For the purposes of this article, we will stipulate that your litter has arrived healthy and vigorous whether by natural whelping or C-section. The puppies have not been stressed by a difficult birth or by anesthetics from a section. In order of their importance, I will list what you as the provider of husbandry can do to ensure the continued good progression of your litter. 1. Warmth: once the puppies are whelped this is an essential environmental provision. As your bitch is whelping her litter, make sure the puppies that have arrived are kept warm. If your bitch had a section, hopefully your vet has an incubator to put the pups in as they are born. You should bring hot water bottles with you to prepare to keep the pups warm. Two or three hot water bottles will do with toweling to cover them. A chilled puppy is a pup headed for big trouble right away. It is my belief that there is no such thing as the so-called "fading puppy syndrome" is no more than a situation with a chilled puppy going from bad to worse.. This is one thing I disagree with the Rostrens on; they think it is only due to herpes. Not so! Although herpes can cause the death of a litter, there are ways to deal with that but getting the diagnosis is imperative. To define "warm", I used two infrared lamps suspended over my whelping boxes which were 4' x 6' in size. The floor was covered with that faux sheepskin. By suspending the lamps, as the bitch enters or exits the box, the lamps will swing out of her way. I always kept a thermometer or two on the floor of the box where the puppies are and I adjusted my lamps so that the temperature directly under the light is 100 degrees and elsewhere on the floor the temperature is not under 90 degrees for at least the first week. Chilled puppies lose their ability to digest milk right away...more on that a few inches down. 2. Colostrum: See to it that your puppies each have the opportunity to nurse the bitch for her colostrom as soon after birth as possible. Again we are stipulating a strong and vigorous litter. Do NOT feed the puppies any supplementation before they get the colostrum, as once you do, the colostrum will be ineffective. Each hour that goes by after birth colostrum becomes less effective so get to it to do it. If a litter doesn't get colostrum, don't worry. There are dry colostrums available on the market, but I never used them and my puppies were fine without it. 3. Bitch's milk or Esbilac, Just Born, whatever you use. This is the stuff of life. In order for puppies to flourish, then need norishment from their dam. The pups must be able to digest that nutrient which translates into growth. I have often heard that puppies will lose weight the first day or so after birth. This was unacceptable to me. Once my pups had nursed their dam for colostrum if there is any doubt in my mind that she has sufficient milk, I supplement them until I KNOW she has. I used Esbilac for this purpose and have for 22 years. I also used Just Born but there are other supplements on the market too. You don't want puppies to lose ground so for a day or two or three, until they are getting enough milk from their dam, offer them a bottle 2 or 3 times a day or more if neccessary. Be sure not to overfeed! 4. Help establish and maintain healthy digestion by the use of probiotics. Originally I used Lactinex with my litters. Lactinex is a live culture of lactobacillus acidopholis , a culture found in yogurt. I preferred it to yogurt in neonates because you can never be sure the culture is alive in purchased plain yogurt. Later on I used probiotic gels on my litters. There are many made for dogs but I used "Enliven" for foals This comes in a 30ml syringe and is the same thing. I also used a similar probiotic for calves except that it was blue and the poop was blue. By using probiotics you help to establish and maintain good intestinal flora that MUST be present for proper digestion. Administering probiotics will prevent diarrhea from the lack of ability of the pups to digest the milk properly. The stool will be nice and dark and of good consistency. How can you tell if your litter is digesting well........By observance of the color of the stool. The darker the color the better. Ideally the stool should be umber to dark sienna in color. If digestive disturbances are present, the degree can be determined by the color and consistency of the stool. The ligher the color and the looser of the stool, the less those pups are digesting properly. Curds present in the stool also indicate a lack of digestion. As the stool progresses in lightness from Gulden's mustard color to French's mustard color you can be sure the puppies are headed for a problem. If the stool looks like Gray Poupon mustard or is light green or white, these puppies are very sick and they will be open to infections from all sorts of bacterial opportunists. You can head this off by preventing it.
