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English Labrador Retrievers: Birth to Two Weeks Old
The Decision To Breed
When our female Labrador Retriever Absaroka Majesty, (aka Abbie) came into heat in mid January, my wife Tina and I talked in depth about whether or not we really wanted to breed her. Our original plan was to let she and Ducks On The Pond (Duckie) have one litter per year in order to offset the cost of Conformation Shows we might attend.
We held off in order both to allow us the mindset required and to allow Abbie and Duckie the chance to fully mature. We did not want our puppy to have puppies so the decision we reached was that we would defer any possibility of breeding until some point after she was 2 years old. She came into heat on January 19, 2014 for the first time after that predetermined point but even then we wondered: were we doing the right thing?
Abbie's mother had an issue when Abbie was being born. Only she and one other puppy, a brother had survived due to some unforeseen complication which resulted in an emergency Caesarian. Her mother underwent the spaying procedure during the C-section and would never have puppies again. This resulted in the breeder hand-feeding Abbie and her sibling, which had the added result of no mothering time between the puppies and the mother. The first few weeks are vital to a puppy's upbringing and that missed time has repercussions which may or may not be seen immediately. Would Abbie instinctively know what to do? Would she be a good mother?
We decided to try for a litter. A former teacher of mine from high school had been breeding Labs for over 30 years and had some helpful suggestions for us. We held off until some 9 days after the initial signs of heat before placing the two Labs together as this is the beginning of the optimum time for breeding. We allowed them some time together several times each day but never did we observe the "hook-up" we had heard of as being required for breeding.
Day after day this went on until we felt certain nothing was being accomplished. The end of the heat cycle came and went, and with nothing to pin our hopes on we felt that maybe next time we night have a connection.
Several weeks later I noticed Abbie growing stouter but with no hook-up to give us the evidence I simply felt she was just eating more. We weren't feeding her more but perhaps she was just holding the weight she had gained while away from us longer than I expected her to. A couple of weeks later on a Sunday I was outside working on the yard when Tina came to me and asked if I had looked at Abbie lately. I replied yes, that I noticed she was heavy but nothing more. Then I was told to look closer. Her teats were growing larger. I took her to the vet the next day and learned that she was indeed pregnant. We were shocked!
An x-ray that next Saturday confirmed that there were three, possibly a fourth puppy. Time to birth was placed at approximately a week. Our target date was then April 4 through 6. We set out to get ready.
Birth Of Puppies
Abbie went into labor beginning Friday, April 4, 2014. At least, she exhibited the first telltale signs of labor: going off her feed, digging, nesting. No labor signs per se at that time but we were ready. We had built a whelping area in our heated garage in order to make sure she would be comfortable as would be her babies. The whelping area does not need to be large; ours is roughly 4' x 4'. An exit on one side leads to a "mommy's area" where she would be able to be close at hand to the puppies yet have a little mommy time to herself.
Another little doorway leads to an outside area which is roughly 6' x 10' for her to be outside, to feed, water and do her daily "dootie". It is on the south facing side of the garage so she can get sunlight, yet is sheltered and tree lined for comfort.
Her first contraction (that we saw) was at 3:00 PM on Saturday, April 5. We stayed with her almost constantly, checking on her, watching her, being aware of what she was doing and how she was feeling. While we had been assured the situation which occurred with her mother would not be hereditary and show up in Abbie, we nonetheless were concerned.
No further contractions came and we went to bed that night slightly apprehensive. The next morning she was wagging her tail and still nesting and digging. She brought me a pair of crocheted baby mittens out of a box in the garage which I thought was sweet beyond belief. She then adopted a stuffed frog we had in a box in the garage, carrying it around everywhere with her. This would create a minor heartbreak for us later. At 9:00 AM on Sunday the 6th we noticed a slight drip appear which we took for water beginning to break. Finally, at 3:00 PM she began what we took as true contractions. For three hours she alternately pushed (slightly) and panted, howling when it hurt. At 6:00 PM we noticed a series of greenish drops on her blanket in the whelping area. Concerned, we called a veterinarian to ask what this meant. The prognosis was that a placenta had come loose and this was the discharge. We needed to get her to the emergency care center.
