To Corky & Lucky
That their short lives will have made our world a better place because they lived. To Sabrina, all our children & children’s children
Who loved and grieved with us. To my husband He made this challenge, its grief and pain bearable, so I could comprehend the gift in it.
Five days ago, I was filled with anticipation for the arrival of our first-born puppies. It was our chocolate lab, Sabrina’s, due date. Sabrina sleeps next to our bed and there had been a couple of times during the night I woke my husband convinced the big moment had arrived. They were both false alarms, and we began the 62nd day of her pregnancy like kids on Christmas Eve.
Sabrina’s pregnancy had not been free from concern. Like a pregnant woman, her normal dog food, a high quality “veterinarian recommended formula,” made her vomit. She quit eating it and instead, ate grasshoppers. Grasshoppers don’t come with the manufacturer’s assurance of a balanced diet for pregnant dogs, and she failed to gain weight in the first 30 days. So, on our vet’s advice, we began testing other quality brands of dog food on her. She became the epitome of a pampered princess and variety the spice of her life, but she ate! In our family, anticipation and excitement grew leaps and bounds the final 32 days leading up to the morning of the day our puppies arrived. Our grown children expecting to be notified immediately of the bundles of joy’s arrival and the little ones (6 and 4-year-old) dreaming of cute, tiny puppies crawling and licking (kissing) their faces. My biggest fear was like my own pregnancies’ fear; will I know she’s in labor in time?
I knew. The whole morning Sabrina followed me, panting and trembling, laying not just at rather on my feet! She was restless, however, and didn’t remain still for long. Although we built a whelping pen for her and her bed was in it, she tried very hard to crawl under our bed and, on occasion, dig in the carpet – nesting instinct, I assumed. I was advised to put her in a dark closet and check on her hourly; she would have none of that. She seemed confused and frightened by whatever was happening to her. I work at home, but with Sabrina’s state, I could not focus on work; so, took a note pad and book to her whelping pen and climbed in beside her. She calmed down and after several hours, I moved upstairs to work on my computer; Sabrina remained in the whelping pen, appearing to rest. It was around 3:30 pm, so I called my husband to give him an update. Because she was calm and had appeared to be resting for the hours I sat with her, it appeared to me that Sabrina’s labor had subsided or even stopped; so, I proceeded to encourage my husband to work late at the office so he could help me deliver puppies either during the night or the next day. About that time I heard unusual noises. It was a real challenge to determine their origin considering our house was under construction and the construction noises outside were very loud; so, I went downstairs where I observed that Sabrina was panting again. I told my husband, who was still on the phone, what I saw but didn’t know if it meant anything more than that she missed me and was freaked again. That’s when Sabrina assumed the position she uses to have a bowel movement. Still describing the scene to my husband over the phone, I told him I thought she was going poop, which was a huge surprise since she had been housebroken for a year and a half! When I saw something brown emerging, I was convinced she was pooping; then, the poop moved! Delighted, I told my husband it was time for him to get home, we’re having a baby!
Sabrina struggled for what seemed an eternity to deliver her baby, she licked and pushed until the cutest little chocolate lab puppy emerged alive, healthy and beautiful! It was 3:46 pm on Wednesday afternoon. Sabrina licked her baby, picked it up to carry it around, and licked it some more; it squealed and resisted. She seemed quite taken with her first-born – a good sign, I sighed a big sigh of relief and awaited the arrival of the next puppy! The next arrival was soon after, but I didn’t document it because it was an ugly looking bag of something that was clearly not a puppy. (The vet later told us it was likely the placenta.) The next puppy arrived with little effort, only 2 pushes and a precious little black lab puppy emerged, its sack intact. I was prepared, yet apprehensive, for this moment when I would be expected to tear the sack so Sabrina could clean it. I carefully and successfully tore the sack and encouraged Sabrina
to do her job. She began cleaning it then returned her attention to the chocolate without finishing the job; I called her attention back to the baby and this time she finished the job, the puppy responded and she moved it to the bed with the chocolate. My husband arrived minutes later and we celebrated this moment we had looked forward to for over one and a half years.
