Infant puppy care

It is a pathetic situation to see puppies dying without reason after prolonged stressful management of breeding and whelping. To avoid such a mishap, here are tips to ensure that your puppy leads a long and healthy life.


Understanding of development of body and its function during early infant period of puppy is essential for all breeders and dog lovers, who often face problem in the management of neonatal puppies. Mortality of puppies can be as high as 30% with 65% of death occurring during the first week of life. Puppies who die immediately after birth are often called “fading puppy syndrome”. A “fader” is a puppy apparently healthy at birth but failing to survive beyond two weeks of age. Even though causes for puppy loss may be many like congenital defects, nutritional diseases (of dam or puppy), abnormally low birth weight, trauma/stress during birth process, maternal neglect, infectious disease, etc, the most common reason is due to neglected and improper management of puppy during the illness.

Puppies are born in a very care-dependent state with poorly developed body systems. Their organs develop during early period of puppy life. They are born with closed eyes and ear canal, with no ability to maintain their own body temperature. They can’t react or move away from external stimuli and even elimination of urine and motion needs lick stimuli from mother over the perineal region. They start gaining these functions progressively only from three weeks onwards.

Conditions like reduced blood sugar (hypoglycemia), reduced body temperature (hypothermia) and reduced water content of body (dehydration) are the most common high risk conditions that cause death during first two weeks of life. Puppies are usually born with very less fat body store (1% of body weight in new born puppies, 10% in two weeks puppies and more than 20% of body weight in adults) and glycogen (energy stored in liver), which can only supply energy for 12 hours during fasting. In contrast, adult dogs can undergo weeks of starvation without developing hypoglycemia. Depletion of glycogen and fat stores occurs rapidly due to inadequate intake of food. Causes include insufficient milk production (both in quality and quantity) by the mother, premature birth, dominance by other puppies, low birth weight and parasites, infection and other causes, which prevent puppy to nurse normally.

As the newborn puppies cannot regulate their own body temperature, they depend on optimal environmental temperature during the first two weeks of life. Once a puppy’s rectal temperature drops below 34.50C (94F), he becomes less active and nurses ineffectively, bowel movements stops and digestion no longer occurs and puppy becomes motionless at 32.50C (90F).

Apart from environmental temperature, other conditions like insufficient milk intake by the puppy due to disease, inability to reach the mother’s teats, inadequate production of milk, infected milk and disease of mother may also contribute to hypothermia in puppy. Orphan puppies suffer more due to this condition. Increased environmental temperature, reduced intake and diarrhoea also result in dehydration.

All the conditions namely hypoglycemia, hypothermia and dehydration are interrelated, occurrence of one condition may lead to onset of other conditions. Management of these critical conditions by the owner or/and with the help of his vet can save the puppy.


The main treatment goals are to regain body temperature, maintain normal blood glucose level and hydrate the puppy. These can be achieved by the following procedures. Chilled puppies should be rewarmed to 34.50C (94F) after administration of 10% glucose solution or baby food or honey (energy source) at doses of 1 ml/100gm of body weight every two hours orally, if the puppy has suction reflex or through stomach tube (infant feeding tube size 5 or 6 can be used). In delayed critical case, subcutaneous injection of mixture of equal amount of 5% glucose solution and ringers lactate solution (97ºC) at the dose rate of 1ml/30gms of body weight can be given (repeated as needed) till he starts suckling on his own. Puppy should be warmed slowly and progressively over a period of 1 to 3 hours by warm water heating blanket or with poultry incubator (98F). Core warming of body can also be effected by giving enema with preheated (97-98F) normal saline solution which will also help in evacuation of constipated motion and also help in rehydration of energy through absorption of water by the large intestinal wall. Motionless puppies with reduced respiratory rate (less than 20/minute) and discoloured mucous membrane should be kept in oxygen chamber till he recovers.

Since the acid concentration of the stomach in puppy is less (pH > 3) than adult, infection through oral route is very common. To treat the condition suitable antibiotics with minimum side effects on the vital organs as prescribed by the vet should be given.

Preventive measures:

  • Maintenance of optimal temp, ventilation and humidity (60%) in whelping area.
  • Monitoring colostrums and milk intake by the individual puppy.
  • Treating infection of mother (uterine/mammary infection).
  • Measurement of daily body weight gain in puppies.

It is an important tool to measure the food intake and general health of the puppy. Body weight of individual puppy should be recorded within 24 hours after and then daily for first four weeks of life. Normal puppy gains 5% of the current body weight daily for the first four weeks. The puppy’s body weight often doubles by 10 days after birth and triples by third week. Between one and two months of age, daily weight gain may reach 3gms/kg of adult body weight.

Consistent monitoring and timely treatment should help in reducing the loss of puppies in breeding.

(Dr. R. Jayaprakash, M.V.Sc., PhD, FFAO (USA) completed his B.V.Sc. during 1981 and worked as Govt Veterinary Surgeon and zoo vet till he joined as Assistant Professor in1991 at Madras Veterinary College. He did his M.V.Sc. in Surgery and PhD in 1997. He is in small animal practice for last 18 years. He underwent fellowship training in USA on Surgical management. Now he is working as Associate Professor of surgery. He is also sitting Secretary for Small Animal Practitioner Association of Chennai. He can be contacted at: JP Pet Speciality Hospital, Chennai –600 020, Ph: 044-24411909/09444385393.)