Monitoring the New Mother after Puppy Birth

Mother with her puppies

Have you just added to the size of your household in a big way? Did you just welcome one, four or a dozen new additions to your canine family? If your dog just had puppies, it’s understandable that your attention will be naturally drawn to all of those adorable, snuggly, whimpering balls of fuzzy fur. After all, you got through the tricky part: mom and pups are all happy and healthy. Now you just get to enjoy watching the little ones grow, right? Hopefully, yes, but don’t forget about mom. She still needs you to be paying attention to her and her health.

Veterinary visit after puppy birth
The first thing on your list should be to have the new mother examined by a veterinarian. This will allow the veterinarian to make sure all is well and address any concerns you might have.  A lot is happening in your dog’s body and you need to be informed and prepared.

What should you expect after puppy birth?
You may notice any or all of the following abnormalities:

  • Decreased appetite— It’s not unusual for a new mom to not feel like eating right away, but she should start eating again within several hours and absolutely within a day of delivering her puppies. Hopefully you already switched her to a more calorie dense food toward the end of her pregnancy in anticipation of the increased energy required to create milk for her offspring. Normal newborns will start nursing right away so be sure your dog can keep up. Remember, though, she won’t want to leave the pups unattended so you need to bring everything (food, water, etc) to her. If she’s still not interested in eating after 24 hours, contact your veterinarian as this could be a sign that something is wrong.
  • Residual vaginal discharge — This is to be expected. It was traumatic delivering the puppies plus the uterus needs to heal the sites where the placentas were attached and shrink back down to its normal size. There may still be some of the greenish-black discharge for 24-48 hours but then it should turn to reddish brown and remain odorless. This normal discharge can last for some weeks but should progressively diminish as time goes on.  If the discharge persists or if it becomes discolored or foul smelling it may indicate an infection (metritis), a retained placenta or a condition called sub-involution of the placental sites. With metritis your dog may be noticeably sick (inappetant, feverish, etc) but in the other cases she may not. So again, be aware of normal and call your veterinarian for anything else1.
  • New moms may also lose a lot of hair or ‘blow coat’ — The stress of pregnancy, labor and delivery along with the following stress of nursing puppies can disrupt the cycle of hair loss and regrowth and cause remarkable hair loss and even some baldness. Not to worry, however. Your dog’s coat should return to normal after the underlying stresses (i.e. creating, birthing and raising puppies) have disappeared2.


Watching the puppies after puppy birth
Speaking of the puppies, you can use them to help you monitor another aspect of the mother’s postpartum condition. Are they nursing normally and seeming to get enough to eat or are they crying all the time, seeming hungry or being pushed away by their mother? Routinely check mom’s mammary gland. Obviously there is going to be some ‘normal wear and tear’ in that area as the puppies crawl around fighting for position and then enthusiastically nursing, but if any of the glands become uncomfortably painful, hard, or hot to the touch, your dog could be developing an infectious condition called mastitis and should be seen by your veterinarian.

Vitamins and nutrients after puppy birth
Obviously this all means that nursing puppies creates a lot of physical and physiological stress on mom, and you may be tempted to give her lots of additional vitamin and mineral supplements to help her along. Don’t do it. Feed her a quality, commercially prepared diet and especially do not supplement with calcium. As illogical as it may sound, supplementing calcium can actually cause rather than prevent a serious, life-threatening condition called eclampsia (milk fever) that is a result of low calcium levels. Eclampsia typically occurs at peak milk demand about  2-3 weeks after delivery but it can occur even during delivery.  The low calcium levels can result in panting, restlessness, pacing, crying, disorientation, increased thirst and urination, gait problems, tremors, muscle spasms and seizures. If you see any of these symptoms, do not delay. Seek veterinary care immediately3.

Most importantly be educated, be aware, be prepared to seek help; in the meantime, enjoy your puppies.

Resources:

1. Eilts, Bruce E. "Canine Peripartum Care and Diseases." Vetmed.lsu.edu. 27 July 2009. Web. 13 Jan. 2015.

2. Mecklenburg, Lars, Monika Linek, and Desmond J. Tobin. Hair Loss Disorders in Domestic Animals. Google Books. Wiley-Blackwell. Web. 13 Jan. 2015.

3. "Puerperal Hypocalcemia in Small Animals." Puerperal Hypocalcemia in Small Animals. MERCK, Web. 13 Jan. 2015.

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