AKC eNewsletter

Fall 2008

This is an excerpt from Breeder’s Handbook on Canine Reproduction from Royal Canin. Providing accurate and useful information on the practicalities of reproduction in breeding kennels is a goal of Royal Canin.

Since 1967, Royal Canin has been at the forefront of developing innovative nutritional responses in the field of dog breeding. Even if nutrition is fundamental in breeding, it cannot give all the keys for success. Application of reproduction techniques is the deciding factor. The Handbook is an optimal collaboration with international authors who are specialized in reproduction and have a thorough understanding of the problems experienced by breeders.

Breeder's Handbook: Newborn Care

The Needs of Newborn Puppies

Newborn puppies are very immature and need a certain amount of time to acquire the means of defending themselves in their new environment. During the first hours of life, their immediate needs can be summed up as warmth, water and energy.


An infrared lamp is a good way to keep puppies warm.

This is one of the primary conditions for the well-being of newborn puppies. At birth, they are unable to regulate their own body temperature, and their internal temperature is 5 degrees lower than what it will be by the time they are 5 weeks old (96°F instead of 101°F). They are very sensitive to cold, and as soon as they lack warmth, their movements slow down and they are unable to suckle. When a puppy gets too cold, it should be warmed gradually.

It is necessary for their nest to be kept at a temperature of at least 85° up to 90° F during the first two weeks. The temperature should be checked by placing the thermometer inside the whelping box rather than on the walls of the maternity room, because after all, heat rises. The mother cannot put up with such high temperatures for any great length of time, so she must be let out periodically or allowed to play around in the maternity stall in order to cool down from time to time.

A newborn puppy is made up of 80 percent water, and since its skin still lacks the keratinous layer, it can dehydrate quickly. In the whelping areas, it is preferable for the relative humidity—the moisture content in the atmosphere—to remain above 55 percent (65 percent is ideal).

It might be worthwhile for a large or medium-sized kennels to acquire an incubator.

It is a good idea for breeders to place an air humidity indicator close to the nest. This item is not expensive and can be bought in most hardware stores.

When the nest is heated, the air will dry out more quickly, but the ambient humidity can be regulated by placing pans of water or humidifiers in the room.

It becomes noticeable that a puppy is dehydrating when it loses weight. Very often, a puppy will lose a little weight in the first 24 hours of life but then regain it.

If this initial loss exceeds 10 percent of body weight, some warm water with added sugar might be given in a feeding bottle, or a little isotonic solution (0.9 percent sodium chloride) can be injected under the skin.

Weighing puppies daily helps to check on growth and ensure that milk intake is adequate.

Two to three milliliters may be administered subcutaneously, and given intermittently throughout the day. Do not exceed 20 milliliters a day for a puppy weighing 100 grams (3.5 ounces) during the day.

Energy is provided in the first days of life from the mother’s colostrum, then from milk. 

Natural Suckling
As soon as they are born, most puppies spontaneously seek out their mother’s teats to ingest colostrum. Within a few days, their mother’s milk will provide all their needs until the start of weaning.  If needed, a breeder must be ready to supplement this diet.

The inguinal teats are most often affected by engorgement as it is more difficult to suckle here, and this may lead to mastitis.

During the first 36 hours of life, puppies need to suckle the first milk or colostrum. This is rich in protein, energy and antibodies that protect against diseases. It will become obvious if they are not receiving sufficient milk when they start crying excessively during the day due to hunger or when they start losing weight. That is why it is recommended to weigh the puppies every day, as they should put on weight daily.

If the weight gain is insufficient, or if the mother has had a very large litter, there should be no hesitation in supplementing the daily ration by bottle feeding with milk formula for puppies.

Insufficient Milk
Agalactia—lack of milk—is rare in bitches. It does happen, however, that either because the bitch has undergone a cesarean section slightly before term or because her teats are very engorged, there can be to be too little milk available for the newborns.

If there is no milk at all, this is known as agalactia. If there is not enough milk, a few subcutaneous injections of oxytocin can be recommended every two or three hours to encourage the milk flow.

