Category Archives: Whelping

Feeding Newborn Puppies

Sometimes tube feeding is the only way to save newborn puppies, however there are other options that can be tried first, and this article offers advice on that topic. By clicking on the title below”To Tube or Not to Tube” you will be taken to Mary Wakeman’s website where many other useful articles scan be found.  Enjoy!

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

To Tube or Not To Tube

by Mary C. Wakeman, D.V.M Canine Fertility

March 16th, 117    The Best of Breed of Online Show Dog Magazines

The answer to this depends entirely upon whether you want your puppies to live or not. What! You say, tubing is the ONLY way to save puppies. And besides, it’s fast. Fast, yes, and deadly. It’s one of those things that sounds too good (easy) to be true; and if it sounds too good to be true it is; we know that it is in our most private thoughts.

Fast and deadly isn’t doing your part by the bitch or the puppies. You may be certain that you are getting the tube in the esophagus (which leads to the stomach) and not the trachea (which leads to the lungs). But, this isn’t the problem I’m referring to. Consider this: when we eat, the process of eating stimulates waves of contraction throughout our entire GI tract. You know very well that as puppies nurse they defecate. That reaction is due to these waves of contraction, which are called peristalsis.

OK. So, we have a sluggish or weak puppy. We put it on the bitch and it won’t nurse. What to do! TUBE. NO! If the puppy does not have a good sucking reflex, it will not have any peristalsis. This means the milk we force in through the tube will just sit there. When the tube is removed, it forces itself back up the esophagus, into the trachea, and ends up in the lungs. It does not travel down through the stomach into the intestine.

Now, how big is the stomach of a newborn puppy in your breed? 1/2 cc? Less? As much as 1cc? Probably not much more. That stomach is just a slightly wide spot on a narrow tube.

So; let’s stick 2 1/2 cc into it . Fast and Deadly. The stomach and esophagus will stretch a bit, then return to it’s original shape and size after the milk runs into the lungs. Not going to raise many puppies that way.

Well then, what do we do? Easy. We give them sub-cutaneous dextrose and saline. Sugar in salt water. The solution which is used for IV therapy. All puppies need 3 things. Warmth. Water. Sugar. That’ all they need right away and for an additional few days if necessary.  So, we take the weak puppy out of the whelping box. We drop a few drops of colostrum onto its tongue several times in the first few hours. Got that immunity taken care of. We keep it in a confined box with a heat source – a heating pad or light bulb, and we give subQ dextrose in saline to supply the sugar and water. We gently stimulate it to urinate and defecate. We’ve met all the puppies needs.

How much fluid do we give? We give enough to satisfy any current dehydration debt and to provide a cushion for an hour or two in the future. How much is that? It is enough so that when we refill the syringe with dextrose and saline, the last 10 cc injection we gave hasn’t already disappeared. And it will disappear, just that fast, if the puppy is already dehydrated.

So first, we need to satisfy the back log, and then we put in some more. We want to raise a good sized lump – say the size of a golf ball on a 12-16 oz puppy. We want that golf ball to stay there a while. If it does, we can safely leave the puppy for a couple of hours. As time goes by, the fluids in this reservoir will be absorbed and the lump will disappear. Also, gravity will take a hand in removing the lump, shifting any spare fluids down around the neck. We can keep this puppy going in this way for 2 to 4 days easily. There no danger here, if the area is clean when and where we inject, and as long as the needle is parallel to the body – not pointed down at the body. We don’t want to pith the puppy (look it up). With the needle parallel to the body, the worst we can do is squirt the wall. The wall can take it.

Fluids given intravenously, by contrast, would run the risk of drowning the puppy – excess fluids in the veins will force their way out through the lungs. This result is essentially the same as that of tubing. Not good. SubQ fluids are essentially outside the circulatory system – just in a repository under the skin. If a fluid defecit exists, they can be instantly drawn into the blood stream. Until then, they have no other effect on the body.

While we are satisfying the puppy’s needs in this way, we will also repeatedly present a nipple to the puppy, several minutes after we have placed a drop of Karo syrup on its tongue. The Karo give the puppy an energy boost, so that when we place it on the bitch, it will make as strong an attempt to nurse as it can muster. We will also present the puppy with a bottle, as it will be easier for it to get milk from the bottle’s nipple than from the bitch, most of the time, during the first couple of days.

One of the greatest deterrents to getting puppies started, after tubing, is the ‘Pet Nurser’ which is widely available. Few if any breeds will nurse off of this thing – maybe a couple of toy breeds I’ve never encountered. Rather, puppies from 4.5 oz to 2# and up will readily take a Playtex preemie, or Playtex 0-3 months nipple (slow flow), one which has a flat, button-like shape. ANY puppy which does want to suck, but is unable to get enough from the bitch, should be asked to take the Playtex nurser. And if they don’t learn to nurse from it within the first few minutes, as soon as an hour or two after birth, it’s your fault, because they like this nipple just fine.

Of course, you have to put the right stuff in it. The concept of using a formulated synthetic milk replacer seems a bit bizarre. Cow’s milk is good, it’s complete, it contains the same things as dog milk. It’s not quite as good as dog’s milk, however, because it’s too dilute. Cow’s milk is 1/2 as concentrated as dog milk. So, all we have to do is go to the store and buy evaporated milk. Nothing could be simpler; comes in a can, easy to store and have on hand, useful for other purposes. We use the evaporated cow’s milk, in the slow flow nipple (no modifications to the nipple, we want it to go in slowly, and to require some exercise from the puppy to make it work). We add a dollop of Karo syrup for energy and palatability, warm slightly, and that’s it; it’s perfect.

Some of us seem to have a need to make life more complicated than it has to be. If you think your puppies suffer from the rare human problem where the size of the cow butterfat globule is too large for comfort, you can search out a source for evaporated, canned goat’smilk. And you might wish to do that because it will make it seem as though your puppies have a special problem, not a routine, ordinary problem. However, goat’s milk has no special benefit for dogs. It also must be fed undiluted from the can, with some Karo.

