German shepherd puppies are born blind, deaf and toothless, yet with the instinct to suckle and the ability to crawl toward the warmth of its mother's body. However, even if the mother is experienced, your job as a puppy raiser is far from that of an observer. Sometimes nature needs a little help to make sure every German shepherd puppy gets the right start in life.
Prepare a safe, warm bed, also known as a whelping box, before the puppies arrive. The box should be large enough for the mother and the puppies to move around comfortably. A rail mounted on the inside five or six inches from the floor, will keep a pup safe should it crawl between its mother and the side of the box. Line the box with newspapers for quick clean-up. If towels or blankets are used, they should be stretched tight so the puppies don't become tangled up in folded cloth or lost underneath.
Provide a heat source. Newborn puppies are unable to maintain a proper body temperature, so it's often necessary to mount a heat lamp a safe distance above the box. For the first two weeks, a consistent temperature of 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit is preferable. By the end of the third week, the temperature can be gradually reduced to a more normal 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
A household thermometer mounted inside the far end of the whelping box can help you keep the temperature in check, but watching puppies' body language can let you know if they're comfortable. Pups normally lie touching each other to share body heat, so it might mean they're too cold if they lie in a pile or too hot if they sleep apart.
Monitor the birthing process. Mothers labor on average 6 to 18 hours, depending on her experience and the size of the litter, typically 5-10 puppies for German shepherds. Pups should be allowed to nurse immediately after birth, as the suckling action stimulates contractions in the mother and provides valuable colostrum to the pup. When new contractions begin, remove those puppies already born to a smaller box equipped with a heating pad set on low, to keep them out of the way until the next pup is born. Then return all to the mother to resume nursing.
Check each pup as soon as it's born. As each puppy is born, it should be checked to make sure it's breathing properly. Stimulate a sluggish pup by swinging it in a strong downward motion while keeping a firm hold of its head and shoulders, or by rubbing it briskly with a coarse towel. If either of these methods doesn't produce satisfactory results, try shocking its system by applying a drop of brandy to its tongue or alternate dipping the pup to its neck in bowls of hot and cold tap water.
In addition, if the pup sounds congested, use a baby ear syringe to gently clear its throat and nasal passages. Also, if there is excessive bleeding from the umbilical stump, swab with iodine and tie it off with dental floss.
Keep track of each puppy's growth and condition. Using a baby scale, weigh each pup immediately after birth and log its weight. Healthy German shepherd puppies will weigh on average about .08 to 1.3 pounds at birth and between 1.6 to 2.1 pounds by the end of the first week, essentially doubling their birth weights. Daily weighing will alert you early to those pups that may be failing.
To identify individual pups, tie a different colored length of yarn around the neck of each.
Watch for problems. Healthy puppies are plump and firm and nurse about every two hours or until their stomachs are round. Well nourished puppies sleep quietly, while pups that swallow air may appear well-fed, but will act unsatisfied, initially crying and moving around a lot, and then later, not moving enough.
Dehydration is often an early sign of serious trouble. Check the pups' hydration by pinching the skin at the back of the neck. Healthy skin will bounce back quickly, while dehydrated skin will stay creased. Prompt veterinary attention to a severely dehydrated pup may prevent tragedy. Experienced puppy raisers may treat milder cases at home using a feeding tube and a formula containing electrolytes.
Keep the puppies' bed clean. Mothers will do a lot to keep the box clean by licking in their pups' perineal area to stimulate urination and defecation, but the bedding should be changed daily to maintain a dry environment. As the pups grow and begin eating solid food, more frequent bedding changes will become necessary.