After a pup has successfully arrived in the world, the next critical step in my experience is ensuring that they attach to mum for that all-important first feed. I say all-important, because I find that once a pup has successfully fed once, in all probability they will successfully feed again. The litter is off to a good even start and a major aspect of litter management is well under control.
Experienced breeders can tell after 24 hours which pups are feeding and which are not by virtue of how well the pups are filling out. This can be done at a glance by an experienced eye without the need for close inspection. Other breeders elect to use scales to confirm puppy’s feeding status, weighing each pup daily and recording these weights for comparison.
Assessments such as these are fine, but they are of little value in detecting that all-important feeding in the first hours. A puppy that doesn’t feed in the first 12 or so hours is behind the eight ball; life becomes more and more difficult as their filling-out siblings become stronger and more proficient at claiming the teats while the unfed pup slips further behind. Life also becomes harder for the breeder, who can find themself complementary (also called supplementary) feeding at all hours of day and night and possibly for many days.
Observe each pup
The way to determine if the newborn pup is feeding is by observation. Importantly, though, you must know precisely what it is you are meant to be watching.
When the whelping is speedy, newborn puppies might not have the opportunity to settle in and suckle. No sooner do they try and attach than mum is active again, perhaps scratching up the bed in preparation for the next pup, deep in contractions bringing forth the next pup, or busy attending to the newest by chewing the chord and licking it to independent life. In the case of fast whelping, that is all over in a couple of hours, it is not unusual for pup’s first drink to come after all pups are delivered and calmness reigns. But in the case of slower whelping, with anything up to two hours between pups, it is essential the newborns have their first drink sometime during the whelping period. Mum cooperates here by resting between pup births, giving ample opportunity for puppies to attach.
As a new breeder, some decades ago, I duly sat and watched that each and every puppy had their first drink. What I didn’t realise in those early years (for maybe two years?) was what effective suckling really looked like. And because I thought I was observing the right thing, it didn’t occur to me to ask a fellow breeder for more information.
So here now I will share. I suspect some breeders are throwing their arms in horror with, ‘Oh dear! She didn’t know that?’ But to all experienced breeders, I encourage you to think back and remember how you too gradually gained your expertise and perhaps you can pass on a tip or two to the next generation of breeders in this magazine. Who knows, it might be new information to some of us oldies too!
The tongue is the secret
The signs for puppy suckling include having the nipple/teat in their mouth and ‘working’ the mammary glad with their little front paws with a left-right left-right pummelling action that encourages the milk to ‘let down’ and flow.
And this is where my knowledge once stopped. When I saw each pup doing this, I thought, ‘Success!’
This was not necessarily so, however, because for effective sucking pup needs to have a suction-seal form between mouth and teat. This requires the tongue to come into play, with the seal forming when the little red tongue is visible within the v-shape of the mouth opening. It is now also obvious why even the pointest nosed dog breeds are born with short stubby snouts…all the better to suck & seal with!
In very new pups the suction seal appears as a 1 to 2mm distinct line of red tongue rimming the mouth which is cupped over the teat. In pups a week old, it can look more like the tongue is filling-in the v of the opening, just like in the one week old puppy pictured here.
Pup’s suction seal is so effective that it can take a good deal to detach pup from the teat, especially as they get older and stronger. They can be scrabbled over by their litter mates but seldom will even this vigorous activity break a good attachment. And if for any reason you need to break the suction seal yourself (say the mum needs to have a toilet break and it seems there is always one pup or another latched on!), don’t ever pull puppy off. Rather, gently place the tip of your little finger in puppy’s mouth to break the suction seal. Puppy will then come away with ease and no pain to mum or pup.
I hope this information and picture are useful. Remember, as a guide, only when the suction seal is visible is their effective suckling. And if you cannot achieve this through manually persisting to help puppy attach (and that’s another articlein itself), then supplementary feeding might be in order.
Spending time in the newborn’s first few hours of life is time well invested, as it can repay you by saving you many many hours later on playing ‘catch up’ with a puppy who was left behind. It is all part of good litter management that seeks to avert problems before they arise, resulting in a uniformly nourished and developing set of puppies.