So now you have babies!! The first several weeks the mother should take care of the puppies. It is critical that they stay with her during these weeks so they can get colostrum (the first milk) from her mammary glands, which helps to build their immune systems and give them maternal antibodies. This also provides the fundamental bonding that babies need with their litter-mates and mother.
The puppies should have a source of warmth. Puppies can get cold and their bodies can shut down very quickly without warning. The mother will do the job fine most of the time but when mom takes a break the babies don’t need to get chilled. We recommend a heating pad that does not shut off. Set it to LOW with blankets or towels placed over it to prevent burns.
If the puppies are difficult to distinguish, placing colored ribbons around their neck can help to tell them apart. Don't forget that as they grow the ribbon will need to be replaced to accommodate their growth. This can be helpful if one of the puppies starts to fall behind and you need to identify which pup it is. It is not necessary, but weighing the babies on a food scale twice daily can be helpful in monitoring growth. The puppies will more than likely not be the same size as their litter-mates – but watching to make sure their weight is going up is important. Puppies should be gaining 5-10% of their birth weight daily. Failure to gain weight can be one of the first signs that a puppy is having any problems and the earlier we can see them the better the chance for survival.
The puppies will nurse in stages most likely. Sometimes they will even latch on just because they need a pacifier! Watch the mothers breast to make sure they stay soft and you are able to express milk from them. If you feel that the puppies are nursing on the same breast all the time, move them around and this will help prevent the mother from getting mastitis, or an infection in the mammary glands.
If you do notice that one of the breasts is becoming hard, red, or painful, start by applying warm compresses to the tissue. Then call to set up an appointment or talk with one of our staff members because often times we will start the mother on an antibiotic that is safe for the breast feeding pups.
Lactating dogs require more calories than non-lactating dogs. It is recommended to feed a quality, digestible puppy food to the mother until the puppies are weaned.
Around 2 weeks of age we can start checking fecal samples on the puppies for intestinal parasites. Some of the intestinal parasites can be acquired from the mother. Deworming plans will be discussed after fecal samples are interpreted. Checking fecal samples from a couple of the puppies maybe done every 2 weeks.
Around 3-4 weeks puppies will start to be more active as their eyes will be open, they will be cutting teeth, they will begin exploring their surroundings, and interacting with their siblings more. These are very important times in the development of the babies.
Between 5-6 weeks old the puppies are really starting to be a handful. Mom may not stay with them as much and they will spend more time playing with each other. She will most likely let them continue nursing some but not constantly like she was at the beginning. Her milk may even begin to dry up. By this time, puppies should begin weaning from their mom and start eating puppy food on their own. Sometimes mixing puppy food with water and making a gruel can help assist them in eating early on.
At 6 weeks old, we begin puppy immunizations for distemper and parvovirus. You may have heard of people who start vaccinations as young as 4 weeks. This does not help the puppies and actually may be doing more harm than good. At the beginning of this section, we talked about colostrum and maternal antibodies. Maternal antibodies are antibodies that are given to the puppies through the mother’s milk. The better the mother’s antibody protection is, the stronger the puppy’s passive immunity will be. Since many puppies are still nursing at 6 weeks, they are still getting maternal antibodies. If the puppy is then given a vaccination for a disease that they have maternal antibodies against, the “vaccine” will cancel out the natural defense, in other words the puppy will have less immunity than it did from just the mother’s antibodies.
We typically recommend starting puppy vaccinations and first wellness check-ups at 6 weeks old. Sometimes the breeder will have started these and other times they may not have. Please ask what, if any, boosters your puppy may have received and on what date, then bring that information with you to your first appointment!