The Savvy VetTech

Post-Whelping in Dogs

by Lori Hehn - November 25, 2015 at 2:53 PM
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Unfortunately pet owners sometimes find themselves with a litter of puppies and don't know how to care for them. Veterinary technicians are often the point of contact for these questions. Here are a few things to know and share!

Mother dogs require 2 to 3 times the food or calories than normal. It is best to divide these into 3 or 4 feedings throughout the day. It is ideal to feed a puppy food to the mother until all of the puppies are weaned. The energy requirement is very high for nursing dogs.

It is normal for there to be a dark colored discharge from the vulva for a few days post-whelping. The discharge should resolve within 14 days. If the discharge increases or has a foul odor, this may signify a uterine infection. If this occurs, or if the bitch becomes lethargic or has a poor appetite, veterinary care should be sought immediately.

Due to the strain on the mother from nursing, eclampsia (a low calcium level) can occur. It most often occurs within the first month after birth due to the calcium supply being utilized for milk production. The low calcium leads to muscle incoordination, tremoring, twitching, panting, and/or nervousness. Eclampsia patients often have a fever. Hypoglycemia is often a concurrent problem and may cause similar symptoms. This is a life-threatening condition. If eclampsia is suspected, the puppies should be removed from the mother and veterinary care is needed immediately. Eclampsia is treated by replacing the calcium loss via injectable calcium (usually calcium gluconate). It is given very slowly and the ECG is closely monitored. After stabilization, oral calcium can be started. The puppies can and should be fed during this time with an appropriate milk replacer.

It is best to minimally handle the puppies during the first month of life. After that, socialization and handling can be instituted. Room temperature for the puppies should not be lower than 70 degrees F to avoid chilling. The puppies should be examined by a veterinarian shortly after birth. The eyes will begin to open at 10-14 days. Once the pups are big enough to explore their environment (4 weeks of age) they can be introduced to a mixture of puppy food and water. Cows milk should never be given to puppies.

Weaning should occur starting around 5 weeks of age. They should be separated from the mother for an increasing number of hours each day to aid in a smooth transition. After the puppies are weaned, the mother's food should be reduced as she no longer needs as many calories and will help to decrease her milk production.

About Lori Hehn

Lori Hehn is a practicing veterinarian and a contributor and content manager with XPrep Learning Solutions. She has a drive for continual learning and enjoys interacting with veterinary and vet tech students. She also writes veterinary learning books for children.

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