Breeding, Puppy and Kitten Care
Managing Females – A Dog’s First Litter
November 29, 2022
Managing Female Dogs & Their First Litter
Last reviewed: September 29, 2022 by Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Whether you are breeding dogs for the first time or you are experienced, first time mommas are a handful, mostly because they can't call their mom and ask if this is normal! Most do well, relying on their instincts, but with a little care, we can help first-litter dog moms be as effective as an older mom in puppy care.
How Do You Help A Dog Give Birth for the First Time?
Forty-five percent of the losses with females happen in first-time moms, but many 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, puppies start a downward spiral of dehydration, low blood sugar, low oxygen, and death if corrective action is taken immediately.
Managing Puppy Losses
- Take the puppy away and warm them up. Feed warm electrolytes such as Breeder's Edge® Puppy Lyte with glucose the first feeding, then feed Breeder's Edge® Foster Care™ once their rectal temperature is over 94°F to keep their blood sugar up. Newborn puppies do not have energy stores to support them.
- 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 98°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 clean, dry and content. Older mom dogs nurture and mother consistently the first week, do a good job the second week, and by the third and fourth 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.
How to Help a Pregnant Dog
Having the right dog breeding equipment on hand is key to a successful whelping experience.
- 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 two 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 three in 24 hours and three more looked like they were “going south.” We moved the whelp box to the breezeway between the house and garage, slowly and gently warmed them up with a hot water bottle and heating pad, and fed the puppies one time with Breeder's Edge® Foster Care™ for energy. 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 72 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. Do not leave the puppies with the mom unattended until you re sure she will not harm them and is mothering them well.
- 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.
How to Help Your Dog Whelp or Deliver Puppies
- Give moms calcium gel, like Breeder's 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. Gels take effect more quickly than powders and tablets such as Tums. Vanilla ice cream does not furnish adequate calcium.
- Breeder's 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.
- Shop using the Revival Whelping Kit. Our team of experts have put together a customizable shopping experience to help you get everything you'll need for whelping. This one-stop-shop for puppy breeding supplies along with expert tips will help you feel confident knowing you have the puppy breeding supplies you will need.
How Do You Prepare a Dog for the First Litter?
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. Breeder's Edge® Oxy Momma™ postnatal vitamins have Motherwort in it for calming and recovery.
Pheromones found in the ThunderEase® collar have been used to calm, but tend to take days to take effect and seem to help moms showing nervous mothering. They are a help with loud noises and stress. We have used them with kennel remodeling to calm mothers and with thunderstorms that scare dogs. They have been helpful in both these situations, but worth a try if moms are anxious over sounds in the environment. For the maximal effect, put the collar on three days before her due date or scheduled C-section.
Most moms have little or no problems, but first-time dog moms may have many issues we can help with. Manage dog 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 dog 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!
How Many Puppies Should I Expect in the First Litter?
The number of puppies in a litter that any given female can produce is highly variable, from one pup to up to 16 or rarely a few more. Dog litter size is dictated by:
- The breed and size of the dam. Smaller females typically have smaller litters and smaller pups.
- The timing of the breeding. Not accomplishing the delivery of sperm to the egg at the ideal time will reduce the likelihood of producing a big litter.
- The type of breeding – a natural tie, a vaginal insemination, a transcervical insemination (TCI) or a surgical insemination.
- The type of semen – fresh, fresh chilled/extended, and frozen semen.
- The quality of the semen – a male dog with a low sperm count, poor semen quality, semen that does not swim effectively, or has unhealthy prostatic fluid will not have optimal fertility.
- The age of the dam – on the first heat or after age six frequently results in smaller litter sizes.
- The nutrition of the dam – ideal nutrition is essential for optimal fertility.
- The health of the dam – she should be fit, at an ideal body condition, current on vaccinations, heartworm and tick-born disease negative, on appropriate heartworm and flea/tick preventives, not stressed and not exposed to dogs carrying infectious diseases.
- The environment the dam is housed in – should be clean, well-ventilated, have good day length with appropriate lighting, appropriate ambient temperature and humidity, and stress-free.
- The efficiency of the male in accomplishing the breeding – a male in good health, who is physically strong, of the correct size for the female, with good libido, the temperament to court the female effectively, in a setting without too many distractions, who can promptly but politely accomplish a tie is essential to an effective tie.
- The time of year of the breeding – reported to create variation in litter size.
- Whether you did a fertility dance to the light of the moon at the summer solstice – just kidding.
If you have more questions on how to help a pregnant dog through pregnancy and whelping, call us at 800.786.4751.
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival's Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.