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They May Seem Rough and Tumble, But Puppies Need Extra Care

Puppies differ from adult dogs in a number of interesting ways. They are particularly vulnerable to health problems.

Novice dog owners should be particularly mindful of a puppy’s delicate health.

For example, normal physiologic functions and defenses become impaired if a pup becomes chilled. A newborn puppy with a rectal temperature of 96º F has a heart rate that ranges between 200 and 250 beats per minute. Rectal temperatures below 90º F may result in heart rates of only 40 to 50 beats per minute. A lowered heart rate results in failure to suckle, dehydration, and death.

In addition, mothers will not care for pups with cool skin temperatures, pushing pups away and not responding to their cries. Although pups can pant when they overheat, the shivering reflex and vasoconstrictive mechanisms are not functional in newborns.

Puppies also have a harder time in maintaining blood glucose concentrations. Clinical signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) include lethargy, failure to nurse, mental dullness, vocalization, irritability, stupor, and seizures.

The immature kidneys and livers of puppies contribute to the difference in drug metabolism and excretion between newborns and adults. Drugs that are metabolized by the liver should be avoided or administered using modified dosage schedules.

Newborn pups have an immune system not fully functional. Pups acquire little immunity in the uterus and rely most heavily on passive immunity received after birth through the dam’s colostrum (the special milk secreted for the first 48-72 hours after birth). Passive immunity is acquired from antibodies ingested in the mother’s milk during the first 24-48 hours after birth. This is an important factor in fighting diseases that occur from birth to several weeks of age. By 16 weeks, maternal antibodies are no longer high enough to be protective and the pup’s own immune system is taking over.

Great care must be taken to safeguard newborn pups from illness and to ensure their health. Your veterinarian can help design a program including vaccinations, nutrition, and total wellness to steer your new pup through his infancy.

The original version of this article appeared in AKC Family Dog’s “Ask Dr. Kevin” column.
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