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  • Pam Llewellyn

Be Prepared!

While working as a midwives' assistant for over 20 years, safety and preparedness at a birth was always foremost in my mind. As we approached the birth of our first solo litter, the "what if" thoughts surrounding birth filled my mind. What if a puppy didn't breathe?

What if a puppy was "stuck"? What if, what if, what if......?

I had seen an interesting sounding book on Amazon last fall. One of my daughters gave it to me for Christmas, as preparation for the future. Now I was ready to really dig into it!

Puppy Intensive Care: A Breeder's Guide to Care of Newborn Puppies

by Myra Savant-Harris, RN

Click on the following link to learn more about this book:

If you're new to dog births, this short, easy-to-read book will give you a lot of concise tips and information. The book also contains a DVD that shows how to gather, assemble, or create the items she recommends, as well as how to use them.

The immediate birthing area was our first concern. How would we keep the carpet and bed clean? We settled on a plastic tarp with an old flannel sheet on top for warmth and some traction. The bed was also covered with an old sheet, just in case -- which was a good thing, because Willow ended up delivering her first puppy on the bed!

What we learned from our first birthing experience was that we didn't cover enough of the floor, nor did we anticipate all the tiny places Willow might try to crawl into during labor. See the little wooden stand at the top right of the picture? That's just one of the places she wanted to hide in! The next time, we will have more tarps and NO unexposed floor areas

General supplies that were helpful:

* Disposable pads (as known as Chux, bed pads, or puppy piddle pads)

* A nice stack of wash cloths, towels, old rags, etc. Nothing that is important if it doesn't come clean afterwards.

* Cleaning supplies, such as Clorox wipes, paper towels, and Kleenex

* Disposable exam gloves

* A clock in the room; ours has a thermometer built in, so that was a nice bonus!

* A system of organizing things. We had this old shelf in the house, so we re-purposed it for organizing supplies. The basic supplies we had on our shelves were a good rectal thermometer (digital), lubricant gel, iodine and Q-tips for umbilical cords, hydrogen peroxide (for any bloody clean-ups). Since Willow belongs to Pam McCarl, the breeder, she sent over many other supplies and supplements for the just-in-case moments.

You'll need a good digital scale to keep track of the puppies' weight. Again, we were blessed that the breeder has them to lend to her guardian families, but before we have our own puppies, we will be looking for and investing in a good quality scale.

One of the habits that followed me from my years of birth work was to have certain items ready and within reach at the moment of birth. My little "birth kit" included forceps to clamp off the cord if needed; dental floss, to tie a cord if needed; scissors; a small bulb syringe; a DeLee suction device; a cloth to wipe off a puppy quickly; a textured glove, in case a mommy needed help getting a puppy out (those little guys are SLIPPERY!); and a stethoscope. I had an infant-sized one from my years of birth work, so it's now been given a new life in our business! I put all these on a small plastic tray, so that if I needed a firm surface to work on a sick puppy, it would be readily available. I think that in the future, I'll put the above items in a plastic bowl and put the bowl on top of the plastic tray. That way, the instruments will stay clean if I need the tray.

We also prepared a box lined with a plastic sheet and with a small puppy bed inserted. Underneath everything is a heating pad. This could provide warmth if a puppy needed to be away from its mother, the mother was rejecting it, or if the mother needed puppy out of the way while birthing another. My husband had an infrared thermometer in his collection of tools, so we kept that nearby in case we needed to quickly check the temperature of the box. You don't want to overheat those puppies!

One thought I really struggled with was the area of resuscitation. This is where the book I mentioned above really came in handy. The author herself is a former labor and delivery/NICU nurse, so she really "spoke my language" when she discussed various scenarios and how to handle them. In human births, we anticipated the best outcome and prepared for the worst; in puppy deliveries, the approach the author takes is similar.

My biggest concern was a puppy that wouldn't breathe, or that was breathing poorly. I've attended dog births where puppies didn't make it, and always went home wondering what more could've been done, if anything. With the advice I read, and some extra supplies I gathered or made, I felt more confident that I would have necessary items if an emergency arose.

There are many things that can be done to help a puppy who's not in the best shape: suctioning with a bulb or deLee suction; turning puppy upside down for drainage; "slinging" a puppy to get out fluids (although this technique is controversial); rubbing the puppy who just needs some stimulation, or for a puppy who's REALLY not breathing, there's always mouth-to-mouth breathing.

In humans, once you've gotten someone breathing again, you always supplement with oxygen until either they've recovered sufficiently or you've gotten additional medical help. Would that work for puppies? Turns out, the answer is "yes".

After much research, I learned that regular oxygen from a welding supply store is the same as the medical supply oxygen; the difference is the "chain of custody" for the tank. The medical tanks have a long paper trail, and are inspected more often. By buying a medical regulator (right off Amazon!), I was able to have an O2 tank ready and waiting, just in case.

These items picture above were described in the book, and are absolutely genius from my perspective. Obviously, if a puppy only needs a little bit of help, using a bit of oxygen in a "blow by" manner is helpful, but if a puppy needed oxygen a bit longer, or maybe if I was busy with another puppy, the small "mask" was great! We used a child sized yogurt cup, put a small brass fitting in it to accommodate the tubing, and we were good to go. This cup would easily go over a puppy's nose/head, providing it with more O2. This setup could've been made by just punching a hole in the bottom of the cup and inserting the tubing directly, but my ingenious husband wanted to help create something sturdier and a bit more permanent, so there it is! The larger item is for more concentrated oxygen for a longer period of time -- for example, if a puppy needed to be transported to a vet. This is just a plastic cover that came over some baked goods from Costco! There's a hole in the side for the tubing or the brass fitting and another hole in the top for ventilation. You could stick a puppy under there, put puppy and oxygen tank in the car, and head off.

After all this work and planning, what did we need? Very little, thankfully! Gloves; bulb syringe; towels; clamp, scissors, and dental floss for one puppy; heating box for a short while when Willow decided to go outside to birth another puppy; cleaning supplies (obviously!), and the scale to weigh puppies at birth, as well as to monitor continued growth. So I was over-prepared..... And you know what? That's just fine with me!

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