Raising Puppy Litters Great and Small

Singleton and gargantuan litters each present a distinct set of needs and challenges to breeder, dam, and puppies.

By | Posted: Tue May 31 00:00:00 PDT 2005

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Keeping a big litter warm and well-fed is top priority. Evie Glodic breeds Labrador Retrievers in Knightdale, N.C., and has had several litters of 10 to 12 puppies. "The first weeks can be tough," she says, "making sure everyone has enough to eat and stays warm with the help of a heating pad and a heat lamp." Heitz says she likes to keep a sharper eye on her Golden Retriever puppies' weights, and also might rotate the smaller birth-weight puppies on to nipples that the bigger puppies have used, knowing that the milk has been let down and is flowing well. However, she says, "When conditions are optimal - labor not abnormally long and delivery in the normal rangeI don't necessarily treat large litters with any extraordinary measures, including supplemental feeding."

Large litters often have a number of smaller-than-average puppies, and Glodic has several times supplemented her Labrador litters, offering the smaller ones some bottle feeding. This can ensure that they get a good start, and are not being continually pushed away from the nipples by bigger, stronger siblings. Many breeders continue to do this until they see that the puppies are gaining weight satisfactorily and getting stronger, and are able to compete for their share of the dam's milk.

Surrogate Dams
With a really large litter, sometimes a second bitch that has just had a litter can be used to care for some of the puppies. Ideally this second bitch should be in the breeder's household and of the same breed, and with a smaller- than-usual litter. Two or three puppies can be taken from the large litter and put with the smaller one while the dam is away for a few minutes. If they are gently rubbed with the puppies from the smaller litter so that they smell the same, the dam on her return might do no more than give them an enquiring sniff and settle in with her expanded brood.

Stephanie Hunt-Crowley, who breeds Afghan Hounds in Frederick, Md., feels that the ease with which puppies can be moved to another dam may be breed specific. Afghan Hounds seem to be very accepting of it, and Hunt-Crowley has done it a few times successfully, but she says that it may be "more normal in the primitive breeds, since it would have been a good survival-of-the-species trait." On one occasion she had a bitch that died during a C-section, leaving seven orphaned Afghan pups. At home, another bitch had a newborn litter of two. Hunt-Crowley reports, "I gave them all to [her] and she took them on without batting an eye, and happily raised all nine as her own. Afghans will also wet-nurse puppies if they have milk from a false pregnancy!"

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