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Caring for Newborn Puppies (Neonates)

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

Things to Consider

Breeders should be familiar with the general principles about managing newborns and should be able to recognize the difference between normal and abnormal puppies.

What to Expect in Normal Newborn Puppies

Normal neonates won’t need heroic efforts to sustain them. The breeder should make sure that they are breathing normally, check for cleft palates and hare lips, record their birth weight, keep their nursery between 80 and 90 degrees and make sure that they are suckling strongly. All puppies should nurse vigorously within the first 24 hours of life, so that they ingest the antibody-rich first fraction of their mother’s milk, called colostrum, which provides them with protective passive immunity until their own immune systems can mature. Healthy newborns are plump, warm, sleep when they aren’t nursing and can find their way to a nipple without assistance.

Potential Issues with Newborn Puppies

Failure to Breath

The most common problem in newborns is failure to breathe. Puppies that don’t take that critical first breath and vocalize immediately after birth need vigorous external stimulation; this can come from the mother or the breeder, but it has to happen fast and shouldn’t be timid. If a puppy isn’t breathing and making sounds, the owner should suction its nostrils and mouth with a rubber bulb syringe and rub it roughly with a warm towel. Some authorities recommend breathing into its nostrils; others suggest squeezing its chest gently between two fingers over the heart area. When the puppy cries loudly and starts breathing, things are looking up. Owners should consult with a veterinarian before their litter is born to prepare for this situation.

Congenital Defects

Congenital defects (present at birth, but not necessarily genetic), and signs of illness, disease or failure to thrive, usually can be detected soon after birth. Common birth deformities in newborn puppies are cleft palates, hare lips, flat chests (pectoris excavatum), kinked tails, spinal curvature, shortened limbs, abnormal toes, incompletely closed abdomens with intestines exposed (omphalocele) and anal atresia (closed anus that prevents defecation). Hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”) and open fontanelles (incompletely fused skulls) are somewhat common in certain breeds, including the Chihuahua.


Illnesses of neonates can be difficult to detect, because the mother is taking care of most of their needs. Some outward signs of sickly puppies include swollen eyelids, skin sores, failure to nurse, failure to gain weight, abdominal bloating, abnormal locomotion (“swimmer puppies”), hiding in a corner, excessive activity (when a newborn isn’t eating, it should be sleeping), excessive crying, bleeding from the nose, blood in the urine, low body temperature (hypothermia), wheezing, inability to latch onto a teat and nurse, vomiting, diarrhea and regurgitation.

Special Notes

Newborns should have their nails trimmed within the first week and regularly thereafter, to prevent them from digging into their mother’s breasts. Some breeders remove dewclaws and/or dock tails within the first few days. Remember that puppies can’t see or hear until they are almost 2 weeks old.

Basic Care Topics
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