The Georgia Shih Tzu

Whelping Help

shih tzu outline
Whelping a Litter and Car for the Dam
Last Modified: 10 Mar 2016
For everyone who may not already know. Puppies are born blind so please do not freak out. They will not open their eyes, which will be blue, until they are about two weeks old and they will still be unable to see well until they are about three weeks old when their eye color will darken to black. Also, dams frequently lose copious amounts of hair after the birth of the litter. Some will start to lose during pregnancy or as early as their heat. It is normal and will grow back if your female is healthy.
Words bold and in green lead to pictures of whatever I am discussing. Words in purple lead to sites that have the tools or information I recommend. Words in brown will lead to the dictionary for an explanation of the term.

Getting ready for delivery

There are a few items you may want to have on hand before delivery day arrives. The most important on that list, if you are breeding small dogs, is Clear Caro Corn Syrup. It does not matter the brand, only that you have a bottle when you need it. Be sure you have a very skinny Plastic Non-needle Syringe. You will need it to administer the syrup to a puppy unable to lick or open very wide. The reasons and when to administer are listed below and in Litter Care. You will also need a Kitchen or Baby Scale to keep track of their health through their weight gain, Surgical Gloves (non-latex & non-powder) if you do not want to touch the puppies directly, and sharp Sterilized Scissors in case you are called upon to cut the umbilical cord. If you have no medical means of sterilizing the scissors, boil them in water with a few drops of bleach. Be sure you allow them to cool completely before use and are thoroughly dry. Have good Bedding on hand. I always prefer towels. They are easy to clean, easy to store and easy to change. If they are ruined they are easy to throw away. I do not recommend large blankets or anything with folds where puppies can be wrapped up and stifled. It may not seem easy for them to do, but I have to watch they don't get lost in the towels. A Baby Nose Squeegee may come in handy, but it may not be enough as explained below. If not already using one, convince your dog to use a Water Bottle. It is the safest way to keep water nearby without puppies possibly drowning or catching cold when splashed. If this is not a possibility try putting her water bowl in a larger bowl that will act as a barrier to the water and will collect any splashes from drinking. It will use a great amount of space and may not be full proof, so think very carefully about the bottle. I usually buy the large rabbit water bottles found at all pet supplies; some carry dog bottles. Consider having a Microwavable Heating Pad available should you need to separate a puppy or the entire litter from the mother.
Lastly, get a crate. I have had many different types of crates over the years and the one I used the longest was a large industrial rabbit cage. My favorite acquisition is not sold as a crate, but a bin. If you would like one it can be found at Global Industrial. It is a large wire folding container. Make sure you order the lid, which is separate and the wheels are optional and not necessary. Then I purchased a long flat bar of metal and bent and cut it to lay flat over the top of the container to hold up the lid. I curled it at the ends to wrap around the side bars as a permanent piece. I then made a box in the base, as it does not come with one. You can also buy a bin for the same purpose. It was fairly easy and cheaper then many crates as well as sturdier and safer for the puppies. I only use this for whelping and for new puppies and I switch to a regular crate at about four weeks when they are old enough to learn to crawl in and out of the crate on their own. Recently more companies have been selling better built crates which are perfect for whelping these small puppies. They can be found on my Pinterest page. Visit the Reception Room and click on the Pinterest link and follow the instructions on the popup to set up an account and follow my pins to see the board created just for crates and bedding. Should you really choose not to use a crate I have a list of other containers that have been used by breeders with their good and bad points. I am pretty biased, because I have tried all these containers and I have had litters without a container. Always use some sort of containment. Do not allow her to have the run of the house, so many things could happen and you may have puppies spread all over the house or hidden from you. If you still are adamant against a crate I list many other options below along with their good and bad points. No matter where you keep dam and pups I always recommend the use of a water bottle over the bowl so the puppies do not find a way to drown in it. You can always keep it far from the pups, but that allows your dam to become susceptible to dehydration since she she sty as close to them as much as possible. Switching to a water bottle is easy and cleaner as well as safer. Since they are sold with wires to hang them from a crate it leaves you with little options, but a stand can be purchased from the Georgia Shih Tzu Palace which will allow you to place the bottle anywhere you would like.

Choose wisely!

