Postpartum and Postnatal Care

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Since the bitch's appetite returns within 24 hours after whelping, she should be fed a highly palatable food, moistened with water. Furthermore, at about 20 to 30 days after whelping, the bitch needs three to four times more food than she normally does. Although the eyelids of the puppies are not open at birth, they can still locate the bitch's nipples in order to feed. This is of extreme importance since the puppies must consumecolostrum (dam's first milk) within the first 12 to 24 hours after birth. Colostrum contains high levels of antibodies that are absorbed intact into the bloodstream and provide protection against infectious diseases.

Hence, make sure that each puppy has access to a nipple and is able to suckle. Remember that the most important indicator of puppy health during the first few days and weeks of life is regular and normal weight gain. If a puppy does not gain weight during the first 72 hours of life, you should start supplemental feeding immediately. Commercial milk formulas, which can be obtained from pet supply stores, should be fed warm in a small bottle with a hole in the nipple. Handle the puppies daily to get them used to human contact, and change the bedding often to prevent urine burn. As you handle them, inspect for cleft palates, umbilical hernias, Atresia ani (absence of an anal opening), and any other abnormal conditions.

At about three weeks of age, puppies should be given access to dry dog food mixed with warm water (gruel) in a large bowl several times a day. Gradually, the water content should be reduced so that by 4 to 6 weeks of age the puppies are meeting most of their requirements with the dry food. By this time there is less demand on the bitch's milk, and her food intake should be reduced. This initiates the process of stopping milk production and helps to normalize the bitch's food intake. After about 6 or 7 weeks of age, puppies are ready to be weaned and placed into new homes. Before sending them off, make sure they have been treated for parasites and vaccinated for distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, coronavirus, and kennel cough.