People will tell you that you should bring a pup home only after he or she is at least eight weeks old. But in case of happy accidents like your dog giving birth or finding adorable strays, you must know how to care for the newborns. The first few days of life are the most important for a dog’s health and growth. It’s hard work! Think of it like a long observance or a fast — a sacrifice of your time, mental and physical energy towards something good and noble. It’s dog, family and country from here on.
Like that pretty pooja area in your house, prepare a whelping box or area that’s big enough for mama dog and her babes. Line the floor with enough towels and newspapers and clean it out regularly. Maybe take out the soiled sheets, newspapers when mama dog gets up to relieve herself. You can also get polyester sheets that wick away moisture. Keep mama dog’s food and water nearby her makeshift den. It’s so cute when, by 3-4 weeks of age, pups try to investigate her food. This is usually when the weaning process starts.
Warm and dry
Not a hair on your pup’s head will perish if you make sure the whelping box is not in a windy area. Newborns need external heat to regulate their body temperatures. Usually, they get it from their mama, when they snuggle next to her. But if that’s not enough, put a heating pad or lamp and blankets near the box. Touch the puppies, they shouldn’t feel colder than your skin. If their ears, skin and tongue are red or flaky, and they are extra squirmy, you are toasting the pups.
Food for the dogs
Puppies less than a week-old need mama’s milk every 1-2 hours. This milk has essential antibodies, which is passed on to the pups in the first few feeds. Puppies loose this immunity by six to eight weeks of age, which is when they should be vaccinated. If they haven’t been nursing traditionally, they should be vaccinated even earlier. Give them a deworming product by 2 weeks of age. If the puppies are nursing well, don’t bottle-feed them, because it might interfere with mama dog’s milk production. By 3 weeks, they need to be fed only every 4 hours or so.
I help those who help newborn puppies feed. It’s true! Newborns are blind and deaf and may require help finding their mama’s teat. And you might have to help the puppy latch on by guiding its head gently, or squeezing out some milk so the puppy is able to smell it. Make a note of which puppy is suckling on which teat. The front teats don’t produce as much milk as the rear ones. So, if the puppy is very weak and can’t compete with his siblings, you might have to intervene.
Tracking healthy development
It is my will that you weigh the puppy daily. Birth weight varies according to the breed, but their weight should double or triple in the first few weeks of life. If the puppy is lively and feeding, you don’t have to worry if he is at the same weight as the day before or loses a little weight. But if he hasn’t gained weight for a couple of days, call the vet. Puppies should also learn to crawl by 7 to 14 days of age, walk by 16. They should open their eyes by 12 to 15 days. But they learn to excrete on their own by the third or fourth week. Until then, mama dog has to lick their bums to stimulate them. And if she misses a turn, jump in with a soft, clean wet washcloth. Consult a vet in case of diarrhoea, vomiting, pale gums, coughing, incessant crying, swollen eyes, or discharge from eyes or nose, or constipation.
Touch me not
By my grace, don’t overhandle the newborns or they will grow up nervous or anxious. For the first three days, leave the family alone. This is a crucial time for mama dog and her pups to bond. Unless your vet says otherwise, don’t apply disinfectant or touch the newborn’s belly button area or the placental stump. However, don’t let visitors touch the babies without washing their hands. Also, keep other animals away, especially if the puppies haven’t yet been vaccinated.
Once puppies are 3 to 4 weeks old, start exposing them to other animals and humans. This will help them become well-adjusted. Puppies in a litter learn early on to socialise. Puppies staying with mama dog also learn discipline and bite inhibition earlier more successfully. As your puppies grow, learn to play with them smartly. For example, if playing with your hands turns them nuts, they might try to bite you. So it’s best to substitute your hand with a toy or let them play with something else. Punishment will turn them anxious. If you are considering putting them up for adoption, 8-12 weeks is the best time.
It’s a miracle! You helped bring life and light into this world. Now wait for your good karma!