The Birth of Puppies – The First Week

Picture of 2 baby puppies with their eyes closed

If you are a reputable dog breeder, you well know the excitement of puppies. Extensive care and research went into studying just the right pedigrees and complementary bloodlines, and finally, you were able to select just the right mate for your girl, the breeding was accomplished, and now, you wait for news that puppies are on their way. When your girl’s pregnancy was finally confirmed, you were overjoyed and looked forward to the day when puppies would make their way into this world.

Many potential puppy owners have little knowledge when it comes to the breeding process. However, many are interested of learn every aspect of their future puppy’s life which includes the day the puppy was born.

24 Hours Prior to Whelping

The 24 hours prior to the birth or whelping of puppies is a busy time. A dog’s gestational period is 63 days from the time of ovulation. Though it is nearly impossible to determine the exact date the puppies will whelp, breeders typically calculate 63 days from the time of the first successful breeding. However, the bitch will begin to show very obvious signs that whelping is imminent as the time approaches.

One of the first signs a breeder will begin to look for up to a few days before the whelp date is a drop in temperature. Typically, 12-24 hours prior to whelping, a bitch’s temperature will drop beneath 100 degrees. This is not always an accurate measure; however, it can provide a general baseline that puppies will soon be on their way. During this time, breeders generally take temperatures both in the morning and at night and carefully record them to help them spot any pattern which may indicate labor will soon commence.

The whelping box and area where the bitch will give birth should be set in place up to a week in advance. Reputable breeders will often sleep in that area with their bitch a few days prior to the whelp date in order for their girl to have time to feel comfortable in the space and recognize it as exclusively hers. It should be well away from the traffic of the home, and all other dogs should be kept in a separate area to give the bitch her space. It is very important that the area be dark and the box appropriate to the size of the bitch. A box that is too large can cause a bitch to be in distress and seek to hide under beds or in closets which can make it very difficult for the breeder to get to the dog if needed. The bitch’s primary concern will be the safety of her puppies. Ancient survival instincts kick into play. If the area feels too exposed, the bitch will seek somewhere else to have her puppies.

The whelping box should be lined with a light blanket or sheet and puppy pads. Births are quite messy, so most breeders opt to use old sheets and towels. Puppy pads are convenient as they are relatively inexpensive, easily replaceable, and can simply be thrown out when soiled. It is important that the whelping box not contain too many blankets or towels as the bitch may try to nest in them, and her puppies could easily become covered by a bunched up blanket and suffocate.

Stage One Labor

The stages of labor are typically divided into three sections. Stage One typically begins with nesting. When a dog starts circling in the whelping pen and digging frantically, she is trying to ready the area for the arrival of her babies. During this time, the bitch should be kept confined to the whelping room and only taken out when a pee break is necessary. To ensure the safety of the bitch, she should be kept leashed during this time in case her water breaks as she may take refuge under the nearest deck or barn to give birth if this occurs outside.

During Stage One labor, a bitch may seem extremely restless and begin to pant or shake. These are all normal signs that labor is underway. Additionally, small contractions will commence. Some contractions may be so minor that they are not visible to the breeder, but they will progress in intensity as the puppies move into position in the birth canal. The vulva will also begin to visibly swell and soften to allow the babies safe passage.

Stage Two Labor

Stage Two Labor can be defined as active labor. Depending on the bitch, the position of the puppies, and the number of puppies, this period can last from 3-12 hours or longer. At this time, the dog will begin to experience visible and very strong contractions. When the mucus plug is emitted followed by some clear fluid, the bitch is now ready to begin delivering puppies. Typically, the first puppy will appear 20-30 minutes after the mucus plug has passed.

The amount of time between the birth of each puppy will vary, but it is most commonly 20 minutes. Some bitches require more time, and it can be even as long as 1-2 hours before the next puppy makes an appearance. If the bitch passes the 2 hour mark with no sign of a puppy, a call to a veterinarian may be necessary. This can be indicative of a problem which may necessitate a c-section. In these cases, breeders do not delay as a wait and see approach can lead to the loss of a puppy, the remaining litter, or even the mother.