We arrived at the emergency care center and the vet on call came in to visit. No apparent pushing was evidenced so a shot to assist or "induce" labor was given. Some contractions began but still were neither strong or consistent. After close to an hour another shot was given. The vet checked her birth canal again and announced there was something there: a nose? No, feet. That meant a breech birth. No amount of assisting could help as Abbie was too tired to be of much use. The vet finally called it and we arranged for a C-section. Conversations with the vet and the emergency doctor who would be performing the C-section led me to believe that this was in fact hereditary and any future litters would follow the same course. Reluctantly and with a heavy heart I made the decision to have her spayed at the same time as the C-section.
She had the emergency Caesarian due to her first puppy being breech and not moving down the birth canal. That puppy did not make it but the other two did. We were told it is common for a first litter to be small, 3 to 6 puppies so were prepared for that; but losing one before it even made it out of the mother was hard. I finally brought her home at midnight.
So that first night was spent sitting up in the whelping area with Abbie and her two puppies, both of which were girls. Continuing the NCIS theme (Abbie and Duckie are our adult Labs) we are calling them Ziva and Kate. Ziva is smaller, birth weight 14 ounces; Kate was 1 pound 2 ounces. Ziva is more vocal and grabs a nipple quicker, eats calmly, and goes to sleep right after eating. Kate has more difficulty grasping the nipple, constantly moves while eating, and once finished wants to wander around until she finds Ziva and crawls on top of her head to sleep.
Ziva doesn't mind.
The First Night Home
That first night was long. I held them when they were not eating as Abbie was exhausted, not fully cognoscente of her surroundings and I feared for the safety of the puppies from mom rolling over on them in the night. They fed at 12:30 AM, again at 1:30 AM then again at 2:30 AM. I found that while holding them close to my chest, if I hummed it seemed to calm them and they would cuddle together and sleep. If I stopped they would squirm and cry.
About 3:30 AM they fed again and I needed to get a little sleep before going to work. I placed them into a small pet carrier, set them in the whelping area under the warming light and stood back to watch what Abbie would do. She was in the adjacent mommy area but their crying upset her. As she was asleep during the caesarian process, waking to find these two puppies confused her greatly. She did not know they were hers nor where they came from. She would howl and moan and generally made it known she was not happy.
I finally got into bed around 4:00 AM. At five I got up to get ready for work while my better half went out to check on our newest family members. Abbie had torn up the blanket in the whelping area and had even tipped the pet carrier on its side. So we learned very quickly we were not going to be able to leave them with her for any amount of time; not just yet.
Tina took over feeding duties while I went to work. I ended up coming home early as I was exhausted and we spent the day together bringing the puppies out to Abbie for feeding then taking them back inside to keep them safe while incorporating short "power naps" to keep us going. Tina set up a box with our heating pad in it for their comfort on our bed during the day; at night they are beside the bed. Every two hours or so they let us know they are hungry and we take them out to mom.
It did not take Abbie long to understand they are her puppies. By the 10:00 AM feeding she was licking them and cleaning them, spurring them to go to the bathroom like a good momma. Each time we bring them out to her, she does better at lying down and nudging them into a position to feed. Each feeding takes about twenty minutes or so beginning to end so we are on a roughly two and a half hour turnaround right now. We snatched bits of naps during the day to prepare for the second night.
The second night went better as Abbie knew what to do. Still, morning came far too early for comfort. Feeding times were 10:00 PM, 12:00 AM Midnight, 2:20 AM and 4:30 AM. Again Tina took over for me when I left for work.
Have you ever had brand new puppies or kittens born into your family?
The First Week
It took a couple of days but Abbie recognizes the puppies and is evidencing sadness when we take the puppies back into the house after feeding. However, the second full day of being a mommy showed she still was not quite ready for her duties.
