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By Kathy V. Moll
Deep River Collies

Last month we whelped our litter, so now we're ready to raise those darling hopefuls. First, check each puppy to be sure it is warm and dry; weigh each one using a baby scale (tracking weights for the first two weeks is a good idea). Take mom for a potty break and offer her water mixed with a tablespoon of light Karo Syrup or mixed with one-third cup Pedialite. If whelping took more than a couple of hours, offer one of these mixtures during the process. Have fresh water available at all times. Feed your bitch a high quality food during lactation, increasing her meal size according to the size and number of puppies. Her food and water intake will control her milk production.

Next see to it that mother and babies are comfortably situated in the whelping box. Remember, unless the puppies are small and lack subcutaneous fat, a heat lamp won't be needed except when mom is taking a break from the box. Two heating pads, covered and set on "low" should be placed in the box. A room temperature of 75 degrees should be sufficient if the puppies are vigorous and weigh 10 ounces or more. Otherwise, a higher temperature may be necessary. If you get carried away with heat, the mother will be less inclined to stay in the whelping box; her body heat is the best source of warmth for the puppies.

Sleeping in the same room with the puppies for the first two weeks allows you to rescue puppies that lose their way to mom and those she may be about to lie on. Your mortality rate will be lower if you stay close by in the beginning.

If you have bred two rough factored smooths or a rough factored smooth to a rough, you may be eager to determine the variety of each puppy. Here's how you tell. Sables are easiest; roughs will have dark coat on their heads from under the eyes back, covering the entire skull. Smooths have the same dark markings around the eyes, but not on the skull, giving the appearance that they're wearing little goggles. Tris are a bit more difficult. Once the puppy is dry, if it's a smooth, it will have vivid tan points. The little dots over the eyes are distinct, and the tan on the cheeks will look as though it has been painted on with a tiny brush. Roughs have muddier, less distinct points. Blues are judged in the same way as tris but are sometimes more difficult to distinguish because the tan color may be lighter. Contrary to what you might think, rough coats feel silky and flat while smooth coats feel dense and fluffy.

It is very important for the puppies to get first milk (colostrum), which is available for only 48 hours. Supplementing newborns is only necessary if they are weak, ineffectual nursers. The best supplementation is Pedialite via feeding tube. It goes straight to the puppy's system and requires little digestion. Often, it will strengthen the puppy enough to allow it to nurse effectively. Use it along with Ringers Lactate (subcutaneous injection) to hydrate and strengthen puppies. A liquid vitamin can be helpful as well or a little blood from beef liver.

The goal is to keep the puppies on mom. If you find that a puppy is cold, give it only what is mentioned above, never formula. A lowered body temperature means the digestive tract is not functioning properly, so formula will kill the puppy. To warm it, place it next to your skin and "wear it." This advice is something I read about 20 years ago in a terrific article by Barbara Schwartz.

Heating pads and lamps only warm the outside of the puppy once it's chilled. It needs slow warming from the inside out. Ladies, put the puppy in your bra. That seems the most effective. Your movement stimulates circulation while your body warms the baby. Normal puppies twitch frequently and feel warm and firm when you pick them up.

Put smaller puppies on mom by themselves several times a day; put their larger littermates in a padded box while the little ones get mom to themselves. Plaintive crying can simply mean that the puppy has lost its way to mom and littermates. However, a distressed, inconsolable crying means the puppy is in pain. If the puppy seems otherwise normal, give it a little Pepto Bismal or similar product. Keep it warm and repeat the medicine every few hours until the crying stops and the puppy is sleeping comfortably.

Check your bitch's milk with Nitrazine Paper (most drug stores can order it). It tests the milk ph. Tear off a small strip and squeeze milk from a couple of nipples onto it. Light to dark green means the milk is good. If the tape turns dark blue, the milk is too alkaline and may contain bacteria. Acid milk is an old wives' tale -- milk is supposed to be slightly acid. If you suspect bad milk, remove the puppies and start them on Amoxi Pediatric Drops. Put your girl on an antibiotic and give the milk time to clear up.

If your puppies need a new mom, then it's usually up to you unless you have another bitch available that is nursing puppies. Tube feeding and bottle-feeding both have advantages and disadvantages. The tube is accurate and time saving. You don't have to worry about the puppy swallowing air; however, it does nothing to satisfy the puppies' nursing reflex. Bottle-feeding solves that problem but is more time consuming. Whichever you choose, get someone with experience to show you how to feed your puppies. Either method is safe if done properly.

Dewclaws should be removed between 3 and 5 days. Small hemostats or dental floss works well. Placed at the base of the claw, both pop the dewclaw out so that you can flick it off with your thumbnail. Have styptic on hand. Bleeding from dewclaw removal is usually minimal and stops immediately if styptic is applied. It's one less nail to trim and makes the leg look neater. Trim puppy nails with human fingernail trimmers at least once a week; long, sharp nails are uncomfortable for nursing mothers.

Early stressing is important to raising a healthy, resilient collie puppy. Begin the day after birth to handle each puppy for a minute or two twice a day. Hold the puppy in one hand while stroking the length of its body with the other. Roll the puppy on its back and hold for a short time. Rub the toes of each foot. Rock the puppy back and forth as well as up and down. This is a good time to inspect the puppy and begin an evaluation of its head and body conformation. Limit handling the puppies the first week to these periods and to necessity. During the second and third weeks, increase the time you spend holding and socializing each puppy. The "light comes on" in the brain of each puppy at around three weeks old. Once that happens, the puppy will enjoy its socialization times.

So far, except for some initial lack of sleep, our puppy rearing experience has been relatively easy. Next month the real puppy raising work begins. We'll wean our puppies after which it's our turn to do the work! Evaluations, training and more socialization will become our all-consuming tasks.

Kathy Moll of Deep River Collies has been breeding Collies since 1974. She has owned or bred between 70 and 80 collie conformation champions, approximately 30 to 40 in each variety. She also earned the Collie Club of America Presidential Award for Smooth Collie Breeder of the Year for 1998 and was tied for the same award for Rough Collie Breeder of the Year in 1999.