It pays to be prepared

writes Sally Pointon


ONCE YOU have established that your bitch is in whelp, it is essential that you prepare a whelping room/area at least 10 days before her due date, as in our breed it is not impossible for her to whelp as much as a week early - and it is a good idea to get her used to the place she will be rearing her puppies for the first few weeks well before the time.

 The whelping area should be away from other members of the dog family, at least for the first few weeks, so that mother and puppies have their own space - much like wild animals find themselves a quiet spot or burrow in which to rear their young - but it should not be so detached from everyday noises that they are cocooned away from reality. ".

 The whelping box can be as simple as a suitably sized cardboard box (big enough for the bitch to lay down comfortably with a bit to spare) or specially designed 'state of the art' one. Some people prefer to crate their bitches; others use the bitch's normal bed surrounded by a puppy pen. Whatever you decide to use, it should be positioned in a draft-free area, and lined with newspaper and/or bedding (I have found that some dogs do not like 'vetbed' and prefer a towel or blanket).

It is advisable to prepare for all eventualities well in advance of your bitch going into labour as you never know how much time you will have before the first puppy arrives. Having experienced several problems during whelping myself, here is a list of the things I make sure are at the ready: newspapers, towels, a couple of flannels, kitchen roll, cotton wool, bin bags (to put the 'rubbish' in), blunt scissors (to cut the cord, if necessary - although it's always better to 'tear' it), thick, waxed dental floss (for tying the cords), disinfectant (for washing hands), baby wipes, several pieces of vetbed or similar, a smallish box (cardboard or otherwise) complete with water-bottle/heat pad and bedding (to put puppies in while mother has next puppy, if necessary), a set of scales, a 'puppy chart' and pen (to record the weight, sex, colour/markings of each puppy as it is born, and to record whether or not the afterbirth came away), a bowl of fresh water (for the bitch to drink), some brandy (for reviving puppies - or you!), 'Iifeaid' or similar (a rehydrating liquid for bitch and puppies), book on whelping! and a mobile phone (so that you can 'phone a friend' for advice or support - it's also a good idea to have your vet's phone number handy). Now this might seem like an awfully long list, but I've found that it's better to be ready for all eventualities than to scrabble around looking for things at a crucial moment.

 During and after the birth (for at least 2 weeks) you will need to keep the whelping area at a constant temperature of about 80 degrees, but it should also be well ventilated. Some people prefer to use an infra-red lamp over the box; others use a heat pad underneath the puppies; some like to keep the whole room at a constant temperature, but this can cause the mother to overheat and possibly leave the box in search of a cooler place to lay. Again it will depend on you and your bitch as to what suits you best.

Once the birth is over and mother and puppies are settled, hopefully there will be very little for you to do for the next 3 weeks or so (apart from cleaning the whelping box and keeping an eye on mum and pups), until they start to become more independent... but that's another story!