The Birth and Care of Newborn Puppies

November 01, 2018

Once a puppy is born, its mama will remove the sac and chew the umbilical cord to sever it. (I can count on one hand the times we’ve actually had to cut an umbilical cord over the past 20+ years of running our breeding kennel.) Occasionally, a puppy’s amniotic sac is not ruptured at birth and/or the mom has not removed it. In this case, it’s important to rupture the sac and remove it for the puppy’s survival. Post birth, a mama will thoroughly lick her puppies, apparently removing any fluid from their noses. Only once in a great while have we ever needed to suction fluid from puppy noses, using a bulb syringe. If a puppy is still not breathing on its own, we cradle the pup’s head and gently swing the pup down between our legs and back up again. This movement dislodges fluids from the lungs so that it can breathe normally.

Some of the strange colors you’ll see in the birthing process are black and a dark, algae-green. The black is meconium, which is the result of a puppy’s first bowel movement. The green is from the inner lining of the placenta. Most of the time, a mama is able to lick away these various forms of discharge, leaving her pups spotlessly shiny. However, we have observed that the green fluid can stain the coats of light-colored puppies. It’s nothing to worry about as it fades over time.

After a puppy is born and licked clean by its mother, it will immediately wobble and wriggle directly toward a teat. This is remarkable, given the fact that all puppies are born blind and deaf. Their senses of smell and touch are enough to draw them toward the milk they need to survive. Mama’s milk, and especially those first few gulps of the golden colostrum, are essential to a pup’s immunity and overall health and development, so we choose to leave them with their mother throughout the labor and delivery process.

Most mama dogs instinctively know how to whelp all their pups without injuring them. However, some first-time moms are frantic. They step on their puppies, pick them up in their teeth, roll over onto them and smother them, or move them around every few minutes as though they cannot figure out the origin or nature of these squirmy little gerbils that seem always to be underfoot. In these cases, we must remove the puppies to a safer area until their mother has whelped all of her puppies and has calmed down.

After a visual observation and feeling her abdomen, we can usually determine if there are any more pups to be delivered. If it is apparent that labor is stalled and there are more puppies to whelp, we give the mama an injection of oxytocin, which stimulates more contractions and facilitates more births. Oxytocin also assists with the expulsion of the placenta.

Once the whelping is complete, you can breathe a sigh of relief. The new mother will settle into a routine of caring for her pups and resting after the ordeal. The post-birth cleanup is far more manageable, although it will continue for days and even weeks as an intermittent stream of blood expels from her vaginal area. After giving birth, a mama dog will shed a lot too, so you’ll find yourself sweeping up piles of fur. Any nursing mother needs to drink extra helpings of water, so we make sure our moms have plenty to drink day and night.

There are numerous complications that can occur before, during and after labor, but we’ll save that information for future blogs.

I hope you have found this article interesting. If you are planning to oversee the whelping of your own dog’s litter, perhaps you will find this information helpful, as well.

Thank you for reading!

Note: Most of this information is based on our own personal experience, but a few details were gleaned from the book, The Monks of New Skete: The Art of Raising a Puppy, published by Little, Brown, 1991.

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