How to Care for a Dog with a Litter of Puppies
This article for owners who have a dog with puppies and how to care for the dog, and her puppies. If you have orphaned puppies, or puppies whose mother is not caring for them you need to bottle feed them and should research how to do that. If your dog has not yet had puppies, read more on how to care for a pregnant dog, and whelping, including information on caesarian sections in dogs.
The Basics of Care for a Nursing Dog
When puppies are born their eyes are closed and they are fairly helpless. Their mother even has to help them to go to the bathroom, which she does by licking their bottoms. They nurse from her and sleep most of the time. Their eyes open between seven and ten days of age.
The puppies will start to move around more after their eyes open and will start to eat food around four to five weeks of age. Although they can leave their mother at six weeks old, they do best to stay with her until eight weeks of age and should have their first vaccinations three days prior to leaving their current home. If a dog has had a large litter, of more, than 6 pups, you may want to wean the larger pups at seven weeks, and leave the smaller ones with her for another week or two.
Where to Keep Mother Dog and Puppies
Generally people set up a whelping room for the mother to have her puppies in well in advance. If you have not done so, or if she had her puppies someplace else, you need to set this up now, and move her, and the puppies, into the room. This is called a whelping room. She should have a bed which is appropriate for her size and the pups, it needs to have rims so the pups do not fall out. Most people can build a whelping box out of 2 x 4's. The edges are important as they stop a puppy from rolling away where it would get chilled.
The mother dog can be allowed out of the room for short periods of time, and taken to the back yard to go to the bathroom. She should not be taken off the property, or she risks bringing back diseases, such as the parvovirus, on her paws (even vaccinated dogs can spread this deadly virus).
The door to the room where the puppies are needs to be kept shut at all times or mother dog might try to move the puppies to an other part of the house, which could be risky if you have stairs.
The food and water should be kept in this room, as well there should be a few of the dog's favorite toys, and even a radio.
Feeding a Dog who is Nursing Puppies
From even before the puppies were born the mother should be on a good quality dry puppy food. Good quality means a meat source is the first ingredient, such as chicken meal, or lamb meal, (not chicken by-products, or corn). She should have free access to this puppy food at all times.
Mother dogs who are thin should also have 2-3 servings of canned food a day. This should be a mush type food, not chunks in gravy. You can even add some water to the food to make it more soupy which will help increase her water intake and will help her produce more milk.
As the pups get to be 4-5 weeks of age, they can be given their own shallow pan of food. There are special dishes that can be used, or a pie plate will work as well for up to 4 pups. If you have a large litter you will need more pie plates, the heavy glass ones work best as they do not tip as easily as the metal ones.
Human Involvement and Other Pets
Although many people will say that you should not touch the puppies because the mother will kill, or ignore them, this is not true. In general you should not touch the puppies before their eyes are open (except to move them to the room where they are to be contained if this was not already established). Some people follow the rule that if they touch one puppy they touch them all, but this is probably not needed.
All other pets should be kept out of the room where the mother dog and puppies are. Any animal that goes outside could potentially bring diseases in with them.
All guests who have been around other dogs should wash their hands, and may even change clothing, before going in with the mother and her puppies.
Puppies should be handled daily from the time their eyes open, this helps socialize them to humans. They should not be taken out of the room where they are living until they are at least five weeks of age, and should be watched carefully around your home. At five weeks of age, if the weather is good, they can go outside for short periods of time. They should not leave your property until they have had one vaccination, and should not be taken to public spaces until fully vaccinated.
Finally – As the puppies are weaned (no earlier than 6-8 weeks) the mother needs to be switched back to regular dog food. Some people remove food for a day to help her to dry up. If you are removing some of the puppies before others, you can also start to switch (by mixing adult food with puppy food) the momma dog back to regular dog food at this time, but must make sure the pups get only puppy food. Pups should be vaccinated before they are sold.
If you have any problems with a mother dog, and/or the puppies, contact your veterinarian at once.