German shepherds are a large confident strong dog, females weigh on average 30 – 35kg and stand about 22 – 24 inches high.
They are a very intelligent and beautiful dog and make great mothers they also tend to have very large litters.
The average size of a litter is about 8 puppies but it can be as many as 15, which will pose some problems that we will discuss further in this article.
Because they are a bigger breed of dog they tend to have bigger litters compared to a small dog, because biologically they are able to safely carry them for the full term with very little complications.
A German Shepherd who’s mated on their first heat cycle or a shepherd who is in poor health will more than likely have a smaller litter.
Does a large litter of pups mean that the pups will be smaller?
This is a question that comes up quite often, but amazingly the answer is no. If your shepherd is carrying a large litter then the pups will usually be the average size.
A litter which has a very large number of pups, can put stress on the mother’s body and can create problems.
This being a higher chance of a stillborn being among the healthy pups. If there is a runt in a large litter it may noticeably smaller than its siblings.
Beginning of Pregnancy
A German shepherd’s pregnancy from the time of conception to birth, usually lasts for 63 days.
In the beginning you will not notice much difference in the dog apart from she may lose her appetite, don’t worry, this is normal. Certain experts believe that some dogs experience a form of morning sickness just like humans, and will indeed lead to some vomiting.
By the 14th or 15th day, you may notice some colour and size change in the dog’s teats and the fur will thin out around this area.
By the end of the month, providing you have a good stethoscope, you should be able to hear the puppies’ heartbeats. Even though it would be extremely hard to determine how many puppies she may be carrying, this exercise will at least confirm that your dog is indeed pregnant.
The next sign is the obvious swelling of the abdomen as the puppies grow, your dog will become heavier and larger.
Next stage of Pregnancy
The dog’s teats should increase in size, but it does vary from dog to dog. She will also begin to display a nesting behavior where she will be looking for a safe place for the puppies once born.
If you have supplied her a nice big box you will find she’ll spend more time in that area.
Also give her blankets and maybe some towels to fuss around, she will start to make a bed for the pups, this is all part of her motherly instinct.
By giving her somewhere safe when her times comes she will not hide away somewhere to have the pups, this is common and can be stressful for both mother and puppies.
The puppies will start to crowd each in the womb at around the 45-50 day mark, and the dog’s stomach will become firm but will continue to grow until birth.
Some female dog’s appetite may increase at this stage.
In some cases dogs can deliver early, around day 50, therefore just keep an eye on her.
Don’t worry too much if she has not given birth by the 63rd day, this is not uncommon, she should be okay up to the 70th day providing she is eating and drinking.
It would probably be best to get a vet check after the 70th day, just to make sure both mum and puppies are okay.
Feeding the puppies
The pregnant dog normally starts lactating anywhere from 2 weeks prior to, or up to the day of the puppies’ birth.
She will continue to produce milk for up to 8 weeks, but hopefully by then the pups should have been weaned off the teat.
Should your German shepherd have a large litter, a good little tip for you is to tie a different colored ribbons on each of the puppies so that you can differentiate between each one.
This will make it easier for you to keep a chart on their feeding habits and weight. This chart should be completed daily to make sure they are all getting enough milk and thriving.
If the mother is not producing enough milk for the puppies then you will have help her by bottle feeding them.
You can buy special puppy formula to feed them, this will have a lot of nutrients to help them through, but keep an eye out for diarrhea.
These supplements are good but will never be as good as mother’s milk. This is because as good as they are, the puppies will not be getting the necessary nutrients that only mother’s milk can provide.
You can also make up your own milk formula if you do not access to the commercial brands, you can find more information on milk substitutes and how to make your own, on the following link. Puppy Milk.
Keep area warm and separated
Once the puppies are born it is important to keep them warm as they cannot regulate their own body temperature at first.
The mother will do her best, but if it is a big litter it is much harder for her. It is extremely important that they are all kept in a warm environment, the ideal room temperature should around the 75 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit mark.
Keep a thermometer in the room to monitor the temperate if you do not have central heating.
It is also important to keep them separated from any other animals or pets that you may have.
Keep mother and puppies in another room, this will keep them calm and stop mom from becoming upset and nervous. It is important that this area is a place where you can keep and check on her and how she is coping with the large litter.
After Birth complications
Unfortunately there are things that can go wrong during and after the birth, following is a list of things to look out for after the delivery of the puppies.
Retained Placenta or pups
- Persistent vomiting
- Lack of appetite
- Green vaginal discharge
If any of these signs present, or you are not sure if the symptoms are showing or not, do not procrastinate, you must seek medical advice immediately.
Mastitis – inflammation and infection of the mammary glands.
- High temperature
- Mammary glands feel hot, swollen, firm and are painful to the dog when touched
- Pus leaking from the teats
If left untreated, Mastitis can not only be extremely painful for your dog, but can also be fatal. If there are any signs of Mastitis, then seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Eclampsia (Milk fever)
This is caused by low calcium levels, the depletion of calcium in the mother’s milk means that the dog cannot produce enough to provide the necessary levels that the growing puppies require.
- Restless and nervous
- Walk stiffly and become disorientated
- Legs stiff or rigid
- Fever over 40C
- Muscle tremors
- Breathing very fast
Seek medical advice immediately, bottle feed the puppies as prevent puppies from nursing from the mother is essential.
The Largest Litter
One of the largest litters recorded was a White German Shepherd called Mosha in Burnettsville, Indiana, who gave birth to 17 puppies.
It took 8 hours for her to deliver them but unfortunately three of the pups did not survive.
This of course is a rarity, so you should not have to worry too much about your German shepherd having an overly large litter.
Whether she has one puppy or ten, just be there for her and her puppies, and she will be a loving and loyal friend for her entire life.