, (this one is flavored). I have personally used both, especially for bitches with large litters.
If a bitch is taking a long time to whelp, it is possible to stimulate contractions by "feathering". It is done by inserting your finger (with a glob of Vaseline on your gloved finger) into her vulva and gently stroking around inside, concentrating on the top of the vagina. If no gloves, don't worry too much about it unless your nails are really long (then be careful).
Nothing is more frustrating than to have part of a puppy emerge from the vulva only to be sucked back in...........If a bitch is having trouble expelling a puppy or a puppy is stuck coming out of the vulva (whether it be large or the first born), take a huge glob of Vaseline and rub it on the inside of the vulva. When trying to help pull out a stuck puppy, grab as much of the puppy as you can with a small thin hand towel (like a kitchen hand towel......my favorite kind for whelping) and pull down – do not pull straight out.
All puppies have a translucent placental membrane sac. Some come out with the sac totally intact (the best way), while some arrive with their sac totally missing or torn open (this can happen during a particularly difficult labor). If the sac is intact and the dam does not try to open it and remove it from the puppy, you need to do so ASAP. Remove the sac from around the puppy's head first or he will suffocate and drown in his own fluids. Then remove it from the entire body. If the bitch does not sever the umbilical cord, you will have to cut it carefully (cut it with dull scissors about an inch and a half from the body). Be sure to keep track of how many placentas come out. The number should equal the number of puppies born. Some puppies come without their sac and the cord has been cut along the way out. Usually the placenta will come out with the next puppy. Retained placentas can cause all sorts of medical complications such as infection, so keep an eye on the bitch if all of them are not expelled. The bitch may need a clean-out shot of oxytocin to aid in expelling any retained material. I have had a placenta come out up to 24 hours later. Most bitches will try to eat the placentas. The jury is still out on the efficacy of this, but in the wild, the bitch would eat all of them. Some feel they are loaded with nutrients and hormones and eating them can aid milk production. None of this has been proven, but I usually let a bitch eat 2 or 3 of them. Anything more can cause indigestion.
If a newly born puppy sounds congested (gurgling when breathing) and rubbing briskly with a towel does not do the trick, try a baby ear syringe. This is especially good for clearing throat and nasal passages. It does not help clear the lungs, however. Make sure the bulb is deflated (pressed flat) before inserting gently into the back of the throat area. Release the bulb slowly to remove any fluid or mucus. Following the throat area, do the same action in the nostrils. While this has proved useful, I still prefer "swinging" the puppy for clearing deep congestion. Though there is some controversy regarding the act of swinging, there is an art to it and I have never done any damage to a puppy by doing it carefully. In fact I have been swinging puppies for 44 years and have saved many lifeless, congested puppies and have never done any damage. Those congested lungs need to be cleared. Puppies born at the end of the litter seem to be at higher risk. The key to "swinging" is hold the puppy's head between the index and middle fingers, while holding the back of the neck and head area firmly against the palm of the hand (hold the head very secure) and swing the puppy with the head down, gently....but firmly. There is an art to it. On several occasions when I have done it, I can hear the fluid hitting the papers. It is not healthy for heavy fluid to remain in the lungs. I also have another friend in Collies (a top master breeder) who has been swinging puppies successfully for 50 years! I think like tube feeding, swinging has had a bad rap because it can cause damage if it isn't done securely and carefully.
Following birth, if a pup is slow to get going, appears lifeless and if swinging and rubbing briskly with a coarse towel does not work, try a drop of Brandy on the tongue. Or try alternating the puppy in bowls of hot water and cold water. Fill two bowls with water--one from the hot tap and one from the cold tap. Immerse the puppy first in one pan and then in the other (to the neck). I have used this method successfully over the years on several occasions, with seemingly dead puppies and it has worked! The idea is to shock the system into taking that first breath. Do it about 10 times. If it works, towel dry the puppy vigorously until he is breathing normally and then put him with the dam. Sometimes there isn't time to fill water dishes. In a case such as this, hold the puppy under the water faucet with alternating cold and hot water -- as hot and as cold as is safe. Also try artificial respiration by laying the puppy on his back and blowing gently into his mouth (pull the tongue forward), while alternating with applied pressure on the puppy's chest. Continue rubbing briskly. Don't give up on a lifeless pup if the color is good. It is possible to revive a seemingly dead puppy up to 20 minutes after delivery. Do not waste time on obviously defective pups.
Cutting the Umbilical cord. Following the birth of a puppy, the dam generally will chew down the umbilical cord. If she doesn't do this, the breeder should cut the cord with scissors (carefully I might add!). A dull pair of clean scissors should be used, leaving about 1½ to 2 inches of cord. Some dams get carried away and want to keep chewing the cord to a small nub. This always makes me nervous and I try everything to discourage this. Usually by the time the next puppy arrives, she will forget about the previous puppy's cord. But keep an eye on the chewing of the cords.
Right after birth, if a pup bleeds excessively from the umbilical cord, swab the cord in iodine or Betadine and tie it off at the base of the cord with dental floss.
