Good Books and What They Don’t Say

I love my books. I have used two to help me understand what things to expect as I work with my foster mamas. Neither of these books are the definitive, must-have reads that some of my books are to me. But they are sound books with good advice and they are books I happened to have around or were able to find on a quick run to the bookstore. They are:

Breeding a Litter, by Beth J. Finder Harris

However, there are some things that they don’t tell you in books:

• Mama dogs have loose stools, like soft serve ice cream (sorry, sort of gross) especially if you’re feeding them a rich diet. Expect this and don’t assume there is anything wrong unless it is clear that the mama is lethargic or unwell, or if the poop stinks to the high heavens of if there is blood in the stool. All of these are signs of illness (likely parasites) and need to be addressed by the vet. A good rule of thumb is to get a stool sample tested by the vet right when the mama arrives and another a few weeks later. Don’t assume a clear sample is really clear. Some of these parasites take awhile to show up. And don’t assume that you can’t catch what the mama has. Many parasites are transmittable to humans. Something I learned all too well over the summer when I caught giardia from Sweetie. The treatment was effective and I’m fine now but the medication was so strong it literally took me months to feel normal in my gut again.

• Mama dogs bleed after whelping – a lot more than they let on in the books. Maybe not all dogs do, but the three I’ve had did. And it is most profuse that first week. Use common sense – it should taper off and it should NEVER be weirdly colored (green and any color like that) or strong smelling. It should look like a period, period. If you expect this it will save you a lot of calls to the vet.

• Mama dogs are FIERCE after their pups are born. Really, don’t mess with them. Take your cues from them. They mellow after those first few days and I have found their trust in me to be humbling, especially since all three our foster-mamas were seriously neglected or abandoned.

• You don’t have to expect to do anything while the mama is whelping her pups. Really, nothing at all. Bella arrived a month before her pups were born, was healthy and we didn’t have the dog aggression with Lollie that we have today, so we incorporated her into our house right from the start. I brushed her daily for at least an hour and we walked and played and hung out. So, when she was ready to whelp, it was clear that she wanted me to be a part of it. So did I! But with Annie, we were only together 5 days so when she whelped she did it alone. I checked in on her every hour or so to make sure all was well. Each time I did she gave me a look that clearly said, “WHAT?!?” She took care of everything and ate every one of those placentas which leads me to the next point…

• Mamas can eat all the placentas. Just expect extremely funky poop for the next day or two. And possibly vomit although none of my mamas did.

• Mamas can whelp while the pups are nursing. In fact, nursing helps the mama’s brain release oxytocin which helps make contractions stronger and more effective. Don’t separate pups from the mama – let nature take care if it. Although, if the whelping occurs in tight quarters expect some minor (hopefully) injuries on the pups. Annie whelped in her crate (just the right size for her, but way too small in my opinion to carry out such an event!). As a result, one of the pups has an obvious nail scratch on its head. It is a minor and by one week (how old they are today!!) it is nearly healed up. I would have liked her to whelp in the box we provided but she was having none of it.

• Mama dogs need you to respect their space but also to get things done. I found that offering her food and water while she was whelping and during that first couple of days while she was nursing really seemed to help her understand that I was on her side. I’d check in, kneel down and put first the water bowl in front of her. Usually she’d drink rapidly then look at all her pups. Then I’d offer her food. She also usually ate rapidly while looking at me. I’d say things in a soothing tone and when she was done I’d leave. Also, you have to change that bedding – wet bedding equals chilled pups. Do it while she being pottied by your partner (if you should be so lucky) or while she’s busy eating. Do it fast and matter of fact. She’ll get used to you handling her pups.

• Mama dogs need a life of their own. Sweetie was kept in the puppy room nearly the entire first 6 weeks because she was so sick. Annie has needed to get out and hang out with me after 4 days. She’s lounging on the couch now, happy as a lark.

• If you have dogs of your own, don’t expect them to get along. Motherhood is serious business for a dog and even though 3 of my 4 dogs are fine with other dogs I keep them all apart. Even hearing the other dogs nearby stresses Annie out – she runs around sniffing the perimeter of the room and growls and barks. Having puppies makes a dog vulnerable and so mamas are naturally more defensive. Also, don’t expect to really understand how a mama dog will be with other dogs and people until long after she’s weaned her pups. With H.E.L.P., I foster the mama and litter and when the pups are weaned (around 8 weeks is my preference) the mama goes to another foster home. There her true nature can be assessed more accurately, without her pups around.

• And finally, don’t be afraid that you’ll want to keep all the puppies. You will not. As much as I love this work, as attached to the pups as I get, and as much as I miss them when they’ve gone to their new homes, I am SO GLAD TO HAVE MY LIFE BACK once they’ve gone. Really, I can’t stress that enough. Books cannot convey how much work taking care of a litter of pups is. It is tremendously time consuming. Basically, our life is on hold for the two months we care for the litter. This time around that means Thanksgiving and Christmas plans have to be changed. The house has to be moved around and getting out of the house each morning is 45 minutes more difficult. It is worth it but it is good when they go. That’s the way nature intended it, I suspect.

November 24, 2008 • Tags: , , , • Posted in: Annie, Bella, Lollie, pups, Sweetie

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