If you have not raised a litter of puppies yet, there is one thing that I can say to you that may not be all that surprising...it can be a dirty job. In fact, one of the most asked questions that new breeders ask is how do they keep their whelping box clean?
The answer may seem simple and if you are lucky to have a small litter of only one or two puppies, it can seem like a breeze...however, add a litter of 7 or 8...or even 11 and you quickly realize that that answer is not all that simple.
Hopefully I haven't scared you too much with that vague answer. The fact of the matter is that cleanliness is all about dedication and staying on top of the mess as quickly as it happens. Not only are we going to go over these tips, we are also going to go over how to clean your whelping box.
Why is a Clean Whelping Box Important?
Before we get into the actual cleaning of the whelping box, it is important to understand the why over keeping it clean. Obviously, there are a number of reasons that are probably clear but it is still important to go over them.
- Keeps the smell down. First, cleaning the whelping box will keep the smell of puppies down as much as possible. Mess that is left over quickly starts to smell, which can be overpowering, especially if you have them right in the middle of your house.
- Prevents puppies from getting cold. When the bedding is clean, there is less moisture in the whelping box which will keep your puppies dry. This will help prevent chills and will make sure your puppies don't get cold. Remember, puppies can't regulate their own temperature so they rely on having a warm, dry, and clean, whelping box.
- Avoids bacteria growth. Bacteria can grow rampant in a dirty whelping box. Not only do you have feces and other bodily fluids from the puppies, even after delivery, mom still has discharge from her vulva that adds to the mess. Bacteria can be devastating to your puppies.
- Prevents illness in mom and puppies. Which brings us to the prevention of illness. Bacteria can travel up the umbilical cords of puppies and lead to a number of health problem. In addition, it can cause skin problems and many other illnesses. Some of these illnesses can be life threatening to both puppies and mom and some can lead to long term problems for the puppies.
- Keeps you from having to clean newborn puppies. Finally, if you keep your whelping box clean, you are less likely to have to clean your newborn puppies. Instead, you can let mom handle that job until they are old enough to have an actual bath.
There are many reasons to keep the whelping box clean so it is important to really make an effort to keep it as clean as possible.
Supplies You Need to Keep the Whelping Box Clean
While there are a ton of supplies out there, everyone is going to have their own tried and true materials so I'm going to give you some guidelines but find the supplies that work for you. Also, the type of whelping box you use will determine the type of cleaning supplies you use.
Supplies that you will need are:
- Laundry basket or Rubbermaid bin
- Laundry Detergent: I prefer a baby safe laundry detergent but many breeders use regular laundry detergent...do not use fabric softeners.
- Rubber Gloves: I prefer disposable latex gloves
- Paper Towels
- Scrub brush
- Spray Bottle of Disinfectant
- Garbage Bags
Depending on your space, you may need to add other items to help with cleaning but this is usually the basics of what you need.
What Disinfectant Should I Use?
There are a lot of different debates on what disinfectants that you should use but one thing you want to make sure of is that you use a disinfectant that is safe for your puppies and will also kill any bacteria that is in the whelping box. It is also important to pick one that will kill parvo and other canine illnesses. Hopefully parvo is not in your kennel but it is always good to clean as though it is.
For disinfectants, the tried and true ones are:
- Bleach and Water: 1 part bleach for 30 parts water is the most effective cleaner. With bleach, make sure that you rinse it after cleaning and let the whelping box air out as bleach can be damaging to lungs.
- F10SC: There are a few cleaners that vets use and this is one of the more popular ones. It can be ordered on Amazon and also through your vet.
- Hydrogen Peroxide and Water: Similar mixture to bleach and water, you want to leave it on to sit before rinsing it off.
- Ammonia: I personally don't like ammonia but a lot of breeders swear by it. They use a 10% ammonia blend; 1 part ammonia to 10 parts water. Again, make sure you rinse the area after cleaning.
- Simple Green: If you are looking for something without harsh chemicals, simple green is an excellent choice. A lot of breeders are switching to this and find it as effective as other cleaners.
Avoid disinfectants that have strong fumes or scents so that your puppies won't get sick from inhaling the fumes.
Cleaning Your Whelping Box
Once you have your supplies, you can get down to cleaning the whelping box. This is very easy and there are only a few steps.
