1. Keepers (things we did differently this time that I plan to keep doing with future litters):
- putting inexpensive white towels in the whelping box for nesting (instead of paper). It was SO much easier for us and much more comfortable for Elsie.
- making a little "tent" over the whelping box (thanks for the idea Momma Teese!). With this Stage 1 of labor, I noticed Elsie really wanting to hide (behind the couch, under the deck stairs, etc...). In the whelping box, she tended to keep her head under the kitchen table that overhangs the whelping box on one side. Elsie did this MUCH more this time than with her first litter. I called my breeder buddy out in AZ, (Theresa from Sundancer Labs) and she suggested draping a sheet above the whelping box to make it feel more a like a den. Once I draped the sheet (a darker colored bed sheet) above the box (using the kitchen table and the whelping box arm that supports the warming light above the box), Elsie seemed to settle right in. She really wanted a "den" this time. And if the Elsie Girl wants a den when she's in labor, and I can make it happen so that delivery is still as safe as we can make it, she gets a den!
- using inexpensive white microfiber bar towels for rubbing down and cleaning pups after delivery. Walmart had them on clearance, so I bought 30 (15 two-packs). They are the PERFECT size, super absorbent, easily washed and bleached, and easy to store for next time.
- warming the puppy towels in the oven (warm, dry heat) with the over door open. I just let a stack of them sit on top of a towel-covered cookie sheet to keep ready for use. Then we just grabbed them as we needed them. I kept the oven at about 100-110 degrees (F) with the oven door open (we found 150 degrees made the towels too hot). We made sure the towels were only slightly warm before we used them each time. Hot towels would be too hot for pups who can't regulate their body temps. If the towel felt too hot, we doubled it with an un-heated one, putting the un-heated one against the pup.
- using plain packing paper for the messy parts of delivery instead of newspaper (newspaper was a real mess last time)
- having everything washed, sterilized, organized, and ready a week before the due date, then storing it all in one big lidded plastic bin (I put smaller items in zip-lock bags inside the bin). I think I did this last year, except that I didn't have it all stored in one place. One big bin means I know where everything is, and it's easily accessible if labor starts early.
- using washable bed pads (the plastic-backed-flannel-topped rectangular pads used on mattresses under patients in hospitals or nursing homes) to line the whelping box for these first few days. We use them flannel-side up (as you're supposed to). They're absorbent and completely washable (wash, bleach, and double rinse before using the first time), and they make clean-up for Elsie's post-whelping discharges easier while still allowing the pups something soft to get their footing on as they scramble to find teats. :o) I hear these pads can be washed hundreds of time, so that will also save us a LOT in packing paper expense, and it will help the pups maneuver better in the whelping box. I have four pads here (two in the box, two to be washing), but I think I'll pick up two more. Six would be ideal. Then I have one set of two in the box, one set of two washing, and one set of two in reserve (or waiting to be washed).
- having nine different colors of rickrack on hand (even though we were supposed to only have 5- 6 pups!). This time we didn't have to double-collar any pups (didn't have to put two colors on any pups to distinguish them from others). Nine was the amount of colors I could find in the baby rick-rack size (I think it's 1/4 inch), which is much easier to tie and keep on squirming neonates than the wider rick-rack.
- pre-cutting the rickrack for the pups (about 9-inch lengths) and having an inch-long sample stapled to each pup's birth record. Both save time during a time when you don't have much to spare.
- giving Elsie one scramble egg during her whelping hours (last year we only gave her liquids)(thanks for this idea, too, Momma Teese!)
- also giving Elsie small amounts of glucose drink during her active labor -- seemed to give her more energy to hang in there. She only had 4 ounces over twelve hours, an ounce here or there at a time. So it wasn't much, but it gave her a boost.
- using canned beef broth to supplement Elsie's liquids during labor (instead of making bouillon that would have to cool)
- using small fleece baby blankets (washed, bleached, and double rinsed before use) I found at the dollar store to cushion the whelping box and drape over the warming box to prevent drafts. At only $1.00 each, they're far less expensive than the fake sherpa/sheepskin pads we used last year. The fake sherpa/sheepsking cost about $10 per smaller piece after I cut larger sherpa pieces to size -- the larger pieces were $20.00-$30.00 a piece (all were used in the whelping box, and then then smaller pieces went with the pups to their new homes). This time I have a soft fleece baby-blanket per pup to send home with each pup for about 1/10th the cost of sherpa/fleece.
