About The Care And Feeding Of The Litter And Bitch
After the pitocin is given and the bitch returns home (make the quickest possible trip to the vet's, and avoid taking her through the waiting room), a certain amount of dark material will be expelled from her uterus - this is known as "cleaning", and may continue for several days; if it continues longer than this, it can be a sign of uterine infection. It is our practice to give bitches a short course of a broad-spectrum antibiotic immediately after whelping, one which is extremely safe (and expensive!) and which is approved for use in infants, since some of it will probably be transmitted in her milk. This should be kept short, since the normal bacteria of the puppies' intestines are important to their function, and it would be undesirable to eradicate these normal flora. Yet the problems associated with uterine infection, which is fairly common, are so serious for both dam and pups that we consider a brief, carefully chosen antibiotic treatment wise. Repeat - a carefully chosen antibiotic.
The bitch's stools are normally quite firm (or, firm for her) until the pups are a few weeks old - then, possibly because of the quantity of feces and bacteria she is ingesting in cleaning up after the pups, her stools often become a little loose. We feed vanilla yogurt at this time, which is an effective and natural way to combat excess intestinal bacteria, since the lactobacillus in the yogurt grow extremely well in the intestine and simply dominate the offending organisms. This also works if the puppies should get simple gastroenteritis when they go outside and begin eating grass, etc.
The bitch will eat voraciously, at lease twice a day depending on the size of the litter, and will eat more and more as the puppies nurse more and more. We continue to fed Science Diet Lactation and some meat, ad libitum. She will almost completely shed her coat as weaning time approaches, or sometimes later, and the nutritional challenge with which she has been coping will be vividly apparent; lactation is considered the equivalent of the most extreme forms of physical exercise in terms of its energy requirement! For this reason, careful attention to the quality and quantity of foods fed the lactating bitch will reward you many times over in the condition of your pups and their mama! Spare no expense to give her the best! And don't expect show condition to return immediately; sometimes it happens, but not usually! Check her for worms (see below, regarding roundworms in puppies) and assume she has been exposed to roundworms by cleaning up after the puppies. Often, adults do not seem to harbor roundworms, but a course of piperazine after weaning certainly cannot hurt her.
The puppies should be weighed carefully at birth, and each day thereafter for a few weeks, then every few days. The critical period to the survival of the puppy is in the first few days. Any pup that continues to lose weight for more than 24 hours is in trouble and needs veterinary attention. Studies show that this is the best indication of a puppy's survival chance. Some weight loss (due to being born wet, the stress of adaptation, and the time required for the dam's milk to come down) during the first day is common, especially when there are more than a few puppies. Observe each one to establish that it is sucking strongly and having ample opportunity to nurse. Most bitches will not tolerate removal of any puppies, but will allow you to switch puppies around in the box. Weight the puppies at the same time each day, and within a few days each should be gaining at least one ounce per day. Often, in smaller litters, they may gain 2-3 ounces per day! There is no correlation between birth weight and adult size, and those that grow fastest do not necessarily grow up to be the biggest, but at least one knows that they are healthy, and robust. It is a wonderful feeling to know that they are not being limited in any way!
The question of supplementation for newborn pups (Esbilac is the product of choice) is a complex one. With a fairly large litter, it is possible to increase weight gain by supplementary bottle or tube feedings. There is evidence, however, that slow, steady growth of pups can be compensated for later if they are healthy. As long as they are gaining, scientific evidence is that they will grow to their genetic potential sooner or later, when the nutrients are supplied (e.g., beginning at 3 weeks when puppy food is begun). Also, there is always some risk attendant upon feeding a puppy anything foreign, even though it is quite pure and properly prepared. Once the puppy's system is tampered with, it can be quite difficult to get it back to normal.
If there is a puppy who clearly needs supplementation, and no anatomical or medical reason for his failure to thrive can be found, start immediately and follow your veterinarian's advice. He will very likely prescribe other supports, e.g., vitamin drops, antibiotic drops, since a common problem which presents with these symptoms is inhalation of fluid during birth, resulting in bacterial pneumonia. Jello-water (containing protein and sugar, of course) is recommended by some people in some cases, although I have never needed it.
