I don’t claim to be anything close to an expert on breeding. WOW, trust me, no.
But I did do one thing pretty well, I think, purely because nobody told me what was “supposed” to happen. So this isn’t really a brag; it’s more of a “what can happen when nobody told you it was impossible” story. I will be happy to tell you all the “Joanna makes colossal mistakes” stories later ;).
When I had my first Dane litter, I didn’t know or remember that bitches were supposed to look bad during or after nursing. So I just fed pounds and pounds and pounds of raw food, four or five times a day, and I kept on feeding. Every time the mom dog walked by me, I handed her food. I put a can of evaporated milk in every bowl of water. I poured heavy cream over her food. I made her hamburgers and crockpot stew and canned food and anything else I could put into her mouth.
And it worked. It really worked. She was weighed when the puppies were eight weeks old, when I took the litter in for vet checks, and she was two pounds over her pre-pregnancy weight (she was 142) . She shed like crazy but her muscle tone was fabulous.
When the puppies were eleven weeks old, she looked like this:
I had my two keeper puppies at that show (Fitchburg, I think?); they were actually nursing before she went in for Winners.
Her next litter was extremely hard on her; there were four dead puppies in the uterus and it set up a huge infection. She had an emergency c-section to get out the last few puppies and, as the vet said, several pounds of decomposing tissue. The picture I have of one of the puppies (she carried 11; six survived) when they were eight weeks old is actually the last one I have of her; she died four weeks later when we had her spayed.
Despite how sick she was and her c-section, she was never below her normal body weight and she was always muscled out the wazoo. I remember vividly how she looked in the yard, eating half a deer (yes, half a deer – that was when we lived in WV and we could get tons and tons of game and meat, so they ate deer and giant parts of cow), with her nursing belly swaying from side to side, pausing to turn and casually growl at one of the other adult dogs so they would not even THINK about taking some from her. She also got entire cow stomachs and would eat, gosh, ten pounds of tripe in a day.
Two years later her daughter, Ruby, came to me to have a litter for her (wonderful) owner. I got her a week before her due date and she stayed until they were seven weeks old.
This is Ruby between two and three weeks after whelping seventeen puppies (12 survived – that’s a story for another post). I chose this one because on the counter behind her you can see the tools of the trade – the weight chart for the puppies, a bottle for supplementing (which I had to do VERY little), a pint of heavy cream that had just been poured over Ruby’s food, and my coffee mug that was never empty. What you see there, with Ruby looking muscular and sleek (she’s sitting weird and was always a little narrow in front, so ignore the chest), is how she looked through the whole lactation.
I used to make Ruby huge pots of cereal and meat – I’d cook oatmeal in whole milk and mix in pulped vegetables, raw ground beef and evaporated milk. She’d eat a quart at a time, twice a day, and five or six chicken backs for the third meal. I am exhausted just thinking about it!
But, you know, that insanity worked. She went back to her owner when the puppies were 7 weeks old and she looked GREAT. Shiny, tons of muscle, and close to 140 lb.
I went looking for my other litter pics but it seems that they’ve been lost – I’m actually surprised I found these, since we lost most of the computers and of course all the data CDs in the fire. But it was a routine I followed for all my mom dogs and it really did work.
It’s not going to do long-term damage to your nursing bitch to get skinny. The overwhelming majority do end up looking very, very thin and they recover beautifully. Nursing moms are built to put everything into their milk and then recover that weight and muscle once the puppies are weaned. The way I did it is hardly the only right way to have a nursing mom. But if you want to minimize the weight loss, if you want her to go back to the ring quickly (not really possible for the coated breeds because they lose all the hair, but very possible for the short-haired breeds), it IS doable. It’s a crazy huge effort, but if you push the calories in every mouthful it can be done.