A year and a half earlier we decided that we could combine our love for labs and babies with our desire to provide our son with a means to raise money that would help pay for his college and fulfill his desire to have a dog of his own. For his fifteenth birthday we gave him a beautiful female chocolate lab puppy, Sabrina; then, we bought a white male lab puppy, Little Jon, for us to use as her sire. When Sabrina was a year and a half we felt she was ready so we allowed her to mate with Little Jon. We did nothing to control the frequency or timing of their mating; we trusted nature. They had 8 hook-ups that we were aware of. We calculated her due date as 62 days from their first hook-up.
Sabrina did not show her pregnancy at all the first month; yet, when our vet did a sonogram 30 days into the pregnancy and observed “a belly full of puppies.” We were ecstatic. On the vet’s advice, I launched the campaign to entice Sabrina to eat; aside from this extraordinary daily activity and early stages of labor, the remaining 32 days were uneventful. With two puppies successfully delivered, my husband and I settled in, fully prepared, for the delivery of the next puppy. We learned both our new babies were females. The chocolate had a cute abnormality, a crooked tail; my husband named her Corkscrew or Corky for short. Our six-year-old named the little black puppy Lucky; he names all his pets Lucky! Everybody was notified and everybody was happy for us. Our son-in-law joined us in hopes of witnessing the next baby’s arrival. As time passed, with no new baby, both my husband and I sensed something was wrong. We were completely mistaken about what the problem was!
When a third puppy did not arrive we both feared the worst but kept our fear unspoken. Night set in and it grew increasingly darker under the staircase in the atrium at the center of our house; we noticed that it was also cooling. We hooked up a heat lamp over the whelping pen for both light and warmth. Throughout the evening, we also noticed that Sabrina had not nursed her babies as we believed she should; we thought it could be because she was still in labor. She panted and trembled any time she was laying down with the puppies. She didn’t seem able to remain still for more than a few minutes. Over and over, she picked up a baby by whatever body part she could get a grip on and attempted to dig into her bed or sometimes she tried to carry it out of the whelping pen, we assumed to hide them from us. It became clear that instead of seeming comforted by our presence as she had before the babies’ birth, she now seemed anxious, confused and nervous with us around. We had to balance our desire to give Sabrina the solitude she now wanted with our concerns. We were terrified she would accidentally hurt them! And, we expected there were more pups coming and would be needed to break the sack. And, we felt the puppies needed nourishment and Sabrina did not appear inclined to provide it voluntarily. We decided our assistance was required first for the health and well being of the babies; then, we would honor Sabrina’s need for solitude. We held Sabrina down and positioned the babies to nurse. The chocolate nursed well but the little black lab seemed to be too weak; so, we supplemented her feeding with a formula we had bought for just in case. My husband called our vet but was unable to reach her. Confused, concerned and willing to do whatever it took to ensure the safety and well being of both Sabrina and her babies, we set up to sleep in shifts next to her whelping pen. It was our plan to keep an eye on Sabrina and the pups, ready to react as required; yet, maintain a distance that we hoped would provide Sabrina a sense of solitude and opportunity to love and bond with her babies.
It didn’t work. Sabrina was unable to relax even with us outside the whelping pen and there was never a time during the night she volunteered or encouraged the pups to nurse. By Thursday morning we were all stressed and headed for the vet’s office as soon as possible, both of us silently convinced the problem was that Sabrina had somehow failed to deliver all of her pups! We clung to the vet’s comment that she had a “belly full” of pups and her behavior seemed like that of her early labor. Interestingly, however, with me in back with Sabrina and the pups, cramped and cuddled, Sabrina was calm and accepting of my presence. The vet performed another sonogram and an x-ray; there were no more pups!
Instead of recognizing that there was still a problem, we reveled in our pleasure, excitement and Sabrina’s acceptance of our presence and attention to her babies. It seemed that something about the vet’s pronouncement caused all three of us to relax. The drive home has become a priceless memory. The babies on my belly, squirming, sleeping all cute and cuddly, Sabrina next to us with her head resting on my chest, we were both probably dreaming of the day they were crawling and yipping all over us. In those minutes, I realized our son would have to wait for the next litter to raise money for college; these puppies were not going to be sold! We were attached!
