Whelping Preparation for the Novice Breeder

by Karin Bock 

Finding a knowledgeable vet is at the top of the list of these Newfoundland breeders. Having the funding for all the necessary equipment and possible emergency vet costs, a mentor to work with and learn from, and as much information as possible about the health of your bitch and her litter are all key parts of preparing for a litter.

Whelping a litter of Newfoundland puppies is always an adventure. Even though no two whelpings are ever the same, advance preparation will help make the whelping more successful. My husband Fred and I offer these suggestions based on past experience with the hope they may prove helpful to the novice breeder.

Well in advance of the date your bitch is due to whelp, you should choose a veterinarian. This is probably the most important decision you will make, as the life of your bitch and of your puppies may depend on your veterinarian’s expertise and availability. You might choose to use the veterinarian who has been taking care of your dogs all along, or if that person doesn’t have the experience or expertise, you may have to locate another veterinarian. In any case, you need a veterinarian who has had experience whelping litters of puppies and performing cesarean sections. Experience with giant breeds of dogs would be a plus. The veterinarian should be available to assist you at any time, day or night, and on weekends and should also be available by telephone. Search until you find a veterinarian who meets this need. Our veterinarian, who is also a breeder, marks the whelping date on his calendar and does not leave town when we have a litter due. He has talked us through many a difficult delivery over the telephone, and he has met us at his clinic at all hours to perform emergency cesarean sections. He is a treasure.

You should also read all you can about breeding and whelping dogs. There are a number of excellent books available. We especially like The Whelping and Rearing of Puppies by Muriel Lee, Canine Reproduction, A Breeder’s Guide, by Phyllis Holst, DVM, and Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, by James M. Griffin, MD and Lisa D. Carlson, DVM. There are also excellent articles in many of the popular dog magazines. We reread the books, or sections of them, and review some of the articles every time we are expecting a litter of puppies.

In addition to reading, try to get some first-hand experience. Consider asking the breeder of your bitch, or another breeder friend if you might assist or be a quiet bystander during a whelping. You will learn a great deal, and you may be doing a valuable service by providing an extra pair of hands to dry puppies, take weights, and record data.

About ten days before your bitch is due to whelp, you will need to start preparing the area where the whelping will take place. You will also need to assemble your supplies. Don’t wait until the last minute to do this because when whelping begins, you want to be able to concentrate on your bitch, and not be trying to find supplies or be putting up a whelping box. Most of the books on breeding and whelping have suggestions on making a whelping box and list the necessary supplies. Please refer to these books for a complete description and listing.

We set up our whelping box in our family room. Since we take turns staying awake and monitoring the bitch and the puppies for the first 72 hours and then sleeping beside the box for at least a week, it is important to us to have a comfortable area. The room becomes the focal point of our activities for both the week preceding and the weeks following the whelping.

We use two portable quartz heaters, one on either side of the box, to help keep the puppies warm. Chilling is one of the major contributors to new-born puppy deaths. We use a reflector lamp with a 60 watt light bulb both as light and a heat source. The lamp is attached securely above the box.

We also prepare a puppy warming box. This is just a simple cardboard box with a heating pad enclosed between two towels. The newborns are put into this box when the bitch is about to give birth to another puppy. Otherwise we leave the puppies with the bitch because nursing helps with contractions. We keep the temperature in both the warming box and the whelping box around 85 degrees using an ambient air thermometer to monitor the temperature.

Other supplies we have ready include lots of clean, white towels to dry puppies, newspaper for lining the whelping box during the delivery, rickrack of different colors to tie around the neck of each new-born, and a baby scale to record the birth weight of each new-born. We have a pile of old sheets available to drape over the family room furniture and the sides of the whelping box. We keep a towel, a leash, and a flashlight by the outside door to carry with us just in case our girl wants to relieve herself outside and delivers a puppy in the process.

When all of our advance preparations are made, then we can relax for the next few days as we watch for our bitch to exhibit the signs of the onset of labor.

reprinted from Newf Tide 1Q 2001