When puppies are born, they continue to rely on their mother for nursing to get necessary milk and colostrum. Since milk is their primary food source for eight to 12 weeks, their mother needs to spend most of her time with them. For the first couple weeks, the mother should be around her pups at all hours of the day to keep them fed and cuddled and within close proximity for up to 12 weeks.
In addition to providing her babies with sustenance, the mother keeps her newborn puppies warm. Keeping puppies by their mother also helps with their emotional health and learning. Instinctually, the mother dog will know to care for her newborn puppies until they are ready to be on their own, though some help from owners or breeders may be necessary along the way. Mother dog's health is as important as that of the puppies so she will have the energy to care for her babies.
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Caring for newborn puppies
Nutrition is very important for newborn puppies. You'll want to make sure that they are getting enough milk, so having their mom nearby at all times is necessary. Colostrum, which is the substance a mother dog produces prior to milk, gives very young dogs antibodies they need to stay healthy. It also helps them get the calories they need to continue growing. Being by their mother is also key to regulating their body temperature.
As puppies grow, check their weight to make sure they are progressing. They should double their birth weight in about the first week. When they eventually do wean off their mother's milk, taking their weight will indicate how quickly they're growing and help you figure out the amount of food they need. You should also make sure they are having consistent, formed stools. The mother dog will help stimulate the puppies to urinate and defecate by licking them since they are initially unable to do so without her assistance.
Mother dog's health
The mother dog's health is just as important as that of the puppies. Postpartum, she will need more calories and rest to heal from birth. Making milk also uses a lot of energy, so be sure she is getting a healthy and balanced diet and always have fresh water nearby for her. Small, frequent meals are ideal for a nursing mother dog.
Instinctually, mother dogs usually want to stay close to their babies, so taking her away to clean her up after they are born or to go to a veterinarian may be upsetting. Your presence near her and her puppies may be comforting. Weaning puppies can begin three to four weeks after the pups are born but should be done very gradually, slowly introducing puppy formula and giving small amounts of soft, moist food, like baby rice cereal.
Mother and puppy nursing issues
If a dog is upset after feeding or if the mother does not want to nurse, there are underlying puppy nursing issues that may need to be resolved. The mother dog may have bacterial or fungal mastitis, an infection of the breast. She should be taken to the veterinarian for treatment if you notice redness, swelling, or milk production issues. Keeping the mother, puppies, and whelping area clean can also help prevent infections.
Postpartum anxiety and depression in dogs may also lower milk production. Watch for signs of sadness, loss of hunger, or disinterest in her puppies. If you notice these symptoms and they don't improve, contact your veterinarian.
Give the mother and her pups a whelping box — a small playpen area where the puppies will be born and that will keep everyone together in their early days. This can give mother dog comfort as well in knowing her young dogs are safe. You can buy one premade or make one yourself using aa large box. Add some comfortable bedding for warmth and support for the mother and her puppies.
- VetWest: Orphaned Puppies - Caring, Feeding, Healthcare
- American Kennel Club: Raising Newborn Puppies
- American Kennel Club: AKC's Guide to Responsible Dog Breeding
- VCA Hospitals: Breeding for Dog Owners - Caring from Birth to Weaning
- Leon Valley Veterinary Hospital: The Big Event: Prenatal and Postpartum Care for Your Dog
- American Kennel Club: Mastitis in Nursing Mother Dogs