has finished whelping the puppies, she is exhausted and you are exhausted
too – now what do you do? First things first - offer some water,
broth or milk to the bitch and then take her out side to pee and poop.
She just ate many of the puppies’ placentas and it may have been
hours since she had a drink or was taken outside. It is amazing how
many breeders just collapse in bed and forget the basic needs of the
Many breeders prefer
to have the bitch actually birth the puppies out in an open space in
the middle of a bathroom or other small room that can be kept warm.
This way the breeder and any other helpers can easily get to the bitch
if necessary without being hindered by sides on a whelping box. However,
you should have already prepared a warm whelping box to transfer the
bitch and puppies into once birthing is completed so they are in a warm,
dry and non-drafty place and won’t need the warmth of the bitch
during her occasional absences to eat or do her duties. A heating pad
is nice to provide extra warmth but be certain the electrical cord is
well protected or out of view of the bitch. The pad itself should be
underneath the whelping box so the bitch cannot chew it and possibly
It is sometimes
wise to have a whelping box with a ledge around the edge of the box
so pups can be safe underneath this ledge without being squashed or
suffocated by the bitch that may unknowingly press her back against
a puppy and press it against the side. This is more important for large
breeds or litters with lots of puppies. Try to have a fuzzy pad or blanket
with edges that can be tucked tightly underneath a board that fills
the floor of the whelping box so the bitch cannot rumple the pad all
up and perhaps smother a puppy.
can tell the difference between male and female puppies, but for those
who might be unsure, the girls have their plumbing between their rear
legs whereas the males have theirs in the middle of their stomach. The
umbilical cords hanging down from all of the puppies’ stomachs
just below their rib cage are just that and should not be confused with
a male pup’s plumbing.
Good mothers are
a joy. An important “mom” duty is keeping the puppies and
the whelping box clean. The elimination process for each puppy is stimulated
by the mother licking each pup’s genital areas. A good mother
also eats all puppy poops and pees during the first few weeks of lactation
prior to weaning. Calmness on the part of the mother and her willingness
to share her pups with the human family are important. Overly protective
mothers who won’t tolerate handling of the pups by humans usually
are overly aggressive in normal life too. This probably should be a
crucial consideration as to whether that bitch is ever bred again, and
the temperaments of her pups should be observed closely to see if any
of them also exhibit the bitch’s aggressive temperament characteristics.
It is desirable to keep the bitch and puppies isolated from normal household
“hub-bub” and certainly keep other animal pets away from
the bitch and her puppies. Some bitches are bouncy and will jump up
at each noise they hear. Some pups that are attached and nursing when
this happens will get a good banging on floor or the side of the whelping
box so the objective is to keep this “banging” from happening
Some litters of
course will have defective puppies. Cleft palates, unclosed stomach
with intestines hanging out, edema (water puppies), hairless or underdeveloped
puppies or mummified puppies are the most common defects. It is probably
best not to waste time with these defective puppies as they will most
likely not survive and there are other healthy, strong puppies that
need the attention of the bitch and yourself. It is estimated that 28%
of all puppies die in the first week after birth, so the first 5 to
7 days are critical. After that, the remaining pups’ chances for
survival are quite high.
Help the bitch keep
the whelping box clean. She will discharge a black/bloody liquid from
her vulva for several weeks after whelping as her system cleans out
the excessive tissues from her uterus. If a C-Section was necessary,
this discharge will usually be more than from mothers with normally
whelped litters. Make sure the mother’s breast areas are kept
clean. If on her trips outside to pee and poop she decides to go down
an inviting hole – perhaps looking for a better den for her puppies
– then wash off her belly. An exceptionally hairy bitch should
probably have hair trimmed from her belly prior to delivery to keep
the area cleaner and to help the pups sort out the teats from the hair.
feed the mother two small meals a day rather than one large meal but
do not initially increase the amount of food she receives beyond perhaps
1½ times what she would have gotten normally. Good quality adult
food is probably best since some special foods for lactating bitches
or puppy foods can be too rich and contain too much calcium for her
initial needs. However, do give her some cottage cheese or yogurt once
a day to provide just a little more calcium. As the pups grow and demand
more and more milk from the bitch, the quantity of food given the bitch
must gradually increase. ALWAYS HAVE PLENTY OF FRESH WATER AVAILABLE
FOR THE BITCH.
