By R. Selvakkumar. Ph.D.,
Professor and Head
Department of Livestock Production Management
Veterinary College and research Institute
Theni-625534
Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University

Newborn puppies are born with an immature immune system. Hence, mortality during this period is higher than any other period and this is known as neonatal mortality. Hence, a fully developed immune system is a must to successfully cross over this neonate period and this process starts with the dam’s milk. Due to their immature state, pups are easily affected by many risky factors which include infection, nutrition, physical injuries etc. Neonatal mortality in canines is associated with many factors, including prolonged labour than normal period, abandonment of young one by the dam, agalactia in bitch and other genetically transmitted disorders. For ease of understanding, the causative factors for neonatal mortality is grouped into the following categories.

  • Infectious
  • Non-infectious (Poor condition of the dam prior to whelping, difficulty in whelping, trauma)
  • Nutritional
  • Congenital (Stillbirth)
  • Maternal causes

Infectious

Due to an immature immune system, the newborns are more vulnerable to many infectious agents. contaminated living places and poor management are the prime factors for the infection in puppies. To avoid this situation, the pregnant puppy should be provided with a hygienically maintained separate whelping room prior and during parturition.

Further, the mother is not only responsible for boosting the immune system of the puppy, but also responsible for spreading infectious agents to its young ones. Improperly vaccinated dogs are a source of some infectious agents and they spread the infection to their offspring via their natural secretions. To avoid such infection, the mother should be vaccinated as per the schedule before breeding. Deworming should be done with suitable drugs as per schedule.

Possible route of infection may be through Umbilical trauma, respiratory, and gastrointestinal tract. Proper severing of umbilical cord and application of antiseptic will be helpful to avoid infection through this route. Cleaning of the udder region immediately after whelping is necessary to avoid infection during suckling. Immediate care should be taken to save the life of a young one by rehydration, nutritional supplement, probiotics, and if necessary, antibiotics. Infectious factors may also be a causative factor for fading puppy syndrome in canine and in which puppies fail to thrive and death usually occurs within the first five days of life.

Non Infectious

So many factors act as a non-infectious cause for the death of neonate puppies. This must be due to the negligence of management and can be easily resolved. The poor condition of the dam prior to whelping, difficulty in whelping, adverse environmental factors, and trauma are some prime non-infectious causes of neonatal mortality in canine.

Prolonged labour due to uterine inertia and difficulty in expelling the puppies during whelping may cause suffocation in puppies and traumatic injuries to the bitches. The pain triggered by the injuries may stop the dam from taking care of its young one. Due to negligence, the pups become the victims of chillness and starvation. Warmth is essential for the young until the development of its own thermoregulatory mechanism. This warmth can be obtained from the heat generated by the digestion of milk and by the closeness of the dam with the puppies. Hesitancy to lie with and warm the neonates and refusal to permit suckling by the dam will make the puppies more prone to chillness. The maternal affinity towards the puppies may be disturbed by the pain experienced during whelping. In heavy breeds, mortality in pups may also be due to crushing by the dam. This can be prevented by the provision of sufficient space for the mother and young one.

Nutrtional Causes

Nutrition is essential for vital function of the body irrespective of the age of the animals. If truly saying, care of neonates starts from the womb itself and not from birth.  Hence, care should be taken for bitches while formulating a diet for late pregnancy. Further, a major portion of the foetal development of the foetus is during the last quarter of the gestation period and any malnutrition or erroneous feeding method should definitely affect the health and wealth of the puppies after birth.  

Bitch fed with a diet low in carbohydrates, protein, and other essential minerals and vitamins will definitely affect the survivability of the neonate puppies. Especially, puppies fed with a low carbohydrate diet during its last term are more likely to be affected by uterine inertia. The puppies of the under-fed dam will be born weak, diseased and underweight due to the competition for nutrients when they are in their mother’s womb. The birth weight of young ones plays a major role in the survivability of the puppies. 

Congenital causes

Congenital defects are defined  as  abnormalities  of  a structure  or  function  present in young ones at birth. Most of the congenital defects are genetically caused; they  may  be lethal to the neonate at birth or after sometime.  

For getting a healthy puppy, we must start our managemental practices from the breeding itself. Because young ones are getting genetic information from their parents and any young ones of these parents are having more chances to be genetically affected. So, care must be taken while selecting the breeding pairs. The selected puppies should be free from any obstetrics problems, congenital deformities, poor maternal characters, lower prolificacy and any genetic diseases. Further, they are born from a sound parent. Similarly, the selection of sire for breeding is also essential because they are half of the progeny.

Maternal causes

The outcome of pregnancy depends on the overall health of the dam. The health and characteristics of bitches play a main role in the health and survivability of the puppies.

The age of the puppies also predisposes them to some obstetrical problems. Older bitches are show some changes in the estrous cycle and they have greater muscle flaccidity which will lead to dystocia. Many studies have proved that the survivability and weaning percentage is higher in young than older bitches.

Mothering ability and maternal characteristics are also very important factors for the survival rate of neonates. So, care must be taken while selecting a puppy for the breeding programme.

Agalactia is associated with several factors and it affects puppies which are undergoing a caesarean section, primiparous, or under stressful conditions and it is temporary and can be reversible. But, if this condition affects the dog immediately after parturition, it can lead to some negative impact on neonates.

Prevention

Good care and management of the dam, hygienic maintenance of the whelping area, proper vaccines and deworming programmes are the steps that must be taken in canine breeding management.

Improved maternal nutrition will be helpful to maintain the overall health status of the dam to get a normal healthy puppy.

  • Follow proper and timely parasite control programs. Becauseroundworms and hookworms are transmitted transplacentally, pups have the chance of being born with these parasites.
  • Timely medical or surgical intervention in animals suffering from dystocia and other obstetrical problems.
  • Take possible steps to provide warmth to the new born puppies for their early life.
  • Follow a sound selection programme for breeding. Use breeding puppies with an ideal body confirmation to get healthy puppies.
  • Nutritional management of breeding females with a balanced ration, providing required vitamins and minerals will be helpful to make the female fit for breeding.
  • 24 surveillance is a must for the puppy nearing partition and intervention may be done whenever necessary. special care should be done for the weak and small ones in the litter.

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