Dip each puppy’s umbilical cord in a bottle of alcohol, several times during the first 24 hours after birth. Not only does this disinfect the cord but helps it dry quicker. Or swab the cord with iodine (or Betadine). The first 24 hours is the most critical for cord infection, so you need to check for spongy, soft or discolored cords. Any of these signs generally means umbilical infection and can lead to a systemic infection (septicemia) throughout the entire body, leading to the death of the puppy (this is called "Omphalitis). If it gets to that point, treatment calls for an oral antibiotic. This is when a box of Amoxi-drops comes in handy, since things usually go wrong in the middle of the night! Under normal conditions, the cord should be hard and stringy within hours and usually falls off by day two or three. Cord infection can happen to only one puppy or the entire litter. This is why I check puppy cords repeatedly for the first couple of days. I like to see the cords stringy and hard looking the day following birth.
When the bitch is finished whelping, an old piece of advice (courtesy of Oren Kem of Lodestone Collies) is to give her a bowl of heated milk. This should consist of a can of evaporated milk, with equal parts water, two egg yolks, and ½ cup of plain yogurt. Many bitches won't eat right after whelping, but few will turn down a warm bowl of milk. This gives a calming assurance and is helpful for encouraging milk production.
Encourage puppies to nurse right away. Not only does nursing help stimulate contractions, but the puppies need "colostrum": that first milk produced during the first 24 hours. This early milk, which is different looking than later milk, is loaded with antibodies and special nourishment that will protect the puppies from infection and viruses. It's really imperative that all puppies get colostrum. Pay close attention to the smaller puppies. Through no fault of their own, they may get pushed off the nipples by the bigger puppies. Also watch for puppies that are not wanting to nurse right away. As a rule, Collie puppies come out looking for nipples, but on occasion, there might be the "odd guy out" that doesn't want to nurse. Be sure to check the puppy over. Nine times out of ten, if a puppy does not want to nurse, in my experience, there is something defective or wrong with it.
Make sure that all newly born puppies pass the Meconium plug within the first couple of hours (that first bit of stool that is hard, sticky and dark colored).
Check weights at birth. Over the years, I have seen tremendous fluctuation in puppy birth weights. While 16 to 18 ounce puppies at birth are the easiest to raise, there is nothing wrong with 6-8 ounce puppies, if they are strong. I have even had healthy and strong 4-5 ounce puppies. Small does not necessarily mean weak! It doesn’t hurt to monitor weight for the first couple of days. Normally, most pups lose weight the first 24 hours but resume weight gain on the second day. All healthy pups should gain weight on a daily basis. Ideally, with Collies, the birth weight should double within 7-10 days. If hand-raising a litter, puppies should be weighed daily, not only to assure proper weight gain, but to calculate the correct amount of formula.
Congenital defects: Congenital defects can affect just about any area, but the heart, lungs and digestive tract seem to be the most common. Sometimes puppies can be born so premature that organs won’t be fully developed and/or they will be missing hair. Typically any puppies born before 58 days is not good....more than likely they will be extremely small and have under-developed lungs and/or kidneys. Following birth, check each puppy, looking for the obvious signs like cleft palate, tail and leg deformities and in the rare instance, no anal opening. I recently had a puppy that would not nurse and upon closer inspection, the side of the skull looked to be dented (something I had missed on the first check over). It turned out the skull cap was not fully formed. Several times over the years I have had puppies that couldn't pee....always males. The last time I had the puppy autopsied and he didn't have the tubes (ureter) linking the kidneys to the bladder. He was a big fat healthy puppy when born, but he wouldn't nurse. I noticed right away that no pee came out. He lasted two days....so sad. Some congenital defects are apparent right away, while others may not become apparent until the puppy is a little older. Defective puppies should be put down, as trying to save them, will only bring heartache later on.
Items to always keep on hand in case of an emergency: Amoxi-Drops (a broad spectrum antibiotic that needs to be reconstituted with water - obtained from your Vet since it is a prescription item), antibiotic ointment, anti-diarrhea medication (such as Kaolin-Pectin), thermometer, lactated ringers solution, Karo syrup or a Glucose solution, tube feeding materials (#10 or #12 French feeding tubes, with 60cc catheter-style feeding syringe), needles and syringes for giving fluids, and several cans of puppy formula, such as Esbilac (even though I prefer a homemade formula for normal supplementation, many times during an emergency there isn't enough time to mix formula). Most of the time, I have no need for any of the above items, but as soon as I don't have them on hand…..the need arises. I would rather be prepared especially since most emergencies almost always occur in the middle of the night!
For instance, I never have a litter without keeping a box of Amoxi-drops on hand. Generally, it is not needed. However, years ago, I had a two day old puppy bitch that all of a sudden became listless and was not wanting to nurse. I checked her over and noticed her cord was not dried-up like the other puppies. It was still quite red, wet looking and swollen/puffy. By day two, the cord should be dried-up and have the appearance of a hard, dark string. I suspected infection. If you don't act quickly with these babies, it will be too late, so I immediately started the puppy on Amoxi drops and within hours, her energy returned...she began nursing and by the next day, her cord had dried up and looked normal for a three day old puppy. I have absolutely no doubt, had it not been for the antibiotics, I would have lost this puppy! See below for more on the umbilical cord.