Note: The only puppies I have ever seen which were nutritionally stunted – and didn’t recoup their early deficits when put on solid food – were 2 giant breed siblings which were fed fresh goat’s milk. To this day these two are ‘minis’. Fresh ruminant milk has 50% too much water in it. Evaporated ruminant milk is just fine as long as you don’t screw it up by adding water. If you are faced with total milk replacement due to the death of a bitch, you will eventually have to add an egg yolk (without the white) to a can of evaporated milk with Karo, in order to raise the protein level even more. But, there is no need for this when we’re simply supplementing.

These puppies which are eager to nurse, but just can’t get anything from the bitch’s nipples, will have good peristalsis. They will work at the nipple and develop their lungs and their body muscles, though only a fraction as well as they would if they were working on the bitch’s nipples. One caution when supplementing the large litter to lessen the stress on the bitch. You must be careful not to OVER feed. The idea is to take some load off her, so you should keep her out of the box for some time every day. We don’t want to supplement and then let them drink their fill from their mother as well, then we’ll only have fat and colicy puppies, not a mother in better shape.

The next question is, will their mother lick them and stimulate the urination and defecation reflexes? If she’s not yet into that, we also have to wash their tummies with a warm wet tissue. This will stimulate the elimination reflexes. We can’t skip this part either. If we do, they’ll all colic. Some bitches, even though they have milk and the puppies nurse with no problem, just don’t like to clean their puppies. If so, then it’s our job. We caused these puppies to be born, the buck stops with us; if they need to be cleaned we have to do the job. We have to be gentle, but we have to be just as certain that we’re successful in stimulating defecation and urination as we are that the puppies are getting enough to eat. What goes in must come out!

One good way to help you be certain you’re getting each one fed and cleaned is to place colorful yarn collars around their necks. This way we can identify each puppy at a glance, no waking them or dislodging them from a nipple in order to check markings. And later, when one puppy is repeatedly striking a pose we can see from a distance which one it is. Helps us identify that BIS Puppy.

Mary C. Wakeman, D.V.M Canine Fertility

Photo by Dustin Hartje

For your dam’s sake, know the signs of Eclampsia

Photograph by Sarah Armstrong


Your new litter is doing wonderful, they’re all snuggled in next to mom, squeaking and squirming, gaining weight and growing strong. But something doesn’t seem right with mom and you can’t quite put your finger on it. She’s always loving on those puppies, seems like she’s nursing them round the clock, but her appetite is off, she won’t eat, and she seems so nervous and restless, panting and drooling at times. Her movements were stiff, like an older, arthritic version of herself when she got up to go outside with you, and when you called her to come in from outside she seemed disoriented, like she couldn’t figure out how to get to where you were standing.

These are just a few of the signs of Eclampsia (some folks call this Milk Fever) in it’s early stages. While Eclampsia occurs more often in small or toy breeds, it can affect large breeds like our Gordon Setters too, especially those who have given birth to a large litter, or who have gone through a particularly difficult or prolonged labor. Risk factors include large litter size, prolonged or difficult labor, poor nutrition during gestation, stress, underlying systemic illness and excessive calcium supplementation during pregnancy.

Eclampsia is an emergency medical condition resulting from a life-threatening drop in blood calcium levels. Eclampsia occurs in nursing dams and is most common when the puppies are one to five weeks of age and the dam is producing the most milk.

Signs of Trouble

Eclampsia comes on suddenly. It progresses very quickly. It seems like one minute you have a healthy, lactating bitch with a thriving litter and the next minute she is on the ground convulsing. This is not a wait and see disease…seek immediate emergency veterinary attention at the first sign that something’s amiss.

The symptoms can be subtle at first and resemble those seen before whelping, including:

  • Restlessness
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Panting
  • Excessive salivation
  • Pacing
  • Whining
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Ataxia (lack of coordination)
  • Muscle tremors or spasms
  • Shaking
  • Twitching
  • Convulsions
  • Tightening of facial muscles
  • Stiffness
  • Aggression
  • Hypersensitivity to touch or other stimuli
  • Continuous, steady muscle spasms without distinct twitching (called “tetany”) Tetany usually presents as rigidity in the legs, unusual pricking of the ears and/or flaring of the nostrils. The signs of eclampsia can advance to where the dog begins to walk in an abnormal, stilted manner and may seem unable to walk in a specific direction.
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Vomiting
  • Itchiness (pruritis)
  • Head rubbing
  • Biting at the feet
  • Extreme thirst
  • Increased water intake
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased body temperature (hyperthermia)

If eclampsia is not treated immediately, it can lead to death. Respiration eventually becomes compromised, heart arrhythmia develops and the bitch’s condition deteriorates to seizures, paralysis, coma and death.

To learn more about Eclampsia, including how it is treated, I’ve included reference links below for you.

Merck Veterinary Manual – Puerperal Hypocalcemia in small Animals (Postpartum hypocalcemia, Periparturient hypocalcemia, Puerperal tetany, Eclampsia)

Knowing the Signs of Eclampsia Can Save a Dam’s Life – Best in Show Daily written by Susan Chaney

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Photographs by Sarah Armstrong





Tube Feeding Puppies

Over twenty years ago a I co-bred a litter with good friend of mine who handled the whelping of our eight Gordon Setter puppies . Everything went smoothly at the birth and they were all plugging along, doing great and gaining weight when out of the blue, four days after giving birth, the dam became critically ill. An emergency call and wild ride to the vet revealed that Eclampsia had struck, and in addition to being life threatening for our bitch it created the need to completely take over the feeding of those eight newborn puppies, the dam could no longer nurse due to this condition. Without tube feeding, this litter’s chances of surviving and thriving would have been fairly slim. Bottle feeding eight puppies around the clock and all by oneself was not an option. Tube feeding only means by which my dear friend could save those babies.

And that brings us to to thanking Barbara Manson for sharing this excerpt on tube feeding and for bringing this topic to my attention, it’s something I hadn’t thought of in awhile, but it certainly should be given space here, so here we go!

Tube Feeding Puppies

The following is an excerpt from the book, Feeding Dogs and Cats by Mark L. Morris Jr. DVM, Ph D and Lon D. Lewis, DVM, Ph D.  Copyright 1984, Mark Morris Associates, Topeka, Kansas.

