Postpartum care of the dam is extremely important. As soon as she is finished whelping, all soiled material should be removed from the whelping box and replaced by clean, soft bedding. This should be done several times a day as necessary to keep everyone clean and fresh. The mom should be gently cleaned with a warm damp cloth to remove any evidence of blood, fetal fluids or placental tissues. Good hygiene reduces the risk of bacterial overgrowth and infection for her and her babies. She will leak fluids and tissues, called “lochia,” for several weeks after giving birth. C-sectioned dams will have more post-whelping discharge than natural-whelpers. Lochia ranges from greenish-black to brownish to brick red and should be almost odorless. It results from normal shedding and cleaning-out of the uterine lining. If lochia turns thick, grey or pale and starts to smell, the dog should be seen by a veterinarian, as she may have an infected retained placenta or a uterine infection called “metritis.”
The mother should be monitored around the clock for at least the first week. She should rest quietly and hopefully sleep for several hours after she whelps, while the puppies are nursing or sleeping. When she stirs, she should be bright, alert and responsive to her babies. She should quickly resume eating and drinking, in significantly larger amounts than before she had her puppies, depending on the size of her litter. She still should be fed several small meals a day rather than one large one. She may appreciate being fed some cottage cheese, regular cheese, raw liver or even scrambled eggs. She should always have free access to fresh water.
The breeder should check the mother’s teats regularly for signs of heat, redness, swelling, inflammation, discoloration or pain. Her milk should be white and of normal consistency, without thickening or turning pink, red, green or yellow. All of these may be evidence of a potentially devastating bacterial infection called “mastitis,” which requires immediate veterinary attention. The dam’s teats can become plugged up if she makes more milk than is used; this condition, called “galactostasis,” is seen mainly with small litters. The mother shouldn’t be allowed to wander where insecticides or fertilizers have been used (in warm months) or where salt has been spread (in winter months), as they can rub off on her teats and harm the nursing puppies.
The breeder should keep a close watch for any signs of eclampsia (“milk fever”), which usually occurs within the first 4 weeks after delivery when the mother’s calcium stores can become depleted. Signs of eclampsia include restlessness, anxiety, panting, muscle tremors, elevated temperature, whining and dilated pupils, among others. Untreated, it can progress to limb rigidity, convulsions, collapse and death. Fortunately, eclampsia is reversible if caught early.