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Newborn Puppies: Things That May Go Wrong

A litter of puppies can be a wonderful experience, but sometimes things may not go as desired. Learn about things that may go wrong and how to fix them.


Puppies: they are adorable bundles of joy and every owner wishes they will thrive and grow strong and healthy. Nature though is not always generous, and in every litter, there are always chances for a puppy to go downhill and at times, pass on. The survival of the fittest ultimately takes place even in domesticated canines, and mother dog often recognizes this when she decides to shun the weakest pup and invest her energy on the stronger ones.

However, humans often decide to intervene and help these weakest pups grab a hold on life. Not always though this is a good thing. If you are a breeder, these pups are normally removed from the breeding pool and sold or given for free as the ”runt of the litter”. They may never turn out to be the ideal representatives for the breed, but they may still live their lives as happy companions.

At times, though breeders may decide their effort in salvaging a pup is not worth it and they may let nature run its course or have the pup humanely put down.

Newborn Puppies: Things That May Go Wrong


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How to Recognize Sick Puppies From Healthy Puppies

The difference between a sick puppy and a healthy puppy may seem pretty obvious but this is often not the case, especially to an untrained eye. Healthy puppies normally appear to be vibrant, with a strong nursing reflex. Their tongues will appear as pink and warm and their tummies will appear full but not bloated.

It is normal for healthy puppies to sleep for most of the day and twitch as they sleep (paradoxical sleep). Their skin when pinched is elastic and snaps back into position promptly, signs of good hydration.

Sick puppies, on the other hand, appear lethargic, weak, and somewhat flaccid. Their nursing reflex may be weak or the puppy may nurse and cry or totally refrain from nursing. These puppies are often at a distance from the litter and may cry repeatedly for no obvious reason.

Sick puppies unlike healthy puppies, may not twitch in their sleep and their tongues may be pale or bluish and cold to the touch. They can be vomiting and displaying diarrhea and their skin when pinched up may stay creased suggesting dehydration.

Common Problems in Newborn Puppies

First time breeders should try their best to learn as much as they can about things that may go wrong in newborn puppies. This can make the difference between life and death. Being at home while the dam is delivering is a must, and a veterinarian’s phone number should always be kept handy in case of need. Preparedness is the key to preventing major pitfalls. Following is a list of common problems encountered in newborn puppies.

Newborn Puppies - Things That May Go Wrong
Newborn Puppies, Things That May Go Wrong

Low Blood Glucose Levels

Hypoglycemia can be caused by the mother not having sufficient milk or the puppy not being able to feed enough. Typically, the puppy will appear stiffened with its tongue sticking out. Treatment consists of restoring glucose levels promptly by feeding a formula supplemented with Karo syrup or a dextrose solution can be injected under the skin. Left untreated, this condition may turn fatal.

Lack of Proper Hydration

This often caused by loose stools, extensive use of heat lamps with little humidity or failure to nurse properly. The pup’s skin becomes stiff as a cardboard as it loses elasticity and when pinched remains creased. While it may be difficult to spot loose stools since mother cleans them up promptly, the rear of a puppy with diarrhea will often appear humid, with wet hairs clumped together around the anus.

Dehydration kills pups fast (puppies are 80% water) so it needs to be treated promptly. Fluids under the skin are the fastest way to correct the situation. Veterinarians may supply owners with lactated Ringer’s solution and needles along with a demonstration on how to properly deliver subcutaneous fluids.

Low Body Temperatures

Newborn puppies require warmth during their first weeks of life. During the pup’s first few days of life, puppies should be kept at a temperature ranging from 70 to 80 degrees with no drafts. However, if the litter is large, they may have a better time staying warm. Chilled puppies should never be fed as their stomach shuts down causing a potentially deadly situation.

To warm a chilled puppy, it must happen from the inside out. Filling up a tube with uncooked rice and microwaving it for three minutes is a good way to warm up a chilled pup. Shaking the bag’s content before offering it to the pup, will help distribute the heat evenly. Dogs with a reputation for swallowing socks or other foreign objects should be monitored carefully.

Other Potential Problems in Newborn Puppies

Herpes virus infections are known to kill puppies one to three weeks of age. When breeders claim ”the puppy was doing well in the morning and was dead the next day” herpes virus or parvo virus must be suspected. Bacterial infections leading to generalized septicemia are often caused by infected umbilical cords. Not to mention, the risks of extensive blood loss caused by a dam nipping the umbilical cord too short.

Breeders should all be familiar with the proper sweeping motions required to remove fluids from a newborn puppy’s lungs and the use of bulb syringes. Failure to aspirate the fluids properly could result in pneumonia and the pup’s death. Nursing from mothers suffering from mastitis is another known cause of trouble, whereas physical congenital abnormalities may be present at times. These are just a list of several things that may go wrong.

The first three weeks of a puppy’s life are the most critical. Puppies need three things in order to thrive: water, warmth, and sugar. They basically get this mostly from the mother and the milk. You can help your pups thrive by offering a clean environment, ensuring puppies nurse from day one, and monitoring their weight daily. By monitoring your puppies frequently and recognizing signs of trouble early, you may help the litter grow steadily strong and healthy.


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