AKC eNewsletter

Ensuring a Good Start:
Newborn Pups Sometimes Need Nutritional Boost

By Arliss Paddock, former managing editor of the AKC Gazette and an English Cocker Spaniel breeder and exhibitor
Sometimes situations occur where newborn pups might require supplemental feeding.

Conscientious breeders agree: Every pup they bring into this world deserves a good beginning. Most of the time, Mother Nature takes care of the recipe: The canine dam provides the warmth, attentive nurturing and diet that are nutritionally perfect for her growing offspring — plentiful mother’s milk.

But sometimes situations occur where newborn pups might benefit from or require supplemental feeding. In the case of an extremely large litter, for example, providing some of the pups with a quality milk substitute in addition to letting them nurse can help ensure that all receive optimum nutrition in those first weeks — and it can aid the dam in keeping up with the litter’s demands.

“With an unusually large litter, I don’t hesitate to supplement,” said veterinarian and longtime Dalmatian breeder Dr. Sidney Remmele. “A breeder should watch out for poor doers, puppies that look thin and undernourished. Play it by ear … supplement the smaller puppies, and see how they do. Continue until they look like the rest of the litter. It might be five days. It might be three weeks.”

Breeders find supplementing to be beneficial in a variety of other situations as well. “I supplement every litter born here for at least a day or two,” explained Pembroke Welsh Corgi breeder Anne Bowes. “I feel that the human-puppy bond formed through having the puppy nurse a bottle from your hand is invaluable.”

In some cases a bitch may have milk that is temporarily toxic to the puppies, an inadequate milk supply because of illness or delayed let-down of milk because of C-section.

“When a bitch has had a C-section, it is extremely important that her puppies receive supplementation as soon as possible after birth,” Bowes said. “It often takes a day or two for C-sectioned bitches to have enough milk for their puppies and to be fully invested in the care of their litter. During that time, puppies must be supplemented to prevent dehydration.”

Martha Anderson, who breeds Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Labrador Retrievers, emphasizes that the breeder must continually assess the condition of each pup and learn to recognize when a pup needs supplementation.

“It’s important that breeders carefully consider each puppy in each litter,” Anderson said. “It may be that larger litters lend themselves to more ‘exceptional’ puppies that could require extra monitoring or assistance. However, some breeds regularly produce very large litters, and some (as with toy breeds) may produce smaller ones—pups from either of these extremes could require assistance. It’s a puppy-by-puppy decision, provided you have the dam there to feed and care for them.

Usually the dam provides the warmth, nurturing and diet that are nutritionally perfect for her growing offspring.

“We have supplemented once,” Anderson noted, “with one Ridgeback pup in a litter of 12. She was developmentally behind the other pups by a few days and could not compete successfully for a teat. She would have died if not fed until she grew enough to compete for her own food from Momma. After about 10 days, as soon as she caught up with the others in size and mobility and could push them aside to get a nipple for herself, we stopped supplementing.”

If a pup is able to suck, most breeders will choose to bottle-feed it, rather than feeding it through a tube. “With tube-feeding,” said Remmele, “you must be taught how to do it properly, because you can kill a puppy in a minute by getting the milk into the lungs rather than the stomach.”

When tube-feeding is indicated, breeders should take extreme care in placing the tube properly and be certain not to overfeed the puppy or feed it if it is chilled.

“A chilled puppy cannot digest milk and should be tube-fed a dextrose solution—not formula!—until its body temperature goes up, explained Remmele.

It is critical to use the correct equipment for the process. For bottle-feeding, many breeders favor using a human baby bottle with a “preemie” nipple.

“Even though my puppies weigh only 6 to 12 ounces at birth, they can use a preemie nipple with no problem,” Bowes said.

For tube feeding, your veterinarian should have breed-appropriate recommendations.

“I use a 3 cc syringe with a clear, pliable, plastic catheter attached, which is about 6-8 inches long,” said Bowes.

Also essential is a high-quality puppy-milk substitute, such as a reputable commercial formula that has been tested to ensure that it closely approximates bitch’s milk. Bowes recommends using the liquid form of commercial formulas.

“I can pour it straight from the can into the bottle without having to mix it up or add anything,” she said. “All I have to do is warm it up. Powdered formula or other types that have to be mixed often get stuck in the nipple. If a puppy can’t get anything out of the nipple, he may get frustrated and stop trying to nurse.”

  Ronald N. Rella, director, Breeder Services
Theresa Shea, editor | Email: AKCbreeder@akc.org
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© The American Kennel Club 2006