  • Wading Pools
  • are a common choice for whelping dogs because of their size, strength, easy accessibility, and space for separating food from puppies and, as they grow older, pooping area from play area. Wading pools are too easily accessible (please remember I breed small dogs). It does not force dams to stay with their pups to keep them warm so a heating pad is needed. She may not spend enough time cleaning them nor feeding, leaving sick, messy and under fed puppies. Size is also a problem if you live in a small home. They are nearly impossible to store and worse to keep clean and in good condition while in storage. They become filthy, lose their shape, and are easily cracked. For larger breeds their weakness is the problem. They break under the more powerful dogs and their nails are strong enough to puncture the bottom. Worse is when the puppies are old enough to chew on the sides and break off pieces and swallow them.
  • Play Pens
  • seem to be another popular choice. They are tall, nice looking, easily mobile, easily cleanable and washable, the mesh sides make it easy to keep an eye on puppies, they are off the ground, provide good space and are easily stored. Oh.. and they are also a cute way to show puppies to buyers. The reason I dumped this one was because my dam really wanted out in the middle of the night and dug her way through the mesh, making a very large hole. Then three of her puppies fell out and I lost one of them to the fall and the cold. I was lucky the other two pulled through though it required a vet visit and a hefty bill. Once I patched it up I used it to hold puppies just for buyer viewing. Puppy claws are very sharp and several of them were frequently caught in the mesh. After a few days the expensive structure looked very ragged and dirty.
  • Tote Bins
  • are not as high on the list, but are not a bad choice. They are very sturdy, exceptionally easy to clean, easy to store, take up very little space, still accessible for roaming mothers and are easy to train puppies to move to a crate. My only grief is that they are easily tipped while a determined mother is desperately trying to free herself. I usually recommend their use for the first 2-3 weeks after the birth of the puppies until they are too big to get caught in the wires of a crate. Then moving them to a suitably sized crate until they find homes.
  • Boxes
  • ... well there is very little good to say about using a box. I guess it is a choice because it is dirt cheap, easily replaceable, easy to store? None of these are good reasons to use a box, even if it is one of those industriously thick types. It started out fine since my dam seemed able to jump in and out easily enough, but she made gouges in the walls then ripped one wall down. When the puppies were old enough to play they managed to rip open a corner. Several came crawling out and one stuck it's leg in the corner and ripped its muscle. It died the next day. I meant it when I said I had tried just about everything in my quest to find the best containment.
  • Tubs
  • are probably a place you never really thought to keep puppies. It can be cleaned of any mess, it is a good size, no storage necessary, built in drain (only slightly trying to be funny) and easily accessible. I thought this was quite a good spot until the drain became a problem. I taped it with duct tap, but my dam had reason for removing it. I put a heavy food bowl over it and she moved it. She would not let me cover it. If you have a drain that pops up and down, this may still be a good option for you. Then there are the claw marks. Not many people are willing to have their tub ruined by a dog.
  • Travel Carriers
  • are a slightly more popular place than tote bins. They are much less expensive then crates, lightweight, easy to store, easy to clean and easy to work with. My problem is all sight. I find it so much easier to catch problems with puppies when you can see them from every angle just while walking by or glancing at it. Carriers are just too solid and not possible to see through except from the front, but then it is still not possible to see into corners.
  • Crates
  • are my preferred container for small and medium breed dogs. They are portable, easy to clean, visible from all angles, any size you choose, easy to find used, durable, safe and compact. They easily hold water bottles and can have a door anywhere you need one to be. There is only one problem with crates (luckily it is easily remedied) and that is with small breed dogs. Newborn puppies are so small that their heads may and can be caught in between the bars. Remedy is a small litter pan kept inside from whelping until puppy eyes open. At that age their heads are too big to fit between the bars and you can remove the pan.
  • Whelping Boxes
  • are the preferred container for large breed dogs. These special boxes have a lip around the edge that prevents the dam from laying on her pups and crushing them. It does not stop her from stepping on them, but making the box shallow enough for her to see as she gets in, but high enough to keep the puppies in will keep that from happening. There is no downside to these boxes and everything to gain. I do not recommend them for small and medium breed dogs, except for those weighing heavily.
  • Closet or Laundry Rooms
  • are probably very high on the popularity list. I am continually amazed at the amount of people who will not confine their dogs when they have puppies. I would say these make up a good half or more of all dog owners. There are some advantages... if I really think about it... just kidding. The only advantage I can really see is no need to have a container, just block off a favorite room for the dog or a seldom used room. This could work if you do not mind not having constant sight of the pups in case of trouble and if you do not mind the cleanup. I also worry about any number of pest possibilities in certain areas at certain times of the year. I also worry about air flow. The space may not be the same temperature as the rest of your home. My biggest worry is sight. Unless you are living in the room with them or where the closet is located, you will not know when a puppy is in trouble until it is too late to help. Consider where you will put everyone if you have more than one litter at once? You may say you will not let that happen, but you never know what the future will hold.
  • No Container
  • is a slightly less popular choice, but I still hear about it commonly enough. As with using a closet or laundry room I have to really try hard to find one good thing about it. The only thing I can come up with is allowing your dog to chose for herself where she wants to have her puppies and not having to find one for her or listen to her whine when she wants somewhere else. Major flaws are not knowing where her and her pups are and an increased chance of losing mom or pups when in trouble. She might chose a dangerous place to whelp, such as in the middle of your laundry, which will increase the chances for pups suffocating or dying from inability to get to mom when they would otherwise live. Then there is the mess. Should she chose to whelp on the furniture or carpet I wish you good luck in cleaning the mess. I am guessing the likelihood of a permanent stain are pretty high. For the most part, it's biggest flaw is the one thing I spend the most of my time encouraging everyone to do. That is to ensure that the dam spends all of her time with her pups until they are three weeks old, most of her time until 7 weeks old and then some of her time until they are completely weened, then not at all to keep them from trying to go back to nursing. You must understand that if you allow her to leave her pups when she chooses she will not be giving them the care, security and training they need to be well adjusted puppies when they go home. She may also be forcing them to wean before they are ready just because she is tired of being confined. Generally, nature has given her enough sense to know what her pups need and how to care for them, but having been domesticated and overbred for so long they have lost much of what knowledge nature has provided them with. Many mothers will try to wean pups at 3 weeks when they really should not wean until they are willingly eating hard dog food on their own. Another big problem is that you and the dam may not see eye to eye. Just because you say it is a safe place does not mean she will and if she disagrees she will find another place for them where you cannot get to them or where there will not be as safe. It is also highly likely they will be harmed in the journey. Also note that she may consider her whelping spot to be safe, but then change her mind later. It may have worked the first litter or even the first few, but do not expect that to last. Trust me, I have been there and it is not worth it.