Our fears relieved, when we arrived home, we gave Sabrina the solitude with her babies that she desired. Our closet has always been one of Sabrina’s favorite places, so we moved her bed and her babies in there for the day leaving the door to the utility room open in case she should want water, food or just to stretch her legs. I checked in on them periodically, all seemed perfect. That night we returned her to the whelping pen, complete with heat lamp, watched the puppies nurse, noting that Sabrina pushed them away before they finished. We intervened to make sure their appetites seemed satisfied; then, my husband and I slept soundly in our own bed. Friday morning, about 5 am, Sabrina woke us with frantic barking. My husband rushed into the atrium to see what was the matter; I remained in bed fearing the worst. Gentle, dainty and delicate are not adjectives that describe Sabrina; my only fear had become that she would inadvertently smother or step on her babies. Yet, I told myself, dogs have babies everyday, surely what appears to me as careless behavior is not unusual or is the product of nervousness any time we were near. We never knew what caused Sabrina to bark. Fortunately, my husband found Sabrina and the babies appearing safe and sound. We both went about our normal day. Mine, however, was interrupted with frequent check-ins and periodic intervention to make sure the puppies were nursing. Concerned that I would interfere with Sabrina’s ability to mother the babies, I genuinely tried to provide her as much solitude as seemed safe. I thought that was the right thing to do; consequently, I limited my interaction to making sure the babies were feeding.
That afternoon I met my daughters 40 miles away to pick-up 4-year-old Audrie and 6-year-old Hunter so they could meet the babies. When we returned home at 5 pm something didn’t feel right, but I ignored the feeling as I focused on the hustle and bustle of putting away groceries and fixing dinner. We had a house full with our son-inlaw (the 6-year-old’s father), my nephew, my husband and both the 4 and 6-year-old. After dinner, I returned my attention to Sabrina and the babies; that’s when the terror
Downstairs, I found our little Lucky so weak I feared she would die any second. I called for my husband and began searching my brain for what to do. In a frantic rush we gathered the bottle we purchased for just such an emergency, heated the formula and discovered the nipple did not have a hole for the milk to pass through. We searched for a needle and punctured the end; then, tried feeding the baby. It was obvious she was getting nothing. After repeated attempts and failures to use the bottle to feed our baby, my husband found a 1cc syringe. Finally, we successfully fed the baby 1cc of formula; however, we didn’t have a clue in the world how much she needed. The box the formula came in explained that the right quantity to provide was proportional to the puppy’s weight. Our next dilemma was that we did not know how much she weighed. Our son-in-law produced a fish scale, but Lucky didn’t weigh enough to register on it. We settled for the hope to provide her just enough nourishment that she would regain sufficient strength to nurse. It seemed that, with our assistance, she was able to nurse and she appeared to gain strength. Corky appeared to be doing well; yet, we noticed that Sabrina’s discomfort with nursing her babies had increased to extremely uncomfortable, even to intolerance. We decided to take turns staying up with Sabrina and the babies, through the night, to make certain they got plenty of nourishment!
Saturday morning my husband had to go into the office for a few hours. Sabrina had reached a point where she communicated clearly that she did not want the puppies nursing. She panted and literally quivered; I was convinced she must have mastitis to react this strongly. Once again, I rushed Sabrina and the babies back to the vet’s office. The vet said Sabrina was extremely full and likely it was painful for her to nurse, but she was certain she did not have mastitis. However, she was very worried about the puppies’ size and that they were not warm enough. She taught me to tube feed them as she filled their bellies, likely, I thought to myself, for the first time in their lives. The night before, we fed Lucky 1cc with a syringe; she fed them each 12 cc. She explained that feeding them with the syringe increased the chances they could aspirate the fluid and die. She then instructed me to tube feed them, using the replacement formula, four
times a day until they could feed themselves, to weigh them with a diet scale to know that they are gaining weight, to keep them warm on a heating pad and to bathe Sabrina in warm water then milk her, like a cow, to relieve the pressure so when the puppies become able, she will receive them. The last part seemed a piece of cake since my husband grew up on a dairy farm. Again, I returned home confident that everything would be fine. I called my husband with the good news and asked him to purchase a heating pad and diet scale on his way home.
