If your dog is pregnant, you may decide to have a home birth rather than taking her to the vet. If so, there are a number of things to do before the big day arrives so you can feel confident your dog and her puppies will be as healthy as possible.
Although you may want to have a home birth, it’s important to have a vet you can call if things become complicated. Their expertise is invaluable, and they will be able to support you in making sure all the puppies are delivered safely.
In your home, you’ll need to set aside a specific area in which your dog can give birth. It’s important this area is set up correctly to make sure the mother is stress-free and comfortable, and the puppies have the best possible start. Here are some things to bear in mind.
The birthing (or ‘whelping’) box for your dog
This should be made of a non-porous material, able to be cleaned easily and an appropriate size for your dog and her litter. Cover the base of the box with materials which keep the heat in and can be removed for easy cleaning: towels, sheets or newspapers are ideal. If you have a dog weighing over 15kg, position rods 10-15cm from the floor and sides of the box to prevent the mother crushing the puppies when she lays down.
Crucial factors for home birth: heat, humidity and air
Newborn puppies can easily lose body heat and become dehydrated, so keeping the birth area at the right temperature and humidity is essential. Use bowls of water or a humidifier to keep the space at 65-70% humidity, and a radiation or infrared lamp to heat the space.
In the first four days of a puppy's life, their environment should be kept at between 29.5 - 32°C. After this, temperatures may be gradually decreased to approximately 26.7°C at seven to ten days, and again to 22.2°C by the end of the fourth week of the puppies’ lives. The birthing box should also be in a well-aired area that’s not too draughty or stuffy.
Keep your dog's home birth hygienic
The birthing area needs to be kept scrupulously hygienic, which means limiting the number of people going into the area as well as frequent disinfecting and cleaning. Take good care in your own personal hygiene before going into the area, and before you introduce your dog to the birthing area, wash or brush her to get rid of as many parasites or bacteria as possible.
Introduce your dog to the birthing area
To make sure your dog feels happy and relaxed when she gives birth, you should introduce her to the birthing area and box one to two weeks before the expected delivery date. Keep her, and the area, free from other adult animals to avoid infection, and make sure she is comfortable in the space.
After your dog's home birth
Puppies are highly sensitive during the first three weeks of their lives. In particular, the first 48 hours can be a deciding factor in whether they continue to develop healthily. Lack of oxygen and infection are the biggest risks during birth, so it’s important to follow the tips above to prepare the birthing area and reduce that risk.
After a successful birth, you can give the litter the best start possible in a few simple ways.
Try to get the puppies to suckle on their mother’s teats as soon as possible after they are born. Rather than ingesting milk, the litter are ingesting colostrum, a substance produced by the mother which supports and enhances the puppy’s immune system. Colostrum must be taken in during the first 12 to 16 hours, so encourage the newborns to suckle straight away.
It's recommended to weigh puppies regularly in order to give an outline of their condition and progress. Puppies that fail to gain weight or begin to lose weight should be examined by a vet as soon as possible. You should also identify puppies with a low birth weight so they can be monitored and supported.
A low birth weight means, due to a higher metabolism and other factors, the puppy loses heat and energy more rapidly. Puppies are born at just 1-3% of their mother’s weight, and a low birth weight is anything in the bottom quartile for your dog’s particular breed.
Done in the right way, a home birth can help your dog feel relaxed while delivering her litter. Your role is to prepare your home carefully, and give the puppies the care they need in those crucial first few days.