PLEASE NOTE: Many items that used to be available in the "old days" now require a prescription. Items such as Lactated Ringers Solution, French feeding tubes and Amoxi-drops all require a Veterinarian's prescription. Some Vets will sell them directly to breeders.
Heat Lamp: I have used a heat lamp for 40+ years with every litter I have ever whelped. If used properly, it can provide a tremendous and safe heat source. There are several different types of heat lamps on the market, but I have found the best ones are those used for livestock. I purchased my heat lamp from an ad in a 1977 AKC Gazette. Made by Merry Mechanism, apparently they are out of business and I have not had any luck finding anything similar. Mine is actually made for pigs. It has a back-up bulb system and a wire-mesh safety net, in case the bulb breaks or explodes. It also has a heavy-duty double strength chain to hang from the ceiling and a heavy-duty cord. Caution…. use heat lamps carefully as they have been known to start fires; and for the sake of the dam and pups, do not put the lamp too close to the box (make sure the light is at least 5-6 feet above the box). Hang it over a corner of the box so the dam and pups can move away from the heat at will. As the puppies get older (and more able to retain their heat), I move the lamp higher, thanks to the adjustable chain. In all my years of raising puppies successfully, I have NEVER had a lamp dehydrate either the dam or the puppies!!!
Scale: Exact weight can be critical when supplementing puppies and especially when hand-raising pups. Years ago I purchased a scale made by Shor-line after seeing it in my Vet’s office. It tops anything I have used in the past. It is actually made for felines but it’s great for puppies as well. It shows accurate weight, in either pounds or kg's, and does the job quickly with little distress to the pup.
Baby Monitor: If you cannot be with a litter 24/7 but still want to know what’s going on at all times, a baby monitor works great. They come cordless and rechargeable, so kennel chores can be done quite a distance from the litter and still puppy noises can be heard clearly. I started using one years ago and it was especially a godsend during the night! Most monitors are ultra-sensitive and pick up even the slightest noise! Forget about the old boring baby monitors.....the new ones are like nanny cams! I recently purchased one that has a small monitor and you can actually see and hear the bitch and puppies. How cool is that?! Here is a link to one available on Amazon
I have found most Collie bitches to be excellent and careful mothers…..but keep an eye on restless, nervous or flighty bitches, especially if it's a first time litter. Thankfully, most of the horror stories I have heard involve other breeds. It should go without saying that the mother and puppies should be in their own private area, away from other dogs and anything they deem as a threat. Bitches in the wild have been known to eat their young when threatened, so use common sense. It is not prudent to house multiple bitches with litters in the same general area. And....... it's not prudent to parade adults and kids through the whelping area, especially while whelping.
If a bitch is careless around puppies (i.e. stepping on them or laying on them), you may be forced to put the puppies in a separate box and only allow supervised nursing - until the bitch gets it right. Some bitches never get it. If that's the case, do not ever leave the bitch alone with her puppies. Following whelping, some mothers like to dig in the box (messing up the papers, blankets, etc). Usually this behavior goes away several days after whelping. If it doesn't, you will have to keep a close eye on the bitch and tell her "NO" every time she digs in the box. Make sure whatever material is used in the whelping box is heavy enough and lies flat so puppies cannot crawl underneath it. “Dura-whelp” makes a heavy whelping pad that is washable. It has a rubber-like backing and is heavy enough so that even if the dam scratches and digs, it generally stays put! Plus the surface provides great traction for nursing pups.
THE MOST CRITICAL PERIOD OF A PUPPY’S LIFE IS DURING THE FIRST WEEK. The early care and environment of the newborn puppy are of the utmost importance. Early causes of death can usually be attributed to: difficult whelping, congenital or genetic birth defects, environmental factors (i.e. too cool or drafty or too hot), carelessness of the dam, infection, viruses, toxic milk or insufficient nourishment.
Classic warning signs of trouble in neonatal puppies are failure to nurse, insufficient weight gain, temperature drop, dehydration, continuous crying, Diarrhea and/or vomiting.
Spotting a sick puppy in the early stages is very important since time is critical and can mean the difference between life and death. Classic warning signs of trouble in neonatal puppies are weakness, failure to nurse, insufficient weight gain, temperature drop, dehydration, continuous crying, diarrhea and/or vomiting and rejection by the dam.
Because puppies cannot maintain or regulate body temperature on their own, they are completely dependent upon their environment for the first couple weeks of life. A puppy’s normal temperature at birth is approximately 94-97 degrees. During the first week, a normal temperature should be between 95 and 98 degrees (it increases gradually every day). By three weeks old, the temperature should be 99 to 100 degrees. After three weeks, it should be approaching the normal body temperature for an adult dog (101.5). Amazingly, I have actually come across emergency-room veterinarians that had no idea that a newborn puppy’s temperature differed from that of the adult dog!