At home, I replaced the heat light bulb with a higher wattage bulb and returned Sabrina and the babies to the whelping pen. Because I didn’t have the heating pad, every few minutes I moved the babies near Sabrina’s very warm belly; she moved them away. It became a back and forth battle trying to keep the babies warm. Fortunately, one of our daughters stopped in to meet the babies and since my husband hadn’t returned home when the puppies appeared to be hungry, she helped me with my first tube feeding. Lucky was a breeze! It was easy to insert the tube and fill her tummy. Corky, on the other hand, was not. The danger with tube feeding is that if you put it into their lung instead of their stomach, they will certainly die. I felt sure I was getting it into her lung instead of her stomach; killing our baby was not on my list of things to do! Stress returned then subsided as my husband walked through the door. In addition to growing up on and working his family’s dairy farm, my husband had raised and sold lambs to pay for his college tuition. Not only did he know how to milk cows, he was experienced tube feeding baby lambs! It became his job to insert the tube at their feedings.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, my husband and I had an appointment at 3 pm and another at 6:30 pm. In between appointments we milked Sabrina using warm compresses to facilitate the process. She genuinely seemed relieved! We fed Lucky some of Sabrina’s milk because she still seemed weak in spite of two previous feedings. My husband remembered that when he tube fed the lambs, they responded relatively quickly. Lucky just didn’t seem to gain strength as quickly as either of us expected. We would have cancelled our appointments except that the 3 pm one had been extremely difficult to schedule and our niece depended on its outcome. The 6:30 pm one, we didn’t have a phone number to call and cancel. So, with the babies’ bellies full and both a warmer heat lamp and a heating pad in place, we left somewhat anxious and a little bit confident.
When we returned home they actually seemed a little stronger, a little better but still neither one would nurse on Sabrina. Although our vet said it was unnecessary to get up during the night to feed them, neither of us felt comfortable leaving them alone so we agreed to take turns again and to tube feed them in 6 hours. I spent my shift trying to keep them on the heating pad. If Sabrina wasn’t moving them, they were crawling off. Sabrina did seem more receptive to them lying on her belly, but they did not seem able to be still for any length of time at all nor did they ever quit crying. I did not know what to think of this; was it a good sign or a bad sign? Were they getting stronger or were they in pain? At the 6th hour, we confirmed they each had gained weight; then, my husband and I tube fed them and returned them to the whelping pen. Our confidence buoyed, we both went into our bedroom and lay down for about 15 minutes, having convinced ourselves they were growing stronger and celebrating their weight gains. When I went back out to check on them, I found Lucky in big trouble. It appeared she had vomited all over herself. I worked and worked to help her breathe as I had done with a puppy 16 years earlier. Finally, she seemed to improve and my husband took over the puppy watch. I went back to bed. Sometime later my husband came in and told me our baby was gone. She had vomited again and although he had struggled to help her live; Lucky died. We cried and grieved then made our final journey to the vet’s office. It was Sunday morning, but she was working some cattle that morning and told us to bring Sabrina and Corky in. Once again, I was convinced Sabrina must have mastitis; I feared her milk had poisoned our little Lucky. Sabrina, although lying on the heating pad and under the heat lamp, appeared to be shivering. We assumed she must be cold from an elevated temperature probably from an infection. My husband was afraid he had inserted the tube wrong and hurt the puppies.
Once again, I was wrong about the mastitis but to give me comfort our vet gave Sabrina an antibiotic and assured us it would not hurt the puppy when it drank her milk. Corky had gained an ounce that was a positive but when she listened to her heartbeat with the stethoscope, it was very slow. She tube fed Corky 12 cc of Sabrina’s milk demonstrating for my husband how to tube feed a puppy. She said puppies are easy to tube feed and if we had done it wrong; they would have died instantly. My husband breathed a sigh of relief. We went on our way. Our emotional roller coaster was on a steady decline. I can’t speak for my husband, but I could no longer feel elated or confident. At best, all I could feel was very guarded optimism. For the most part, I felt hopeless, helpless and overwhelmingly confused.
From before their birth we had tried to do everything right for these babies; yet, neither one of us imagined anything this difficult could go wrong. We believed dogs having puppies was typically a breeze! Yet, here I sat, holding a precious little life that was struggling to hang on and it seemed to me her dying was the result of a series of errors, our errors, each of which could have been prevented if we had just been smarter that Wednesday afternoon at 3:46 pm. Our Corky died a death equally traumatic as her sister’s. She had a seizure from which she recovered after I thumped her chest a couple of times and blew into her nose. After this, she appeared to struggle for every breath. She had another seizure and my husband attempted to revive her. This time, though, she was gone.
