BREEDING A LITTER
There are as many methods for rearing puppies as there are breeders and no one way is correct. Whatever method is used the end result should be the same, strong, sturdy, healthy puppies. Miss Betty Penn Bull wrote that a dog is 50% bred and 50% made and I believe this to be true. Correct rearing does not consist solely of feeding, good management must also come into play.
The correct start in life commences with the first few feeds from the dam for it is these early feeds that contain the colostrum. Colostrum contains the antibodies to every infection your bitch has had, it is these antibodies that will help protect your puppies during the first few weeks of life, so it is essential that puppies feed as soon as possible. I get a lot of calls from people, breeding for the first time, who think that you just leave the bitch and let her get on with things. This is not strictly correct, there are other things a breeder must keep an eye open for and attend to as and when is necessary.
Are all the teats getting used?
Are the puppies filling out and gaining weight?
Are the stronger of the litter pushing the smaller pups out?
Care of the dam.
So your vet has seen the puppies and assured you that everything is ok and your bitch has settled down with her litter. Your bitch will only need a little extra food during the first week as the puppies only take a few ml. at every feed. From the time the pups are one week old until they are four - five weeks old you should feed your bitch very generously giving her four or five meals per day, alternating between milk and meat feeds. Fresh water should be available at all times as this is also needed for milk production.
If your bitch has a plentiful supply of milk then she and she alone will feed her babies for the first three weeks, your intervention will come at weaning time. If the litter is a large one then normally all the teats will be getting used, however, if it is a small litter one or some of the teats may not get used and could become engorged with milk which will be painful for your bitch and possibly develop into mastitis. Should this happen a warm flannel should be placed on the effected area to soften it and milk expressed manually. The puppies should then be encouraged to use this teat and a close eye kept so that the problem does not arise again. Puppies should gain weight steadily and usually double their birth weight in the first week. An experienced breeder will be able to tell this just by looking at the litter, anyone breeding for the first time can check the puppies weight daily by weighing them on kitchen scales. If you have a smaller pup in the litter that starts to lag behind its litter mates try and plug this puppy on to one of the more productive teats which are nearest to the hind legs.
All puppies are born with roundworms which will have matured into adults by the time your pups are two-three weeks old. There are worming preparations available today that are suitable for baby puppies, I always start to worm pups at two weeks of age and continue to do so every two weeks until they leave for their new homes. Don't forget to worm your bitch each time also as she will ingest worm eggs from cleaning up after her babies. Other things I commence at two weeks of age are cutting the puppies nails and the hair from in between the pads.
Cleanliness is also a vital factor when raising puppies. I clean the whelping out twice daily changing the snug rug each time, housing my puppies in a cardboard box containing a hot water bottle and snug rug whilst I do so. Your bitch also needs to be kept clean. Whether the birth is natural or by c-section a certain amount of discharge will be present for a while. If not washed off this will start to smell and can be another breeding ground for bacteria. I stand my bitch's in the bath and shower the area with warm water and a little shampoo, making sure all residue is rinsed out. I then towel dry her and finish with a quick blast from a dryer. I don't bother too much about grooming at this stage as I find my bitch's do not like to be separated from their babies for to long.
Puppies feeding from their dam
Once your puppies reach 3 weeks of age it is time to commence weaning although if the litter is large this can commence at around 16 days with a little puppy milk formula offered to supplement the dams milk. The initial feed should consist of semi solid milk mixture. I use baby rice mixed with puppy milk formula or a jar of egg custard and rice baby food mixed with the formula. One feed a day should be offered to start with, hold the puppy and guide its nose down towards the plate. The puppy will wonder where this food has come from but will usually start lapping (and paddling) in the food. Next time is usually a little easier but your puppies will need a sponge over with a warm damp flannel afterwards.
Once the pups have got the idea of lapping and no digestive upsets have occurred you can graduate to two meals a day, but remember these feeds are taken as well as milk from the dam. At around 4 weeks of age your pups should be ready to taste a little meat, what is given is purely a matter of personal choice but it should always be finely prepared so as not to choke the pups. By five weeks your pups should be having 2 meat and 2 milk meals daily in addition to milk from mum. Now is the time to start reducing your bitch's food intake in order for the milk glands to dry up. One thing to remember at weaning time is to keep a watchful eye on your bitch after her meal times as she may regurgitate her food for the litter. This is totally undesirable and should it happen it is best to keep her away from the babies for a while after she has been fed.
There are many branded foods on the market and what you feed to your puppies is a matter of personal choice. I prefer a home made diet which includes, baby rice and milk, home made egg custard, cottage cheese, bio yoghurt, scrambled egg and cheese, baby rusks and milk and sponge cake and milk. Finely grated vegetables, chicken, beef, fish and soaked biscuit meal make up the meat meals, my litters have all been raised this way and I have found this method, although time consuming preparation wise, to stand my puppies in good stead. Remember, at weaning time all new foods should be introduced gradually you do not want to cause any digestive upsets.
Handle your puppies as much as possible and once turned 5-6 weeks of age, should the weather be fine ,a little romp out of doors in a secure puppy pen will be beneficial. Do not leave them outside for too long initially and do not let them become chilled. I also start grooming puppies at this age, just going over them gently with a soft brush. Once puppies get to six weeks of age they can be considered as weaned and will be independent from mum for their daily requirements. It is best not to leave mum shut in the puppy pen especially when she has no milk. I can think of nothing worse than 4 or 5 sets of teeth aiming for something that is not there! She should be allowed access as she will still have a role to play and will supervise her pups, play with them and break up any squabbles that occur.
Nothing gives one greater pleasure than to see a litter of 8 week old, well covered, healthy and well socialised puppies which are a credit to you and to their breed, well worth all the sleepless nights and effort you have put in.
© Sue Baker 2005