Because of this inability to maintain body temperature, the greatest danger during the first week of life, is CHILLING. Some books on newborn puppies suggest keeping the environment 90 to 95 degrees, but most breeders will tell you this is way too warm. I personally try to maintain the box temperature right around 75 degrees. The puppies, of course, get their best radiant heat from the dam and a box temperature of 75 degrees should be more than sufficient! Without the mother, 75-80 degrees should be satisfactory. Make sure the temperature is gauged on the floor of the box. Other sources of warmth can be heating pads or heat lamps. If using a heating pad, monitor the intensity of heat, as pups have been known to cook on pads set on high settings. If worried about chilling, a heat lamp can provide good radiant heat. One can be hung from the ceiling, high enough over one side of the box, so the puppies and dam can move around, in or out of the heat areas. See below for more on “chilling”.
Several breeders have had success using a "whelping nest". It is 23 inches in diameter and can be fit into a hole in the whelping area. It is thermostatically controlled (between 85-95 degrees) and maintains a constant surface temperature no matter what the surrounding temperature is. Costing around $240-250, it can be obtained through various Vet supply companies or Amazon.com
HYDRATION is one of the most important things to monitor in new pups, as it can be one of the first signs of trouble. It can either be a result of inadequate nourishment, too much heat, or sickness. Accompanied with diarrhea and/or vomiting, it can be dangerous and fatal. Hydration can be checked by pinching the skin on the back of the neck or the top of the back. If hydration is good, the pinched skin will bounce right back into place. If the pinched skin stays creased, the puppy is dehydrated and needs fluid replacement. Also a dehydrated pup's coat will have a ruffled look or scruffy appearance. Another way to tell if a puppy is dehydrated is by the color and amount of urine passed. Using a cotton ball on the genital area, if the urine is dark and scant, it means the puppy is dehydrated and there is electrolyte depletion. Normal urine will flow freely and be light yellow in color. Additionally, sometimes the puppy’s tongue can have a ruffled look along the edges if it’s dehydrated.
If a puppy becomes dehydrated along with the chilling (a typical and lethal combination), the quickest and most effective method to rehydrate is to give fluids under the skin (by using a needle and syringe with a solution of lactated ringers). Depending on the size of the puppy, about 10 to 20cc's can be given under the skin (fluids given subcutaneous are absorbed much quicker than giving fluids orally). The best way to learn how to do this is to have your veterinarian or someone experienced show you the first couple of times. It's very important to slip the needle under the skin almost horizontally. It can be done anywhere there is loose skin, but preferably along the back, hips or the neck by picking up the skin and creating a pocket. Slip the needle in horizontally right under the skin, making sure you do not shoot the needle down into muscle or bones, etc. This can be very tricky and is especially difficult because immediately upon being pricked by the needle, the puppy will start screaming! NOTE: the worst part about giving fluids under the skin is the screaming of the puppy. Be sure to put the mother in another room while doing this and it helps tremendously to have someone hold the puppy. The screams can be unnerving, so steal yourself!
Unfortunately many things go wrong in the middle of the night and one learns quickly that time is of the essence. I can't tell you the number of puppies I have saved over the years by giving fluids under the skin. Lactated Ringers Solution can be obtained from your Veterinarian or through various dog supply companies (but a prescription is needed).
The important thing to remember is: never give milk to a chilled puppy.
If giving fluids under the skin is too nerve-wracking, the puppy can be tube feed “Pedialyte” (or a simple sugar-water solution). However, be very careful when inserting the feeding tube. A chilled puppy makes it that much harder to pass the tube and sometimes the tube will double back on itself. The preferred method is to give fluids subcutaneously. Remember that dehydration can result as a secondary symptom. So the hydration problem may be corrected only to have it reoccur, if you don’t figure out what caused it in the first place.
Also regarding "Pedialyte".... Personally I have never used it, but several friends have used it successfully. The thing to keep in mind, it is not a subsitute for regular nourishment. If it is used too frequently, you run the risk of setting back the growth of the puppies. Per the Pedialyte website is is mainly sugar, salt and water with various food dyes. This is not something that you should go overboard with. Esbilac or a similar formula will also aid in hydration. Anything with water will help hydrate. Some breeders become so afraid to feed regular nourishment and as a result, the puppies will not gain weight and run the risk of forever stunting the growth! Please remember, it is recommended to treat dehydration and nutrient loss from diarrhea and vomiting in children. Bottom line....puppies need nourishment - not empty calories of sugar water!
Another classic warning sign of a puppy in trouble is continuous crying. If this is combined with cramping, you better figure out quickly what is causing the problem. If the puppy is bloated and has loose stools, it could be the dam’s milk. If you are lucky, it could just involve a simple correction in the dam’s diet or it could be something more serious, such as Mastitis (bacteria-infected milk). Check the mother’s milk and keep an eye out for discolored milk (green or brown) or streaks of blood. If the puppies are sick and you suspect the milk, have a veterinarian do milk cultures. In the case of an extreme emergency when a puppy is really bloated and not nursing, it is possible to remove contents from the stomach. If this is attempted, it should be done very carefully, using a feeding tube and syringe. See below for more information on the dam’s milk.