A pregnant dam will near the end of her pregnancy between 57 and 67 days depending on the dog and her age. Day 62 is your most accurate due date to follow and day 56 is the day to be sure she is comfortable, watched and contained. To help take the work out of predicting the accuracy of her due date, you may, take a rectal temperature twice a day, but please understand that it is rarely accurate and may only succeed in making your dam very uncomfortable and very unhappy. Do not give her a reason to run from you. When her temperature drops below 98 degrees you may have delivery within 24 hours. The only problem is that not all dams will drop in temperature. Some may rise, and others may fluctuate so much that you were better off not trying. Some first time dams will deliver unexpectedly and if you are not there to help you may lose a puppy or more if she is unaware of what to do. The best way to ensure your dam will be in a safe place when she starts labor is to confine her to an area where you can keep track of her. Many are irrational during whelp and will find a place that tends to be very undesirable for you or very dangerous for her. Belle always chooses the laundry room as her preferred whelping box. I, on the other hand, would rather not, as the fluids from the puppies are almost impossible to wash out. Bambi chose to deliver under a very unstable bed. I had to enlist the help of several men to lift the bed while I and my sister crawled underneath to remove dam and pups. Needless to say, the carpet was ruined. Try to keep her where you spend most of your time while you wait for her whelp to start and you will be able to hear her at night. Keep her close in case she does not exhibit any of the labor signs I have listed below. Some dogs will have some, all or none of these listed symptoms so beware!

Normal indications of labor are:

  • Heavy panting or shivering
  • Refusal to eat
  • Vomiting
  • Frequent Urination
  • Restlessness, nesting, digging
  • Passing of mucus material (mucus plug)
  • Hiding
  • Abnormal barking, whining, or other noises
  • Abnormal temperature
  • Consumption of more liquids than is normal
Do not be surprised if you find mucus coming from her backside. It is the mucus plug and it is necessary for this to be dislodged before the appearance of the puppies. Unfortunately the loss of the mucus plug is not a good indication of labor. She could lose her plug anywhere between two weeks and minutes before the pups begin coming. I used to recommend Calcium/Magnesium pills if you wanted to ensure that she stayed in labor, but I now have learned that this is not a safe practice. Many dogs do not come to harm with these pills, but it is possible for a dog to suffer from eclampsia.