We asked ourselves what went wrong? What were all the critical events that happened after 3:46 pm Wednesday that led us to this tragic ending on Sunday morning?
Could it be that our Sabrina was just not cut out to be a momma? I don’t believe so. When we returned home we put her back in the whelping pen with her now dead baby. She worked as hard as we did to revive her lifeless body with no better results. (I did encourage Sabrina to lick her before she died; however, probably because we were in the truck returning home from the vet’s office, she wasn’t interested in helping!) My husband and the 6-year-old took Corky outside for burial with her sister Lucky. I went upstairs. Sabrina grabbed the babies’ blanket and sneaked off to the closet where I found her lying on the floor resting her head on the blanket. In retrospect, I believe that if we had approached dog breeding intellectually rather than emotionally we would have studied before bringing these babies into this world. With knowledge rather than blind faith, we would have been more aware and responsive; consequently, we surely would have:
1. Known that Sabrina was finished delivering pups
2. Relieved Sabrina’s discomfort by milking her immediately after Corky’s birth then
encouraging her to feed her babies
3. Been more cognizant of and responsive to the babies’ body temperature
I believe that if we had just assumed less and been more knowledgeable, aware and responsive, then today, we would have 2 lively, healthy, rambunctious, precious puppies. Instead, we are left to find the gift in this experience; the gift of lessons learned and wisdom borne of pain. The very best we can do for our babies now is to make sure that their lives and deaths were not in vain. Therefore, the gift in this experience lies in enabling others to avoid the same pitfalls we made that cost us our babies and in our never repeating these same mistakes. Therefore, the gift is the wisdom we gained the hard way so that others can learn the smart way and produce only lively, healthy, rambunctious, precious puppies and next time, we will be smarter too.
Note from hindsight. Often, when we grieve, we become crusaders to stop the pain from recurring for ourselves and others. Consequently, I channeled the energy of my loss into researching how to become a responsible, wise breeder and prepare for new puppies. The following is what I learned from my research. At the time I wrote all of this I had no idea my Sabrina was deathly ill and her puppies never had a chance of surviving. At the time I wrote this I believed it was our ignorance that cost the puppies their lives. I was wrong; however, I still learned a lot about breeding and raising puppies!
For some of us the decision to breed dogs is either the product of neglect, laziness, accident or an emotional high. In reality, it is a big responsibility far better assumed based on complete factual information. There is so much more to it than Mother Nature alone can handle with far greater consequences than blind faith can prevent. Prior to modern health care, the infant and mother mortality rates were high. Then, we learned the value of cleanliness and sterility of instruments used to assist infant delivery and medical advances snowballed. Over the course of many years of medical advances, the product of many gifts of lessons learned and research, obstetric and neo-natal medicine has reduced the mother and infant death rate significantly. It is difficult to imagine with the number of strays and unwanted pets dumped in city streets and country roads to fend for their lives in whatever way they can, that animal mothers and babies, too,
might possibly have a high mortality rate, like humans did prior to medical technology intervention. We tend to believe it is different for animal mothers than it is for human mothers. The different we imagine is that it is easier more natural and somehow less of a loss to lose an animal. What is the truth?
When making a decision to bring new life into the world, whether a puppy, a child or any other animal, make a decision to be knowledgeable and prepared. Then, get knowledgeable and prepare. Your first source must be your dog’s personal veterinarian; your dog’s health should be confirmed prior to a pregnancy and monitored throughout. Much like pre and post-natal care in humans. An abundance of educational information is available in books and Internet web sites. WWW.k9web.com is an excellent resource for information to consider when making a decision to breed all the way through to sending puppies off to a new home. It includes how to identify good mates, setting up for and caring for the newborns, and much more pertinent information essential for responsible breeding than I have included here. If I had studied this web site before our puppies were born, chances are they would be alive today.
