Caring for the litter

  • First Few Weeks
  • Feeding
  • Vaccinations and Worming
  • Socialising
  • Exercise
  • House Training

First Few Weeks - Like newborn babies, newborn puppies will spend most of their time sleeping and feeding. As a responsible breeder it is your job to ensure that all the puppies are feeding regularly. You should contact your vet if you have a puppy that is restless, cries a lot or does not seem to be receiving as much milk as the other puppies. The above symptoms are consistent with Fading Puppy Syndrome (see Dog Health).

If your puppies are a working breed they will need to have their tails docked. Although this is a very controversial issue, working dogs with long tails are more susceptible to injury and infection. It is worth finding a vet that will carry out such a procedure before the puppies are born, as the docking must take place within the first two days of life. Do not assume that your local vet will be happy to do this for you as some larger practises have a policy against docking. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons have said that docking purely for cosmetic reasons will result in disciplinary action, as the act is perceived as gross professional misconduct. See Dog Health for more information.

At the same time as docking the tails, the vet will remove the puppies dew claws. On no account attempt to dock tails or remove dew claws yourself. A vet has the experience to carry out these procedures quickly, without fuss and with minimal pain to the puppies. Inexperience can harm to your puppies. See Dog Health for more information.

At some point in the second week of life your puppies will start to open their eyes, shortly afterwards the ear canal will open. Try and block out some of the lighting at this stage and keep noise levels to a minimum. The puppies eyes can be cleaned with a clean, wet cotton wool ball. If your puppies have excessive discharge from the eye you need to contact your vet.

Monitor the puppies weight and growth rate every couple of days. Record your findings. Any weight loss or no growth for a few days should be reported to your vet as these can be early indications of Fading Puppy Syndrome (see Dog Health). A puppies birth weight should double in the first 7-10 days.

The whelping area will need to be cleaned everyday. Remove the old newspaper (if using) and replace with new. Remove any faeces immediately. Place the puppies gently in the second box that you have prepared while you disinfect the area.

Do not allow other pets (especially dogs) into the whelping area. The puppies are very susceptible to infection and illness in the first few weeks and it is best not to take any chances. Your bitch will probably be quite protective of her puppies and show signs of aggression to other animals.

Once the pups are three weeks old, they can be moved into a busier room in the house where they will get accustomed to the smells and sounds of a busy household and lots of attention from visitors! They will need a larger area to play in, although they still need to be contained for their own safety. A purpose built run is ideal, with sides low enough for the bitch to jump over, but high enough to keep the puppies in. The litter can be moved to an outside building if not already. Adequate heating remains to be very important. The area will still need to be cleaned daily and faeces removed immediately.

Make sure you check the puppies regularly and that they recieve lots of attention. Socialising is very important at this early stage. It is good for your puppies to get used to such sounds as the vacuum cleaner, television, washing machine, etc. If your puppies are in an outside building try leaving a radio on for them intermittently. A station with stories and lots of talking is preferable to a purely music channel. But remember, your puppies need to get used to the quiet as well as to the noise.

Feeding - Milk should remain the sole source of food until the puppies are three weeks old. At this time they should get inquisitive and start to explore their surroundings. Now is a good time to introduce solid food. If they have access to the bitch's food they may start to eat it around now, as long as the bitch has a good diet this will not harm the puppies. But it is best to start them on a purpose made puppy food. Your vet can recommend a good brand. Purpose made puppy food is smooth and wet so it is easy to consume and digest. It also contains all the correct nutrients that a weaning puppy requires. Initially you may have to encourage the puppies to eat solid food by letting them lick small amounts from your finger. They will soon pick it up. Supervise feeding times closely, puppies should not be allowed to defecate or urinate in their feeding bowls.

As the puppies get used to one solid meal a day, move them away from their mother at feeding time. This will aid their independence. Then gradually increase their meals so they are spending more time away from their mother. This will allow the bitch's milk to dry up slowly and steadily. By the time the puppies are 6-7 weeks old they should be on four solid meals a day and totally independent of their mother. This is only a guide. Your puppies should not leave their mother until they are seven weeks old and they need to be on solid food before they move into their new homes.

Make sure the puppies have clean, fresh water readily available to them, but keep it in shallow bowls. The water will need to be changed more often as the puppies get more adventurous and active to make sure it stays clean and fresh.

Vaccinations and Worming - All puppies should be vaccinated against four potentially fatal diseases: Distemper, Parvovirus, Canine Hepatitis and Leptospirosis (see Dog Health). These vaccinations are given in the form of two injections. The first injection can be given at eight weeks and the second at twelve weeks. Some vets recommend earlier vaccination at six and ten weeks, but you will need to discuss this with him/her.

By the time your puppies are six weeks old, they should've been wormed two or three times to eliminate Toxocariasis, caused by the roundworm Toxocara Canis. Your vet will prescribe a medicine usually containing Piperazine, which should be given to your puppies and two weeks old and every subsequent two weeks until they are three months old. The worms will be expelled via the faeces. See Dog Health for more information.

The administering of worm medication will begin with the breeder and finish with the new owner. Therefore the new owner will need to know accurately when the treatment has been given.

Socialising - It is important to start socialising your puppies from an early age. Once they have reached three weeks old, and their eyes and ears are open, they will start to get quite adventurous and playful. If you have been handling your puppies regularly from birth, your bitch will be quite happy to let more people get close. Spend as much time as possible in amongst the puppies, playing with them and fussing them. Introduce them to children, but remember it is the children that require the supervision! Potential new owners should be encouraged to handle the puppies and interact with them as much as possible. This is also a good exercise for you to assess the people you are dealing with.

Exercise - With most breeds it is recommended that you do not excessively exercise your dog until its bones have formed properly. This varies greatly between breeds. See Breed Profiles for more information.

House Training - The bitch will actively encourage her puppies not to soil in the bed. Within the run (or pen) the puppies will usually soil away from the bed on newspaper. However, you do not want them to associate newspaper with defecating. Therefore it is wise to get the puppies out in the garden at regular intervals, i.e. after a meal or a sleep. From three or four weeks old the puppies can go outside with their mother. When a puppy urinates or defecates outside you give him lots of fuss and praise. But NEVER chastise a puppy for soiling in the wrong place. An obvious sign that a puppy needs to relieve himself is circling in the same place, or restlessness when the other puppies are feeding or sleeping. Be prepared to take all of them outside for short periods, often. Consistency is key.

Your puppies new owners will need to know your routine and rewards in detail, so that training can continue in the way the puppies are accustomed.