by Sue Jones & Tracy Warncke
Getting ready for puppies starts long before your bitch has been bred. For the sake of brevity, we’ll assume that both she and the sire are of good quality, excellent temperaments, in excellent condition, and have their health clearances. We’ll also assume you have good, responsible homes waiting for puppies and plan to keep any puppies that you cannot place until proper homes can be found.
Before you breed your bitch, you should speak with your veterinarian. Do they have 24 hour emergency care? Are they capable and willing to perform a cesarean section on a giant breed dog? Are they experienced in whelping? These questions may sound outrageous—after all this is a veterinarian you are talking to—BUT, there are some veterinary practices that do not handle large breed surgeries. If your vet can’t handle large breeds, ask them to recommend someone who does that is within a reasonable driving distance. When a bitch is in trouble whelping, time is of the essence—both mother’s and puppies’ lives are at stake.
Once you’ve found, and are comfortable with, a vet who can help, and your bitch has been bred, you will need to ascertain whether or not she is actually pregnant. This can be very tricky, especially if she is only having one or two puppies. Pregnancy can be diagnosed in a variety of ways: blood test (at approximately 25 days), palpation (approximately 30 days), ultrasound (25 days) and x-ray (50 days). NONE of the methods listed is 100 percent accurate as a bitch may reabsorb puppies at any time during a pregnancy. In other words, just because one of the tests listed comes back “positive” for pregnancy doesn’t mean the bitch will actually deliver puppies!
Nevertheless, if she does “show” pregnant you need to be prepared. It is important to know whether or not your bitch is pregnant. If she has a bunch of puppies in her, she’ll need extra food. If she only has one or two, she may not whelp them and a cesarean section may be in order.
First and foremost—stay in touch with your veterinarian. Second, call your mentor. His or her experience is crucial. Then, you will need to start gathering the necessary equipment:
Space: You will need a room that is somewhat secluded—out of the mainstream of household traffic. The room should be big enough to hold the whelping box, a cot, and a small table. It should be draft free, well lit, heated, and have electrical outlets. Puppies cannot regulate their body temperatures for the first couple of weeks. If they should get chilled, their body functions will shut down and they will die.
Whelping box: We use a 4 ft. wide x 6 ft. long x 8 inch high box made of plywood. The sides have 8 inch wide boards running parallel with the bottom to create a ledge for puppies to crawl under to get around behind mom. It’s also a convenient place to sit!
An enclosure that is larger than the whelping box: The puppies will need to be moved to a larger enclosure sometime around three weeks of age as they will climb out of the whelping box. This enclosure will need to be able to be expanded on a regular basis especially if the bitch has a large litter.
A secure area outside (preferably chain link) to house the puppies once they go outside (depending on the weather, but usually at about 6 weeks of age). They will need a dog house and bedding.
At least two waterproof mattress pads for a full size bed. If you can find them, the ones with the more felt like top and bottom because they sort of “stick” to the whelping box.
Six bath sheets (big, big bath towels, the size that if you wrap them around you, go from under your arms to down below your knees). These go on top of the mattress pads—two lengthwise and then one regular size bath towel across the top width wise because the bath sheets don’t go all the way to the end of the whelping box (so you’ll need at least three regular size bath towels, too.)
Heat lamp: We use a wire “cage” around the bulb with a ceramic socket so the socket doesn’t heat up.
A 3 feet long piece of 1” thick x 4” wide piece of wood on which to clamp the heat lamp. Put the whelping box in a corner or against the wall, then jam this piece of wood in between the whelping box and the wall. I anchor mine with hooks on either side screwed right into the wall then put a rubber band between the hooks to keep the piece of wood from falling over if the box should move a little bit. This also means that the whelping box needs to be near an electrical outlet.
Hot water bottle
Iodine which will disinfect umbilical cords and help them to dry up.
Dull scissors for cutting umbilical cords. Dull scissors kind of mash the cord closed—sharp scissors are more like a razor blade cut.
Dental floss for tying off umbilical cords.
Different colors of yarn that will identify each puppy so that you can track them individually. This is very important for the first couple of weeks so that you can make sure that each puppy is gaining weight. We tie the yarn around their necks.
A good cardboard box with lid (to hold the puppies when you change the whelping box or to bring them home from the vets). Put a towel in the bottom of it.
Lots of hand towels for rubbing and drying puppies.
Baby bottles (nipples, caps, etc.) in case you need to bottle feed.
Old blankets or towels that can get ripped to shreds by mom and for the initial whelping (you change to the mattress pads and towels once she’s all through).
More old blankets to throw around the room so you don’t have to clean the carpets from any discharge
Pen and paper so you can write down all the particulars in case you have to call the vet (time she started huffing and puffing, time of her first contraction, time her water broke, time first puppy was born, it’s sex, weight, color yarn, etc.
Bowl for water for mom
Collar and leash for mom.
Karo syrup. Karo is good to give mom a little energy boost should she get tired during whelping. It can also help with sluggish puppies and give them a little boost.
Canned evaporated milk, which is part of our formula mix. We also add it to mom’s food at the end of her pregnancy and after she’s whelped.
Eggs. We hard boil them for mom. They are also part of our formula.
Vanilla ice cream which is good in case mom starts to get a little bit tired (and if you get bored you can have some too!)
Coffee (by the gallon) because whelping usually happens late at night and continues through the next day.
Cot or some other item you can sleep on: We typically spend the first week sleeping beside the whelping box.
Snacks (for you!!)
Flashlight. Whelping usually happens at night and mom will probably do quite a bit of having to go out to empty her bladder and bowels and you need to watch to make sure she doesn’t drop a puppy!
Easy to slip on shoes (so you can follow her outside!)
Money—lots of it. If you have to use an emergency vet expect the costs to be substantially higher, and they want to be paid at the time the services are rendered. Many emergency clinics want a deposit before they will accept you as a patient.
reprinted from Newf Tide 1Q 2001