At this point sit back and see what happens. Do not get involved with her labor unless something is wrong. Nature is a much more powerful being than we are and dogs were giving birth long before we started breeding them. Find a place where she can be comfortable and have room to move into positions that will make her labor easier. Be sure it is a place where her puppies, when born, will be safe from hazards. Many will be in labor a short period of time before the puppies start coming while others may be in labor several hours. I have one dog who labored 8 hours before the first puppy moved into the birth canal. This is not a reason for worry. If there is a puppy in the birth canal it is another story and I will get into that. Your responsibilities during whelp are your choice. Some feel they have to completely take over. To me this sounds like what I have read in recorded history about women and giving birth. For a time, labor and birthing were considered a medical malady and were therefore treated as such. The woman was put under and birth was always cesarean. We aren't quite like that today, but some feel we still rely far too much on a doctor. One litter I tried to take over and I only made matters worse. My dam and her puppies were far better off when I have kept my distance and only interfered when I felt she could not handle whelping on her own. Of course, the other option is to take her straight away to a vet so she can whelp in an animal hospital. If you do this be sure to make clear to your vet that you do not want your dog spayed, unless of course there were complications or if you really wanted her to stop after this litter. Be sure to ask what your vet would do should your dog bite if interfered with. If your vet will be doing a c-section simply because the female will not let him near then you will want to know in advance.
Whether or not she might need help, you might want to keep some surgical gloves handy. Once the puppy moves into the birth canal the mother has 3 hours to push the puppy out. Consider going to the vet after 3 hours, but still allow her another 30 minutes before taking action. There is a puppy in the birth canal if you check around the vulva between her hind legs and see a bulge and/or feel something like a rock behind her skin. I have found it is very hard to describe what it looks like when the pups has reached the canal so here is some help understanding for what you will be looking. The sac will start to show first as a tiny bulge and then more with each push. This could take her up to ten minutes to push out completely. If you feel she is having trouble pushing out a large puppy, you may try gently massaging her pelvic area to help her dilate fully and allowing optimum room for the puppy. If the puppy has been in the birth canal too long you might have to go so far as to pull the puppy out. To do this, gently slip your fingers around as much puppy as possible and even more gently pull downward with each contraction. Do not try to pull unless she is pushing or you really will hurt her. Usually, a puppy still in it's sac will be delivered without too much trouble only a little extra time. If the puppy still will not come out, call your vet and have them give emergency instructions over the phone until you can safely get mother and pup(s) to the hospital. In many cases there may be an empty sac included in the litter. They can come at any time, but usually come first. The sac will not create a bulge behind the vulva and will show as a pinched small ballon of any color. If you believe this is what you are seeing you should be able to pinch it in your fingers and squish it. If this is the case get the scissors and pop it open. Your dam will not be able to deliver it and the puppies behind it could suffer. Once it is popped, liquid will pour out and the next puppy could arrive in seconds or minutes. If she has tried too long to birth an empty sac without help the puppies behind it may shoot out one after the other without leaving her enough time to clean and care for them. There is also a possibility that one or more of the puppies behind the sac could be dead if they have waited far too long for birth. Step in and take over where it is needed if mom is overwhelmed and the puppies are coming to fast. If your bitch was in labor, a pup is in the birth canal, and her labor has now stopped, you may feed her powdered egg shells. They are pure calcium as well as other nutrients that ensure her body will absorb the calcium properly and restart her labor. More information on giving her egg shells and preparing them can be found at Home Remedies.
Most puppies that spend long periods of time in the birth canal (longer than 1 hour) have less chance of surviving. There is always hope. Ideally, puppies are born with their sacs intact, head first and followed closely by the placenta. This does not always happen. Some dams will only push long enough to release the puppy and will then rip the sac, clean the pup, cut the umbilical cord, and then push out the placenta. Sometimes the sac is not as strong as it should be or has been subject to more stress than it was designed to handle and will break before the puppy is fully born. This is a dangerous situation for both the pup and the mother. The pup must come out and will require you to pull it out as best you can. If you can be gentle and grip well than please do so, but if not you just need to get the puppy out. I have learned from the site I link to below, Dog Breed Info, that applying dish soap to the pup around the dam's vulva will help you to dislodge the puppy. Work with the mother's contractions as they will be your extra leverage. Without the sac the puppy is not only more vulnerable, but has lost it's birthing protection and will no longer have a smooth delivery. Breech puppies, puppies born feet first, are not too difficult as long as the sac is intact. It may take longer for the dam to deliver, especially a first time dam, but it can still be born without mishap. sOf course, many times the dam does everything well on her own. Beyond some of the dangers that occur during the birth there are a few things that can be normal and you should not be alarmed about. One is whining and pushing followed by resting. Many will have some preparatory pushes that help to put the puppies in line before birthing. For some dogs this is painful and others don't make a sound. The first time I heard my dog scream I was frantic but as long as she is not bleeding and there is no puppy in the birth canal and she calms down between pushing she is fine. Other dams become very restless while delivering the pups. This is also normal as the birthing position changes for every dog. Some birth standing while other sit or even lie down. Let her do whatever she is comfortable with. If she has to walk, than let her walk, but keep her safely confined. Annie is prone to circle her cage while pushing and then once the puppy starts coming she births standing up. Don't stop her from what is natural. There are also times when you cannot help but freak out. There are plenty of dangers in birthing a pup and one of them can be dangerous for both pup and mother. Before I continue, the best breeders are the ones who will save the bitch first and the puppy second. If you have to lose the pup to save your dog you had better not have to think twice. But back to what I was going to say, there is a possibility that two pups may try to be born at the same time. For this instance the best thing I can do is send you to another web site which shows some wonderful pictures and has some good advice. She does contradict much of my advice, but I have learned one or two things from her and the picture of the presentation of two sacs is excellent. Dog Breed Info.

