Eef ter Mors
kennel VIGILAT`S (NL)


A relatively high percentage of newborn puppies die within the first 3 weeks of life (17-24%), most of these (60%) die during birth or within the first week. The most common cause is deficient oxygenation of the blood  (hypoxemia) (for example, through premature separation of the placenta or a torn umbilical cord), although, to a certain degree, puppies can withstand insufficient oxygenation quite well.

Shortly after the birth (approx. 10 to 40 minutes) the body temperature sinks radically, a process that seems to be a protective mechanism as it slows down the metabolism of the newborn thereby reducing the amount of oxygen required. Therefore, it is extremely important to ensure that the respiratory tract is free. (Note: Experience has shown that hypoxic puppies stand a higher chance of surviving at lower room temperatures).

Should the mother die during or after the birth or if she cannot nurse the puppies herself for one reason or another, it is best to find another mother (foster mom) rather than hand-rear the babies.

In the case of mastitis, pyometra or insufficient lactation it becomes necessary to take over the job of the dam. Swift action is important as a lack of any substance is more critical for a puppy than a grown dog.

A low birth weight (25% under the average) often goes hand in hand with a higher death rate. A deficiency which took place in the womb often results in puppies with a relatively small liver. (Prenatal causes are e.g. insufficient development, generally in large litters, inadequate protein for the bitch; Post-natal causes may be insufficient food intake, environment too cold, damp or drafty.) The muscular glucose reserve (glycogen) is then often too low, within a few hours the puppies will suffer an insulin shock as a result. Supplemental feeding is now urgently required, as a timely start can prevent many problems.

Development of the Heat Balance.

The heart rate of a puppy at birth is 200 beats per minute, the respiratory frequency is between 15 and 35 per minute. The puppy is not yet capable of maintaining his bodily temperature as the necessary reflexes have yet to develop. At colder body temperatures the increase in metabolism in minimal.

Shortly following the birth, the puppy's temperature can sink to as low as 27° C (80.6° F) and then, under normal circumstances, gradually increases up 35.5° C (95.9° F). After 1 or 2 weeks the temperature rises to 37.5° C (99.5° F), and at the age of 4 weeks the body temperature is independent from the environment.

Hypothermia causes the heart and respiratory rates to decrease and the puppy stops nursing, whereby this quickly leads to dehydration. In the first few days following the birth, massaging the stomach and the genital area with a damp cloth (at body temperature) will stimulate respiration.

Premature puppies can be recognized by the lack of hair around the mouth and on the paws.

When is Supplemental Feeding Necessary?

I can give a few tips here but a lot is dependent upon the experience of the breeder and their instincts.

A healthy puppy constantly gains weight from their birth onwards.

Newborn baby's may lose a little bit of weight the first days, but this shouldn't happened with puppies.

Newborns may lose a little bit of weight but this shouldn't happen in older puppies. Puppies should be weighed immediately following their birth and again 12 hours afterwards which should not show a loss.

There should be a 10% increase in their weight when they are are twenty-four hours old. The situation is life-threatening when a puppy loses more than 10% of his body weight. Supplemental feeding is then absolutely necessary.

On the average a puppy should double his birth weight by the 8th to 10th day, at 17 days his weight should have tripled and by 24 days quadrupled.

Feeding the Puppies


Puppies are fed according to a particular formula based on their weight and weight gain. For our breed the average birth weight is 330 gr.

The commercially manufactured puppy milk that I use has an energy value of 4.2 Kilojoule per ml. When you use another puppy milk the formula may change.

The puppy should gain 10% per day (the following calculation is based on the above mentioned average birth weight of 330 gr. 10% of which gives us 33 gr.) For each gram of body weight 16 kilojoules are required, per day 528 kilojoules (33 gr. x 16). When the commercial milk provides 4.2 kilojoules per ml than the puppy needs 126 ml (528:4.2) per day (24 hours).

At 8 feeding times per day each puppy needs 17 ml per feeding. You could of course give 9 feedings daily (nights every 4 hours, days every 2 hours) which would mean 14 ml per feeding.

The puppy's nutritional requirements increase proportionally with their increasing weight. The feedings are adjusted accordingly following the daily weight control.


A puppy required 150 to 180 ml of water per kilogram. A puppy weighing 330 gr requires 50 to 60 ml per day. Sufficient water intake is allowed for when feeding according to the above described plan.


With a normal litter a constant temperature of 24° to 27° C during the first three weeks is recommended. Orphaned pups on the other hand need a temperature of 30° to 32° C during the first week and 27° C in the following 2 weeks. Thereafter the temperature can be reduced to 21° to 22° C.

It can be critical if the temperature goes above or below the guidelines. A deciding factor here is the behaviour of the pups. If the puppies sleeping peacefully, distributed about the whelping box then this is a good indication of the optimal environment.

Pipette or Tube feeding?

When feeding with a pipette (or spoon) the danger that the pup will swallow incorrectly is great and possibly resulting in suffocation. Therefore I prefer tube feeding.To avoid possible injury a very soft, flexible tube should be used. First you must "measure" the pup: lay the tube next to the pup from the muzzle to the last rib and mark it. Insert the moistened tube carefully into the pups mouth allowing him to swallow it. Be sure to check that the tube hasn't inadvertently gone down the windpipe. In this case the air stream would be felt coming out of the tube. When the tube is correctly inserted, puppy milk is slowly feed for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. The chance to go into the windpipe is extreme low. In case you do the puppy starts coughing immediately.

Milk is always fed at body temperature and care must be taken that no air gets pumped into the stomach.

Further readings:

* J.S. Mosier, Tediatrics The neonate

* Psychotic differences between puppies and adults.

* Meyer. Ernarung des Hundes,

* Poffenbarger, Chandler, Ralston en Olson, canine neonatology, Psysiologic differences between puppies en adults

* A. Thomee, Verdaulich und verträglichkeit von hundemilch und Mischfutter bei Welpen unter besondere Burücksichtigung der Fettcomponente

* J.S. Van de Linde-Sipman, Neonontale pathologie van de hond

* Van de Weyden,Taverne, Dieleman, Wurth,Bevers en Van Oord. Physiological aspects of pregnancy and parturition in dogs.

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