By the time the
pups are 4 weeks old the bitch will be eating about three times as much
food as she would normally which has been well supplemented by an egg
a day (cooked or raw), a spoon full of cottage cheese or yogurt with
each meal and perhaps a little chunk of raw hamburger with each meal.
At the third week of lactation, start supplemental calcium powder or
pills on a gradually increasing basis to insure that the bitch receives
plenty of calcium for all the milk she is producing. Around four weeks
of age, most breeders begin weaning the pups.
However, too much
calcium TOO EARLY can cause the bitch’s digestive system to shut
down its ability to absorb calcium so that later on, when the pups are
consuming much more milk, the bitch’s digestive system cannot
assimilate calcium fast enough and she may go into eclampsia (milk fever)
or calcium deficiency. She will become very nervous, start shaking,
her temperature may get as high as 106 degrees fahrenheit and eventually
she may go into convulsions and even die. When these symptoms happens,
an immediate emergency trip to the vet is required to give the bitch
calcium intravenously. Almost within minutes she will return to normal,
but if the pups are at least 3 weeks old, you should begin weaning immediately.
More about other potential nursing problems later.
It is important
that the pups nurse soon after birth. The first milk contains colostrum
which provides passive immunity for the young pups against diseases
for several weeks depending on when the mother was last vaccinated.
This is why it is especially important for the bitch to be up-to-date
on her vaccinations so maximum immunity is passed along to the pups.
Try to be sure that every pup gets some early teat time – especially
if the litter is large and maybe the bitch’s teat count is inadequate
for all pups to nurse at once. If one or more of the pups seem weaker
or seem to cry a lot, then help those pups get attached to a teat (preferably
the ones that seem to contain the most milk – often the two rearmost
teats) and keep the other pups from nudging the weaker pup(s) off while
nursing. Some bitches don’t lie on their side completely and thus
tend to keep half of the teats covered and not accessible to the pups.
Gently force the bitch completely onto her side occasionally and allow
as many pups as possible to nurse all at once.
pups may not be doing well are:
1. Limp feeling like a glove without a hand in it.
2. Sounds like it has emphysema or gurgles when it breaths.
3. Nurses only a few minutes and falls off - or does not nurse at all.
4. Cries a lot and acts like it is colicky.
5. Is dehydrated; determined by pinching the skin on the back of its
neck and the skin stays creased.
1. Feel like a glove with a hand in it.
2. Sound like a well tuned motor.
3. Will twitch and jerk in their sleep as if they are having dreams.
4. Nurse with conviction and are strong enough to fight their way to
5. Are quiet, either busy nursing or sleeping.
6. The “skin pinch test” pops quickly back into place.
Weight gain is the
best way to monitor puppy progress. Lack of weight gain can signal a
problem with individual puppies OR, if all puppies are not gaining,
it can indicate that the bitch is not producing enough milk or that
she has something else wrong. Use the whelping chart described in a
previous article “Whelping Puppies” to maintain a weight
chart by weighing each puppy in the morning and again in the evening.
Some puppies may lose weight the first 24 hours, but by the 2nd day,
healthy JRT puppies should gain between ¼ to 1 ounce daily. Sometimes
you will catch a puppy just after it poops or pees or before it nurses
and they may not show a gain. But make a note to watch that puppy closely
and weight it again a few hours later.
with the bitch’s milk production are several – caked breasts
(calactostasis), mastitis, toxic milk, eclampsia “milk fever”
or just simple failure to accept the pups. Caked-breasts are usually
caused if the bitch is producing too much milk initially and most frequently
happens when there are only one or two pups. Check the bitch frequently
to see if her breasts are swollen or feel hard. If not corrected, those
breasts will probably just dry up on their own, but usually it is wise
to hand nurse these breasts to relieve the discomfort for the bitch
and hopefully keep them going for when the pups are bigger and demand
more volume of milk.