Tube feeding, for most people, is the easiest, cleanest, fastest, safest and most preferred way to feed orphans,  An infant feeding tube (available from many hospitals, pharmacies or pediatricians), number 8-10 French, or a small male urethral catheter can be used.  Once weekly, mark the tube 75% of the distance from the nose to the last rib.  This is the length necessary to just reach the stomach.  If more is inserted, when withdrawn it will frequently come back doubled, possibly damaging the esophagus.  Attach the tube to a syringe, aspirated the amount of formula needed and expel any air aspirated.  Open the mouth slightly, and with the head held in the normal position (not flexed upward or downward) gently pass the tube to the mark.  If an obstruction is felt before you reach the mark the tube is in the trachea.  If this is not the case, slowly administer the formula over a two minute period to allow for gastric dilation.  If resistance is felt, stop.  It probably indicates the stomach is full.  With these precautions, regurgitation rarely occurs.  If it does, withdraw the tube and do not feed any more until the next scheduled feeding.  For the first few weeks of life after each feeding, burp the animal (just like an infant) and swab the genital area with moistened cotton to stimulate deification and urination.

Below you’ll find more resources, including websites with photos to help guide you, simply click the colored links to go to there.  This is also where I ask other breeders if they have techniques or advice about tube feeding that can be shared with others to help round out this information? Please use the comment section to add your thoughts or if you’ve got more detail to add than can be shared in comments feel free to send me your notes or an article at and I’ll get it published on here.

Many thanks to talented photographer Susan Roy Nelson for the peek-a-boo photo!

Free Ad Space for Gordon Puppies, Adults, Litters

As the Gordon Setter Expert audience has grown tremendously, so has the amount of email that I get from people who are searching for quality Gordon Setters from responsible breeders.

To simplify the process where I connect those who are searching for Gordon Setters, with those who are searching for good homes, I’ve created this FREE listing – that’s right, you may advertise to sell your Gordon Setters for free, right here on this site! If you have a puppy, a litter, an adult or are planning a breeding this free service is the perfect value! I’ll be happy to include your photos and pedigree too.

I’ve set a few parameters to ensure I am working with responsible breeders who are invested in the preservation and promotion of the Gordon Setter breed, and you’ll find the rules and restrictions regarding this listing service by visiting the pages below.

Don’t worry about losing this message, just remember that you can go to the Gordon Setter Expert “Home” page any day and simply click the header at the top of the page that reads “Place an Ad – Puppy, Adult, Planned breeding”.

Want to see what your ad might look like? Click here

Place an Ad – Puppy, Adult, Planned Breeding

Gordon Setter Future Litter (Planned Breeding) 

Gordon Setter Puppies

Gordon Setter Adult

I’m certainly hoping Gordon Setter breeders and owners will find this service helpful, that’s all I’m here for, to help!

Don’t forget – you can also list your Stud Dogs here for free!

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Photograph by Laurie Ward

Is She Pregnant? Check her gums!

Well I’ll be!  Here’s a new (at least to me it’s new) old trick from the breeders of yesteryear and I’m simply tripping over myself wanting to try it. I’ve never heard this one before, it sounds nifty and I’m wondering if any of you have ever tried (or heard of) this pregnancy predictor? Arlene Czech writes about the “Gum Check” in her article for this month’s column in ShowSight Magazine.

How to perform the test:  exactly 21 days after the FIRST tie mating start looking at the gums on your bitch by lifting her lips as though you are checking her bite. If she is pregnant the gum will appear very white, much whiter than their normal red color. (see photo below) This color change will occur between the 21 to 24 days after that first mating. It would be ideal for you to begin checking the gums earlier than the 21 days so you have a good picture in your mind of her normal gum color. If she is not pregnant the gum tissue will not change color.

Why it works:  According to Arlene’s article, this is the time when the fetus implants itself on the uterine walls. During this process a good deal of the blood flow is redirected from the body of the bitch and focused on her uterus instead.

We’d sure like to hear back from those of you who may have already been aware of this trick and have used it, as well as those who give it a try on your next breeding. Simply send us an email at or leave a comment at the end of this article.

For information about medical methods to determine pregnancy click this link to our article “Is she…or isn’t she?”

Thank you to our reader Carol Wilson for sending the following email and photos:

I recently read your article about checking a bitches gums to see if she was pregnant. I must admit I had never heard of if before, but as I had just mated my long coat Chihuahua I thought why not try the test.
The first pic was taken about 2 weeks after mating and the second pic 22 days after the first tie. You can see how much paler her gums are. I was fascinated when I saw the change in her gums, but the article did make a lot of sense.
My girl is definitely in whelp she is 5 weeks along now, so the test worked for us. I will definitely be using this method again future.
Thanks for sharing
Carol Wilson


These photos were shared from one of our readers (thank you Shelley Ellison) who reported   …my images of my Labrador Retriever girl Katy when I bred her last year. The darker image was taken on day 21 after ovulation, and the brighter gum color was taken on day 24 after ovulation. I did progesterone timing for shipped chilled semen and she had 9 beautiful puppies.

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Gordon Puppy Photograph courtesy of Debbie Bjerkestrand

(Read Arlene Czech’s article by clicking the blue link below). I’ve included a brief excerpt and photos from the article here.

This is what he told me, and I would like to pass it on to others. No need for a visit to the vet, just a simple check. He demonstrated with his dog as to how to tell if a bitch is pregnant. He simply held her head while he lifted her lip, as if checking the bite when judging. He said the gums will be very white at this time. The time? Exactly 21 days from the first tie in breeding. Actually, you need to start a few days before to become used to the gum color. Just a quick look is all you need. The only problem is that it does not stay white forever. Why it is white is that this is the time that the little fetus/egg implants itself on the uterus? In doing so, blood is drained from the bitches’ body and goes to the uterus. You need to check for several days after since some aren’t ready to implant. Recently I have taken pictures of my recent bitch on her 21st day had white gums, and then several days later I took another picture showing her red gums. Breeders do not believe me until they try it themselves and then say “they did turn white!” And if it is not a success then the gums stay red.