Be very careful what you feed the nursing mother. It’s important to remember that whatever you feed her will go right through the milk and into the puppies! As an example, a friend of mine experienced disastrous results upon supplementing a nursing mother with honey (upon the advice of a holistic veterinarian). The pups developed a clear hard covering over the anus, resulting in an inability to eliminate. Fortunately, she discovered the problem before losing any puppies.
Puppies almost always pile together in relative proximity to one another. Sometimes the dam may reject a puppy - sometimes for a reason (there may be something wrong with the pup) and sometimes she can do it for no reason at all. If a puppy continually gets separated from the others, ending up in a corner by himself, he bears watching, as there may be something wrong. Sometimes it can just be a simple matter that the puppy has become chilled. If that’s the case and the puppy is cool to the touch, he should be warmed up before putting him back with the dam.
For the first couple of days after birth, check the bitch’s milk to make sure that she has an adequate amount for feeding the litter. If a puppy pulls on the nipple and cries out in frustration, check it out. This can be done by gently squeezing the breasts below the nipple. Milk should flow freely! Sometimes a bitch will have plenty of milk on the day of whelping, but by the second day, it will disappear….. only to return on the next day. Also following C-Sections*, the milk can be really slow to come in.
* For an article on C-sections, click here
There are several options available for aiding milk production in the postpartum bitch: Prolactin is a hormonal stimulant that encourages milk production. The drug Reglan can be used in order to release prolactin in the postpartum bitch (normally Reglan is used for vomiting). For example, Reglan can be given in combination with Oxytocin to help get lactation started. Oxytocin helps the milk out of the gland into the duct, which allows for more milk production. Results are usually forthcoming within 24 hours. PLEASE NOTE: Using Oxytocin usage has become very controversial, so it is best to talk with your Veterinarian regarding this treatment.
A tried and true herbal remedy that many breeders swear by is Fenugreek. Fenugreek can be given by itself or in combination with Blood Thistle in order to boost milk production. Both are known to increase blood flow to the mammary glands. Dosage is 3 capsules per day for a large dog (less for a small dog). Per a Repro Group I am on......give the Fenugreek until the bitch smells like maple syrup. It usually takes approximately 48 - 72 hours to increase milk production. The ideal situation is to find a bitch (from another breeder) who is either nursing a small litter or has just weaned a litter
Sometimes absolutely nothing works! So keep in my mind, if the bitch has no milk, you will have to supplement all puppies with a good formula. While there's no substitute for mom's milk, a commercial or home-made formula is just as good in a pinch and beats the alternative - starvation! Allow the puppies to continue nursing as that stimulates milk production.
If the litter is small in number, be sure to check the breasts to make sure that all are being used and emptied. Typically puppies have favorite nipples, so be sure to check those that don't get much use. Beware of breasts that are “hot” to the touch and have a packed “hard” feeling. If milk is not cleaned out regularly, the breast could develop an infection leading to an abscess. Hot compresses can be used, along with manual milking, in order to empty hard packed breasts. If the bitch has hot/hard breasts along with a high temperature (over 103º), you need to contact your Veterinarian immediately!
My favorite formula for either supplementing
or hand raising a litter (and one I have used on numerous occasions):
13 oz. can of evaporated milk
equal amount of water
4 oz. of plain yogurt
4 egg yolks (if only supplementing mom's milk, use 1 yolk)
1 tablespoon of liquid vitamins*
I have used this formula successfully to hand-raise several litters, including Ch. Chelsea the Crown Prince, whose mother died 5 days following a C-Section, leaving me with a litter of 11 to completely hand raise. All survived and were in prime weight and condition! However, in a pinch I have also used Esbilac with excellent results. Contrary to popular myth, hand-raised puppies, do not have to look hand-raised and mine never have!
*Regarding vitamins: I have successfully used Pet Nutri-Drops
Any formula using canned milk and yogurt, has to have the addition of water. The newborn puppy has a tremendous need for water, since he himself is largely comprised of water. There was a formula popular in the 1970’s that had only canned milk and yogurt, with no addition of water. Unfortunately, this formula killed many puppies during that time. A friend lost an entire litter she was hand-raising. The puppies were autopsied and the contents of the stomach were just like cement. Onetime I also used this formula and while I didn’t lose any puppies, they ended up in the Vet’s office because when they urinated, the urine was too concentrated. The diagnosis: too little water in the formula. The addition of water corrected the problem and the puppies thrived from then on. Though I have never used it, quite a few breeders love goat’s milk. Whichever formula is used, it should be warmed to room temperature. SPECIAL NOTE: Do not use homogenized milk or whole cow's milk (unless you have absolutely no alternative) as it will cause diarrhea!
Approximate dosage: Amounts will vary depending on whether the litter is being completely hand-raised or supplemented along with the dam's milk.
When supplementing the dam's milk, smaller quantities 2 to 3 times a day should be sufficient (depending on how big the litter is and amount of milk that the dam has). For instance a 10 ounce puppy can be given 3-5 cc's, 3 times a day. In large litters (8 or more puppies), I routinely supplement the smallest puppies because typically someone always gets pushed aside.
