It is important that you should have a whelping box ready and in a position where constant heat is available. The puppies will be coming out of their safe secure world into a much colder atmosphere and it is absolutely essential, especially in the case of Toy breeds, that a temperature of around 27 °C (80°F) should be maintained at the time of birth and that this should not fall below 21 °C (70°F) during the puppies first 3 weeks of life.
The whelping box should be lined with newspapers or other disposable material and, in the absence of a purpose-designed whelping kennel, the foot of the linen cupboard or some similar out-of-the-way place, where the bitch can be left in peace and quiet, should be suitable. Synthetic sheepskin bedding of the 'Vet-Bed' washable type is recommended and you will need, at the time of whelping, an old towel which can later be disposed of.
Also vitally important are items such as a clock, so that you can record the intervals between the birth of pups, a roll of paper tissue and a 'Belcroy' baby feeder in case it becomes necessary to hand-feed the pups. There are preparations, such as 'Lactol', which are specially formulated from skimmed milk to match natural bitch’s milk as closely as possible. It is also an excellent food for the bitch prior to whelping as it is likely to enrich the quality of her milk and reduce the strain imposed upon her. It is all too easy to say that breeding a litter is something that, like so many other things in life, can be learned from experience, but in this instance, a number of little lives could be at stake.
In the majority of cases, the whelping bitch will do all that is required by herself, opening, with her teeth, the little membrane in which each puppy is contained at the time of birth, cleaning the pup, severing the umbilical cord and eating the afterbirth. However, should she not do so, it is up to the owner to carefully break the membrane and hold the pup so that the bitch may lick it.
Sometimes a pup may arrive literally on the heels of its predecessor, so that the mother has not finished the cleaning operation in time to give attention to freeing the new pup. If the pup is not taken out of its little sac, it will not be able to breathe. If the bitch does not sever the cord, you must do this quickly with sterilized scissors, leaving a good 2 in (5 cm) of cord on the pup. Also, any mucus round the mouth of the pup should be wiped away with damp cotton wool. When the pups are clean and dry, they should be placed at the bitch’s teats so they may suckle.
When the time is near for the bitch to whelp, she will become restless, probably seeking the solitude of her basket and resenting perhaps being placed in the whelping box.
On the day she is due to whelp she may begin to scratch at newspaper, at her basket or even the settee and to jump up at you as if she has some news to impart or wishes you to help her. Indeed, it is quite easy to mistake these first signs of labor for an event which may not take place for some hours. But from now on you must watch the bitch carefully and be ready to transfer her to the whelping quarters.
It is also important at whelping time to watch carefully, taking a torch with you, if you allow your bitch to go out and relieve herself. It is quite likely that she could pass a pup in so doing.
The best advice is to let your veterinary surgeon know the date of the expected litter so that he can note the date in his diary and you can arrange to phone him immediately at the first sign of trouble.
There are some breeds which are particularly difficult to breed from. The Chihuahua, the Pekingese, the French Bulldog and other types with large heads frequently get into difficulty and need a Caesarean operation and there are, of course, breech births and other difficulties which call for veterinary aid.
The average time between the births of the first puppy and the second range from 20 to perhaps 40 minutes, averaging 30 minutes between each. However, if all the pups have not appeared within 3 hours of the start of labor, or if the bitch seems in undue distress, do not delay ringing for help.
In all events, the bitch should have a drink of warm milk with glucose after her efforts and be left in peace until the next day, rather than be worried by you cleaning her bedding.
Small breeds tend to have small litters of perhaps
3 or 4 puppies whereas the bigger breeds can have as many as 10 or
11 pups. However, the fact must be faced that 8 could be all your
bitch can comfortably deal with.