- using the 60"x 60" fleece fabric squares I bought at the fabric store to line the whelping box once Elsie is done with her post-whelping discharges. The fabric came on the bolt 60" wide, so I just had them cut it in 60" lengths right off the bolt. I was going to surge the edges, but this fabric doesn't unravel, so I don't even think I need to do that. I just washed, bleach, and double-rinsed the fabric squares as is, and they're fine. Fleece fabric will be warm and cozy for the pups, is easy to wash, is easier for them to get traction on, and this size (60x60) is big enough to completely cover the whelping box floor with a little extra around the edges.
- using a flat-surfaced postal scale for newborn weight checks (no dish or container to fall off when the pups squirm). We put the pups directly on the scale's weighing bed (was sanitized first, of course). This one has a 3-pound capacity, but I have another that goes up to five pounds. After that it's the BIG scale (like the old-style baby scales)
- printing up more birth-record forms than I expected to need (just in case!). I'd printed 8 for this round, so I still need to print one more and then transfer Master White's info, but at least we were somewhat ready for the additional pups without scrambling to figure out where we'd write down their info
- setting up my laptop on the kitchen table next to the whelping area (then I could update the blog without leaving the room!). Last year I kept running to my office desktop (in another room in the house) to update things here.
- investing in a decent stethoscope. I'll tell you, it gave me great peace of mind to be able to check Elsie's heart rate when she'd been pushing for 1.5 hours without producing a pup. Her heart rate was just fine, so I knew she wasn't in distress. I bought a basic Littman -- the name brand we purchased for our EMT daughter. I purchased this specific model for about half-price at Amazon -- no bells and whistles (I'm not a cardiologist or a med student) -- just something reliable and efficient to clearly hear and distinguish Elsie's heart beating (tough to do when she's panting). DD (the EMT who's husband is in med school and who plans to be a physician's assistant) walked me through how to use it. But I'm sure any vet worth his/her salt would be willing to do so. I don't presume to be a vet or an expert of any kind; but knowing Elsie's heart rate sure helped, and a stethoscope was the only way I could be sure of her heart rate.
- the puppy sling scale. This litter was entirely too wiggly for that (they kept climbing out of the sling, yes, even right after birth!). And it had to be re-tared every time we loaded a pup in. And there was no way I could even attempt to use it by myself. We had reasons for trying it (greater snugly security for the pup, the sling could be lined with a warm towel, it's digital accuracy, and I mistakenly thought it would be safer - ha!), but for us this style scale just didn't work out. I even practiced with it several times this week, and it still didn't make it any easier to use.
- leaving anyone here alone at any time during whelping. If my sister hadn't come back when things got hairy here, I would've lost at least one more (if not two) pups. Sometimes pups come out needing a little help (this time we had three such pups who are now all doing very well and thriving). It's very normal to have to assist some in getting started. That's fine if the mom drops pups with decent amounts of time in between (then you have time to focus on the pups who need help). But this time, Elsie dropped some so fast, I couldn't have done so (I couldn't even pick up the phone -- the only reason Jeanie knew to come back is she called to check in and I had her on speaker phone -- the fact that she called at all was a grace all by itself). Also, the thing we never anticipate, if the dam (in this case, Elsie) runs into trouble (as in, if Elsie had not been able to expel the stillborn), you just have to have extra hands (you don't if you're alone). The "what ifs" may never happen, but if they do and you don't have at least one other person in the room to help (two extra is ideal, I think), you'll end up losing pups, and maybe even the dam. Last year, if you recall, we had four others here and available to help.
- using rechargeable batteries for my compact camera (double AAs). They just didn't hold the charge I needed them to for doing little film clips (only my compact camera has video capability; we don't own a video cam). I'm thankful I had a mega pack of regular AAs -- the ones design for electronic devices. I'm still on the first set I put in (after going through three sets of rechargeables).
- having two pups (even older pups) in the house when one of ours dam is whelping. Pinot, at just a year old, and Tuc, at just over four months old, both really need our time and attention in a way the older dogs don't. These two are still puppies. Having ONE other puppy in the house is fine (as in last year when Kenya was our only pup and she was a year old). But two seems like a bit much. I feel like Pinot and Tuc aren't getting the consistency they both need right now. Granted, Labs (at least all we've owned so far) are incredibly flexible and adaptable to change. They go with the flow (it's their temperament). And Tuc and Pinot are acting just fine, albeit a little rammie. I'm the one who's feeling torn. But still. I don't think I'll plan to have two of our own puppies growing up here while another of our dams is whelping. Unplanned (as in one of our sold puppies having to stay with us or helping in an emergency situation for someone else) is one thing and may have to happen sometime. This time we planned it this way. Don't get me wrong; I have NO regrets about Pinot or Tuc -- I wouldn't trade either for the world. It's just a little more crazy than I expected!
