When it comes to keeping your puppy warm, there are dozens of items on the market from heating pads to heating lamps to radiant heaters and on. In fact, many new breeders are not sure if they should go with a heat lamp or heat pad and often find that they try different sources throughout their breeding career.
But what is the right answer to the question of heat lamp or heat pad?
Unfortunately, there is no right answer and I often recommend having both in your whelping kit. In fact, I often recommend having multiples of both heating sources as well as space heaters in your kit. This helps you in a variety of ways because you can have different options depending on the individual litter and set up.
However, before you rush out and buy everything, let's look at the difference between heat lamps and heat pads and when to choose between them.
What is a Heat Lamp?
A heat lamp is an infrared lamp that often has a cage around the lamp for safety reasons. The infrared bulb produces heat that keeps your puppies warm in their whelping box.
While heat lamps are primarily infrared, many breeders are switching to ceramic heat lamps that produce no red light. While there are no studies linking the red light produced from infrared with any eye problems in puppies, many breeders feel that no red light is better for their puppies and dam.
What is a Heat Pad?
A heating pad is simply a pad that plugs into the wall and creates an artificial warmth under the blanket or pillow. It is recommended that you place them under the whelping box to keep puppies from getting burnt by them. In addition, a heat pad should cover about a third of your whelping box so the puppies can move away from the warmth when they are too hot.
There are many different heating pads available on the market and I recommend that you check out the best heating pads recommended.
Heat Lamp or Heat Pad?
So now that you know what they are, why do breeders use them. First and foremost, breeders will use a heat lamp or heat pad to create warmth and comfort in their nursery or whelping box.
Newborn puppies cannot generate their own body warmth so they need another source to provide heat for them. With that in mind, puppies need a temperature of 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the first three days.
As they get older, that temp drops down to 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. A heat lamp or heat pad can help keep that temperature and also remove moisture from the air. In fact, heat lamps remove more moisture from the air than the heating pad can.
Why the Heat Lamp?
Now that you know why we use alternate heating sources, let's look at all the reasons why you would use a heating lamp. These are pretty straight forward but I want to go through them anyway.
Heat a space with a variance of temperature
First, a heat lamp provides ample heat but it is variable. Directly under the heat lamp is the hottest and as the light moves outward, it gradually gets cooler.
Puppies can move through those temperatures to find the perfect temperature for them. In addition, you can move the lamp to varying heights to change the temperature gradually.
Heat lamps can be hung up and away from mom and puppies so it is never a risk for them. In addition, they are usually clamped outside of the whelping box and you don't have to worry about the electrical cords being reached by your inquisitive puppies when they get older.
Since heat lamps are not down with the puppies, you don't have any mess on them. They stay clean and when you are done with them, usually around 3 or 4 weeks of age, you can just pack them up until your next litter.
Finally, heat lamps can help remove moisture from your whelping space, which is important if you have a lot of humidity in your area. The chill from dampness can kill puppies very quickly so if you have a very cool, damp space, I would strongly recommend the heat lamp.
One thing that should be mentioned is that heat lamps are great if you are raising your puppies in any place that isn't your home or an insulated building.
Why not a Heat Lamp?
Now that we know why, we should look at why you shouldn't use a heat lamp. The reasons for not using a heat lamp are:
Heat lamps can pose a fire hazard if the space gets too hot or you place it down on something flammable. To help prevent this, always make sure that you have it secure where it can't be knocked down by mom.
As an aside, mom shouldn't be able to touch it at all as it can burn her skin if she brushes against it.
Finally, never use a heat lamp with materials that are combustible, such as newspaper as a fire can start under them.
Dehydration and Overheating
As mentioned, heat lamps can be a bit difficult to get the proper temperature with. You will need to invest in a thermometer to keep track of the temperature under the light and also outside the light in the whelping box.
Even with a thermometer, it is very easy for puppies and mom to overheat. In addition, dehydration is a very real danger for your puppies when you use a heat lamp. To help prevent this, always monitor your puppies to make sure that they are staying nice and hydrated.
Puppies Can't Move Away
Finally, while puppies will move away from heat sources when they are overheated, that is not as easy to do with a heat lamp since it covers a much larger area than a heat pad. The way to offset this is to have the heat lamp over one side so it is only partially in the whelping box.
Why a Heat Pad?
As you can guess, there are many reasons why you would use a heat pad, just like there are many reasons why you would use a heat lamp. These reasons are:
Provides an Even Heat
Unlike heat lamps, heat pads can provide even warmth over a space instead of it getting cooler the further out from the middle it gets. This allows the breeder to create a warmer space on one side of the whelping box and a cooler area for mom on the other side.
Puppies Can Move Away
Since you have a set space, puppies can easily move off the heat pad when they get too hot. Instead of having to move out of the light, they can move off and on the pad for an instant shift in temperature. They also don't have to move too far to get away from the heat.
Less Risk of Dehydration
Since heat pads are providing a warmth from below and not using a light to produce that heat, there is less risk of dehydration for your puppies when you use a pad. Instead, they stay warm and cozy without the drying effects heating lamps have.
Create a Den Setting
One thing that many breeders do with a heat pad is to create a den setting for their dam and puppies. To do this, they place the heat pad in or under the whelping box and place a blanket over the top of the whelping box. Some create a curtain around the whelping box.
The curtain helps keep the warmth in that the heat pad creates and makes the whole whelping box very cozy for mom and pups. The only word of warning is to have a thermometer in the box so you can watch the ambient heating in the space.
Versatility of Use
Heat pads are very versatile and you can use them a number of ways from the whelping box, to nursery bins when you need puppies separated from mom. You can use them in the car when taking puppies to the vet and with individual puppies that need extra care and warmth.
Can Fine Tune the Temperature
Finally, you can fine tune the temperature, especially if you have a digital thermostat on the heat pad. This way, you can set the temp to the desired level for the age of your puppies.
Why Not a Heat Pad?
When it comes to the reasons not to use a heat pad, there are actually very few reasons. However, some are:
Unlike heat lamps, heat pads are often inside the whelping box. This means that puppies and the dam have the opportunity to get caught up in the electrical cords.
In addition, they can chew the cords and the actual mat, which can open up the risk of electrocution and other health risks.
You can prevent this safety risk by placing the heat pad under the whelping box or by taping down cords to prevent access. In addition, some heat pads, like Kane's can be tied down to prevent injuries.
If you aren't monitoring the heat pad and a section becomes exposed to puppies, it is easy for them to get burned on their bellies and paw pads. Generally, this is prevented by keeping the pad covered at all times.
Do Not Dry the Air
Finally, this can be a pro and a con for heat pads. As a con, if you have a very damp space, the heating pad will not remove any moisture from the whelping box. This can open up your puppies to chills, which can be deadly.
So Heat Lamp or Heat Pad, What's The Best Choice?
So what is better, the heat lamp or heat pad? I have used both and my preference is always for the heat pad.
That isn't to say that I haven't used a heat lamp. I have used a heat lamp several times including one litter in the early spring of 2020 because the humidity in my house was very high and everything was damp. The heat lamp dried it all out and really kept the puppies warm.
In addition, when I was battling a bit of congestion in my puppies, the heat lamp helped remove it.
However, my go-to is always a heat pad. I find that I have more control on the temperature with the heat pads and I can remove it easily as necessary. In addition, mom and puppies have an easier time moving away from a heat pad than they do with a heat lamp.
With those points in mind, I would recommend a heat pad over a heat lamp. While I do recommend having them on hand in events where they are needed, if you are raising puppies in the house, heat pads are the better option.
In the end, I always say that what you choose to use is really up to the individual breeder.