Place the puppies into a laundry basket or bin with a heating pad to keep them warm and safe. It is much easier and safer to clean the whelping box when puppies aren't in it.
Once the puppies are safe, make sure mom can't get in the whelping box. You may find it easier for her stress level to put her in a different room or outside while you are cleaning. Just make sure she is safe and not stressed when you do.
Put on your rubber gloves to keep your hands clean.
Remove all the bedding, carpets and so on that is in the whelping box. Set them to the side for now.
Using paper towel, remove any feces or other big messes from the floor and sides of the whelping box. Throw it in a garbage bag and set aside.
Using your cleaner in a spray bottle, spray the sides of the whelping box and allow it to soak if necessary.
Take your scrub brush and warm, soapy water and scrub at the sides of the whelping box. Try not to flood the box if you can. There will be water you need to wipe up by the end.
Wipe the excess dirt from the sides with a wash rag. Be sure to do the outside walls as well. You will be surprised but the dirt tends to get everywhere.
Spray down the floor and using either a mop, the scrub brush or a wash rag, wash the floor. Make sure that you lift out any debris or feces that were missed. I find that I usually create a small pile in the middle and use paper towel to remove it.
If you are using a strong cleaner, rinse the whelping box down with clear water and a wash rag. Don't put the puppies back into the whelping box until the fumes are gone.
Take a dry towel and dry the whelping box down. This isn't necessary for all whelping boxes, but I like to do it just to make sure there is no missed puddle on the floor of the whelping box that the puppies can roll into.
Place down clean bedding and set up the heating pad or heating lamp again.
Return the puppies and dam to the whelping box.
Place the soiled bedding as well as your wash rags into the laundry and clean with a baby friendly laundry detergent. Dry and fold to use when you replace dirty blankets again.
There really isn't a lot that needs to be done to clean the whelping box. It usually only takes about 10 minutes tops, depending on the age of the puppies and the size of the whelping box.
Life Saving Tips for a Clean Whelping Box
Have an Easy to Clean Whelping Box
The very first tip is to choose a whelping box that is easy to clean. I prefer plastic or vinyl but if you use wood, make sure it is painted with an easy to clean, and non-toxic, paint. The mess gets on the walls very easily and you need to be able to clean them regularly. Depending on litter size, I wash the whelping box walls at least twice a day and do spot touch ups between cleanings. Because of this, I never use cardboard in a whelping box as it is too difficult to clean and it holds a lot of the mess and bacteria.
Create a Schedule
Have a schedule set up of when you will be cleaning your whelping box. In general, first thing in the morning is when a heavy cleaning period happens. Same with end of day. In between, replace blankets, clean the floor as needed and remove any dirt and debris. I usually space my cleanings around feedings, often before and after a feeding as puppies make a lot of mess right after. By having a schedule, you can keep up on the cleaning.
Increase Cleaning Amount with Age
Generally, young puppies don't have a lot of waste. Of the waste they have, mom usually handles it. For that reason, newborn puppies usually only need their whelping box cleaned once or twice a day. This will depend upon how well mom is with cleaning. As they get older, you want to increase to two or three times a day. Larger litters, I tend to clean at least 4 times a day, usually closer to 6 times since every meal time when they start mush requires a cleaning (4 meals plus morning cleaning and before bed cleaning).
- Cover the Floor in Vinyl or Linoleum: I use end of the roll linoleum for my whelping box and it works amazing. Having an easy to clean surface makes it much easier and after it gets too worn, you can toss it out easily.
- Change the Bedding Frequently: One thing that helps keep the whelping box clean is to change the bedding frequently. I usually do a bedding change after every feeding once puppies have gone to the bedding and before they go back to sleep. This helps keep the mess to a minimum and keeps the whelping box clean and dry.
- Spot Clean Through the Day: Finally, take time to spot clean throughout the day. Don't leave the mess until you are cleaning it as it just makes it harder for you to clean. If you see a mess, clean it so you don't have as much work to do the next time you clean the whelping box.
And that is really all there is to keeping a whelping box clean. Remember, do it at least once a day that first week and then increase to as many times as needed. The more you clean, the fresher your whelping box will smell.