With the nights still running to the low 30's we have the heater on and by raising the whelping area off of the cement floor and adding the rubber we hope to keep the temperature warm enough to provide a good haven for the puppies. Their first week requires temps to run over 80 degrees F as they are unable to maintain an even body temperature warm enough to keep them safe. So Tina placed the puppies on a towel after feeding and stood back to watch. Abbie still is having some uneasiness due to Ziva's crying. She stood over the puppies, grasping the towel and pulling. This dumped the puppies onto the rubber floor. They were not hurt but I cannot help but think they were unhappy. We do not believe Abbie was trying to do anything but position the puppies better for her, so she could curl up and love them but we have to be safe.
On the third day, Tina placed the puppies together with Abbie again and observed. Abbie seemed calmer, more at ease with them. She decided to leave them with Abbie and come back at frequent intervals to see how she was faring. As it turned out, she returned every fifteen minutes for the entire day. When I got home she let me know how they were doing and we lengthened our visits, although we continued throughout the evening.
Wonderful. She is doing wonderful.
We left her alone with the puppies for the first full night Wednesday. I woke up and went out to check on them before leaving for work and found the two puppies clinging to one another, sleeping soundly while Abbie lay about a foot away, keeping a close eye on her new babies.
After three days each of the girls has added weight so we must be doing something right. Ziva weighed 14 ounces at birth and now weighs 1 pound, 1 1/2 ounces. Kate was 1 pound 2 ounces at birth and has added 3 1/2 ounces to her frame as well. In comparison Duckie added 5 ounces his first week of life while Abbie added 4 ounces so the girls are at least on track with their parents and may be a little heavier by the week is up.
By the end of their first week of life they are doing great. Each has doubled their birth weight with Ziva now weighing 1 pound 15 ounces and Kate weighing 2 pounds 5 ounces. They are much calmer which allows Abbie to be calm. They squirm and move around well, and are having no trouble getting attached to mom's teats for feeding. It is truly amazing to watch them grow daily. Eyes and ears are still closed but we expect them to pop open in another week or so.
Which allows me to say here and now: I was unaware the ear canals would be closed like they are. I guess I assumed they would be born just with only the eyes closed so this is a mild surprise to me.
Second Week of Life
It continues to amaze me as we watch these little girls grow. They are now in their second week of life, drinking their mother's milk and growing stronger every day. They still cling together for security when not feeding and when sleeping Kate still lays on top of Ziva. They wiggle and squirm their way around the whelping area while Abbie maintains a watchful eye on their travels.
We moved Abbie's food pan inside the mother's area of the whelping box so she doesn't have to leave her puppies to feed. The water is still outside but at least she can sneak over the threshold and grab a bite to eat without being away from her puppies. She is growing more comfortable day by day and will occasionally lay in the sun, soaking up some rays while her babies sleep contentedly inside.
On the evening of Day Ten we went out to see the puppies and weigh them once more. They are growing so fast! Ziva now tips the scales at 2 pounds 11 ounces, up almost two pounds from birth. While holding her my wife looked astonished as Ziva let forth a deep growl! No idea why, but it was a very clear growl.
I then weighed Kate and found she had almost tripled her weight, from 1 pound 2 ounces to 3 pounds 5 ounces. After loving on her for a while, I set her down and stood astonished in my own right as she stood up on all four legs! Ten days old and standing?!?
When I compared their weights against their parents I find they are growing much faster than Abbie did, perhaps partly due to her having only supplemental food and no mother's milk. Duckie grew faster than Abbie but his daughters are even outpacing him.
On the eleventh day Tina heard one of the puppies actually bark. As I have never been around puppies from the start like this every little achievement is a miracle to me.
Day thirteen brought our first glimpse of Kate's eyes opening. We held her and hugged on her, talking quietly while petting her head and we saw her open her eyes ever so slightly. Her eyes are a shade of blue, as most puppies are; a shade seen at the early stages of their life and never seen again. Ziva's eyes are still tightly closed but not for long, I am sure.
