Dog Breeding: Whelping Worries

Whelping Worries and what to do about them

Puppy won’t breath:

Obviously it is paramount that the pup breaths immediately after birth – if your newborn gives a squeak, well and good.  However sometimes breathing is compromised by:

  • The persistence of an intact water-sac (membrane) around its muzzle – If Mom gets distracted and fails to clear the pup’s mouth and nose of the sac and fluids, then you will need to do it, pronto! Tear the sac away from its mouth and nose.  If it looks lively, let Mom lick and stimulate it.  If not, rub it briskly with a warm, soft towel until it squeaks, shows strong signs of life and starts moving around.
  • Presence of fluids and mucus in the mouth and nose – hold the pup upside down to drain the fluids and phlegm free of its airways. If it still seems clogged up, cradle the puppy firmly and gently between both your hands, with its head down, and providing good support of its delicate head, neck and spine, raise it above your head and swing it briskly down between your legs, using centrifugal force to clear the nose and throat.   If this doesn’t work, you can try using a bulb syringe to aspirate any possible fluid.  All the while, continue to rub it briskly and keep the pup warm until it squeaks and shows strong signs of life.
  • Being born unconscious due to a difficult or caesarian birth – you can sometimes revive a limp puppy by keeping it warm and giving it a brisk rub with a towel. You can try a few drops on the tongue of Bach’s Rescue Remedy to give weak pups a good gentle “kick start.”

Another alternative revival technique uses stimulation of an acupressure point on the nose.  Into the thin line down the middle of the pup’s nose, just below and between the nostrils above the top lip, insert a fine needle a few millimeters only (about 1/8th of an inch at most) and wiggle it about.  Anyone or anything that won’t breath can often be jump started this way.

If after 15 minutes of rubbing, being kept warm and trying the other techniques, the puppy still has not started breathing, it may be a goner.  Place it into the warm Incubator Box, and focus back on your bitch and her other pups.  I have heard many stories of pups that have appeared well and truly dead after a Caesarian, but later revived by themselves when the anesthetic wore off.

The bitch strains but no puppies come: 

Keep a careful record of the time your bitch first starts straining (use the Recording book provided).  It is not unusual for birth to progress slowly, especially for the first pup.  Here’s a guide of when to start worrying and what to do:

  • 1 hour and no pups – If more than an hour elapses after straining has begun and there is still no pup, then put her on a leash and take her outside for a quiet 15 minute walk and a chance to toilet. This can often help to progress the birth.

You may also try a trick to stimulating stronger contractions by gently inserting a lubricated finger into her vagina and tickling the vaginal roof.

  • 2 hours and no pups – Gently feel inside the birth canal and try to visualize what your finger is telling you. Is that a muzzle or a tail you can feel?  If you can’t feel a pup at all, then chances are the birth canal is blocked higher up by a poorly presented pup, in which case, you may need to consider taking her to your veterinarian.  If you can feel the front or back end of a pup in the birth canal, you can help speed things up by gently introducing some lubricant (e.g. KY Jelly) around the stuck puppy with a small syringe.

To speed up a sluggish labor you might also try the safe homeopathic treatment Blue Cohash (Caulophyllum) which is often available from health shops (only to be used if she is already undoubtedly in labor) and/or give her calcium gel.

  • 3 hours and no pups – A trip to your vet is warranted. He will probably Xray her to gauge the size and position of the pups, give her oxytocin and/or calcium, and if these don’t work, perform an caesarian.  You should discuss this eventuality beforehand with your vet and let him know your preferences regarding preserving your bitch’s reproductive system for future breedings, gassing the bitch down to minimize anesthetic depression of the pups in the uterus, and being present to assist with reviving the puppies.

Black, green or red discharge and no pups

If your bitch produces a thick black, red or green discharge from her birth canal before any puppies are delivered, this often indicates that the placenta of one or more of the puppies has begun to separate from the uterine wall, which may threaten the oxygen supply of the puppy(s) involved.  Therefore, if birth (or a caesarian) doesn’t happen soon, the puppy involved may suffocate.  So if you note such a discharge, and no puppies are born soon afterwards, you should immediately consult your vet and get ready to rush your bitch in for emergency attention.  In the case of a green discharge, a reasonable wait for the first pup to be born is 1 to 2 hours.

If you are at all worried…

There are many problems that can crop up, so if you feel at all worried or uncertain, keep good records and call your veterinarian to explain exactly what is happening and ask for his advice.  When it comes to the life of your bitch and her valuable puppies, it is better to be safe than sorry.

If your bitch must have a caesarian (or is aggressive to her pups)

Deprived of the experience of birth, many caesared bitches may at first have difficulty accepting their pups.  Your bitch will also be in great pain from the surgery, and groggy and hung-over from the anesthetic.  She may at first even act aggressively towards her pups.  You may need, for the first few days, to restrain the bitch with a firm hand to lie still, and place the pups onto her nipples so that they may feed.  If she growls, just keep her head away from the pups.  The suckling will stimulate the release of mothering instinct inducing hormones, as well as ensuring the pups get the colostrum present in the first milk.  The more often the pups suckle, the quicker this will kick in.  The pups may need to be kept in the Nesting Box between feeds so that they come to no harm.  Don’t leave the pups with the bitch until you are sure that she has properly bonded with them.  Newborn pups will need to feed at least every four hours, so this will mean getting up in the middle of the night to latch the puppies on to her.  After a few days she will very likely settle down and mother the pups on her own.  If she doesn’t you may need to take over the nursing of the pups yourself (see below).


