Managing Females – A Dog's First Litter

First time mommas are a handful, mostly because they can’t call their mom and ask if this is normal! Most do well, but with a little care, we can help first-litter moms be as effective as an older mom in puppy care.

45% of the losses with females happen in first-time moms, but most breeders rarely lose a puppy with any mom because they know the issues they face and prevent them! First-time moms are young and need reassurance. A puppy’s eyes are not open; they do use rooting behavior to find the nipple, but first-time moms don’t realize a puppy isn’t positioned to eat – older moms will tuck them. You can help them find the nipple and get a full tummy. Not eating goes with puppies getting cold. Once chilled, females will resort to “bitch culling” and set the puppy aside, not knowing what else to do.


  • Take the puppy away and warm them up. Feed warm electrolytes with glucose the first feeding, then feed Breeders' Edge® Foster Care to help warm them up.

  • Keep them warm until comfortable and sleeping normally on their side or tummy. Once warm, return the puppy to mom for care. She will take them back with no issues if their body temp is around 100°F. A rectal thermometer will help tell you if they are ready.
Our job is to be sure that the puppy eats, that they are warm enough, and that they are content. Older moms nurture and mother consistently the 1st week, do a good job the 2nd week, and by the 3rd and 4th week, they are getting kid-worn and will let you have them if you want. New moms often take one week to get into the mothering, nurturing groove.


  • If mom isn’t happy, puppies die. Whelping box location is vital for first-time moms; it needs to be where mom is most comfortable. Move new moms 2 weeks before expected date of delivery and get her comfortable with the whelping area. Recent case: Owner put a house dog and first-time mom into the kennel whelp area when she came into labor – 11 puppies born. She lost 3 in 24 hours and 3 more looked like they were “going south.” We moved the whelp box to the breezeway between the house and garage and fed the puppies one time with Foster Care Milk Replacer for energy and warmed them up with hot water bottle in a cardboard box. Gave mom back the puppies once warm, and the owner made sure all puppies found the nipple several times a day. Mom was comfortable and did fine from that point on.

  • Good mothers raise daughters that are good mothers. If their mom was a good mother, they get it by 48 hours and need little monitoring after that. If their mom was not a good mother, the first week is monitoring and assurance until they get it right.

  • Tired moms don’t mother well! Moms should birth their puppies in 12 hours. 18 hours is starting to get too long, and never go over 24 hours or we start losing puppies. Some will die at birth and some will fade the first week because of long labor and low oxygen.


  • Give moms calcium gel, like Breeders' Edge® Oral Cal Plus, when they start to whelp and repeat after every other puppy. Gel is absorbed through their mouth – they don’t have to swallow when nauseated while in labor. This helps with more effective uterine contractions and a quicker delivery.

  • Breeders' Edge® Oxy Mate Prenatal vitamins help moms give their puppies as many red blood cells as possible when they are born. We want puppies born fighting to live, not anemic puppies we are fighting to save.

  • Red raspberry leaf extract eases labor by soothing the cramping of ligaments before birth and between contractions. Cramping pain wears moms out and tired moms do not mother well. Raspberry leaf extract makes first-time moms better mothers. Use liquid (1 tbs/gal of water) for 3 weeks before whelping or just give Breeders' Edge® Oxy Mate Prenatal, as it contains raspberry leaf extract.

  • Calming the nervous female the first few days is helpful. We don’t want moms doped up, just mellow enough so they calmly think about what they are doing and nurse their babies. Herbal products are best at that – Chamomile or Motherwort are the common herbal products used. Breeders’ Edge® Oxy Momma™ postnatal vitamins have Motherwort in it for calming and recovery.

  • Pheromones have been used to calm, but tend to take days to take effect and have not stopped issues with nervous mothering. They are a help with loud noises and stress. We have used them with kennel remodeling to calm mothers and with thunder storms that scare dogs. They have been helpful in both these situations, but worth a try if moms are anxious over sounds in the environment.

Most moms have little or no problems, but first-time moms have many issues we can help with. Manage moms for prevention of issues with prenatal vitamins, and identify puppies not doing well and take steps to correct the issue. First-time moms can’t call their mom and ask if this baby is OK – you are that go-to person. Use prenatal vitamins to ease mom into milking, and monitor babies for tummies that are full and warm. This is always a win for you and for the puppy!

If you need help, call us at 1-800-786-4751.

-Dr. B
Don Bramlage, DVM, Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health

The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of a qualified veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.

Return to Articles
1700 Albany Place SE • Orange City, IA 51041
800-786-4751 •
© 2015 Revival Animal Health | All Rights Reserved