The puppies are very little trouble, and, in fact, should be left alone most of the time for the first week or so, a very critical period during which they should be observed carefully and, of course, weighed. Mama cleans up the box, and you must clean up the papers and lining upon which she is lying. You encourage her from the beginning, on leash if necessary, to go outside and relieve herself regularly. Soft music and gentle encouragement combined with privacy and a minimum of harassment from children, etc., will give her a sense of peace which she will transmit to the puppies from an early age! Handle the puppies gently and use intuition and common sense as to the amount - it is good for them to smell (the only sense they have at this point!) different (clean, scrubbed) human hands and unperfumed or made-up faces, for they record the fact that there are nice people out there, and will use these smells as later identification. As they get up and try to walk, make sure they have traction under their feet; we use thick Navy blankets, which are thrown in the washing machine and changed as needed. Mama will clean up at least until they are three weeks old, or until weaning occurs.
Our puppies, whelped and raised to this point in the bedroom, go outside at 2-3 weeks, depending on the weather. "Outside" is an indoor-outdoor puppy run, with a built-in "intermediate" puppy box which is a bit different from the whelping box, and more versatile for their needs, and it is also better for Mama as she can sit outside part of the time, and watch the world without being mobbed by her little ones.
At this age, the puppies are more able to regulate their own temperatures, so externally supplied warmth is not so important, but of course extreme cold or draft is a stress and should be avoided. The intermediate puppy box is built lower in front, encouraging the pups to climb out and explore at an early age, with steps to go up and down, a covered portion to cuddle into, and a large open portion where I can sit and play with them. The entire thing is lined with papers and blankets. This seems quite ideal for puppies from the time they are trying to get up and walk, and the close contact of playing with them while sitting (as opposed to holding time in mid-air, which they can get used to later) seems to give them a great attitude toward people.
At about 3 weeks, or as soon as they will eat it, I start offering a gruel of Science Diet Growth (which I think is by far the best puppy food available) and Esbilac, prepared in the blender and presented at body temperature. Gradually hamburger is added to the blender, and eventually it becomes easier for them to eat soaked kibble mixed with boiled and drained hamburger bits. I work up to three feedings a day, and dry Growth is available in the box at all times. Mama enjoys this too, but don't do this if she tends to guard the food. Take her out at feeding time, both hers and theirs. I supplement all puppies raised on concrete, without good old dirt to eat as probably happens in the wild, with an iron-vitamin syrup called Lixotinic - not too much, but enough to forestall any temporary anemia due to the lack of iron in the milk. A fresh bottle is used for each litter. I offer water (in a shallow pan, and remove Mama's bucket!) from 3 weeks onward. The first worming, with piperazine syrup, is at 3 weeks - or even earlier - and it is repeated every 2 weeks through 16 weeks or so, then monthly. I go to the tablets as soon as they are able to swallow them, concealed in a meatball of course. I don't think it makes sense to grab a puppy too many times to push something down its throat. Make all contacts pleasant, and introduce the unpleasantries of life later! These are very formative weeks for a puppy! Play with them often, often, and let other, properly scrubbed people who have not been in kennels play with them. Take your shoes off or wear special shoes in the box.
Weaning is at 5 weeks, promptly, for reasons that have to do with vaccination (see below). Try to do this gradually; if the bitch has a place to get away from the puppies in the run she will do it gradually, but when 5 weeks comes around, you are maximizing the puppies' chances for good health if you take her out for good (after longer and longer absences, of course). Watch her carefully - her breasts will become engorged and hard and warm to the touch, and gentle massage may help. If they do not recede within a few days, she may need veterinary attention.
Make sure each puppy has a good chance to eat, and feed as much as they will eat. Always use a premium food! When they start getting out into a yard or pen outside, watch their stools for signs of gastroenteritis as they are fascinated with dirt, grass, and leaves and try to eat them. See above regarding yogurt (and, if needed, antibiotics) as treatment for simple upset.
The puppies will carry a certain immunity from their dam's milk while they are nursing and for a week to two weeks afterward. Remember, distemper virus is very hardy and widely distributed, so protect them, especially after weaning and before they have had all their shots, from excessive contact with outside dogs and/or people who have been around large numbers of dogs. Do as your veterinarian advises about shots - do not skrimp!
Fredric R. Cornell, M.I.S.
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