Getting Ready for the Big Day
Essential for healthy puppies is safety, warmth and nourishment. Preparation for the big day will include building, setting up and positioning the whelping pen to meet your puppies’ needs and acquiring paraphernalia relevant to newborn puppy care. When deciding the location of the whelping pen, find a warm, quiet place. The whelping pen should be constructed in a way that provides the puppies an escape space for protection from momma’s potential ability to squash or smother them and containment for the time when they have grown bigger, stronger and more active. Lining should pad and bed momma and babies; lining the floor of the whelping pen with multiple absorbent layers that can be removed individually as they soil, exposing a clean underneath layer, is ideal for cleanliness. Of primary consideration is the warmth factor; it is impossible to overemphasize the need for warmth for newborn puppies. It is much more than comfort, it is necessary for life and health. For the first two weeks of their lives the babies do not have the ability to retain body heat; therefore, it is your responsibility to provide means for warmth. Heat lamps, we learned after the fact, are not a good source of warmth for puppies – heat lamps cause dehydration. Cold babies are susceptible to a virus and certain death and, our vet explained, body warmth is essential for the digestion process! Once they are safe and warm, your concern becomes their nourishment. Most of the time you will not need to intervene; however, large litters and weak puppies may require supplemental feedings and inexperienced mommas may need instruction and encouragement. To prepare for puppies’ arrival, some important items to have on hand:
1. Whelping pen, slightly larger than the mother, padded, complete with puppies’ safe haven, contained on all sides and located in a warm, quiet place.
2. Means to periodically replace soiled whelping pen lining with clean lining.
3. Heating Pads for puppies’ warmth.
4. Diet scales (food scales that weigh ounces) to confirm weight gain and adequate nourishment.
5. Puppy Milk Replacement formula or goat’s milk with ability and means to feed.
6. Something, preferably not something too sharp, to tear the puppy’s sack should the momma be unable to do so herself. I used an ice pick; my husband used his fingers.
Prior to our puppies’ birth, we purchased a puppy bottle for just in case; when the moment we needed to use it arrived, it did not work. The puppies were not strong enough to sufficiently suckle the nipple and extract the formula. Syringe and eye droppers increase chances the puppy will aspirate formula into its lungs and die; therefore, for newborn puppies, not strong enough to suck a bottle, tube feeding is the safest, most effective means of ensuring adequate nourishment.
One of my concerns near the end of Sabrina’s pregnancy was that I might not recognize that she was about to deliver. As it was, I almost missed it! As I described earlier, when her time grew closer she became extremely anxious, attempted to hide under our bed and to dig a next in our carpet. She also became very clingy and that may well indicate a dog capable of receiving comfort from your company; rather than requiring solitude through the labor. Honor your dog’s needs. If your dog prefers solitude, place her in her whelping pen, leave her alone but check in periodically. I chose to sit in Sabrina’s whelping pen with her providing her encouragement and comfort. I observed her pushing with each puppy. The first one she delivered hunched up as if having a bowel movement. The second one she delivered with two easy pushes while lying on her side attending her first puppy.
When the first puppy arrived, Sabrina had already broken and licked off the bag so my only role was preventing her from hurting it. The second puppy, however, required my intervention to break the bag and then to encourage Sabrina to clean it; she was still enchanted with the first puppy. This would have been a good time for me to make sure the first puppy was warming sufficiently. WWW.k9web.com states that you should never feed a cold puppy; once warm however, feeding is the priority. Healthy, wellnourished puppies grow fast. Visually, you should be able to see a well-rounded tummy. WWW.k9web.com describes warm, well-nourished puppies as tail extended while cold, hungry puppies will pull their tails between their legs and cry out their discomfort. Rather than rely on your judgment to confirm your puppies are growing, you can use the diet scales to weigh them; they should show consistent weight gain. If they are eating well and fail to gain, call your veterinarian immediately. If they appear to be unable to nurse or there is a large litter with perhaps insufficient quantity of mother’s milk to nourish; this is the time to supplement with either a bottle or tube feeding. Tube feeding intimidated us initially, because they are so tiny; however, it is really quite simple and effective! We worried we were feeding them too much and that perhaps we got the tube into a lung instead of the stomach. Our vet patiently encouraged, educated and reassured us through the process, twice! Consequently, neither of us will hesitate to use a tube with our next litter, should the need arise.
