You have just found out the exciting news – your dog is going to have puppies! Among the essential items that you will need for the safe birthing and raising of the pups is a whelping box. A sturdy box that is easy to clean and draft free is vital. Because your pups will stay in the box for up to five weeks, it is important to make sure that you provide them with a place big enough to contain them, but comfortable enough to eat, play, and sleep in.
Dogs, like rabbits or cats, use a nest box to raise a litter of offspring. The box simulates a cave, much like dogs used prior to domestication. The nest boxes, usually wooden, are designed to have three high sides, and one shorter side with a front door cut down enough to permit the dam to enter and exit, but still left high enough to keep the puppies inside. Often, a board or dowel is inserted horizontally two or three inches from each side of the box (known as a pig rail) to prevent the pups from being suffocated by the mother when she lies down. Inserted at a height of one to six inches, the pig rails allow a space for the pup to crawl into if the mom should lay on them.
The size of the whelping box is dependent on the size of the dog giving birth. The mother should have enough space to lie down on her side and comfortably stretch out to nurse. A box that is too large may allow the pups to crawl away from the group and get cold, or be unable to get back to their dam. A box that is too small may cause the dam to lie down or step on a pup, because there is not enough room to place her feet and to comfortably nurse. Different sizes of whelping boxes are available, and many manufacturers have recommendations for which size is appropriate for your specific breed.
The box itself should be constructed out of sturdy material, like wood or melamine (melamine is a type of laminated particle board). Because puppies are sensitive to drafts, solid sides are very important. Melamine is heavier than plywood, will not absorb odors, and is very easy to clean. Because plywood will absorb smells, and can give splinters, it is best to purchase plywood that has a smooth finish, and cover the area within the box with contact paper or linoleum to make cleaning much simpler. The box should also have feet approximately two inches high to hold the box off of the floor. This will allow warm air to flow underneath the box, keeping the litter warm and cozy.
A liner should be added inside the box for the newborn pups to ensure comfort; the bedding should be soft and washable, and replaced several times a day. Many breeders use shredded newspaper, towels, and sheets to line their whelping boxes. The liners must be changed constantly, so have plenty of liner ready for the pups’ arrival. At about three weeks of age, many people switch to a fleece type liner because it is very absorbent and machine washable. Pine or cedar shavings can also be used, but are less comfortable than fleece, and create more waste.
Because the warmth of the puppies is so important, many new breeders will make the mistake of keeping the whelping box too hot. The dam should be in the box with the pups for long periods of time, especially when they are first born to allow almost constant nursing. Overheating the box will make mom very uncomfortable, and discourage her from spending the proper amount of time with her pups. If mom is panting or seems dehydrated, decrease the heat within the whelping box; the mother’s heat will provide enough warmth for the pups.
Having a litter of puppies is a lot of work for your dog, but even more work for you! A whelping box that is the proper size, easy to clean, and safe will make caring for the newborn pups much easier for you and your dog. The hard part will be saying goodbye to the pups once they are all grown up and ready for new families!