In both cases, a supplement or substitute of milk formula is essential. If one realizes that the puppies are unable to suckle teats that are too hard, it is possible to try and unblock the teats, especially those that are further back (inguinal area), if they appear hardened, which is often the case. They should be massaged with clean hands, attempting to draw as much milk as possible so as to empty them partially and soften them. This should make it easier for the puppies to suckle.

In the event of failure or insufficiency of the mother’s milk, puppies need to be given milk formula.

If the litter is very large or if there are problems with swallowing, intubation is possible but requires technical know-how.  

In the event of failure or insufficiency of the mother’s milk, puppies need to be given milk formula. If the litter is very large or if there are problems with swallowing, intubation is possible but requires technical know-how.

Bottle Feeding
If it is necessary to replace or supplement the mother in the event of illness, a breeder will need to use a specially formulated milk formula for puppies, and preferably bottled water should be used to prepare it.

The formula must be prepared just before it is fed. The milk must not be stored for more than a few hours, and even then, it should only be stored only in the refrigerator.

If puppies are able to suckle correctly, bottle-feeding is the best solution. Intubation, on the other hand, is a technical process, and it is essential to avoid the tube entering the lungs, as this may affect swallowing or even cause pneumonia. If a breeder wishes to use this technique, the safest way of proceeding is to ask the veterinarian for advice and a demonstration.

If the puppies are orphaned, the breeder will also have to mimic maternal behavior towards the puppies, and during the first three weeks, the breeder must stimulate their perineal area with a warm moist cloth to encourage them to urinate and defecate.

Neonatal Infectious Diseases
Bacterial Diseases
Most bacterial diseases in newborn puppies are due to germs from their surrounding environment. Statistics show that nearly 15 percent of newborn puppies die before they are 15 days old—one half after difficult whelping and poor resuscitation, the other half from infectious diseases. The priority for the prevention of all these diseases is therefore to maintain strict hygiene in the whelping box. 

Neonatal septicemia may affect entire litters where there are bacteria present in the maternity area or, most often, where the mother is harboring microbes in her vagina, which will infect puppies at birth. Certain bacteria present in the bitch’s genital tract (such as mycoplasms) may be devastating. Within a matter of days, newborn puppies may become ill—often they start to cry incessantly and refuse to suckle.  Treatment with antibiotics must be started as soon as possible, although this does not necessarily prevent a fatal outcome.

There may also be more localized bacterial infections. A poorly disinfected umbilical cord may become infected and then hyperemic during the days that follow birth. This is known as omphalitis. This condition can degenerate into peritonitis (abdominal infection) and should never be taken lightly. The veterinarian will need to administer antibiotics inside the peritoneum. Proper care and attention paid to umbilical cords, such as thorough disinfection and regular monitoring, are very effective in preventing this condition. 

When the mother has a mouth infection (stomatitis) or tartar on her teeth, or when puppies are coated with small pieces of dried and cross-infected placenta, varying levels of purulent scabs may appear on their bodies (neonatal pyoderma). Puppies must then be washed with an antiseptic shampoo, and sometimes kept apart from their mother.

Before the eyes open, between 10 and 14 days old, neonatal ophthalmia can cause the eyeball to swell and pus to appear when pressure is applied. The veterinarian should act quickly in opening the palpebral aperture and cleaning the eye with an ophthalmic solution, otherwise puppies may become blind.

Viral Diseases
The best-known neonatal viral disease is canine herpes virus. This disease is nearly symptomless in adults but may sometimes show signs in the genital system (infertility, fluid filled vesicles on genital mucus membranes) or the respiratory tract (coughing, catarrh).

Puppies are infected in the uterus, at birth or immediately after, and the incubation period is from 4 to 6 days. Symptoms are not easily attributable—digestive disorders (bloat, diarrhea), nervous disorders (convulsions), strident crying. Sometimes, to the contrary, puppies will fade away without manifesting any other symptoms. Autopsy is then the only way of confirming the suspicion of this disease.  

Next issue: Weaning

For more information on Royal Canin and its nutritional solutions, visit www.royalcanin.us/akc.

Ronald N. Rella, Director, Breeder Services
Email: AKCbreeder@akc.org
Customer Service | Phone: 919-233-9767 | Email: info@akc.org

© The American Kennel Club 2008