In all the intervening years, I have had success with this over 55 times. I missed once because I didn’t catch her on the 21-24th day. Then I take my bitch to my vet to palpate on the 28th day to see how many.

 I understand from several breeders of farm animals that they too check the same way to see if the breeding took. I didn’t ask how many days they use, but the method was white gums.

by Arlene Czech

Whelping Drugs

Whelping Drugs. What are they? What do they do? How to use them? When to use them? 

Thought I’d take a minute to run through a few oft mentioned drugs or aids that breeders or vets may recommend for you to have on hand for use during whelping and delivery of your litter. I’m hoping my fellow breeders will chime in with comments and suggestions to flesh this article out more so that it includes their experiences and the products they find most useful!


Calcium – use one of two forms for dosing

  •  Injectable form – 3cc in each syringe and up to 3 of the 3cc doses may be given for the larger dog like our Setter
  • TUMS chewable antacid with 1000 mg of Calcium

Calcium will increase muscle contractions and is used when the uterine contractions don’t have the strength needed to push the puppy out. Calcium is a safe drug when injected subcutaneous (under the skin) or as a treat in the chewable Tums form. The PH level of calcium is very low and can cause tissue damage if all injections are given in the same general area. It is important when giving more than one injection to move them to a different area over the shoulder, such as starting out on the left side of the shoulder and giving a second injection on the right side of the shoulder and a third injection in the middle of the shoulder. Calcium may be used when the bitch isn’t pushing and it has been more than 1 hour since the last puppy was born. If the bitch is pushing hard (visible contractions) but no puppy is being expelled it us time to call your vet or emergency clinic.

Photo courtesy of Silvia Timmermann
Photo courtesy of Silvia Timmermann

Oxytocin (common brand name Pitocin) – I do not recommend using oxytocin without veterinarian supervision, please see the previously published article Oxytocin During Whelping (click here for link). Oxytocin is a natural hormone that causes the uterus to contract, as compared to the calcium which strengthens those contractions. Allowing newborn puppies to nurse will cause the release of oxytocin from the dam’s body, so it is best to allow newborn pups to nurse as much as possible from the dam between births. Calcium should be administered, and is recommended before any dose of Oxytocin is given.


Dopram (Doxapram) is a controversial drug used to start or stimulate respiration in newborn puppies following a difficult birth or a C-section. There may be serious side effects from the use of this drug, therefore before choosing to keep it on hand for use please be certain to understand proper use, administration, and the side effects that may be caused by use. I have no experience with this drug, never having used it during a delivery, therefore I cannot endorse or deny it’s viability. Dopram V is a respiratory stimulant which stimulates an increase in tidal volume (the volume of air that is inhaled or exhaled in a single breath), and respiratory rate (number of breaths taken within a set amount of time). It is important to understand that you would be wasting precious minutes for the puppy, if you have not first cleared the airway before administering Dorpram. It is more important that you to learn to safely clear an airway and stimulate breathing the natural way before administering any drug to the newborn pup.

Nutritional Aids for the puppy

Puppy Glucose Solution is my “go to aid” for every puppy, especially those needing a boost of energy to get them nursing during the first 48 hours of life.Click here for complete information “First 48 Hours for Newborn Puppies”

I found these two products that were also recommended by other breeders.

Photo courtesy Silvia Timmermann
Photo courtesy Silvia Timmermann

PUPPYSTIM provides immediate energy supplies from fast absorbed triglycerides (fat), essential fatty acids and glucose.
It also contains: Colostrum (Immunoglobulins) for complementary passive immunity for the first 24-36 hours of life. Natural, safe, friendly probiotic lactic acid bacteria to colonize the gut and exclude overgrowth of potential pathogenic bacteria such as E.Coli or Salmonella etc. A complex package of vitamins and essential mineral iron (in an immediate bioavailable form), improving a puppy’s early condition and resistance to stress and infections. A blend of special plant extracts of Guarana and Kola for stimulating puppies’ early physical activity and well-being to thrive.

NUTRIDROPS are a high energy, nutrient rich supplement.
Ingredients: Propylene Glyco, Cane Molasses, Beet Molasses, Choline Chloride, Methionine, Lysine, Vitamin A, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Di-alpha-tocopherol Acetate, Thiamine, Ammonium Polyphosphate, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Selenate, Potassium Sulphate, Magnesium Sulphate, Manganese Sulphate, Zinc Sulphate, Iron Sulphate, Copper Sulphate and Cobalt Sulphate.

As always, I look forward to your comments, questions, suggestions and advice in our comment section! Share your best puppy birthing ideas and recommendations please!

Photos courtesy of Silvia Timmermann

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Design Yourself the Perfect Whelping Box Set-up

Not going to mince words here people, getting yourself set up with the right whelping box and puppy pen layout for that litter of Gordon Setter pups is as important as finding the right mattress for a good night’s sleep. Yes, you could choose to use a kiddie wading pool for whelping, or you could also build a basic wooden box. Both of these will hold the pups while they are small, still dragging themselves around on their bellies, but there are so very many other things to consider in order to safely contain the bitch and her puppies, that I would be doing you a huge disfavor if I were to say that a basic box or kiddie pool were all you needed.

Whelping box with puppy rails and fleece pads for bedding. Thanks to Debbie Bjerkestrand for sharing her photos with us!

The best thing, will be for you to design your whelping box to fit your bitch and your available space, while designing your entire set up so that it will also to fit the growing and changing needs of the litter and dam over the next couple of months. There are a quite a few things to consider as you set up for your litter, let’s go through a list of them so you can design your whelping box and your puppy space to fit that litter from birth until they leave for their new homes.

Whelping Box Dimensions – ideally the box should be at least a foot longer than the bitch is long when measured from nose to rear. For most Gordon Setter bitches that would be about 5 feet long (60″) on at least one side. The box can be built 5 foot square or if you wish or you could build the box rectangular instead at 4 feet (48″) wide. A box that is too large could mean the newborn puppies might get lost, unable to find their way to mom; and a box built to small increases the odds of the bitch lying or stepping on a wee one.

