If you have ever had a bitch with a litter of pups, you probably noticed that on certain days the pups’ level of physical and mental development changed dramatically, that is, eyes opened, first steps were taken or noise awareness occurred.
Mother Nature has developed a time clock for growth of our dogs. Over the years I have kept a diary of stages of growth with our black Labs. It’s important to be aware of the growth stages so you can plan dew claw removal, avoid cold drafts or heat problems, keep direct light away from sensitive eyes, start supplemental feeding and take pups to the vet for a stool check and first shots. Let’s take a look at a typical black Lab whelping.
The bitch is usually bred on the eleventh day of her heat cycle. A dog will carry the pups for 58 to 63 days. Our litters are typically born late at night and into the early morning hours. A good indication that the female is getting close to giving birth is that she will show nesting signs which include scratching the floor of the whelping box, pacing, or water on the floor. When I see these indicators I get the bitch outside to clean herself. Birth usually will take place soon. Mother will take over now, but do some homework prior to whelping as to trouble-shooting for potential birth problems. Also, make sure your vet is aware of the litter’s due date. In addition, check out a past Gun Dog article titled “RX for Better Pups” by Orest R. Ochrymowycz.
Puppy growth is like clockwork. You will see your litter go through many physical and mental stages.
Day 1 – Pups are born wet with a large bag of afterbirth. The bitch cleans pup, eats afterbirth and clips umbilical cord. Pup should be in an environment of 80 to 90 degrees the first few days. A healthy pup will be noisy and squirmy. The pup’s ears will be pinned against its head and they will cling to mom for their first feeding. After the litter is dry and feeding strongly, get the bitch outside so you can spot clean the whelping box and she can clean herself of stool. She will be very reluctant to leave the pups, so make it quick. Note the bitch licks the pup’s belly to stimulate urine and stool movement the first three weeks. I feed the bitch three times her regular feeding with a vitamin supplement.
Day 3 – Puppy ears are starting to flop away from head; they are very vocal. Bodies of the puppies are constantly twitching and this is a healthy sign. It’s time to take the litter to the vet for general health inspection and pup dew claw removal. Puppies are starting to crawl around. Their eyes are closed tight.
Day 7 – Pups have doubled in size, less vocal and doing a strong belly crawl. The bitch will leave pups for a 10- to 30-minute time frame. Quietly hand hold puppies.
Day 12- Walking upright but unsteady, pups are quiet and content. Time to clip sharp front paw nails. Hand hold all puppies.
Day 14 – Sense of smell and awareness of noise is keen and they are walking upright with ease, with eyes slightly open. Mother spends less time with litter. When a large litter, the bitch will feed them sitting down rather than laying flat in the whelping box. I now feed the bitch four times her regular feeding ration. It is time to start socializing puppies. Handle them gently and frequently.
Day 16- Eyes completely open, walking steady and constantly looking for mom. Vision is blurred; eyes have a blue/gray look. Do not expose developing eyes to direct bright lights.
Day 21 – Bitch stops cleaning whelping box. Place wood shavings or shredded newspaper in whelping box. Cut pup’s sharp front paw nails. Pup’s senses are taking hold, eyesight limited, but smell sense is strong and hearing keen. With a large litter I will introduce first warm meal of wet puppy food. No teeth yet.
Day 24 – Teeth are showing, pups will chow down moist dog food. Eyes are blue/brown cast with very limited vision.
Day 28 – Teeth are like needles and dry dog food three times per day is supplemented. Pups are walking around and venturing outside of whelping box when door is open. I allow bitch to spend time away from pups. Change whelping box bedding every other day.
Day 35 – Eyes are turning darker and sight good. Throw a small puppy dummy for individual pups. Take pups for short walks. Change whelping box bedding every day.
Day 42 – Signs of independence, pups are bold and venture out on their own. Pups love to retrieve. You should spend a lot of time on short walks. Mom feeds pups standing up. Take pups to vet for stool check and first shots.
Day 49 – Completely Developed- remove pups from mom- ready for a new home. Bitch is back to regular feeding with a vitamin supplement.
It is important to point out that even though we start supplemental feeding of the pups at four weeks, they need mother for feeding and emotional support until day 49. In addition, socialization starts in your whelping box after a few weeks of growth. Socializing your puppies is a key element to future training success. Your pups will grow like clockwork. Follow these simple developmental patterns and your pups will be healthy and ready for that new home.