Stage Three Labor

Stage Three Labor occurs when the first puppy has been whelped, and the bitch is actively preparing to deliver the remaining puppies. During this time, the mom will remove the sac the puppy was born in and sever the umbilical cords. At times, the breeder will need to assist with this. The breeder will then suction out any mucus in the mouth of the puppy and assure the puppy is breathing.

Following this, it is important to return the puppy to the mother for cleaning and care. During the first 24 hours of life, it is essential that the puppy nurse from the mother. For 24 hours following the birth of the puppies, the mother will produce colostrum. This substance is more similar to a yellowish cream in texture and color and provides nutrients for the puppies, but more importantly than that, it is also jam-packed with maternal immunities which help to protect the puppies against disease until they are old enough to be properly vaccinated. It is of critical importance that the puppies receive this colostrum as soon as possible after being born.

What now?

Once the puppies have been whelped and are nestled snuggly against their mother, the real fun begins. Puppies are born with their eyes and ears still firmly closed, meaning they cannot see or hear. They also cannot yet get up on their legs and walk.

For the first week of life, puppies essentially fill only four roles: they eat, sleep, pee, and poop. Momma Dog takes care of nearly all of these roles, meaning the breeder should get some sleep while she can as she’s going to be busy when it’s her turn to take over.

Since puppies cannot see, hear, or move around much, they essentially move by pulling their bodies along towards their mother. This is why a small whelping box is so important. Since puppies cannot regulate their own heat until a few weeks later in life and they chill easily, they need to remain warm. Even a slight chill can kill a baby puppy. For this reason, breeders use a variety of means to keep the whelping room warm. Some will use special heat lamp bulbs while others prefer a heating pad, and still others prefer to turn the whelping room into a sweat lodge. All methods are effective and come down to breeder preference. If a puppy were to wander too far from his mother and not be able to find his way back, he could potentially die. This is why you often see puppies huddled on top of each other in a whelping box.  It is to keep them warm. A puppy’s only sense of direction at this age comes from the ability to sense the presence of heat. A puppy who gets separated from his littermates will move his body in the direction of a heat source.

At this age, puppies need no assistance in learning how to nurse. They come out of the uterus with their little mouths puckered and ready for some of Momma’s milk. However, puppies are not able to urinate or defecate on their own until they are several weeks older. A good momma will assist with this task by licking the anus region of a puppy to stimulate him to pee and poop as needed. Since dogs are still very much led by ancient instincts, the mother dog will also take care to eat all of the poop as a means to keep predators from detecting her young.

During this time, it is of paramount importance for a breeder to weigh each puppy twice daily, taking care to record weights. This helps a breeder to determine if the puppies are gaining weight at a normal rate. Weight loss in a baby puppy is a very serious concern and must be attended to immediately as the on-set of death is very quick.

Though the puppies themselves are little work for the breeder at this time, the momma dog deserves exceptional care. Her meals should be increased to assure she has sufficient calories to feed her brood her quality milk. High quality food with added calcium from ice cream, goat’s milk or cottage cheese will help keep her milk supply strong.

The mother dog will not want to leave her puppies for long; however, care must be taken to ensure that she gets outside for regular pee breaks. She must remain leashed during this time.

Also important to note is that the puppies’ immunity is very low during the first seven weeks of life but particularly just after having been whelped. Visitors should not be allowed access to the puppies until they are at least five weeks of age, and even then, only under the strictest of hygienic conditions. To allow access to the puppies so young may also cause great distress to the bitch. It is essential that the mother dog feels that her puppies are safe.

Many breeders like to follow Dr. Carmen Battaglia’s protocols for Early Neurological Stimulation starting at Day 3 of life. These protocols have been proven to produce puppies who are more resilient to change and stress. It also improves both heart and cognitive function. Early Neurological Stimulation is a series of five exercises done by the breeder with each puppy, each day up until the puppy is 17 days old. Each exercise is designed to place a minute amount of stress on the puppy for a maximum of 5 seconds which has a tremendous effect on the puppy’s nervous system and heart. It is important to note that Early Neurological Stimulation should be discontinued on a day when the puppies have already experienced some stress such as nail clipping.

Week One is essentially the breeder’s easiest time once the whelping is successfully out of the way. Their job consists of puppy cuddling and Momma pampering. But never fear, Poopcopalpyse is coming!



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