The Puppies are Here!

Once a puppy has been born, and remember this is my opinion and not law, I do not recommend separating puppy from dam. Let the dam eat the sac and clean her baby. Many will tell you that this is unnecessary and only causes diarrhea for the dam and multiplies its odor by 20% but this is not the whole truth. The placenta carries so much protein that there is a reason a bitch has the urge to clean her puppies herself. Yes, you can replace some of what is lost with supplements, but allowing her to follow the laws of nature is like arguing whether mother's milk or formula is better. Eating the placenta has also proven to be key in triggering "let down" for early lactating. I personally do not care how many tests are done, it is almost impossible to recreate with medical means what nature has already provided us with. But again, it is your choice. I also want to note the dangers. I have learned recently of a large breed dam who had whelped 12 puppies and in eating all the placentas from every puppy she had liver failure as her liver could not handle the breakdown of all the placentas. I would say that if you are breeding larger breed dogs or if you are one of the lucky breeders who have a small or medium breed dog that has anywhere between 6 and 8 puppies then you might want to consider only allowing her to eat as many as four or five of the placentas rather than all. This way she will still get whatever her body requires for recovery and you avoid possible problems with her liver. Do not freak if the liquid coming from your dam is green or black, this is not a bad sign, just the way it is. Make sure she gets cleaned up as best as possible without a bath and that the puppy is sufficiently cleaned.
If you happen to have a dam who refuses to break the sac or just cannot seem to get through the membrane you will need to help her. A puppy has approximately 7 minutes of oxygen in it's system, but after that it will need to breathe and the sac prevents them from doing so. To help her you need clean fingers, and I mean just cleaned, or a rag. If using just your fingers gently pull at the sac from an area on the puppy where you are sure to not catch skin. I usually try for under the arms or under the neck where the sac has a little bubble or space between it and the puppy. Do the same with a rag, but I warn you it is harder and you are likely to pull on the puppy if you are not careful. Once the puppy is released from the sac you will need to disconnect her from the mother by cutting the cord. Even some of the best mothers have trouble cutting through the material so you will want to have some sanitized scissors on hand. Should you have to cut the cord, make sure that you have as much space between the pup and mother, if the placenta has not been delivered, in which to work. Cut as close to the mother and as far from the pup as possible. If the pup's cord is pulled too hard or cut too close, or pulled out, the pup will suffer a hernia that may need to be treated later. The worse case is a pup whose cord is pulled out. This pup's stomach will need stitches, or if you are not adept you will need to pinch the stomach closed and rush it to someone who can (a vet). If the mother is able to clean the puppy herself you can just sit back and anxiously wait for the process to start again with the next puppy. It is also common that even the best mothers have a puppy that does not react immediately once clean. If this is the case, all that is normally needed is to take the puppy and rub it in a towel or cloth until it starts to move and breathe. If not, you need to perform a shakedown by taking the pup in both hands with your palms up fingers crossed like you are giving someone a leg up. The puppy lays face down on your fingers and put your index fingers and thumbs around the head for support. Get a good grip, but do not stifle the puppy and prepare yourself. You are going to raise that puppy over your head (please make sure there is nothing in front of you!) and swing the puppy down in front of you. You may have to do this more than once. This move will release whatever is in the puppy's lungs and throat and jerk them into motion. Puppies that are gasping for air may or may not have a serious problem. Some unresponsive puppies need more time than others and it may take up to 20 minutes to get the puppy moving and you may have to perform the shakedown more than once cleaning and rubbing after each swing. After that you will need to understand that this is part of nature; no matter how hard it is for you. Normal puppies will open and close their mouth or make suckling movements, but breathe short breaths from their diaphragms and through their nose. Sick or stressed puppies will gasp for air with their mouths and their breaths will not be as close together. If the puppies movements are normal or the pup improves in a short period of time than it was stress from the delivery. If not, you will probably lose the pup and I am afraid there is not much to be done.
There are other tools some breeders use such as whelping boxes and warming pans. I personally do not use a whelping box so I could not tell you if they are worth the money and effort, but I can tell you that my dams have whelped and raised beautiful and healthy litters with just the comfort of a few well warmed blankets or towels constantly changed and cleaned and not once were her puppies in danger. Some reasons given for using a whelping box is to keep the mother from laying or rolling on top of her puppies and the warming pan is meant to keep puppies warm after they have been taken from the dam and cleaned by hand. I have never had a puppy die from the mother covering it in this breed and the mother always seemed to be aware of where each of her puppies were. As for the warming pan I have said before that I do not like the idea of separating pups from dam unless one needs medical help or if the mother refuses to care for the litter. Do not use a warming pad or blanket under a litter if mom is with them. Her body heat is more than enough to keep her warm if your home is at a comfortable temperature. Adding more heat will overheat the pups and make them sick. If you must separate the pups from the dam, follow this link for care instructions.
PLEASE be aware that if you are reading this for general breeding tips, know that larger breeds have definitely benefitted from these tools as large breed dogs are capable of rolling over their puppies and killing them. They are also capable of having twice the amount of puppies. A friend of mine who breeds labs in Utah says that without the whelping box she could lose at least one puppy each litter due to smothering and she loses more when the dam has more pups than she is capable of caring for on her own. There is also the possibility that your dam needs to be very active to deliver her pups and it is possible for her to harm those born first during the delivery of the rest. All in all, you really need to be with her the whole time, for every delivery, regardless of the breed of your dam. One other thing to consider. A shot of Oxytocin can be given to clean your bitch's system once she has completed her whelp. What it does is to force any undeveloped or discarded sacks and tissue from the uterus. This may be given by a vet or you may do it yourself but it is not as easy as giving a vaccination. The shot is given in the muscle rather than under the skin so unless you really know what you are doing, leave it to a vet. Keep in mind that if the litter was whelped in an animal hospital or vet's office this is usually automatically done.