Side Height – the height of the side wall is most effective when it is designed to be adjustable, so more height can be added when the pups begin to walk and climb out of the box. I like my box to be about 12″ for the first 3 weeks or so, as this allows for me to sit next to the box while reaching in to play with or pet mom and pups. Once the pups reach the age where they can climb out over the sides we want to be able to add at least another 12″ of height to the existing wall.

whelping box
Laurie Ward shared this photo of her whelping box with the puppy rails clearly visible.

Floor – Whether you want or need a floor in your box will depend on the floor surface where you are whelping the litter. I whelped my litters in my basement, and while these were clean, dry cement floors in newer homes, the floors were also cold to the touch depending on the season. So, I had my whelping boxes built with a raised wooden floor that sat about 2″ off the ground to keep the pups off the cement floor and away from that chill. I often added a sheet of Styrofoam insulation under the floor of the whelping box as well for added protection from cool drafts and chilling.

Puppy Rails – you’ll want to install a rail (sometimes called a pig rail by farmers) around the inside edge of the whelping box approximately 5 inches or more off the floor to keep the bitch from smashing a puppy between her body and the wall causing suffocation. There’s a number of photos and instructions on the web about how to make this work and you’ll find those instructions in the links at the end of this article.

  • Absorbent lining – Lining whelping boxes with appropriate materials to absorb fluids and stool is another choice you’ll be making. Newspapers are cheap but be prepared to go through a ton of them so start saving up early on. I like to add a thin layer of newspaper strips thrown loosely on top of the flat layer of paper (fold the newspaper in half, length-wise, then tear in narrow 1/2 inch strips). These loose strips get shuffled around by the bitch and the puppies moving about, the strips will stick on top of stool and wet spots, keeping the pups and mom from lying in or crawling through any mess. The strips are lightweight so they easily move around to help keep things cleaner in the box.
  • Towels or blankets can be used but there are definite disadvantages. Very young puppies can get trapped and lost underneath and then can easily be crushed by their mother or may suffocate if they become wrapped or rolled in the material. Towels and blankets bunch up in corners of the whelping box and they don’t provide the best traction for puppies when they are trying to cudlle close to the nipples.
  • I’ve known some folks who use bath mats with rubber backing. Unfortunately one cannot get one mat large enough for the entire box so several must be pieced together. The disadvantage here is that Mom may dig at and scrape these around the box in a natural nesting instinct, and again pups can become tangled or buried beneath the mats similar to the towel/blanket dilemma.
  • I’ve used indoor/outdoor carpeting for the first few weeks in the whelping box with success. It does need to be cut to size to fit the box, and needs a good washing to remove all the residual chemicals and to soften the nap. You’ll need at least two pieces cut to the right size so one can be washed while the other is in use.
  • A good option for lining the whelping box for newborns are lambskin crate pads. These are artificial lamb-like fur pads that come in various sizes and are easily found in most dog catalogs. These pads absorb liquids to keep puppies from laying in wetness, and are easily cleaned in a clothes washer. They are thick so the puppies can cuddle in them for extra warmth and the pups get good traction when crawling to get closer to their mother. Because of the rubber backing they usually stay in place and don’t bunch up easily like towels or blankets. You can buy lambskin crate material in bulk from some companies so the exact dimensions of your whelping box can be matched when ordering your pads. Links following this article are included for a couple of sites who offer this material.

    Ivy with pups
    Photo by Laurie Ward of mom and pups snuggling in the whelping box.

Location, Location, Location….

Where to place the whelping box for the birth? Where to keep the whelping box as the pups get older and begin to eat solid foods and poop, and poop, and poop? There are so many things to consider so let’s just run through them all so you can decide for yourself how best to design your whelping set up.

Convenient and quiet – where ever you decide to whelp and raise your litter, make it in a convenient place for you to be able to monitor the bitch and the puppies. I recommend whelping puppies inside the house, and as the whelping itself can take a long time and often seems to happen at night, having a couch or lounge chair nearby for cat naps is high on my priority list! I’ve known breeders to whelp puppies in a kitchen, living room, bedroom, laundry room, basement, or an attached garage. Ideally, the location should be quiet with the least amount of family activity. If you have lots of family members or small children, probably the basement, laundry room or garage is best. Bitches with newborn puppies can be very temperamental, protective and are easily disturbed. Giving the bitch a quiet and secluded place to nest with her puppies is going to simplify many things for you and for her. Too many visitors, too many noises and distractions can turn a great mother into a nightmare mom, don’t throw your bitch off her game, give her seclusion with her babies.

Temperature – you will need to be able to control the temperature of the whelping room or at the very least, the whelping box itself, as the biggest threat to newborn puppies is chilling. A draft free room, away from frequently opened doors and windows during cool weather is a good start. A heat lamp that can be raised or lowered to adjust the temperature for warmth should be placed strategically in one corner of the whelping box. I strongly urge you to use either a heat lamp or a puppy heating pad as opposed to heating the entire room (and subsequently the dam) to keep the puppies from chilling. I always keep a thermometer fastened securely to the whelping box and near the floor under the heat lamp so I can monitor that the area is warm enough to prevent the puppies from chilling but not overheating. I’ve always preferred the heat lamp to a heating pad as I’m paranoid that the bitch will chew the electrical cord on the heating pad where with using the heat lamp and hanging it down from the ceiling the cord can be kept out of her reach. Both options are viable and a matter of personal preference.

Mom’s Care and Exercise – in the beginning it’s often nearly impossible to entice Mom to leave her new pups to eat and go outside for potty breaks. You’re going to want to confine mom in an area with the pups and whelping box, possibly with an ex-pen, where if she were to have an accident indoors it can be easily cleaned and she doesn’t potty in the whelping box itself. Diarrhea following delivery is common, especially if the bitch eats placenta during the birth process. She’ll need a space outside the whelping box where she can get away from the pups when she needs to do so, and she will need constant access to fresh water. Additionally, the bitch will have a vaginal discharge following delivery, sometimes this is heavy and often it is messy. You’ll want to consider that as you plan how you will move her from the whelping area to go outside for potty breaks.

