Everything you need to know about newborn puppies

Author: Dr. Cheran Radu-Florin – Pet Stuff Hospital

Puppies are considered newborn from birth up to a maximum of 3 weeks or one month after birth. They are unique patients because they have different physiological and metabolic characteristics from adult animals, requiring additional care.

Newborn puppies lack the ability to perform vasoconstriction to maintain their body temperature, and, coupled with hypoxia (lack of oxygen), this can lead to bradycardia, bradypnea, decreased muscle tone, weakened immunity, promoting infections.. Liver and kidney function are not fully developed, affecting the metabolism and elimination of drugs or anesthetics administered to nursing mothers or puppies.

The main characteristics of puppies that can cause problems in the neonatal period and that the owner needs to consider are:

• Temperature

The normal temperature of newborn puppies is between 35-36°C. Hypothermia (low temperature) is very common in puppies because they cannot regulate their body temperature on their own, making them vulnerable to environmental conditions, thus requiring external heat sources such as:

  • Gloves or bottles with warm water;
  • Electric pillow;
  • Infrared lamp;
  • Incubator;
  • Hot air heaters.

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Immediately after birth, the puppies need to be wiped and dried with a clean towel and placed in an incubator at a temperature of 32°C. It is crucial that heat sources are properly regulated and positioned to avoid burning the puppies.

The location of the nesting place is essential, and it should be inside the house, in a draft-free area, preferably near a heat source (heater, radiator). The nest should have an absorbent bedding that provides a dry and warm environment for both the puppies and the mother.

Puppy temperature can be assessed using a rapid digital thermometer with a flexible head that can be inserted into the anal opening of the puppies. Additionally, their behavior can indicate temperature; if they sleep too tightly, it may be too cold, and if they sleep too far apart, it may be too hot.

• Blood Sugar Level (Glycemia)

Hypoglycemia is an important factor in puppy mortality, representing a decrease in systemic blood sugar due to the lack of glucose reserves in the puppies and their deficient feeding. Signs of hypoglycemia in puppies may manifest as:

  • Lack of activity or lower activity compared to other puppies;
  • Reduced reactivity to external stimuli;
  • Decreased muscle tone;
  • Muscle tremors;
  • Comatose state.

In case of signs of hypoglycemia, it is essential to take the puppies to a veterinarian as quickly as possible to measure blood sugar and administer substances that can increase glycemia. Honey or glucose can be administered carefully orally until reaching the veterinarian.

• Feeding

In the first hours after birth, the mother secretes colostrum, a protein and antibody-rich product that provides immunity to the puppies in the first months of life until the start of the vaccination schedule. Puppies that are not breastfed, especially in the first days after birth, are vulnerable in the following period and have a higher risk of illness.

Mother’s milk is the main source of nutrition in the neonatal period and ensures adequate nutrition for maintaining physiological functions.

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If the mother does not have enough milk, you can opt for feeding with milk substitutes (formula), diluted with water according to the recipe and heated to a temperature of 36-38°C. Feeding is done with special teats or a syringe, but this maneuver is risky as puppies can aspirate milk into their lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia, which can be life-threatening. Therefore, it is advisable for a veterinary medical professional to teach you how to feed puppies to avoid complications.

 

 

 

 

 

After about 4 weeks of life, the weaning period begins, during which puppies will show interest in other types of food besides their mother’s milk or milk substitutes.

The change in diet should not be abrupt, and initially, they will consume both milk and food.

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• Weight

Both, birth weight and weight gained in the first days of life are important aspects to monitor as they can help identify puppies at higher risk of neonatal mortality. At birth, a puppy should weigh between 1-5% of the weight of the adult dog specific to that breed. Daily weight gain should be 2-4 g for each kilogram of the adult dog in that breed, or they should gain 10% of their weight/day. Thus, a puppy should double its birth weight after the first week of life. Daily weighing on a kitchen scale of each puppy is recommended.

Behavior

In the first days of life, puppies rely on smell and touch to orient themselves to consume milk from the mother. Puppies are born with closed eyes, so they cannot orient themselves visually. Their eyes will open at 10-14 days after birth, and their ears will be fully developed at 3 weeks of age, although both sight and hearing will be quite weak at first.

Immediately after birth, puppies will spend most of their time sleeping. In the neonatal period, the main activity of puppies is sleeping and feeding, which helps them develop properly. For this reason, puppies should not be disturbed or stressed, but they should be monitored to ensure proper feeding.

Until the age of 4-8 weeks, puppies will be stimulated by the mother to eliminate urine and feces. If the mother does not take care of the puppies, the genital and perianal areas can be stimulated with a compress or cotton wool soaked in warm water. After 4 weeks of age, puppies are more active and begin to interact with each other and with humans. From this period, puppies feel the need to play, so it is essential to provide them with suitable toys to consume their energy.

After 8 weeks of life, puppies have a very high learning capacity. Therefore, socialization is crucial with both humans and other animals, as well as exposure to various auditory stimuli to get used to them and not represent a stress factor in adulthood. Training is essential to teach the puppy what is allowed and what is not.

Visit to the Veterinarian

In the first days of a puppy’s life, it is essential to take them for a veterinary consultation to check their general condition and identify any congenital defects. Ideally, they should be transported with a heat source or, if possible, with the mother.

After the neonatal period (3-4 weeks of life), deworming treatments can begin. From 6-8 weeks of life, the vaccination schedule established by the veterinarian can be started to provide them with the necessary immunity against viral diseases.

Consult your veterinarian for advice and recommendations to ensure both the puppies and the mother go through this period safely.