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Lactating dogs need some extra special attention from their owners. Motherhood and suckling can lead to health problems for your bitch if you're not prepared.
By the time puppies are two weeks old their nails are developing and become quite sharp. This can hurt the mother, as breastfeeding puppies tend to push their paws against the breasts to encourage milk flow. If the bitch won't lie down to feed and chooses to stay standing, or refuses to feed the puppies altogether, these little nails may be the reason. You can clip them with a standard dog nail clipper, but don't trim them too close to the toe.
Sometimes your dog will not naturally produce enough milk to feed all her puppies. In this case you will either have to find a substitute lactating bitch to mother the puppies, or hand raise them yourself. Keep an eye on the puppies when they are feeding to make sure they are actually getting sustenance and weigh each puppy daily to check its growth.
To find a substitute lactating bitch to raise orphaned puppies or stand in for an inadequate mother, try contacting local dog rescue centers, animal shelters and the SPCA.
Feeding Lactating Dogs
When a bitch is feeding puppies her calcium level is diminished. It's important to give lactating bitches a calcium boost in order to avoid the development of canine eclampsia, a serious medical condition that can kill your dog rapidly.
Don't give your dog calcium supplements while it is pregnant as this may actually increase the chances that your dog will have health problems after the puppies arrive by messing up her body's natural balance. Use calcium supplements to keep the bitch's calcium levels up while she is feeding the puppies if she shows signs of weakness, lethargy, an unwillingness to feed or is unusually excitable. Always discuss the use of supplements with a vet first.
Canine mastitis is essentially a breast infection that may develop in lactating dogs. Signs of mastitis include swelling and hardening of the breasts.
Click to find out more about canine mastitis.
Canine eclampsia, also called "milk fever," results from your bitch losing too much calcium through feeding her puppies. It usually becomes evident 2-4 weeks after the puppies have arrived. A dog that has given birth to a large litter is particularly at risk of eclampsia, and if your dog is in this situation you may want to consider helping her out by hand-feeding the puppies a little. Jack Russells, being small dogs, are especially susceptible.
Canine eclampsia is extremely serious. Left untreated it can lead to death in less than 24 hours. If your dog is twitching and convulsing, get to a vet as soon as possible. At this point it's too late for you to give it a calcium supplement - it needs a calcium injection from the vet, as well as vitamin D which helps the dog to absorb the calcium.
As always, consult your vet before altering or supplementing your dog's diet.
To help ensure your lactating dog doesn't develop eclampsia, make sure you wean the puppies at the right time.
Find out more about weaning puppies.