Determining whether or not a litter of nursing puppies is getting enough milk

Determining whether or not a litter of nursing puppies is getting enough milk

Education & Training

During the first few weeks of a new puppy’s life, the pups are wholly reliant on their dam to take care of all of their needs, which means that she must produce enough milk to sustain her whole litter – and that every pup should be able to get enough milk to grow and thrive.

This is something that anyone caring for a nursing dam should check and monitor on an ongoing basis, as problems can arise from time to time – such as if the dam has a large litter and may struggle to produce enough milk to sustain them, or if she has more puppies than teats! Additionally, smaller, weaker pups and the runt of the litter may have problems competing with their larger siblings to get their needs met, and in some cases, a dam will actively reject and refuse to feed a puppy too.

When you also factor in problems that can affect the dam’s milk production such as caesarean delivery and infections such as mastitis, keeping an eye on the litter to ensure they get enough milk is really important.

In this article, we will look at how to monitor how much milk puppies are getting, and some common indicators of problems to look out for. Read on to learn more.

Milk production

The process of labour triggers the dam’s milk to descend, which begins as a thin, watery substance called colostrum that is packed with nutrients and antibodies to give the pups the best possible start in life, later thickening into a more recognisable milk that will sustain the pups until they are weaned.

Most pregnant dams will have noticeably larger and more swollen-looking teats the closer they get to delivery, and the body will generally begin to produce milk well in time to feed those hungry puppies.

However, delivery by caesarean section can interfere with this process, because caesarean delivery does not generate the same hormonal changes that cause milk production to begin – and this is something your vet will need to monitor after they deliver the puppies.

Regardless of how your dam delivers her young, keep an eye out to make sure that she starts to produce milk shortly after she has had her pups.

When should puppies start to feed?

All of the puppies born should begin nursing instinctively within twelve to twenty-four hours after they are born, and it is important to keep an eye on things at this stage to ensure that the dam is both producing milk and feeding her pups, and not rejecting or ignoring any of them.

Also, keep an eye on the smallest and weakest pups to make sure that they get the chance to feed. Try not to interfere with the process, but if it is approaching the twenty-four-hour mark and one or more of the pups have yet to feed, try guiding them to a nipple, or contact your vet if this is not possible or doesn’t work.

Weighing the puppies

Puppies put on weight very quickly during their first few weeks of life, usually growing measurably each day. Weigh each puppy each day during the early stages, to ensure that they are all gaining weight properly and thriving, and ergo, are getting enough nutrients.

Signs of distress

Puppies that can’t get enough food or that are otherwise distressed, unwell, or not thriving will tend to cry a lot and sound generally unhappy, so if one of more of the pups appear to be fretful or crying a lot, check that they are getting enough milk.

However, a pup that hasn’t fed for some time or that is very weak won’t have the energy to cry and make a fuss, so don’t ignore the quiet ones either!

The appearance of the puppies

Even tiny puppies should look healthy and well fed, and have a slightly rounded stomach, rather than one that is narrow or overly bloated, which can be a sign of worms.

Well fed puppies will also tend to poop regularly too, so check for stool production as well!

Weaker and smaller puppies

Keep a special eye on the runt of the litter or the smallest, weakest pups, who will often be pushed away from the teats by larger and stronger siblings as the litter begins to grow older and larger.

Make sure that these pups get the chance to feed often enough, moving other pups that have fed and placing them on a nipple if necessary.

Checking for problems

The health of the dam herself is naturally integral to her ability to take care of her pups, so make sure that she is not unduly stressed, unsettled or upset, which can both affect milk production and even cause the dam to turn on her puppies.

Keep an eye out for the signs of physical problems too, such as mastitis or infections that can impact the dam’s ability and willingness to produce milk and feed her litter.

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