Documenting & Defects

Once the litter has arrived and the dam has cleaned them and relaxed herself, it is time to start documenting. I would leave finding out how many males and females there are and who is the smallest until now. If this is your first litter and you have been blessed with all females or all males, you could very well have trouble telling the difference. All puppies will have the umbilical cord in the middle of their stomach. Males will have a little pink protrusion not far below the umbilical cord and a female will have the same protrusion right at the base of their tail. The mother will be more apt to let you admire her work when she is not whelping and would probably love to have you congratulate her on a job well done when she has calmed down. Pull out the scale and start keeping track of males, females, weight and whether or not there are any abnormalities. Check the ears for splits. Splits are a defect and not dangerous, but must be noted and disclosed to owners, in case they do not already notice. Look closely at the mouth and nose for a hair lip. Hair lips are a thin to thick gap in the upper lip usually leaving a gap in the nose. It is dangerous and it is extremely rare for a pup to survive and live a healthy life. I have never been able to save one. Look inside of mouths for cleft palates. There are many sites at insist their puppies have lived with cleft palates, but again, they rarely survive. Make sure rectums have an opening for bowl movements and, most importantly, make sure that none of your puppies feels exceptionally flabby. A puppy that has a body that feels mostly like jello is not likely to survive as this is a sign of underdevelopment. Check the legs for proper joint placement and tails for crookedness. Be very careful in picking up a new puppy and try to handle them as little as possible.
Most puppies born with hair-lips will die before they reach the age of separation. If you find a hair-lip or cleft palate, I suggest having the puppy put to sleep or keep it as comfortable as you can until it naturally dies and then stop breeding the two dogs together. I do not mean to have them spayed and neutered. Just hire a new stud, stud out, or buy a new bitch. Birth defects come from bitches or studs carrying unwanted traits or it could be that their genes do not mix well. Those born without a rectal opening, Imperforate Anus, will also not survive as they will be unable to release bodily waste, though they will have the ability to urinate. They may live up to one week in this condition but they will die a slow and painful death if not operated on or put to sleep. This problem is way more common in cats but is possible with dogs and mostly in small breeds. There is a very costly surgery (approx. $2000) for these puppies, but if they survive the anesthesia they will be unable to control their bowl movements and will poop at anytime and anywhere. There is no way of correcting this problem. Whether or not you take this action is entirely up to you, but, in my opinion, this is no humane life for any dog. Puppies that have developed hernias from distress on the umbilical cord after delivery can and will still be healthy adults. If the stress comes from the birth you may even be able to get away with doing nothing. Make sure your new owners are aware of the hernia and what problems to watch for in the future. Also tell them their vet may recommend additional surgery during the spay surgery to correct the hernia. Whether or not they have the additional surgery is up to them. Some of these dogs have even grown up to breed with their hernias and never had a problem. My advice is to educate yourself as best you can and follow your instincts. It is possible for a hernia to cause twisting of intestines and pinches in the stomach which have to be corrected immediately for the health of the dog. Hernias that are caused by other means must never be ignored and must always be corrected at the earliest time.

