Dams should deliver at home in familiar surroundings where they are at ease. The best place to care for newborn puppies is in a whelping box. The box should be located in a warm, dry, out-of-the-way spot that is free from drafts, noise, and distractions.
An adequate wooden box for large dogs should be at least 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 m) on each side and 12 inches (30 cm) high. A box 2 to 3 feet (61 to 91 cm) on each side and 8 inches (20 cm) high is sufficient for toy breeds. The sides should be tall enough to keep puppies from crawling out while allowing the dam to step (not jump) over. If necessary, one side can be made shorter than the others to help the dam. This side can be replaced by a taller board when the pups are older.
The floor is much easier to clean and the box easier to store if the sides are removable. Therefore, the sides of the whelping box should not be nailed to the floor. Instead, they should be held in grooves made by nailing 1-by-2-inch (2.5-by-5-cm) molding around the edges. The sides are then joined and held in place by hook-and-eye latches.
Make a shelf around the inside of the box a few inches from the floor by nailing 3-inch to 6-inch (7-cm to 15-cm) wide boards to all four sides. Puppies will instinctively crawl under these ledges and thus are less likely to be stepped or rolled on by their mother. All wood surfaces should be treated so they are safe for the pups and easy to clean and disinfect.
There are many commercial whelping boxes available that have safe, easy- to-clean surfaces. If you borrow a whelping box, be sure to thoroughly disinfect it.
Lay several sheets of newspaper in the bottom of the box to absorb moisture. If you ask at your local newspaper office, you may be able to get sheets of newsprint without any printing so you won’t get ink on the pups. Because newspapers offer little traction and do not provide a good surface for crawling, cover the newspapers with heavy towels, mattress pads, or some other mate- rial that gives good traction and is either washable or disposable. Make sure there are no strings or loose strips or threads in the bedding that could entrap the puppies. Disposable baby diapers are excellent for toy breeds. Newborn puppies should never be placed in deep, loose bedding, such as blankets, in which they can smother. Also do not use straw or wood chips, because these substances can be inhaled.
Cold, damp quarters are a leading cause of newborn puppy deaths. The whelping room should be free of drafts and kept at a temperature of 85°F (29°C) for the first seven days after delivery. During the second week, reduce the temperature to 80°F (27°C). Thereafter, progressively reduce the temperature to 72°F (22°C) by the time the litter is 6 weeks old. Keep a constant check on the temperature using a thermometer placed on the floor of the whelping box (and carefully protected from the puppies).
Additional heat can be supplied by using 250-watt infrared heat bulbs, either suspended above the whelping box or mounted in a photographer’s floodlight reflector stand (or by using plant lights). Be sure to leave an area of the box that is out of the direct source of heat, so the mother can rest in a cooler area and the pups can crawl out of the light if they feel overheated.
In addition to the whelping box and a good heat source, you should keep these supplies on hand in case they are needed:
- A small box with padding in which to place new born puppies
- Sterile disposable latex gloves
- An eyedropper or small bulb syringe to aspirate mouth and nose secretions
- Dental floss or cotton thread to tie the umbilical stumps
- Anantiseptic, such as iodine, to apply to the umbilical stumps
- Clean towels
- Plenty of fresh newspapers
Introduce the dam to her whelping box about two weeks before she is due to deliver, and encourage her to sleep in it. By the time she whelps, she will understand that she is to do so in the box and not in your bed. One week before the dam is due to deliver, clip the long hair around her mammary glands and vulva.