Neonatal management includes nursing sick puppies and litters. One of the first signs of trouble is when a puppy stops nursing. It many cry loudly, whimper, and lie limp and flat looking. It may scream constantly. It may gasp for air. One of the more difficult problems when confronted with a sick puppy or litter is to figure out what is wrong. There may be one puppy not doing well or he may be the first in the litter to signal what will go through all of them. Viral infections such as herpes or parvo are very serious but not impossible to treat. When you see a pup that is not nursing when all the rest of them are, observe him/her for several minutes to see if this is momentary or not. Put the pup to the bitch's nipple to see if he will nurse and if not, you will know something is brewing. See how he moves. Watch to see if he has activated sleep. (Activated sleep is merely the puppy's nervous system developing) Check for dehydration by pulling the skin up over his neck. If it doesn't snap back, that pup needs fluids. Take the rectal temperature; in a pup a week old or less, the temp should be in the range of 94-97 degrees. Anything above that is considered a fever and anything below is considered chilling. It takes over 2 weeks for puppies' bodies to be able to regulate their own temperature. You must provide an environment of 90 degrees during this time. Puppies can get gas or colic. If a pup is screaming his brains out but is strong, suspect gas.If you suspect gas in his stomach or intestines, hold him to your ear nd if you hear a lot of gurgling and noise in his abdomen, that is probably what is wrong. Pick up another pup that is not screaming and hear the difference. Administer by stomach tube or slowly drizzle on to the tongue 2-4cc of an antacid such as Myelocon, DiGel or Mylanta. The puppy should be fine within an hour. One of the most important skills a breeder needs is the ability to tube feed. Your vet can teach you how in a few minutes. Tube feeding is not difficult or mysterious. Just remember to concentrate on what you are doing. Tube feeding weak puppies is the only chance you have of saving them. When tube feeding weak puppies, use Pedialyte and glucose until the pup comes around. Feeding a week puppy formula willt make matters worse because a weak puppy can't digest properly. An experienced breeder never hesitates to administer antibiotics to the whole litter at the first sign of trouble. Prophylactic use of antibiotics is not harmful and may be very beneficial in heading off a serious problem. I used amoxi drops for this purpose. With the regime I wrote about in the first part of this (probiotics, fluids etc.) I rarely had a problem with a sick litter or puppy. Since a sick pup loses its ability to digest, never feed formula to it. Instead administer by tube an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte or Ringers lactate with glucose mixed in. You can get glucose from your druggist and a little bit goes a long way.. This should be done every hour at the rate pf 10cc tp 20cc per puppy depending upon the size and response. Using electrolytes in this way rests the puppy's digestive system. Dehydration occurs very rapidly when puppies are febrile or have diarrhea. Electrolytes are rapidly absorbed by the gut. If dehydration has progressed too far that oral electrolytes don't help, your vet can teach you how to do subcutaneous injections of Ringers lactate. You will be surprised how the body absorbs the electrolytes when given this way.
As discussed, a pup's temperature should be monitored if he is showing signs of illness. If a pup is chilled it needs to be warmed gradually. Do not plop him on a heating pad because even set on low, it can be too hot for him and cause that pup's blood to pool which will kill him. Instead, put him in a box with a hot water bottle covered by toweling so he is not lying directly on the bottle. Infrared heat from above is good too but be sure the pup is not lying directly under the light where it is 100 degrees. Instead, put him about a foot away from that spot. If a puppy has a fever, you should never use alcohol to try to get his temp down as this will kill him. Instead, lay the pup on a cool damp washcloth for 5 minutes at a time, monitoring his temp until it returns to normal. Liquid baby aspirin is useful for keep the temp down. Of course by then you will have put all of your puppies on antibiotics as a precaution. If a puppy dies, it is wise to have a post mortem done but you can't afford to wait for the results to treat the litter. Not many vets are interested in neonatal care so if you have one that is, treasure him or her! It has been written many times that a bitch will reject a sick puppy. I never saw that and I think it is baloney...one of those old wives' tales. Bitches do not have diagnostic abilities and I have yet to meet one with a medical degree. YOU are the manager and it is up to you to observe and take charge if need be. In a healthy litter there is a rhythm, All of the puppies look the same....round and firm with activated sleep and vigorous nursing. If the dam is doing her job, the whelping box will be clean. The puppies stool should be normal as described in the first part of this "diatribe". If the rhythm of the litter is disturbed you will see it immediately. Observe, monitor nursing, maintain correct temperature, and treat your puppies at the first sign of illness. Getting the jump on a situation before there is puppy mortality is extremely important. With prompt nursing on YOUR part, and with the advice given herein, sick puppies can be turned around in 8 to 24 hours. When all is well, have a drink on me.