Every expectant "puppy family" has hopes and worries. Will momma be okay or will she need help, or even a caesarian? Will there be enough puppies? Will there be too many puppies? Will momma be able to take care of all of them? An ultrasound or X-ray might be able to give you an idea of how many puppies to expect. Or maybe not. There are always surprises on whelping day, and no milk is just one of them.
An expectant mother usually has a little milk even before her puppies are born. By the time she is whelping, her production of oxytocin (a maternal hormone) should make milk available to her puppies. Most dogs that are fed correctly and in good shape will have some milk production. However, you might need to help things along.
If your bitch is in good shape and whelps but does not have milk available, the first thing to do is make sure she has plenty of fresh water. That is rarely the problem, but she may only want to drink warm, lukewarm, or cold water. Calm down, sit next to her, and offer her several different temperatures and see what she likes. You may be surprised.
If she is not drinking, despite your best efforts, try giving her a big bowl of lukewarm chicken soup. The extra nutrients will help, and the salt will tend to make her thirsty.
Call your veterinarian. They can also come out and examine her to see if there is an infection that you have not been able to identify. They may also decide to give her an injection of calcium or oxytocin.
Finally, go ahead and put the puppies up to her teats and let them try to nurse. Many websites and books will tell you about the importance of the puppies nursing colostrum, the antibody-rich milk produced when they are first born, but no one has a solution about what to do if there is none.
Colostrum is the first milk produced by a bitch and it protects the puppies from diseases she has been exposed to and developed antibodies too. All dairy farmers save colostrum to give to newborn calves, but it is not usually available to dog breeders. Maybe the puppies can get a few drops out, and even a little will make a big difference for the weeks they have ahead of them. There are some commercial colostrum replacements. Ask your vet which ones they recommend.
For the first seven days, newborns should nurse once about every two hours. Signs that the litter might be underfed include:
Some dogs will have plenty of milk but be blessed with a lot more puppies than they can feed. Some will produce only a few drops, and some won`t produce anything at all. If the puppies are not getting enough to eat, they will be restless and cry a lot, and of course they will not have full bellies. It is at that point that you have to try to feed them some extra milk. You can purchase a puppy milk replacer from a pet store or your vet, or make a natural substitute. If you want to make up your own, follow this formula.
Mix together the following:
If the milk substitute is too thick to come out of the bottle`s nipple, you can make the hole a little larger with a hot needle. However, the milk should not be so thin that it pours out without the puppy nursing - if it is too thin the puppy will end up drowning. Some breeders recommend adding corn syrup or sugar to the milk substitute, but goat's milk has plenty of sugar and since too much leads to diarrhea you do not need it. If the puppies are becoming hypoglycemic (depressed and losing the suck reflex) you can add about 1 teaspoon to the milk mixture.
Tube feeding is quicker than bottle feeding a whole litter, but if it is done wrong the puppy will drown or die later. The amount is also critical, since a puppy cannot just stop when he is full. I prefer puppies be bottle fed every 3 hours for about 3 weeks. Yes, it is a lot of work. Yes, the life of a puppy is worth the effort. If you are bottle feeding, the pups can nurse about as much as they want, and should be getting between 2-4 cc for each 30 grams of body weight.
Even if the mother is not able to feed the puppies, try to let her stay involved in the process by keeping the puppies clean and providing warmth.
If she is not around, you will have to make sure the puppies are kept warm and rub their bellies and perianal areas with a warm paper towel to stimulate urination and defecation.
If your dog does not produce enough milk at the beginning, or does not have enough to satisfy all of her puppies, you still have a good chance of helping her out if you follow the steps outlined in the first part of this article. Stay calm, but act right away. This problem will not wait until tomorrow. Even if she does not respond, keep in mind that the next few weeks will be over quickly. Puppies grow fast and within three weeks, they will start taking soft food. You can still feed them with a bottle for the next few weeks, but most of your hard work will be over.
Take care of those puppies! A natural diet is the best method of feeding your dog and making sure she will have adequate milk when the big day comes along.