Weaning pen attached to whelping box. Notice the fleece pads in use for bedding in the whelping box and the newspaper strips being used in the weaning pen. Thanks to Debbie Bjerkestrand for sharing her photos with us.

Expansion needs – Puppies grow, and before you know it they’re climbing over the walls of the whelping box to explore the great beyond. Now’s the time when Mom’s weaning them and you’ve taken over chow time. Once this process begins, Mom stops wiping their little butts and cleaning up after them so – well – poop begins to happen! This means stinky smell happens, and if you’re not prepared to expand their space fast enough you’ll have stinky, dirty puppies too. Around 21-27 days of age, caring for Gordon Setter puppies becomes a challenge, and you need to have a plan ready to enact for how you will handle the much-needed expansion. Options at this time are either an indoor, or an indoor/outdoor set up. Unless you live in a temperate climate, you like me, will most often be raising those puppies completely indoors with a trips outside to play when the weather permits. This is where a weaning pen comes in.

  • Weaning Pen – this is an enclosure that can be constructed from same material as the whelping box, an exercise pen, or any other puppy safe fence like material that will confine the pups in a larger space so they have more room to run and play and to also use as a potty area, thus keeping the whelping box a clean area for sleeping and eating. The size of the area you need for a weaning area will depend on the size of the litter, obviously twelve puppies would need more room than four.  Generally, you’ll be attaching your weaning pen as an extension of the original whelping box which will continue to be used as the puppy’s sleeping area.
    • Bedding for the Weaning Pen – the trick to keeping puppies clean and sweet-smelling is to find the right bedding for soaking up the pee and poo that comes right along with their cute wiggly little butts. After years and years and many different choices my favorite bedding for weaning puppies, will always pine shavings (never cedar shavings as they are toxic). This means that my puppy weaning pen needs a solid 3 or 4 inch tall rail to hold the shavings inside the pen, rather like bedding in a horse stall.  Urine will soak right into the shavings keeping it out-of-the-way. Poop, well that just rolls right up in to a shaving coated poop ball as the puppies move around, so puppies just don’t get dirty and stinky from inadvertently walking through it. I am used to buying bales of pine shavings at a farm feed store, so places that sell horse and cattle supplies will often carry them. They are bagged in paper or plastic and are about the size of a bale of hay. I want the large, flaked, actual wood shavings not the small, fine stuff that is used in hamster cages. The pine smells terrific, the puppies’ coats are cleaned by the pine oil in the shavings so they stay sweet-smelling, soft and shiny. The drawback is that the flakes get everywhere as they drift and float about or stick in hair and on shoes. But cleaning up those stray shavings sure beats cleaning up stinky puppy poop papers! I use a poop scoop to clean out the puppy piles frequently and when the shavings start to appear dirty or wet I scoop them out with a shovel, disinfect the floor with some bleach and throw down a new 2 to 3 inch deep pile of shavings for pups. Meanwhile, back in the whelping box I’m still using some sort of soft bedding for pups to cuddle in so they develop separate sleeping/eating and potty break areas.
    • Newspaper strips – can also be used as bedding in the weaning pen. I would use several heavy layers of flat newspaper on the bottom and then throw a layer of thin strips of newspaper on top of the flat paper so that puppy poop gets rolled up in the paper strips on top and puppies aren’t slip, sliding around in the poop as they run and play in the weaning pen. I know it is possible to by newspaper in rolls for this use so you may have success purchasing this online as well as locally.
  • Indoor/Outdoor Puppy Pen – Given the right weather an indoor/outdoor run is also a perfect solution for puppies. An inside pen at least 4×4 or larger can be adequate with a 10×10 outdoor section attached. There should be an open puppy door to allow the pups free access to move freely between inside and out. I wouldn’t recommend installing a doggie door for young pups as I’d be concerned with it slamming and injuring a small pup, I would instead use a guillotine closing for the opening when I needed to lock the pups inside.
weaning pen
Puppy play area and weaning pen. Thanks to Laurie Ward for sharing this photo of her indoor set up.

As the puppies grow, having a much larger place for the puppies to roam and play is important for muscle development and socialization skills. Puppies kept in a small whelping box until they are 8 weeks old will have poorer muscle development, could have coordination problems, and be socially delayed compared to pups who are allowed to run, play, and explore both inside and outside. People socialization is extremely important between 4 to 8 weeks of age for Gordon Setter puppies, so spending as much time with them as you can both inside and outside is critical, as are inviting neighbors and friends by to visit with them. This is the time when your puppies need to be introduced to as many sights, sounds and smells as you can safely find for them, so be sure to enlarge their world to include time outside the weaning pen too.

Debbie Bjerkestrand shared these photos of her puppies outside at play.

Listed below are some websites I’d found for you that offer pre-built plastic whelping boxes and whelping supplies including the fleece whelping box pads we talked about. In addition I found a couple of sites with whelping box plans to give you a variety of things to look at as you decide what it is that you want to include in your set up.

If you already have some awesome ideas, techniques or items that you use in your Whelping Setup please share them with us by using the comment section below.

Click any of these links to view products such as or whelping box plans:

Jonart (Plastic Whelping Boxes,Weaning Pens and other whelping supplies)

Dura Whelp whelping boxes, supplies and whelping box mats

Plaza Magna Whelping Box – plastic size large

McEmm Mark III Whelping Box Construction Plans

How to Build a Whelping Box (WC Rotts – rottweiler breeder)

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Whelping List – Organizing supplies

Pandemonium and chaos immediately follow the discovery that your bitch is in labor especially if you haven’t even pulled out the whelping box yet, not, mind you, that I’ve ever done that, but it could happen, and if it could happen it would happen to me! I suppose a bat flying through a church lady meeting might more chaos, but I am thinking it wouldn’t cause the same amount of pure panic – well…maybe it would. I know some of you are stone cold new to breeding and whelping, and if this is your first litter you’re probably like every new mom, wanting to browse all the shops for cutesy baby gear. Pre-puppy prep isn’t nearly as exciting or fun as soft blue blankets and little pink booties, but hey, it is what it is and we’ll have to make do with our more boring list of supplies.