It is important to note here that the need may never again arise for us; however, should it arise, we will be prepared. My husband and I each have been through previous pet’s litters; none of which compared to this first experience together. In fact, with only one exception, they were positive, rewarding experiences. My husband’s Sheltie had 4 litters that produced a total of 18 puppies. He broke the sacks and encouraged her to nurse but that was the sum total of his intervention. I had a German Shepherd that delivered 10 puppies, 1 stillborn, 9 lived. I had to force her to nurse her puppies for several days until she bonded with them (trying to be helpful, I cleaned the puppies for her – bad move on my part!) As a result of my ignorance, my German Shepherd missed the initial bonding and wasn’t much interested in her babies. We got her spayed as soon as it was physically possible! My next experience reinforced my opinion that giving birth is naturally easier for dogs; our six-pound Pomeranian delivered four healthy puppies without any assistance. The next experience taught me the value of good mating. We bred a two-pound Pomeranian with a four-pound male; her single puppy was too large to deliver vaginally. The veterinarian that performed the c-section, in the middle of the night, administered anesthetic before he positioned and prepared the momma for surgery, the puppy received anesthesia also and died as a result. Likely, there are more tales of successful, easy births than difficult ones; however, the lesson we learned is that many of the difficulties that arise can either be prevented or the damage minimized with knowledge, planning, preparation and timely response.
For fastest recovery and minimal pain, dewclaws and tail reduction should be completed before they are three days old. As puppies mature and grow, for their safety, it remains important to keep them contained. When a whelping pen is designed and built or acquired, it is important that it be sized to contain the puppies until their eyes open. Their eyes will open around three weeks old. It is wise to have a larger pen, like a dog run, to move them into at this point rather than allow them to roam free. The world is filled with safety hazards for puppies. It is never wise to assume they have instinctive knowledge, skills and abilities to not get hurt; they don’t. They are innately curious; therefore, as a responsible breeder, take appropriate action to keep them safe.
If the puppies were bred to sell, and/or the parents are registered, there is paperwork to complete that registers the puppies’ birth. When you do this you will receive paperwork that you furnish the purchaser to register the puppy’s ownership.
Puppies’ eyes are open and they get around easily at this age. Time to introduce them to puppy food! This is especially critical to the momma’s health if there were many puppies in the litter. Mash a quality, moist, balanced puppy food with warmed milk and, with momma away, set the dish in front of them. Allow them 15 minutes alone with the food then let momma clean up what they leave behind. While the puppies’ diet consists of mother’s milk alone, the momma will clean up their feces and urine; however, this behavior ends with the introduction of puppy food. This change must be a consideration when determining where and what to use for a larger puppy pen!
6 to 8-weeks-old
If the puppies were bred to sell, this is the age most people deliver them to the purchaser. It is far better, however, to wait until they are eight-weeks-old to separate them completely from their momma and siblings. This is the time they learn “manners” or how to play well with others! Whether you sell them, give them away or keep them, six weeks is the appropriate time for puppies’ first shots. Just as immunizations are so essential to children’s health and well-being that law requires them, immunizations are essential to protect puppies from diseases that are known threats to them. It is important that you provide their first shots, document it along with the schedule for their remaining shots in the paperwork you provide to each puppy’s new owner.
When it comes to new owners. Some new owners do not realize what they are getting into when they purchase a cute, cuddly, loveable puppy. Often, they purchase the puppy for their small child or children. They imagine a loyal, loveable, protective playmate and, at first the puppy is cute and cuddly; then, the disappointing reality of chewing, jumping and messing of a normal, active, maturing puppy can end up with the puppy abused or neglected. Puppies require and deserve frequent, loving training and patience over a period of time to grow into well-behaved, gentle and loyal companions. It is a completely achievable expectation but not a quick, instant process. In your puppies’ best interest, interview prospective owners for their experience and expectations with a puppy. Make certain that the new owner is informed and both understands and embraces the responsibility and requirements of raising a puppy into the pet of their dreams.
Having puppies is an incredibly rewarding responsibility when all goes well. It can be incredibly frightening, difficult and painful when it goes wrong. Some things cannot be prevented; however, you can increase the chances all will go well just by approaching it fully prepared to meet whatever demands arise. Learn, recognize and apply what you learned to each of the four stages: breeding, birthing, growing and selling; then, our babies’ lives and deaths will have served to make a positive difference for your babies.