With most litters, the first few weeks following birth are easy for the breeder. After all, the dam does all the work as she feeds and cares for the newborn pups. But sometimes the dam can’t, or won’t, do the work, and you have to take her place. Often, you just need to take over nursing duty, but depending on the cause, sometimes you have to take over everything.
Death: The most extreme example of a case in which a dam can’t care for her puppies is in the event of her death. Most whelpings go as planned, but occasionally serious complications arise, leading to the dam’s death.
Abandonment: Sometimes a first-time dam is confused or frightened, and leaves the litter. Often, she can be induced to stay with them until maternal instinct takes over.
Eclampsia: Dams with eclampsia (an acute potentially fatal condition caused by low blood calcium) must have their puppies taken away because nursing puppies drain her calcium reserves, which can be fatal to her.
Mastitis: Dams with mastitis (an infection of the breast tissue) find it too painful when the puppies try to nurse, and they might growl at puppies and jump up.
Failure to recognize: Sometimes dams that have delivered by a cesarean section don’t recognize their puppies when they wake up after the anesthetic procedure, and refuse to care for them. If they can be induced to let the puppies nurse, they will often come around.
Too many puppies: Sometimes the dam simply has too many puppies to nurse, so you must supplement them with milk-replacement formula.
Not enough milk: Sometimes the dam doesn’t have adequate milk to feed the puppies, and you must supplement with formula.
If you have to hand raise a litter, what do you do? First, try to locate a foster dam, one with a litter about the same age. Ask all local veterinarians, and also get on as many local dog e-mail lists as you can and ask everyone to put out the call. Don’t give up; somewhere out there might be a dam who would think a few more puppies would be great!
If you can’t locate a foster dam, you’ll need to care for the puppies yourself, including keeping them warm (but not too warm), feeding them (by nipple or tube) and stimulating them to urinate and defecate. Your veterinarian can give you instructions.