- believing x-rays over common sense. I instinctively knew Elsie had more puppies in her with this litter than with her last. Even looking at the x-rays (after I played with the image on my photo software and enhanced the contrasts), I could see what I thought was seven pups. But when the vet called back and said he could really on definitively see five (the sixth he said he thought he might be stretching to conclude), I deferred. Now, in fairness to our absolutely wonderful vet (we adore him; truly -- he's a great diagnostician and is fabulous with us and our animals, and I have no doubts about his abilities or skill), Elsie was loaded with fecal matter in the x-ray (she had to poo), and fecal matter can mask or hide skeletons in an image. Like the vet, I can still only see five clearly defined pups in the x-ray, and two additional shadows that aren't as clear or certain. And that's after I enhanced the image here (the vet didn't have my enhanced image to work from). But my common sense screamed that Elsie had at least nine pups in there this time since that's what she delivered last year and this year she was so much bigger. At least I planned ahead for eight: made eight copies of our whelping records, had nine colors of rickrack available and eight prepared to identify pups with, had 30 small towels for cleaning pups upon birth -- assuming at least three per pup, but adding a few for margin, had (and have) eight fleece puppy/baby blankets
- using a smaller warming box. This time, because we were told Elsie carried a smaller litter, I tried using a smaller, shallower plastic bin to set up with a heating pad (thinking it would be easier for Elsie to reach into to stimulate the pups between her whelpings). The warming box is what we use to safely hold the pups while Elsie is pushing the next pup out (at all other times we keep the pups with their mom). During whelping, when we reached six pups, we ran out of room in the smaller box and had to switch boxes. Thankfully, I still had our larger box here from last year, which I'd already cleaned, sterilized, and had used to store all our whelping supplies in. It was ready to go, so the swap was easy. Next year I'll know just to use the big one.
- put cushions or a thick mat and pillows next to the whelping box to make things more comfortable for the assisting-the-canine-human-types. My knees and legs are covered with bruises and nicks from my kneeling on our hard kitchen floor and banging into the edges of the whelping box while I was trying to help Elsie and keep track of her placentas. I don't actually do that much during Elsie's deliveries (it's better to let the dam do as much as possible), but I do have to see (as in be able to observe the pups emerging and deciding whether or not Elsie needs help in tearing the sack from the pups' faces and such). Scrambling around the box while Elsie is turning circles as she delivers (a new thing with this litter) can be really hard on the human body. This morning it feels like I went rock-climbing yesterday -- my legs, knees, and lower back are sore and spent.
- plan ahead of time for extra help (have an on-call list of helpers). That also means getting those folks over and exposed to Elsie here often enough several weeks before she's due to get her acclimated to their particular scents and germs. I had plenty of people offer to help this time, and the only reason I didn't call them (other than I couldn't pick up the phone while I was rubbing two newborns) is our concern about exposing the dam or her litter to new people who may be carrying any one of a number of diseases or germs on their clothing, bodies, and shoes.
- have extra scrubs here for helpers to wear (I wore scrubs this time -- inexpensive ones from Walmart), and that I will do every time from now on). Beyond what I wore I had one extra shirt, but no extra pants. When Jeanie came over to bail me out of our crisis, she was dressed for work. I could hand her a scrub shirt (freshly washed, bleached, double-rinsed and dried just like everything else) to change into, but no pants. Scrubs are comfortable, they're kinda one-size-fits-all if you get the L or XL sizes; they're cool and absorbent, they're easy to wash and store, they're widely available, and you don't really care if they get covered with placenta drips, fluid discharges, or umbilical blood drops. I have my set of whelping scrubs now, which will get stored with the rest of the whelping stuff, but I need to pick up extras for helping human types.
I think that's it for now. I may, however, come back in and add things as they come up. Otherwise my sieve-brain won't remember what we did this time when it comes time for Kenya to whelp next spring.
Sorry for the length and boring detail of this post. But keeping records like this helps me become a better breeder and "mom" to my Labs (I'll be learning and growing the rest of my life!), it helps every new whelping experience be a little more manageable here, and I hope it will help others (you readers) benefit from my mistakes. :o)
The next posts will be more fun -- I promise!