Before the arrival of the puppies a suitable place must be prepared for the whelping and the care of the puppies in the first six weeks of life.
A room must be well insulated and capable of being heated, the daily variation in night and day temperatures is considerable. Newly born puppies have no ability to regulate their own body heat, so the temperature must be maintained at about 24 degrees C at floor level where the puppies are lying.
A whelping-box with sides about 25cm high and sufficiently large for the bitch to be able to stretch out comfortably should be provided.
The most practical material to cover the wooden floor is newspaper, which can be changed as frequently as it is dirtied. Sheets and blankets become very quickly contaminated and it is difficult to keep up a sufficient supply of clean replacements.
Electric heating pads on which the bitch and puppies lie are available. This form of heating is very suitable and the general temperature of the room can be reduced to a less drying and oppressive level.
In the first few weeks of life no other special facilities are needed, but as the puppies grow a secure outside run is required to provide space for exercise and play. After three weeks the temperature in the sleeping area can be reduced. The room should be designed for easy cleaning, as puppies at this age make a considerable mess.
The first sign that labor is impending is usually the refusal of food.
The normally ravenous dog turns away from its plate or may vomit shortly after eating. She becomes restless, starts to scratch her bedding into a nest and may remain lying for only short periods. Soon she may start to pant and muscular contractions may be visible in her distended abdomen.
A fluid-filled sac appears at the vulva. This is one of the membranes which covers the developing puppy and the bitch usually vigorously licks herself until the membrane is ruptured, releasing a small amount of clear fluid.
Soon the bitch starts to enhance the contractions already begun in the uterus by standing and straining her abdominal muscles. The frequency of these contractions increases, as does their force, until another sac containing the puppy appears at the vulva.
It is best not to be in too much of a hurry to assist the birth of the puppy while the bitch is making progress.
If the bitch is beginning to tire or if the puppy is being presented hind feet first the delivery can be facilitated by grasping the puppy with a clean cloth and gently pulling in unison with the contractions of the bitch.
When the puppy is delivered it is usually surrounded by a thin membrane. If the bitch does not remove this quickly and start licking the puppy clean, the puppy’s head should be freed and the nose and mouth wiped free of any fluid which may hinder the puppy’s first breaths.
If it is obvious that some fluids have entered the nose and mouth of the puppy, it should be placed in the palm of the hand so that the neck is supported and shaken vigorously, head downwards, to expel the obstruction.
The interval between the birth of each puppy varies from dog to dog. Usually it is between 15 and 20 minutes, but may be much longer towards the end of a large litter.
Between the birth of each puppy the bitch may rest quietly but she does not really relax and stretch out until the whole litter has been delivered. She usually is not hungry after whelping and prefers to rest. She may, however, be quite thirsty and will drink milk or water.
After a dog has produced a large litter it is wise to have it examined by a veterinarian, who may give an injection to aid the contraction of the uterus and let down the milk.
If the puppies are of a breed that requires tail-docking and dew-claw removal, this is best done when they are 4 days old. Normally, worming begins at 2½ weeks and their first vaccinations are given when they are 6 weeks old.