Kate is also standing for short periods of time, strengthening her legs for years of running and jumping, for days afield and days in the show ring. She is a sturdy little maid, with fat rolls running down her body from Abbie's rich milk. In another couple of weeks we will begin introducing the girls to dog food with moist food coming first.
Ziva is not ready to stand yet but will soon. She is still the vocal one, whining and growling more than her sister. She eats as much as Kate but has not caught up to her as of yet. Time will tell if she ever catches up to her sister or remains a bit smaller.
And so ends the first two weeks of our journey with Abbie and her puppies Kate and Ziva. We hope you continue watching, reading and learning as we are while we raise these little jewels up.
1 lb 2 oz
1 lb 2 oz
Middle of 1st week
1 lb 1 1/2 oz
1 lb 5 1/2 oz
1 lb 7 oz
1 week old
1 lb 15 oz
2 lb 5 oz
1 lb 2 oz
Ten Days Old
2 lb 11 oz
3 lb 5 oz
1 lb 14 oz
2 weeks old
3 lb 12 oz
4 lb 4 oz
2 lb 9 oz
3 lb 7 oz
Earlier I mentioned the stuffed frog Abbie had taken to carrying around before birthing her puppies. I came home that first Wednesday and Tina let me know Abbie had buried it in the nesting hole she had dug outside our garage. She said, and I agree that we feel Abbie buried this stuffed animal as a representative of her lost baby. Somehow she understands there was a third puppy and that little girl will never come home so the frog became that baby. It is heartrending and sweet at the same time and now I truly understand the term "bittersweet" for the first time in my life. By the way, we named the lost puppy Kelly, who was Gibbs' daughter in the show. Kelly and her mother Shannon were lost to Gibbs and we felt it fitting to honor their memory by naming our lost puppy after the daughter, gone before she had a true chance at life.
On another note I have to say how torn I was and continue to be regarding Abbie's spaying. I well understand there are far too many dogs in this country which are euthanized daily but our desire to raise only a select litter occasionally, and for those puppies to go to selected families should not have added to the number. My decision to have her spayed was based on the information at hand: her mother had the same issue as she and I was informed it was in fact very likely to be hereditary. I was even informed that I should have the puppies spayed as soon as possible to forego any chance of them ever passing this affliction on.
As we desired from the beginning to better the breed I felt this needed to be eliminated from the gene pool. So I went with the veterinarian's advice even while it broke my heart and dashed any hopes we will ever have of having another litter. However, I have since learned that it was a very great possibility that we in fact had the absolute worst luck possible in this litter.
While speaking with my long ago coach/30 years plus Labrador breeder I learned that this is not always true, this situation of a Lab having a C-section the first time and always having C-sections from then on. In fact I learned that far more often the female that has a C-section will have natural births from then on, and the puppies from the C-section litter will have normal natural births. This may well have been a perfect storm for us, with Abbie simply having the worst possible situation arise and the vet's taking the opportunity to remove a dog which is able to be bred from the population thus reducing the number of puppies on the market which might end up in an undesirable situation.
Do I know this for a fact? No and there is no way I could but if I have multiple breeders telling me the same thing, I would be a fool to ignore such information. I cannot say with any certainty that the vet's had an agenda any more than the breeders might, but I can say that I may have acted hastily and now will never know if I did the right thing.
We are pondering the decision of whether to allow these puppies to go to other families or keep them here with us. Perhaps we might show them, along with their father Duckie and maybe even get a male to perform a stud service for one of them in a few years or so. The future is open and while we do have to make a decision soon, that time is still a few weeks away.
Who knows what tomorrow brings? For now we will love these little girls and dote upon them all the love they can stand. We will continue to love Abbie and Duckie as well and take each day as it is given to us.
I will continue to publish an article about their lives every couple of weeks until we reach that moment of decision; then who knows which path we will walk down.