If totally hand-raising a litter, (with no maternal milk), quantities should be larger and more frequent. The younger and smaller puppies will need more frequent feedings. For a puppy under 7 ounces: 2-4 cc of formula, every 2 to 3 hours for the first couple of days. Larger puppies can be fed greater amounts. Puppies over 7 ounces, can be fed 1 cc per ounce of weight, every 4 hours. It is very important to not overfeed. If the puppy is overfed and vomits or has formula come out of its nose, it runs the risk of inhaling the formula which can result in Aspiration Pneumonia.
FEEDING OPTIONS: In my experience tube feeding is the safest and quickest method for puppy feeding, especially large litters. Careful of eyedroppers..... they are not recommended. Puppies have a limited gag reflex, so not only do eyedroppers afford a tremendous risk, but also they are slow and laborious. They can be used in a pinch if nothing else is available, but they need to be used carefully and not if you intend to hand-raise an entire litter. Some breeders prefer to bottle feed because it satisfies the newborns need for suckling. However, even bottle feeding is not without risks and should be done carefully. Not only does it take a great deal of time, but the nipple flow can be difficult to regulate. Plus, it has a greater tendency than other methods of allowing air in the stomach. If you bottle-feed, you will need to burp the puppy by firmly rubbing his back and sides (up and down) or by gently but firmly patting the back or sides. However, that said, even puppies that are tube fed or ones that nurse naturally may sometimes need burping!
TUBE FEEDING: I have hand-raised quite a few litters over the years, of my own and for other breeders and have probably tube fed hundreds or more puppies, for reasons such as mastitis, no milk, death of the mother or just plain supplementation of big litters, etc. Tube feeding is the safest and easiest way to supplement or hand raise a litter, especially a large one. Contrary to popular myth, it is extremely difficult to get a tube into the lungs. If a tube were to get into the lung, the puppy would immediately go into coughing spasms. In order to tube feed safely, there are several precautionary measures to follow. Watch for the tube doubling back (which is why I hate the small flimsy tubes like #8) and most important, make sure the tube is inserted far enough into the stomach. Before inserting the tube, measure the tube up against the puppy and mark off the area just behind the last rib. Be sure to recheck and adjust the length as the puppy grows. Fill the syringe with milk and securely attach it to the syringe. When the tube is inserted, make sure the marked area (from behind the rib) is just at or into the pup’s mouth. Don’t ever force the tube down the throat. Insert the tube carefully and slowly. If it meets resistance, pull it out and reinsert. Also of great importance – be very careful how quickly the syringe plunger is depressed. It should be depressed slowly and once all the formula is expelled, the tube should be removed quickly. These areas present the greatest risks when tube feeding! There are several excellent “You Tube” videos showing how to tube feed a puppy! The ideal scenario is to have someone demonstrate tube feeding before actually attempting it yourself!
EQUIPMENT NEEDED FOR TUBE FEEDING:
1) A Catheter tip syringe - usually comes as 35cc or 60cc. When tube feeding a lot of puppies or large puppies, I recommend the larger size.
2) Feeding tube - French 8, 10, 12, 14 & 16. The size depends on the breed, but for normal size Collie puppies I recommend size #10 or 12.
This equipment can be obtained from your Vet or a catalog supply house such as KV Vet Supply. In some cases, the feeding tubes are a prescription item. Whatever type of equipment is used, it should be washed thoroughly following each use. Equipment should be periodically replaced. With heavy usage, feeding syringes only last about a week before they begin malfunctioning. When the plunger does not slide easily, it's time to throw it away! Feeding tubes have greater longevity but should be thrown out once the litter is on solid food.
CAUTION: Milk bubbling from the nose means the puppy is being over fed. The amount of formula tubed, especially to small pups, should be carefully regulated (small amounts more often). It is far safer to underfeed than overfeed!
SOME GENERAL TIPS AND OBSERVATIONS
Never under any conditions, feed milk to a chilled puppy. If a puppy's temperature is below 94-95 F, do not feed it milk (if in doubt, check the puppy's temp with a rectal thermometer). Chilled puppies should never be fed milk since the entire intestinal tract literally shuts down. Think about it - even in humans when the body temperature falls below normal, all body functions begin to slow or shut down. Food that was previously fed, just sits in the stomach. Consequently, in feeding a chilled puppy, additional formula is added to an already full stomach. Feeding a chilled puppy is the quickest way to kill it! Pups should be warmed to normal temperature before feeding. Sometimes a puppy won’t appear chilled because the body feels warm from external heat sources (such as heat lamp or heating pad). The best and surest way to check whether a puppy is chilled or not is to feel the tongue. If the pup’s tongue has a chilled/cold feeling, do not feed milk.