Mastitis is a bacterial
infection of the mammary glands. The breasts turn red to purple and
the bitch becomes listless. If this occurs, immediate veterinary assistance
is necessary. Toxic milk is incompatibility of puppies to the bitch’s
milk. Usually the first sign of this problem is a whole litter of crying,
colicky puppies that aren’t gaining any weight. This is a serious
problem and immediate veterinarian help is needed or you may lose the
entire litter. Eclampsia (milk fever) is a very serious calcium deficiency
problem which was discussed in detail earlier regarding proper feeding
of the bitch during lactation.
Should a puppy appear
weak and not thriving, try giving that pup extra “nipple time”
several times a day all alone without any competition from the other
puppies. Hopefully it will soon start suckling better and eventually
gain enough strength to compete effectively for “nipple time”.
However, some pups require supplemental feeding either by tubing or
bottle-feeding – especially if the mother is not producing appropriate
milk and the entire litter must be hand-fed by the breeder. The author
has had excellent success “tubing” these weak pups. Tubing
involves threading a small tube down the throat of the puppy completely
into its stomach and injecting a milk formula directly into the pup’s
stomach. Your vet’s assistance and advice is required to obtain
the necessary equipment, proper supplemental milk formula and instructions
on how to do the tubing. Some people use a small bottle with a nipple
for supplemental feeding but bottle feeding is much slower than tubing
and it is more difficult to know exactly how much milk the puppy is
getting. Also, the author actually drowned a puppy bottle feeding which
is another reason we much prefer the tubing procedure.
Often the pups need
to have their toenails trimmed within a few days following birth using
a small pair of fingernail clippers. Trim only the points and avoid
the quick (that is pink) as the nails can bleed if cut too short. As
the pups nurse, they knead the breasts to facilitate milk flow and long,
needle sharp nails can be uncomfortable for the bitch or even leave
many small bruises. As the pups grow, toenail trimming should be repeated
about once a week. The umbilical cord stubs will dry up and fall of
in a few days so do not try to pull them off earlier.
Jack Russell Terriers
need to have their dewclaws removed and their tails docked by the third
to fifth day after whelping depending on the vigor of the pups themselves.
Veterinarians can do this removal and docking, but be certain your vet
knows how short the tails should be docked. JRTs need longer tails than
some other breeds (ie., Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Doberman Pinschers,
etc.). On a JRT, take off only 1/3 to 3/8 of the tail and NEVER MORE
THAN HALF. The March/April 2001 issue of “True Grit” has
an extensive article on how best to do this tail docking and dew claw
The eyes of your
puppies will open sometime between ten and eighteen days. Let this eye
opening happen on its own and do not worry if some open their eyes before
others. At around three weeks, the puppies will begin to hear loud sounds.
By two weeks the pups will begin to stand and by three weeks they will
be walking around. By four weeks, the pups will be aware of their surroundings
and will begin to play with each other - usually consisting of trying
to chew on each other’s ears or tails or even male “toidies”.
Puppies should be
treated for worms at 2, 4, 6 and probably again at 8 weeks of age. Puppies
can be infected with worms from the bitch or even from dirt on her nipples
brought in from her trips outside. It is really horrible to have a litter
of 5 to 6 week old puppies actually pooping sheaths of round worms that
look like bundles of angel hair spaghetti. Your veterinarian can provide
appropriate wormer and instructions on how best to accomplish this worming.
Some vets may even recommend worming the bitch during lactation.
Weaning of puppies
can begin anytime from 2½ weeks to 5 weeks depending on each
individual situation. There are many, many theories about what to feed
the puppies during weaning – probably all will work. One good
technique is to use a small amount of a good brand of puppy chow or
kibble (the author uses the same adult dog food the mother is getting)
and soak the dog food in water until it can be mashed with a fork. At
first use very little of the mashed dog food mixed with condensed milk
and add scrapings from a piece of inexpensive beef or venison steak.
