After all the puppies are born, cleaned and fed, it is time for mom to get some rest. Offer water in small amounts frequently. Most new mothers do not want to eat right away, so give her time.
During the first few days of taking care of the bitch after whelping:
- Make sure she is eating and drinking well.
- Keep her hind end clean, as there will be discharge for a while.
- Go outside with her to make sure that she is urinating and defecating normally.
- Diarrhea is common after whelping, and a probiotic supplement may help.
- Once the puppies start nursing vigorously, the mother’s appetite usually increases significantly.
- Lactation is the greatest energy demand a dog will every experience. Palpate over the bitch’s ribs regularly to check her weight. You should be able to feel them easily, but not see them easily.
Most health problems occur in the first few weeks after the birth. Monitor the mother carefully, take her temperature if she seems “off” at all, and call the vet if something just doesn’t seem right. The three most common health problems after whelping are metritis, ecalmpsia and mastitis.
Metritis is inflammation and infection of the lining of the uterus. It can occur during the first week after whelping. The risk is higher if the delivery required assistance, and can also be caused by a retained puppy.
Contact a veterinarian if any of these signs are noted:
- Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- Loss of appetite/vomiting
- No interest in the puppies
- Decreased milk production
Treatment consists of antibiotics and supportive care.
This condition results when the bitch has trouble supporting the calcium demand of lactation. Calcium supplementation during pregnancy predisposes a bitch to this condition, and small breed dogs are at increased risk regardless of supplementation. This condition generally occurs in the first three weeks of lactation. A veterinarian should be consulted immediately if any of the following are noted:
- Nervousness and restlessness
- No interest in or even aggression towards the pups
- Stiff, painful gait
- Muscle spasms
- Inability to stand
Treatment consists of intravenous calcium supplementation, along with fluids and often glucose. One she has recovered, a calcium supplement is usually given for the remainder of the lactation period. The risk of occurrence is decreased by feeding a high quality diet, avoiding calcium supplements during pregnancy, and ensuring that mom is eating well after whelping.
Mastitis is inflammation and infection of the mammary glands. Normal glands are enlarged, but soft. Diseased glands are red, hard, and painful. In general, the bitch does not act sick; the disease is confined to the mammary tissue. The bitch may be sore and discourage the pups from nursing; however, it is important to keep the pups nursing the affected glands. This is not harmful to the puppies and helps flush out the infected material. Hot packing may be helpful. Most cases are treated with antibiotics.
In rare cases, mastitis is caused by aggressive bacteria that can cause gas to form in the glands, or the mammary gland tissue may be so damaged that it dies (necroses). This is a much more serious condition, and requires significant veterinary intervention. Symptoms include signs of sickness in the bitch, and glands that turn dark red to black in color, feel “bubbly” under the skin, or rupture.