News flash: Having babies can be stressful. Even for canines, nursing can be taxing on the mother, especially in the first few weeks after giving birth. While a healthy mature dam can usually take care of her puppies by herself, you can help her feel more comfortable and less stressed during this time.
How to Care for a Lactating Dog
Provide Some Privacy
Reduce stress by providing a quiet, secluded place to nurse and can feel like a sanctuary to your pet. Before birth, set up a whelping box in a quiet room away from major household traffic. The whelping box should be large enough that the mother can turn around without stepping on pups and lie down on her side to nurse. Too much space and a puppy can get too cold. A cardboard box would work, with 12-inch to 18-inch sides and a cut-out portion for mom to exit. Place towels or blankets inside.
Feed Mom Well
Nursing puppies is a lot of work; lactating dogs need to eat a lot more than usual to ensure they have energy and produce enough milk -- two times her normal amount before whelping and immediately after; three times her usual amount during weeks four to six after welping, according to the Kennel Club. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation based on your dog's age, size and overall health condition.
Give Mom Some Space
When pups are about 2 weeks old, you can start giving their mother some time away from them. Either remove the pups for longer and longer periods or allow mom time away outside their box and outside the quiet room if she wants. Mom will know to go back to her puppies regularly for feeding and companionship, but the time apart will help her get some much needed sleep.
Help Mom Feel More Comfortable
Puppies can be rough on a mother dog's nipples, making them chapped and sore. Your veterinarian can prescribe a prescription antibiotic cream, or you can try putting petroleum jelly on nipples to soothe them. Inspect nipples often for swelling and redness, which could signal an infection that requires a vet's attention right away.