Raising Your First Litter Successfully
Last updated: October 8, 2021
Selecting Breeding Dogs
You want to purchase the breeder's success! When selecting, research your breed a lot and have an ideal male dog in mind. We will keep the females raised from the females and males you select, so ask a lot of questions.
I prefer to start with babies and then raise them because adults are more difficult to select. Adult females have a more difficult time getting their first litters on the ground and getting puppies weaned successfully. She is not comfortable with the new facility, plus we don't know her history.
All new dogs coming in need to be checked for Brucellosis and rechecked in 60 days to confirm they stay negative. Most Brucellosis tests have a margin of error, and we do not want to find that a dog is positive after we have added multiple dogs, or we will have to prove all your dogs are negative before moving forward.
Parasites should be prevented. Deworm twice with fenbendazole, three weeks apart. Do not bring something in that we don't have.
Vaccinations are given once to adults and twice to puppies that we bring in. I prefer an 8-way vaccination with Corona and Lepto for my breeding stock. We want to prevent everything we can from the start.
External parasites and ear mites should be avoided. Look before and after purchase for any signs of issues. If we do see them, eliminate them from anyone who had contact with the infected dog. If you aren't sure what products to use, ask us and we will help you find the product needed.
After you have chosen your dogs, start growing them for healthy maturity. You need to ensure they are growing well! Basic Daily Care vitamins will help accomplish this.
Do not house females and males together after five months of age, or you may get one of your females pregnant before they are mature. All mammals can get pregnant before they are physically ready to give birth. It is easy to manage away from this issue. Avoid surprises and C-sections by separating them.
When females reach one year of age, we want to boost their vaccine with a 7 or 8-way vaccine (Lepto and Corona) and de-worm with Safeguard for three days. De-worming is needed as we likely have not de-wormed them since they were 12 weeks old. If they aren't on it already, put them on a Daily Care vitamin. Our goal is to get them ready for pregnancy and not to suddenly realize they are not cycling!
The earliest a female should be bred is the first solid heat after her first birthday and after proper health testing has been done. Consult your breed association to find out which tests are recommended for your breed. This timeline usually takes place around 16 to 20 months of age but varies by breed.
Breeding should be done every other day until the female quits standing. Usually this time frame allows her to be bred three times, but we have no history on these girls, so keep data on how they bred, how long they stand and how whelping went, as they will do the same next time. No two females are alike, but a female will do the same thing from heat cycle to heat cycle.
Whelping for the first time is stressful on moms, so you must be there for them. They cannot call their mom and ask if this is normal. You are that mom to console them and help with the babies. Closely observe mom until day three; by then, first-time moms have it down and you can relax a bit. Take note that most losses happen in first-litter moms during the first 48 hours.
Things to Help with Litter
- Deworm mom before birth with Safeguard for three days after day 50 gestation. (Read Managing Parasites in Dogs and Cats)
- Give one dose of calcium gel when a mom starts to labor. Always give one dose when you know they are going to whelp; for giant breeds, repeat after the first puppy.
- Help babies out of the sack and clear the throat. A bulb syringe or snot sucker that is used with human babies works very well at clearing the throat. Then give the puppy to mom to clean it if she wants. It quiets her.
- Newborns search for a nipple by weaving back and forth until they rub across a nipple and then they attach. If you're helping one attach, rub the nipple sideways across the muzzle to get them to latch on.
- The umbilical cord contains an artery and vein, so bacteria have a straight shot to the bloodstream and can easily cause infection. Navel infection is the number one cause of bacterial infection or "blue belly." You can easily prevent this by dipping the navel in iodine or straight Chlorhexidine to disinfect it. They also make a nylon clamp that can be used. I like using them for C-section babies as it locks off the artery and vein. No bleeding and no infection can pass. The clamp and umbilical cord fall off by the fifth day.
Dewclaws and Tails
I am big on removing dewclaws, especially on breeds that are active and tend to tear them on frozen ground. Dewclaws can't be retracted so often the long scratches on a kid's arms and face are from dewclaws. Removal is simple and prevents scratches at the puppy's forever home or an emergency vet clinic visit from tearing a dewclaw back.
