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Caring for and Raising New Puppies

by Brigitte Smith

Breeding puppies is a specialized activity which should generally be left to professional breeders.  But that said, there are occasionally circumstances in which a dog owner may find themselves expecting a litter of puppies.

Raising puppies is an exciting and rewarding experience.  It can also be an experience fraught with frustration unless some basic guidelines are adhered to.  Here's what you can do for both the puppies and their mother to help make the puppies' first days and weeks together healthy and happy ones.

The bitch will spend the first few days after giving birth with her new puppies.  This is instinctive, and generally there are no problems.  But it is important to check on the new Mom and her puppies regularly during this period, as occasionally the puppies will not be kept warm enough (which is critical to their healthy survival).  It's also important to ensure that the pups are being well fed, and to make sure that the mother is producing enough milk for her puppies, and that she is comfortable.

If the bitch does leave the puppies during this critical first few days, it's important for you to monitor their temperature closely.  It is imperative that the pups be kept warm.  Their sleeping area should be kept at a temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or 32 degrees Celsius, for the first four days of their young lives.  The temperature can be gradually decreased after that.  Although a large litter still needs to be kept warm, the puppies’ own body heat will assist in keeping them warm as they huddle together.

The mother will usually be very protective of her pups and may display signs of anxiety when people come around the puppies.  Some dogs will move the puppies from place to place in an effort to hide them from predators.  This is instinctive behavior.  Keeping the mother and her pups in an enclosed box may curb this problem as the darkness will ease the mother’s mind and make her feel that she’s found an ideal location for protecting her babies.

After the first few days, and during the puppies’ first month there should be little need for the owner to do much of anything for them.  They will be cared for exclusively by the mother during this time.  The owner’s role should be one of monitoring the pups’ progress and growth rate.  The puppies should approximately double their weight in the first week.  By two weeks of age the pups should be alert and attempting to stand on their own.  By the time they’re a month old the pups should all be able to walk, play, and run around.  Now the fun starts!

By about four and a half weeks, the puppies should be eating solid food.  One way to train them to do so is to start feeding them a mixture of canned or dry puppy food mixed with a little water or milk to soften it. 

Side Note:  [Ensure that you feed a premium puppy food, and not regular commercial food – even those recommended by vets and other breeders can be very unhealthy for your pups.  See the information on natural dog food here: ]

The pups will lap this up as if they are drinking, but they’ll be taking food in at the same time.  Day by day the amount of liquid being used should be reduced until eventually the pups are eating the canned or dry food on its own.

One behavior that the bitch will engage in sometimes alarms dog owners.  In an effort to teach her pups how to urinate and defecate, mother may lick the pups’ hindquarters.  This stimulus will make them “go.”  The mother will often eat the pup’s excrement.  She does this to both keep the pups’ area clean and eliminate the scent of her pups’ droppings that could alert predators in the wild.  The pups will sometimes mimic this behavior and eat each other’s excrement for a short time.  Most puppies will cease this behavior by the time they are weaned. 

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