Ivy with pups
Photo by Laurie Ward

First, obviously (or maybe not so obviously if this is your first litter and you’ve never chased an even dozen of those little heathens around your kitchen) you will need a whelping box, whether you buy one, assemble your own or simply toss down a plastic swimming pool, the whelping box would be at the top of the items on our pre-labor list We’ll be sharing whelping box ideas in its own separate  article as there are many options to choose from, so no worries, we’ll hook you up, but here we’re simply listing it.

Here it is then, click the title for your  Whelping Supply Checklist in printable PDF format and you can also read on below for instructions on the Puppy Glucose solution and the Puppy Holding Box.

Whelping box – details on how to make the best choices to fit your needs will follow in a separate article.

Heat Lamp – to hang over the whelping box for warmth. Red heat lamp bulbs provide slightly more warmth and are more energy-efficient. They provide a more calming environment for the dam as they throw off a dimmer light. I’ve been told they are easier on pup’s eyes when they first open, don’t know if this is true or an old wives tale.

Indoor/outdoor thermometer – to monitor the temperature in the whelping box, this will need to be securely fastened and protected from chewing by the dam.

Rectal Thermometer  –  to monitor your bitch prior to her due date for the drop in body temperature that warns labor is about to begin.

Vaseline – for lubrication in case of stuck pup and when taking the bitch’s temperature.

Temperature chart or paper – to track and record the bitch’s temperature, 2-3 times daily, starting at least one week prior to the due date

Newspaper – this serves as bedding for the bitch and puppies, to line the whelping box before, during and after whelping as it will soak up birthing fluids and can easily be replaced during the whelping. You may be able to locate rolls of this paper to purchase or use actual newspaper.

Bath mats –  or other non-slip rugs or carpet cleaned of all chemical residue (do not use new carpeting or rugs that have not been washed for newborns). This will serve as bedding for the whelping box after the puppies have all been born and are ready to settle in comfortably with mom.

Clean towels – towels and more towels. Used to clean and dry the puppies following birth. Small towels like hand or dish towel size work best, or use bath towels cut  into smaller sizes. Be sure to have some small washcloth sized pieces to use to grip pups if needed during birth.

4” x 4” gauze pads – to hold slippery umbilical cords while tying.

Blunt tipped scissors – child’s safely scissors are perfect to cut umbilical cord, dull scissors are best as a jagged or rough cut will clot faster.

Un-waxed dental floss or clamps – use to tie the puppy’s umbilical cord to stop bleeding.

Isopropyl alcohol – to clean and dry the umbilical cord. Blot on the cord for the first few days to help dry it so it can fall off more easily.

Iodine or Betadine – for cord care after umbilical cord is cut and to clean puppy abdomens.

Baby suction bulb – to remove mucus from newborns mouth and nose as needed.

Alcohol wipes – use to clean cord clamps and scissors between pups.

Scale – to obtain birth weights and measure growth.

Clock/watch – to note the timing of births and monitor and track the timing of hard labor and birth. Visible and prolonged labor without a birth occurring are a sign of something gone wrong. Note the time of contractions.

Nail Polish or Model paint – 4-6 various colors – you will use this to mark each pup so you can tell them apart to monitoring growth and development.. Buy multiple and easy to distinguish colors and use them to place a colored mark on each puppy, as they are born, and on different parts of the body if necessary. I start with the top of head for each color (and sex) then move to the puppy’s back or perhaps tail with the same color if I need to reuse a color. For example I might have a red girl head, a red girl back and a red girl tail if I had more puppies of one sex than colors. I have always preferred this method of identification as compared to using ribbon, string or yarn around the newborn neck The one and only time I decided used colored rick rack to mark puppies with a collar, I lost a puppy during the night while I slept. His collar tangled in the bitch’s long coat, the more she licked him and he rolled, the tighter the hair tangled in the ribbon until it became so tight the puppy strangled.

Calcium antacid tablets or calcium supplement – to use as calcium supplement if needed during labor. Vanilla ice cream is another calcium boost with a sugar fix for energy.

Puppy Glucose solution – this well established advice comes from what many consider as the bible of dog breeding  written by Anne Seranne “The Joy of Breeding Your Own Show Dog”. I have used this glucose solution and Anne’s advice for decades with very positive results.

Prepare this 5% Glucose solution just prior to whelping and store in a dropper bottle:

  • 1 tsp Kayro (Corn) syrup
  • 4 TBL boiled water
  • few grains of table salt (sodium chloride)
  • few grains of salt substitute (potassium chloride)

Pre-boil store water and store in closed jars to be used later for mixing formula.

Hand Sanitizer

Latex gloves

Paper towels – to clean up messes.

Trash bags – to contain messes, one for dirty newspaper/trash and one for used towels.

Tablet, notebook or form – to record time of birth, weight, sex, identifying mark and to keep any important notes about the puppy.


Puppy Holding Box – You will need a temporary place to put the pups aside to keep them out-of-the-way while Mom is whelping the next puppy. A 24” by 18” plastic box with a lid (such as a Rubbermaid box) can work, a small cardboard box works equally well and is cheap as well! You’re going to use the heating pad listed below in this box to keep the pups from getting chilled while being held here.

Heating Pad – to keep puppies warm while in holding. I would cover the pad with a towel in addition to the soft pad that generally is included. Be sure to monitor the heat setting to keep it at or below body temp as you do not want to dehydrate those puppies by overheating them.

Hot water bottle – this is handy to have on hand if you need to make a trip to the vet’s office and the distance is long. It will hold warmth longer than the heating pad and can be refilled with hot water easily when it cools. It isn’t necessary but they are very, very handy.

Favorite whelping book – reference material right at your fingertips will help to keep you occupied while you wait. I have some parts of my books memorized!

Phone – with emergency Vet #’s clearly saved and easy to find.

Ivy pups3
Photo by Laurie Ward

Car gassed up and ready to go “just in case”.