Dewclaws should be removed from babies on day three. This is easily done with a hemostat and tissue glue, but ask your veterinarian or another breeder to show you the technique the first time. I like to clamp with a hemostat at the base and scrape the tissue away. Then apply a drop of tissue glue and remove the hemostat and press together again.
Tail docking is done at the same age but this takes more skill. Have your veterinarian dock the tails or show you how it is done.
Puppies in General
- Puppies' eyes open at 10 to 14 days.
- Until eyes are open, puppies have little or no gag reflex so use caution when giving anything liquid by mouth. Be sure they are sucking on a syringe or dropper before you dose.
- Give Pyrantel dewormer for roundworms at four weeks of age.
- Most puppies are interested in gruel two to three weeks after the eyes open. This is usually at four weeks for giant breeds and five weeks for tiny breeds.
- Put warm water over dry puppy food and add milk replacer for a familiar flavor. Let the food stand for 20 minutes to let it soak up the liquid, and then mix it up and feed it in a flat pan.
- A Flying Saucer Pan works well for large breeds and helps keep food clean. Flat puppy pans work best for small-to-medium breeds.
- Block mom out and let puppies have access to the gruel for 30 minutes. Then put mom in to clean up the babies and eat the rest of the food. Puppies like all the licking mom gives them and mom likes the food!
- As puppies eat more gruel, they drink less milk and mom will slow down milk production. If mom is a heavy milker, put her on a maintenance diet (lower calories) to help her back off milk production.
- Putting CocciGuard in the puppy food will keep the total number of coccidian down in the kennel. Your Coccidia prevention at six weeks will work better too. Albon or Marquis are excellent choices here.
- Puppies at two and four weeks: Deworm with Pyrantel to take care of roundworms and hookworms.
- Puppies at six and eight weeks: Deworm with Safeguard three days in a row.
- Roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and Giardia are covered with Safeguard.
- You can give Albon or Marquis for Coccidia at the same time.
- Using two different families of dewormer will avoid resistance developing in your kennel.
- When you send a puppy to his forever home, put a note in the puppy pack asking the veterinarian to deworm with Panacur.
Give puppies their first Parvo vaccine when they are eating gruel well; this is usually at about five weeks for most. You can give an intranasal Kennel Cough vaccine at the same time.
A general vaccine schedule is given below but consult your veterinarian for vaccine instructions specific to your area. Remember to keep it simple and boost every two weeks until they are nine weeks old. Keeping vaccines two weeks apart helps prevent vaccine interference.
Puppies are ready for their new home when they:
- Are over eight weeks old
- Have received two Parvo vaccines, two weeks apart
- Have received one Distemper vaccine
- Are dewormed
Be sure to send a puppy pack home with the new owner, explaining what you have done and what is needed. The only thing they remember from picking up the puppy is how cute the puppy is! The puppy pack going home explains all you want them to know. It also avoids any misunderstanding by explaining what you will guarantee and what you will not. If you have questions on putting together a puppy pack, give our Pet Care Pros a call and we will be happy to help.
Canine Emergency Kits
Having an emergency kit on-hand is crucial. A situation only becomes an emergency if you don't have the treatment for the issue. Although the list could go on and on, start with the basics:
- Antihistamine for reactions to vaccine (slow, sluggish puppy) or any reactions to bee stings or bites. Diphenhydramine liquid is a good choice.
- Pressure wrap – ones that stick only to themselves and not the hair.
- Tissue glue – To seal any cut or issue with skin.
- Hemostat to clamp any issue or bleeder and for dewclaw removal.
- Dry electrolytes – Breeders' Edge® Puppy and Kitten Lyte helps maintain hydration and replenish electrolytes.
Basic kennel set up and managing plans for your first litter is straightforward, but when you have never raised a litter, it can be overwhelming. Vaccinating, deworming and making sure the babies eat are all part of that. Call us – we help you understand and manage your females for successful litters on the ground and to the next home!
*This article has been edited from its original format. Please note these suggestions are general guidelines only and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for every breeder or breed. Work closely with your local veterinarian and your breed association.If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.
Don Bramlage, DVM, Former 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 your personal veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.