Things to watch out for in newborn pups that are being artificially raised or aren’t suckling on mom properly:

  • Any newborn pup that is not nursing or those kept in a hot, dry environment can quickly become dehydrated.  The gums of a dehydrated pup will be dry and tacky, and its skin will become stiffer and less elastic than normal.  A home humidifier may be needed to overcome an overly dry nesting environment.
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Again, if a pup is not nursing properly its blood sugar can plummet, causing it to appear lethargic, weak and depressed, progressing to coma.  A few drops of corn syrup on the tongue may be enough to perk it up again.
  • Diarrhea can be a symptom of many ailments, from overfeeding to enteritis.  Either way, diarrhea robs the pup of vital fluids and will lead to serious dehydration if left untreated.  If the pup develops watery yellow or green tinged feces and is otherwise well, overfeeding could be the problem.   Simply dilute the formula 50:50 with a children’s oral electrolyte solution for a few days. If the problem persists then an enteric infection is likely, necessitating a trip to your veterinarian for antibiotic treatment and subcutaneous (under the skin injections of) fluids.

Incubator Box

Puppies that can’t be kept with their Mom will need to be kept in your incubator box in a cosy, draught-free location.   This can be as simple as a cardboard box lined with paper towels with a heating pad wrapped in a towel at one end, set on very low to  help maintain the pup’s body temperature.   However, whatever heat source you use, be sure that the pups are not overly heated or in danger of being scorched.  If you have a puppy who has for some reason become chilled, warm it back up gradually (I like to place them under my jumper until they’ve warmed up enough to go in the incubator box).

The box needs to be just big enough so the puppies can move away from the pad if they feel too hot, and tall enough so that they can’t fall out.

Newborns are unable to control their own body temperature, and will rely on you keeping the box between 85 and 97° Fahrenheit for the first 2 weeks of their life.

Hand-rearing puppies

Because the composition of bitch’s milk changes with the changing needs of the puppies as they grow, natural nursing remains the absolute best option to grow healthy pups.  Many bitches will accept the pups of another, so, if at all possible, foster your puppies onto another nursing bitch provided this does not exceed her lactating abilities or number of productive nipples.

However, there are many situations that could arise that necessitate either full or temporary hand-rearing of all or part of a litter.  For example, your bitch may die or go missing.  She may suffer from a temporary illness (e.g. mastitis or eclampsia) and need you to take over the role of nursing her litter until she is back on her feet again to reduce the strain on her system and give her an opportunity to recover.  During a prolonged illness lasting more than a few days, her milk production may rapidly “dry up”, and despite resumed suckling of the puppies can take some time to reestablish to adequate flows.  Some older bitches may fail to lactate properly at all, and their pups will need to be fully raised by you.

Hand-rearing pups can be fraught with challenges. The pups will be more likely to suffer from digestive problems with associated constipation or diarrhea.  However, successful hand-rearing is certainly not beyond the abilities of the average devoted dog breeder.

However, younger pups will need to be bottle fed.  In any case you should ensure that the pups receive the first, colostrum-rich milk if at all possible (even if your bitch dies during birth, put the pups on to suckle her) within 12 hours of birth.   The colostrum contains antibodies that protect them from diseases for the first crucial weeks of their lives, as well as important aids to their digestion.

Start off by weighing your puppies on a kitchen food scale (one that measures in grams) and maintain a record so that you are able to check their progress.  It is important that they do not lose weight.


As with human infants:

  • Feed according to when they show signs of hunger – crying, moving around a lot, and sucking on each other – rather than according to the clock.  If they are asleep, leave them to sleep.
  • Initially they require more frequent feeding – every 2 to 4 hours.  Eventually they should be able to make it through the night without needing a feed.
  • All utensils must be sterile (e.g. boiled or washed and soaked in bottle sterilizer then rinsed thoroughly before use).
  • Any water used to make up milk formulas should first be boiled.
  • Formula should be fed at close to body temperature (100° F).
  • Discard any formula left over from each feed.
  • The puppies should be gently burped after each feed.
  • Use a newborn human baby bottle and teat.  Because the formula is thick, the nipple opening may need to be enlarged slightly by using a hot needle. The hole in the teat should be big enough to allow easy sucking without drowning the pup – it should drip but not stream out when the bottle is inverted.   Faster flow may lead to milk in the puppy’s lung and life-threatening pneumonia.

Unlike human infants:

  • Until they are 1 to 2 weeks of age, puppies need to be stimulated after each feed in order to be able to pass stools and urine.   Taking the place of their Mom’s tongue, gently stimulate around the anus and genitals with wad of tissue moistened with warm water.


Bottle Feeding Recipe:

Bitch’s milk is twice the energy density and contains more protein, fat, calcium and less lactose than cow’s milk.   Commercial orphan puppy formulas (e.g. Esbilac) are available at pet stores and veterinary hospitals.  However, puppies often do better on home-made formula.

Blend together:

  • 10 oz. (300 mls) of canned evaporated milk + 3 oz. (90 mls) of boiled water

(or, instead of the above, use 13 oz. (390 mls) of undiluted goat’s milk)

  • 1 raw egg yolk
  • 1 cup of whole fat yogurt
  • 1/2 Tsp Karo Syrup or Corn Syrup

Dog Breeding Bottle Feeding

This recipe delivers approximately 330 calories/fluid ounce (11 calories/ml).  It can be chilled and used as needed for up to 1 week.  The graphs below show the total volume of formula to feed each puppy in a day, according to the pup’s body weight.  Divide the total volume for the day between the number of feeds to find the amount to give in each feed.  For example, if you are providing six feeds a day (i.e four hours apart) then divide the amount of daily formula by six to arrive at the volume that each pup should receive in each feed.