Warm this thin gruel slightly in a microwave and present it to the puppies.
As days go by and the puppies are eating eagerly, use proportionally
more dog food and add egg yoke (raw or cooked), finely ground hamburger
instead of steak scrapings plus cottage cheese or yogurt. Always add
enough warmed water or condensed milk to make a gruel - gradually thickening
the consistency of this gruel. Use a straight side bowl such as a cake
pan – not a sloping sided bowl. With straight sides, less food
will be pushed out of the pan.
For the first week
or so the pups will waste more food than they eat by wading through
the bowl and tracking it out onto the floor. In the beginning, help
the pups realize that there is food in the bowls, putting a little on
the end of your finger and sort of “rake” it off into the
mouths of the puppies. Then push their noses toward the food to get
a little on their lips. Once they realize what it is all about, they
are usually eager eaters. It is advisable to feed the pups when the
bitch is elsewhere otherwise she will quickly eat all of their food.
When the puppies have finished, let the bitch clean up what is left.
Gradually increase the volume of food and make it a thicker consistency
as the pups become more proficient at eating. Weanlings should be fed
three to four times a day. Gradually begin keeping the bitch separated
from the pups for longer periods of time but after the weanlings have
just been fed, allow them to nurse briefly when the bitch returns for
so long as she will allow unless health issues with the bitch dictate
that she should completely cease nursing the pups. Hopefully, the bitch
will also play briefly with the puppies as this maternal contact and
early discipline is good for their personality developments. Always
keep fresh water available for both the bitch and the puppies in the
whelp box area.
By the time the
pups are 4 weeks of age, the breeder should have worked out with their
veterinarian the planned vaccination program for their pups. Parental
immunity is present so long as the pups are nursing, but this begins
to gradually weaken and the pups need to be protected by their own vaccinations.
Many vets recommend that vaccines begin at 5 to 6 weeks of age with
three subsequent shots on a three week schedule thereafter. However,
some vets are beginning to recommend later vaccinations starting at
8 weeks with the shots repeated at 4 week intervals thereafter for a
total of three shots.
Rely on your local vet’s advice as to what vaccinations the puppies
An excellent website discussing several vaccination theories for canines
is located at http://designerbostons.homestead.com/misc.htm1#anchor_13035
should you or your vet be interested.
should be kept to a minimum until the pups have been given their vaccinations.
If outsiders are allowed to pick up the puppies, require that they wash
their hands with a disinfectant soap and avoid placing the pups against
their faces or clothing. There is nothing worse than having a litter
of perfectly healthy puppies get sick from Parvo or some other puppy
A responsible breeder
of Jack Russell Terriers should also make an appointment with a Veterinary
Neurologist to have the hearing of all puppies in the litter tested.
Deafness is prevalent in JRTs, and the only way to really know if your
puppies hear properly is to have them BAER tested (Brainstem Auditory
Evoked Response), usually at 7 to 8 weeks of age before the pups are
placed in their new homes. Also take the entire litter to your local
veterinarian for a puppy physical to check for heart murmurs and any
other health or genetic problems not readily discernible without medical
equipment. It is strongly recommended that the pups receive their first
vaccination at least 3 days prior to visits to the vet office for BAER
testing or puppy physicals.
There is no way
an article like this can include ALL information needed to successfully
rear puppies from whelping to weaning. Therefore it is recommended that
any breeder just starting out purchase one or more of the many available
books on the subject of Canine Breeding. One excellent reference for
rearing puppies is entitled: “The Whelping and Rearing of Puppies”,
by Muriel P. Lee published by T.F.H Publications, Inc.. One of the best
books or all is “Canine Reproduction – A Breeders Guide”
by Phyllis A. Holst, MS, DVM published by Alpine Publications, Inc..
Several other excellent reference books have already been listed in
the three previous articles in this series -- “Breeding Your Bitch”,
“Canine Pregnancy” and “Whelping Puppies”.