The first thing to do is warm the chilled puppy slowly - Do not try to warm the puppy too quickly. He needs to be warmed from the inside out (it does no good if his surface temperature is normal but his internal temp is still subnormal (if in doubt, check the tongue). A heating pad can be used in a small box with several layers of towels (making an incubator). Be sure to frequently turn the puppy and monitor the temperature, as a heating pad can warm a puppy too quickly and/or it can warm only the one side. Warming needs to be done evenly and gradually. Another good method of keeping a puppy warm is to fill a gallon ziploc bag with uncooked rice and heat it in the microwave for several minutes. The rice bag holds heat really well and will not run the risk of overheating the puppy too quickly. A puppy can also be warmed by carrying it around (inside a bra is a great choice!). Or in a pinch a puppy can be submerged in warm water. Ovens and microwaves are not good choices because of the risks to the puppy! Whatever means are used; it should be a steady and slow warming! It's important to remember that puppies should not be exposed to wildly fluctuating temperatures....i.e. one minute too hot and the next, too cold.
Puppy stools are normally fairly soft, but formed and usually are yellow/brown in color. I have seen green puppy stools and stools that have an appearance of bunches of tiny seeds. If all else seems normal, these phenomena seem to be harmless and short-lived. Watery diarrhea, however, can present a serious problem if left unchecked. There can be many causes such as, bad milk, the dam’s diet, worms or infection. First off, check the dam’s milk and discharge from the vulva. If either appears abnormal, consult a veterinarian. If her milk has clear streaks and/or blood or appears yellow/green, pull the puppies until the situation is diagnosed and corrected. And keep in mind that in the beginning stages, bacteria infected milk can look completely normal. Bacteria infected milk can kill puppies – even big healthy ones! It doesn’t hurt to monitor the mother’s temperature for a couple of days following whelping. Keep an eye on anything over 103 degrees since it could indicate an infection in the uterus or the milk glands. If you suspect the mother’s diet, correct it by removing food supplements (i.e. cottage cheese) and start adding a probiotic supplement to her diet. A good one is FortiFlora™ made by Purina. If you suspect worms, have your Vet run a fecal or just worm the puppies (under Veterinarian supervision). Per the instructions on Nemex-2® (a palatable and safe wormer for puppies), puppies can be wormed as early as two weeks (I have personally never wormed this early). Diarrhea in combination with vomiting can mean infection. In the case of infection, puppies can be given an oral antibiotic (such as Amoxi-drops). If puppies have nonspecific diarrhea, they can be given anti-diarrheal medications such as Kaolin-Pectin. Usually puppies can be given anything that is used for adult dogs, but dosage (due to their smaller size) and prolonged usage can be more critical in a puppy. Do not under any conditions or circumstances use Imodium AD in Collies. The safest bet is to check with your Vet regarding what is available for baby puppies. Many of the diarrhea medications that used to be available are no longer on the market (such as Biosol M, Neo-pectalin). When in doubt, call your vet!
Rarely does a puppy ever become constipated, but if one does, this can be easily corrected by using children's Castoria or by giving an enema. An enema can be given, using a #8 or #10 feeding tube, attached to a syringe, filled with approximately 2-5 cc's of warm water (the amount depends on the size of the puppy). Put a dab of Vaseline on the end of the tube and insert it into the rectum, maybe an inch (again, how far in, depends on the size of the puppy). Gently push the plunger until the liquid is entirely gone from the syringe. Within a few minutes, you will get results. Constipation rarely occurs in puppies that are nursing, but it can be a frequent problem in hand-raised litters, especially if the water amount in the formula is not sufficient. If constipation continues to be a problem in the hand-raised litter, a tablespoon of Karo syrup can be added to the formula.
Sometimes a puppy can develop Aspiration Pneumonia, through nursing, tubing or bottle feeding. In my experience the most common cause is from bottle feeding. Maybe the puppy drank too much, too quickly and starts to choke, thereby inhaling milk. Pneumonia starts with green gunk coming from the nostrils. Then the puppy becomes listless, has difficulty breathing and finally stops nursing. If something isn't done quickly, the puppy will not survive. On three different occasions I have nursed pneumonia puppies back to health (one was for another breeder who had bottle fed the puppy). All three survived using a combination of antibiotics and "Isuprel". Isuprel is a prescription item and should only be used with Veterinarian supervision. It comes as syrup and dosage can be critical, so it needs to be used carefully. It's not without risks, but it really helps clear the bronchial passages. With diligent care, puppies can survive inhalant pneumonia and live healthy lives.
For the sake of the dam, clip the puppies front toenails weekly, with small scissors, being careful not to cut into the quick.
Eclampsia: Fortunately this is not a common occurrence, but it can and does happen (more so in smaller toy breeds). It is caused by a lowering of calcium levels (hypocalcemia) in the bitch’s system due to the puppies draining her calcium supplies. It can be acute and life threatening! Classic signs in the bitch are: restlessness and anxiety, high temperature, rapid respiration, spasms and/or seizures (or falling down). A bitch in this state needs immediate treatment, and it is imperative that she be taken immediately to a veterinarian as she needs calcium intravenously. This is not something you will be able to treat at home! The puppies should be removed until the bitch’s calcium levels are returned to normal, as nursing and milk production only exacerbate the problem. By the way, there is a school of thought that feels this condition is a result of excessive calcium supplementation during pregnancy. So proceed cautiously with all dietary supplements, especially calcium.
Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia): There is a low blood sugar phenomenon that sometimes can occur the first few days of a puppy’s life. Everything will go along fine and all of a sudden, a puppy will stiffen like a board. Usually the tongue will stick out between the lips. This is generally the result of low blood sugar, especially if more than one puppy is doing it. TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE and something needs to be done immediately. If one waits even several hours, it will pass the point of no return. A Veterinarian can do a blood test to determine if this is the problem. The simple solution is to start supplementing the puppy with a formula that has Karo syrup in it. Or the puppy can be tube fed a sugar/water solution. Or a dextrose solution can be given under the skin (this method is controversial as giving dextrose under the skin can cause sloughing of the skin). Sometimes low blood sugar goes hand in hand with dehydration. This stiffening is basically a seizure and it has nothing to do with epilepsy. It is totally dietary and usually means either the dam does not have adequate milk or the puppies are not getting enough to eat. It can happen to the largest puppies or the smallest. Typically though, puppies affected will be very small and the dam may not have much milk (such as following a C-section) or the puppy might be an ineffectual nurser. If left untreated, it will most assuredly lead to the death of the puppy. Following a day or two of supplementing, the problem usually corrects itself (if the dam has sufficient milk!).
If a puppy’s eyes have not opened yet and look swollen with pus coming out of the corners, the eyes should be gently cleaned with a Q-tip dipped in an eye cleaning solution (human grade). Gently express the pus through the corners and clean off with Kleenex. Then carefully insert a small amount of antibiotic eye ointment into the inside corner of the closed eye. Usually, one or two treatments will take care of the problem. Once you notice this sort of problem occurring, carefully monitor the entire litter because if this is ignored, it can result in serious damage to the eyes or in the worst case scenario, the loss of one or both eyes. Normally this problem occurs just prior to the eyes opening. Typically puppy eyes open around 12-14 days, but this is not a hard and fast rule as personally I have had variation ranging from 8 to 18 days. If eyes are not open by 3 weeks, it could mean there's a problem and needs a Veterinarian's assistance. Ears are also closed at birth but start cracking open a little earlier than eyes open. I have seen ears starting to open as early as 8-10 days.
*I had one litter in which eyes opened later than normal and the eyes kept resealing. This went on for a couple of days until finally all eyes opened and stayed that way! Nothing appeared to be wrong and there was no infection and nothing appeared abnormal.
When hand-raising a litter, in order to prevent the dry flakes that can sometimes result (because nothing takes the place of the mother's continual licking and cleaning), wash the face and entire body with a rough washcloth several times a day. Also, a mild baby shampoo can be used in the water solution. Daily grooming is important for the neonatal puppy. Think about how the dam spends all her time washing and cleaning every puppy several times a day. If the pups become odorous, they can be washed in warm water with puppy shampoo and towel dried. They usually dry right away.
For the first week or so, puppies rely completely on maternal stimulation for elimination. If the mother cannot or will not take care of the pup’s elimination, the owner has to step in. Using a cotton ball moist with warm water, rub the abdominal and anal area with sweeping motions. Urine should come out easily every single time. Not so easy (and a big source of frustration when hand-raising pups!) is defecation. They may not eliminate every single time they are fed, but should produce a stool every third or fourth time.
Trim the feathering and long body hair on the bitch. Many people are hesitant to do this, but once you’ve seen a puppy entangled in the long feathering and struggling to free itself, you never forget it! Don’t worry about the coat coming back, as the bitch is going to lose all of it anyway. I have never had a bitch not come back into a complete coat (feathering and all!), as a result of clipping it. If anything, it stimulates coat production and following a litter, most bitches come into glorious, luxurious coat!
In conclusion, nothing can top the satisfaction and enjoyment of a healthy, contented litter and fortunately, this is the norm. But if one breeds long enough, eventually things will go wrong and that wonderful litter can turn QUICKLY into a nightmare. Never become complacent (that’s usually when trouble sets in) and keep in mind that each and every litter is different. Likewise, no two dams are alike! Also, it’s important to remember, as experienced breeders, there is nothing wrong with consulting your Veterinarian before doing anything of which you are unsure or unfamiliar. The best Veterinarian that I was lucky enough to find in my early years in dogs, was a breeder Vet. Find a good Vet and cherish him/her! And listen and learn from those breeders who have gone through this a million times! Puppy mortalities do not have to happen!
1) Look and feel vibrant, vigorous and strong
2) Twitch while sleeping (activated sleep)
3) Nurse with great energy
4) Tongues are pink and warm
5) Skin returns quickly to normal when it is pinched
6) Tummies feel full, but not bloated
1) Look and feel unthrifty, limp and flaccid
2) Stop twitching in their sleep
3) Rattle when breathing
4) Cease nursing, show weak attempts at nursing or cry while nursing
5) Tongue is not pink colored and is cool to the touch (sometimes looks ruffled)
6) Cry most of the time
7) Double up in cramps
8) Skin stays creased when pinched
9) Diarrhea and/or vomiting