Using glucose solution to give your pups a faster, stronger start from “The Joy of Breeding Your Own Show Dog”

This resembles a Ringer’s Glucose-Saline fluid but, of course, cannot be used for subcutaneous or intravenous injection because it is not sterile. Store the solution in a dropper bottle. As soon as a puppy is dry and breathing normally, weigh it on a gram scale and give it five or six drops of the solution for each 100 grams of body weight. It is best to administer the glucose drop by drop on its tongue and not introduce it directly into the stomach by tube. By giving it on the tongue the swallowing reflexes are being developed. Make sue the puppy has swallowed each drop before the next is given. Usually even the weakest pup will accept it gratefully. Then put the puppy with it’s dam for stimulation and warmth. Every four hours weigh the puppy, record the weight, and repeat the glucose, increasing the amount if the puppy wants it, to as much as a full dropper or more for each 100 grams of body weight, until the puppy shows signs of gaining weight. Then offer it to the puppy every eight hours until it is 48 hours old. It should not be forced to drink it. Usually even the smallest puppy will begin to take hold and nurse strongly with good suction at the end of 24 hours, and will reject the glucose, indicating it is getting sufficient energy and nutrition from its dam. You can tell when its suction is getting stronger for, suddenly, the puppy will close its mouth around the dropper and suck all the solution from the tube.”

Ivy pups
Photo by Laurie Ward

Using the Puppy Holding Box

Fit a small heating pad without the automatic shut off into half of the box, run the cord out through a hole you will make in a corner of the box. Cover this with a bolster type crate mat to protect the pups from cold edges or roll a towel up to buffer the puppies from the cold edges. As an alternative, use a microwavable heating pad. Test the temperature to make sure it is not too hot before using it to hold the puppies. You will want to place the pups in the box, out of harms way while Mom is whelping the rest of the pups. She can get pretty frantic and could step on or injure a puppy while in hard labor during delivery. This is also the best way to transport the pups to the vet and works well as any other time you need to keep them warm but away from Mom (like when you clean the whelping box). Always warm the box before placing the pups in it. When at the vet’s office you can ask to plug your box in to keep it warm for the trip home. You can also use a hot water bottle in place of the heating pad for warmth, especially during travel as it doesn’t cool as fast as the pad.

Another link for helpful information: AKC – Responsible Breeding

I always welcome the comments and suggestions of our fellow breeders. Sharing your ideas, thoughts and expertise with our readers on this topic will be of great value to them so please jump in to add to or disagree with any of the material I’ve published here.

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Photos from Laurie Ward, Evergreen CO

First 48 Hours for Newborn Puppies

As I understand it, the two most pressing hazards we face as breeders, to keeping our puppies alive in the first 48 hours would be cold (chilled) and dehydration. After those two the next hazard to life is lack of nourishment. Now, I’m always open to learning new tricks, so if there is anyone who can offer me insight into something more pressing that I am overlooking as vital in this 48 hour time-frame, we all want you to step forward to chime in here, my purpose is to provide the most comprehensive advice to breeders, and your addition to this article may save another Gordon Setter puppy. Please, please don’t be shy!

The first thing I reach for, and the best tool in my breeder toolbox, to address the hazard of dehydration (and nourishment) is advice given by Anne Serrane in her book “The Joy of Breeding Your Own Show Dog”  and that is her recommendation to use a Puppy Glucose Solution. The ingredients of this solution and the method of delivering it via an eye dropper fit four vital needs of the newly born puppy. The first is to assure that the puppy stays well hydrated, the second is to give the puppy a boost of energy with nourishment that is less foreign to his extremely sensitive digestive system, and the third to teach the puppy to swallow and suck. The fourth need is some assistance to preventing chill, and the solution can help avoid chilling by providing a warm liquid to the pup’s internal organs. Warming this solution to body temperature by holding it close to our body or in our hands, this solution, when swallowed, will provide some warmth for the puppy internally. I store my Puppy Glucose Solution within reach during whelping by sitting it in a container of warm water so it holds that warmth between uses. Yes, you can choose to use other re-hydration techniques like the injection of Ringer’s Glucose-Saline fluid or tube feeding a milk replacement, but neither of these techniques meet the need to help that puppy learn to swallow and suck, and the replacement formula delivered by tube is often too foreign for the (less than 48 hour old) puppy to properly digest. I avoid the use of milk replacement formulas in the first 48 hours whenever possible as these can cause more stress for the puppy instead of help.

So moving on, prepare this 5% Glucose solution just prior to whelping and store in a dropper bottle:

  • 1 TSP Kayro (Corn) syrup
  • 4 TBL boiled water
  • few grains of table salt (sodium chloride)
  • few grains of salt substitute (potassium chloride)

Then follow the simple instructions ont how to use the Puppy Glucose Solution and give your puppies a faster, stronger start by Anne Serrane from her book “The Joy of Breeding Your Own Show Dog”

This resembles a Ringer’s Glucose-Saline fluid but, of course, cannot be used for subcutaneous or intravenous injection because it is not sterile. Store the solution in a dropper bottle. As soon as a puppy is dry and breathing normally, weigh it on a gram scale and give it five or six drops of the solution for each 100 grams of body weight. It is best to administer the glucose drop by drop on its tongue and not introduce it directly into the stomach by tube. By giving it on the tongue the swallowing reflexes are being developed. Make sure the puppy has swallowed each drop before the next is given. Usually even the weakest pup will accept it gratefully. Then put the puppy with it’s dam for stimulation and warmth. Every four hours weigh the puppy, record the weight, and repeat the glucose, increasing the amount if the puppy wants it, to as much as a full dropper or more for each 100 grams of body weight, until the puppy shows signs of gaining weight. Then offer it to the puppy every eight hours until it is 48 hours old. It should not be forced to drink it. Usually even the smallest puppy will begin to take hold and nurse strongly with good suction at the end of 24 hours, and will reject the glucose, indicating it is getting sufficient energy and nutrition from its dam. You can tell when its suction is getting stronger for, suddenly, the puppy will close its mouth around the dropper and suck all the solution from the tube.”

It takes a good deal of patience and practice with newborn puppies to get them to accept this liquid from the eye dropper, you’ll need to learn how to get the puppy to open his mouth to accept the eye dropper, but once you both get the knack of it the pup will stick out his tongue for the dropper and eventually suck the liquid right down!

It’s so simple and such a great boost. It’s like a puppy power shake!

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Photo by Sarah Armstrong