Other Problems

Fading Puppy syndrome is one of the most common among the toy breeds. I have recently learned that it is not what I previously thought, which was a puppy dyeing for lack of will. Fading puppy is the description of a puppy lacking warmth, energy, and hydration; not a diagnosis. Reasons for a puppy to fade can vary from a stomach unable to properly digest food and/or infection of one sort or other. You have a fading puppy when one separates itself from the litter or the mother shows no inclination to care for it and pushes it away. The puppy may not be nursing at all, may be lacking in energy, even be crying uncontrollably as if in pain or will be colder to the touch than the other puppies. If this happens to one of your pups in the first 48 hours, do not rush to pull out the formula. Instead drop feed a sugar and salt water solution in very small amounts (1-cc) every hour and keep trying to get them to suckle on mom. Only give one drop per swallow or you will cause your puppy to aspirate and then you are sure to lose it.

The solution is made of

  • 1/4 C water, hot
  • 1/2 Tbs. salt
  • 1 Tbs. light corn syrup


Turn your tap to hot and wait for your water's hottest temperature from the tap and fill a small GLASS about a fourth. Add the salt and stir to diluted. You may want less or more salt so taste it, you should be able to lightly taste the salt without puckering. Then add the corn syrup, this is a natural form of sugar and safer for the pup, again to taste. It should little more than tinge the water and not taste like sugar water.
More on Fading Puppy and other common infections, developmental and congenital disease present in dam and puppies can be found at Well-being Delivered.
You do not want to pump a tiny puppy with too much sugar. If during your feeding the water comes out its nose or it gags turn the puppy upside down and shake it to be sure it does not aspirate. A new puppy will not be drinking much more than a quarter teaspoon each feeding, which varies upon the age of the pup, and most pups will not need to be force fed after the first few feedings. Some will only need it once or twice. You can stop the supplements when your puppy suckles mom on it's own. If this happens in an older pup be sure to still use sugar and salt water only until the pup starts to improve. One website I have really liked is Breeder Vet. This site explains all about the safest way to feed a new pup to ensure their survival. They explain much better than I could and they definitely deserve the credit! I have been told there are other sites that help with ideas and when I find them I will post them. Should you have done everything possible for your pups and they are still not improving or you do not have the money or the heart to have the puppy put down, the best you can do for that puppy is to move it to a warming pan in a warm and quiet place and allow the puppy to naturally die on it's own; this is in no way inhumane. I generally lean toward the laundry room as this is always the warmest part of my home and I am, usually, the only one to go in there. You are providing the pup with both warmth and comfort which it would not be getting with the mother. Death is hard for anyone, novice or expert, and does not get easier with time. I will say that I have noticed it is easier for me to lose a pup that was just born verses a few days old and easier to lose a pup that is a few days old verses several weeks old. We all tend to become attached as more time passes. Remember that you have a mother and the rest of the litter who still need you and you can feel at ease knowing that you gave that puppy the best conditions and care possible before it's death and no one with a heart and good sense can ask more of you. When the pup has passed your first priority is to the mother who may very well be having a harder time with the loss then you are, but do not be surprised if she is not.

