Challenges of Puppies Born Prematurely

We Have Newborns!

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It is very rare for me to have two litters in one year, and we will not have more puppies for a while, but this turned out to be a summer of babies. Two days ago Moxie gave natural birth (not a given in our breed) to two girls and a boy.

The puppies were born 3 days before a due date, as calculated by pinpointing ovulation with LH and blood progesterone tests. Canine pregnancy is only 63 days from ovulation, exactly 9 weeks. Its length has nothing to do with mating date but only with ovulation. In other words, it is the life of an egg that times the pregnancy.

You can think of every week of dog’s pregnancy as translating to a month in human pregnancy. A birth three days early for a puppy does roughly correspond to a human baby born half a month early. The fact that I knew the exact due date was important in both preparing the environment and employing extra vigilance in caring for the newborns, with the understanding of all critical points for preemies.

You can see the typical signs of slight prematurity in the more lanky body shape and the lack of facial hair and lack of hair on paws, with patches of a bald smooth skin there.

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Challenges of The First Night

When you are dealing with preemies all the usual concerns for the newborns’ wellbeing get heightened, and there are additional concerns that have to do with readiness to live outside the womb. The lungs and GI tract tend to mature last. And then, there is a big concern over receiving colostrum within hours of birth. Sometimes when mothers give birth early they are not producing colostrum in time. Luckily, I could put two big check marks next to lungs being OK and colostrum flowing.

DSC_6021We had stellar first 12 hours, with puppies gaining considerable weight, which signifies receiving disease fighting colostrum. When you hear the term “maternal derived antibodies”, or MDAs, it means the antibodies received by a puppy through colostrum in the first hours of its life. MDAs are often misunderstood, even by experienced breeders, to come from mother’s milk when puppies are nursing, but that is only true for the first 24 hours of their life. After that mother’s milk is no longer delivering MDAs and the puppy’s intestine is no longer porous to receive the antibody proteins. When people express concern over vaccinating puppies that are still nursing, that is because they do not understand the  timing of MDA transfer.

DSC_6161Just as I was congratulating myself on puppy weight gain and things going well, the night brought the first challenge. In the middle of the night, in that “trouble hour” right around 3 AM, Moxie started acting restless. She was whining and shifting position constantly. When I saw her attempting to move puppies around, I suspected her blood calcium level to be low. She had been drinking Mother’s Pudding (something I described in detail in an earlier post) but apparently she needed more calcium. Confirming low blood calcium level at 3 AM would mean taking her to an emergency clinic, a scenario carrying more risk than benefit, so I acted on a presumption but took a  conservative approach and supplemented calcium orally with Health Powder added to Mother’s Pudding. Moxie settled very fast. Whew!DSC_6165

A New Night, A New Challenge

DSC_6045Day two of puppies life is when the colostrum high in protein and full of antibodies is no longer produced and the puppies start drinking fatty milk. For preemies fat can present a challenge and it did for this litter. Last night (why, oh why it always has to be the night?) two of the puppies developed diarrhea. They screamed in pain. Moxie was beside herself.

Again, in the middle of the night you work on the most likely assumption before taking the risks associated with taking preemies to an emergency clinic, a place they would most certainly be exposed to air borne pathogens.

DSC_6044I considered the facts. Only two out of three puppies had a problem, the two that had been gaining the most weight. It was right around the time when the fatty milk was replacing colostrum. I hoped to be right that the problem was their GI tract not being fully mature to deal with rich milk, and that it was not some infection. Again I took a conservative approach first. To prevent dehydration I gave the puppies some boiled and cooled down water with a  dropper, one drop at a time. I was ready to escalate intervention, if needed, and got fluids ready for subcutaneous injections. Luckily, the puppies stayed properly hydrated and I never had to pierce their delicate skin.

You check a newborn’s hydration level by lightly pinching skin on the shoulder, which should snap back in place in less than a second, and also by stimulating a puppy to pee on a white cotton ball. If the urine has any hint of color, the puppy is dehydrated. These puppies still had watery, colorless urine. Their skin snapped back in place when lightly pinched.


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DSC_6159One of the things I always have on hand in my “pregnancy kit” is Probiotics specifically formulated to survive canine stomach acids and to get to the intestine, where they are needed. I rely on the product called Fortiflora, which until recently was available by prescription only.

I combined Fortiflora powder with some boiled and cooled water to make a paste. After washing my hands thoroughly I put a little paste on the tip of my finger and let each puppy suckle it off my finger. I let them do it every 1/2 hour or so, perfectly timed in between laundry loads of soiled whelping box blankets, and by the morning the puppies quieted completely and started gaining weight again. Their stools remained slightly loose but the dangerous explosive diarrhea was over. Another huge whew!


Moxie is taking much needed relaxed breaks from the puppies, at her own pace, and she seems to be really happy. And I am enjoying both the quiet after the storm and the fantastic adjustment of our 11-week old puppies. I just love these boys! They have been little stars through the last 2 days, with all our previous training paying off big time. More on that in the next post.


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