What to Expect When Expecting a Litter

by Sara Dickey

Like many other dog lovers, I have a passion for dogs. I have five Long Hair Chihuahuas, one Short Hair Chihuahua, and a Shetland Sheepdog.
So here I am blogging about my preparations for a litter. Hopefully I will be able to share the joy of preparing and raising a litter with anyone reading this. Just an FYI, the title can be a little deceiving. In reality, what we expect can be quite different than what actually happens. Preparing for a litter is no exception; but we can certainly take every precaution to plan for a healthy, happy litter by providing our pets with the best care.

You have already done your research and have your “bitch” and “stud”. Needless to say, we all know how many homeless pets there are across the world and we need to make sure we have responsible homes for the fur babies on the way and that we are breeding healthy pets without any hereditary defects or congenital illnesses.

I was a vet tech for over five years and worked in the animal health care industry for over 12 years. Being an animal lover, I absorbed most of my knowledge from hands on training and listening to other breeders who shared their litter experiences with me. Breeding is not for everyone and shouldn’t be. I am sharing this blog for those people who haven’t yet had the joy of delivering a litter.

The first thing I picked up before I decided to breed is the book “The Whelping and Rearing of Puppies” by Muriel P Lee. It was very helpful more than once. No matter how much you know, it is always nice to have a “doggie breeding bible” for reassurance. Hopefully some of the material you read, you will never need to use. For example, if a puppy is born not breathing; never assume the puppy was born dead but perform CPR and other techniques to stimulate the heart. This has only happened to me once, thank the dog lord above for that!

Breeding starts when the dogs “lock” or “tie” together. In most cases this will only happen during a specific time frame of the female heat cycle (it can be from 10-14 days when the red discharge from her vulva turns clear). If you have an unaltered female you know what a nuisance the heat cycle can bring. The pheromones the female secretes during this time are intense for male dogs. Even if you have an altered male, he will still be very persistent and intense trying to mount her, etc. At least mine are. My males are very entertaining to watch as they try to serenade my female to get her attention. From little dances to rollovers around her; they are quite creative and relentless.

I really wasn’t planning on having a litter of puppies this time around. I went to flip laundry in the basement and left the doggies, Cleo and Henry, upstairs with my husband Bill. When I returned my mouth dropped and I said “Honey weren’t you watching them?” My husband looked up from the computer screen and said “what?”. I told him to look down by his feet and he did. He was speechless as the dogs were right beneath him without him even noticing. So, it happens just that fast and don’t think once is not enough.
Even funnier was my 9 year old stepson Trevor entering the room and saying “Ah, Sara, we have a problem. The dogs are stuck together. We have to undo them so they can go to the bathroom. This is not good.”

I explained what was happening in terms a child can understand and that we must not try to “unconnect” them, as it could really hurt the boy dog.

The male gets a great title as a “Stud” .The female takes only the negatively used “Bitch” which I care not to refer to my girl as.

I like to be prepared several weeks prior to Cleo’s due date in terms of materials needed. These are items I like to have. Depending on what breed(s) of dogs you are breeding; what works for me may not necessarily work for other breeds such as Mastiffs or English Bulldogs. Be sure to do ample research on the breeds you are considering to breed as many breeds are prone to difficult births and even difficult mating.

I give Cleo one Pet Tab vitamin a day starting immediately after mating her. In this respect it sort of works like a prenatal vitamin but it can be used everyday on healthy pets for good health maintenance also. Cleo loves Pet Tabs. I think they are liver flavored. Even the best dog foods are deficient in terms of nutrition and this is why it’s especially important to supplement your girl’s diet during pregnancy. I will talk about nutrition in a bit.
Calcium Supplements are controversial. Too much calcium can cause mom to stop producing calcium naturally which can be detrimental to her and her pups. In some cases, some new mommy dogs’ calcium levels drop shortly after delivery. The level drops so low that moms can’t nurse their puppies and also puts mom’s health at risk. Seizures can occur and mom can become very ill and need immediate vet care. The puppies will need to be bottle fed for the duration of the nursing period. I have been giving Cleo one calcium pill a week at this point.

I also supplement Cleo with Wholistic Pet Red Raspberry Leaves the last 4 weeks of pregnancy. Red Raspberry leaves are an organic supplement to support the reproductive system, especially during pregnancy. It works by toning the uterine walls to make birthing easier and at the same time strengthening the pelvic and uterine muscles. I sprinkle it on top of Cleo’s food.
I also like to have Wholistic Pet Colostrum Powder on hand. This is vital to have in the event something happens with mom during delivery. Colostrum is very nourishing and is loaded with all the nutrients necessary to sustain life. It contains essential antibodies to help protect newborns from bacteria, viruses, illness and disease. I recommend the Wholistic Pet Brand supplements for optimal health and nutrition for a broad spectrum of preventative measures. Again, being prepared is vital and can save lives!

Locking Hemostats are a must in the event you have an umbilical cord chewed too short. After a few short minutes of being clamped, most bleeding should stop. In some cases a stitch can be needled in to control the bleeding if the bleeding is aggressive. Some breeders cut the umbilical cords themselves to prevent this, especially if a female has a past tendency to chew and snap the cord too short. This can also lead to umbilical hernias as the pups grow, which will need to be surgically corrected.

Snuggle Safe heat pads are great for many things. I like to towel each pup off after the umbilical cord is detached from the pup. When I am done toweling off the puppy, I place it on a towel-wrapped, warm, snuggle safe while mom is pushing out the next pup. In between contractions I place the pups back with mom to nurse. It is very important they find a nipple and nurse. Newborn puppies can dehydrate very quickly. Newborn puppies cannot maintain their own body temperature the first week or so. It is imperative to keep the litter at a recommended 85 degrees for the first few weeks and away from drafts and air conditioners. If a pup catches a cold or its body temperature drops during this time it can be fatal.

I like to have some type of pre-made puppy milk readily available for the newborns while mom is still in labor. Again, it is important the pups nurse immediately after their arrival. Pups that do not nurse need to be bottle fed. Make sure you have a few pet nursing bottles handy. The milk should be heated up in the microwave the same way you would heat up a baby’s bottle. Do the wrist temperature test.

One way to be able to help better predict when your girl is in labor is by monitoring her body temperature daily. A healthy dogs’ body temperature will be between 100 to 101.5 degrees. Cleo’s normal body temperature is 99-100.5 degrees. It is important to know your girl’s normal body temperature as the first sign of labor is a drop in temperature. Her body temperature will drop down to 96-97 degrees.

Labor can last up to 36 hours. Anything over 36 hours requires a trip to the vet as something maybe wrong. You should be checking her temperature everyday the last week or so of pregnancy. You will also notice your girl’s rear end may start to smell “fishy” or what I like to think of as expressed anal sacs. This is normal and indicates labor is in the near future. One other indication that labor is near is your girls belly. You will notice the shape of her belly will change as her due date approaches. Your girl’s wide stomach will drop lower towards her vulva where the pups will divide into one of the 2 horns in mom’s uterus and line up for delivery.