Care of the Dam

Sometimes the mother tends to cause almost as much worry as the puppies. Some things are normal and some are not. In the next 48 hours, if you start to see her energy waning, she loses her milk or her milk quality was not good enough from the start, she has a dramatic rise in temperature (above 103 degrees), loss of appetite or she stops eating you will have to take her straight to a vet. The signs generally lead to Metritis or Uterine Infection. Some dogs get infections from birthing and others have retained a placenta; usually from an undeveloped puppy as healthy puppies are born in their placentas. If this is not taken care of immediately she will die. The vet will give her antibiotics and a shot of Oxytocin into her muscle which forces her body to clean itself out. You should also make sure your vet takes blood to test for infection spread into her bloodstream. Unfortunately, if this happens you will have to supplement your puppies on your own. Your dog will have to remain on antibiotics for at least 10 days which makes her milk toxic for the puppies. She will start to feel better after a day or so and will want to try to nurse and take care of her puppies. Should this happen, Kathy, an ingenious friend of mine, tried cutting a pair of children's opaque tights to fit over her middle so the puppies could cuddle up and she could care for them without allowing the puppies to nurse. When trying, make sure you have a piece of some type of cloth or plastic over the nipples and under the tights as, even through the tights, the puppies might extract milk from the nipples. If Metritis has happened to your dog, chances are it will happen again. Oxytocin is available for you to give to your dog yourself after every delivery but, as I mentioned above, only if you know how to administer a shot into the muscle. If you have never done this before I suggest you leave it to a professional.
For her to lose her coat is completely normal. It may take her a few months to gain it's original sheen and thickness back and bald spots are also normal as long as they start to grow back. It is also normal for the mother to claw at the carpet like she is nesting again. Chances are she is not happy with the length of her nails and is trying to file them down. Go ahead and clip them and don't forget to smooth them with a file. If your mother is a first time mom or if you have changed anything about where or how you have placed this litter she may exhibit odd behavior. Before you react by feeding the puppies yourself, take the time to watch what she is doing and think as she. Might there be a reason for her behavior? Is she unhappy with where the puppies are placed? Is she separated from others and trying to get closer? There are many oddities with moms but observance is the fastest remedy. Continuing to bleed lightly after delivery is also normal and she may continue to drip until after the puppies go home. This is no cause to worry, she should keep herself fairly clean. If she is really bleeding and losing a lot of blood you need to rush to your emergency vet. Because of eating the placentas and normal delivery stress, her poop will be absolutely terrible. This is where I am grateful for a litter box, but if she is going outside, you will not be able to clean it up without ruining the grass or rinsing rocks. I am sorry, but there is no way to clear this up, it is her body flushing out the excess and is normal for her health. She may have times where she rarely goes or is going way more than she should. This will not last forever. Just hang in there and keep an eye on her so you do not have to clean the pups or the cage of feces and pee. If she has to go out, take her out regardless of how long it has been since you last took her. It will pass. After delivery, many dams are covered in a black or dark green substance and others are simply wet with amniotic fluid from the puppies; they may even stink. Do not bathe the dam unless you really have no other option. If you leave even the smallest trace of soap on the nipples you may poison the pups. If she is not overly disgusting all over her body simply take a brush and comb to her after the mess has dried while she is with her pups and use a warm wash cloth to finish what the combs left behind. She should clean up this way very easily. Dog wipes are a great thing and will help with the smell. If you must bathe her have help and everything ready before you remove her as the process is already too long for her to be away from them and they need her. I realize the thought of having a smelly, stained dog in the house for two weeks or more is daunting but there is no other alternative. Do not attempt to separate her sooner. Her reaction to the separation will not be mild and her puppies will lose nursing time and heat when it is most vital. Do not take her to a groomer as only weaned puppies can handle such a long separation. If your groomer is mobile be sure to tell him/her that there are puppies waiting while she is being groomed. You can, and I recommend that you, bathe her yourself. Carefully separate her from the pups after they have eaten and are asleep. Wet her down completely and then lather with a puppy safe shampoo. Be very careful to avoid rubbing soap on her nipples. Should soap run over them during rinse, do not worry, only avoid touching her nipples with soap. After lather rinse her very thoroughly. If you use conditioner, again, avoid her nipples and rinse thoroughly. Do not use a leave in conditioner. Even if you feel a "leave in" to be necessary to her hair quality it can wait until her puppies have weaned. If any of this makes you nervous, I never bathe my females before they have weened their puppies as I would rather their spend that time caring for their puppies.