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Is my Puppy Sick? Learn How to Identifying an Unhealthy Puppy

Source: Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Updated on July 16, 2015

Signs Your Puppy is Sick

The first few weeks of a newborn puppy's life are crucial to its future development. What happens to a puppy during its first weeks can often determine whether a dog will lead a normal, healthy life or a life that is wrought with illness or behavioral problems.

When a puppy is born, it is essentially helpless and unable to fend for itself. Almost 75% of puppy deaths occur in the first 18 days after birth, usually as the result of ignorance or inexperience on the part of the mother (e.g. neglect or ineffective nursing) or, in some cases, on the part of the owner (e.g. excessive handling of pups, excessive inbreeding). For these reasons, it is a good idea to have both puppies and the mother checked out by a veterinarian soon after birth.

Besides health problems, the social and psychological development of a puppy also occurs during the first weeks of life. Socialization in a puppy occurs during the period between 4 and 12 weeks of age. It is during this time period that a dog is most susceptible to training and establishes all the necessary responses to its social environment. For example, if it is not exposed to humans during this time period, it will have extreme difficulty adjusting to humans and interacting with them later in life. Likewise, if a puppy does not have a chance to interact with other animals (e.g. its littermates) during this time period, it will have difficulty getting along with other animals throughout its lifetime.

Identifying an Unhealthy Puppy

For owners, being able to recognize a healthy puppy from a sick one can prove to be invaluable and could mean the difference between life and death. A healthy puppy tends to be warm and plump, has good muscle and skin tones, a quiet disposition and sleeps well. Conversely, a sick puppy is cold and limp, has a pot-bellied appearance, has poor skin and muscle tone, and tends to squirm and cry excessively. If this is the case, your veterinarian should be consulted immediately.

Common Causes of Death

Among the primary causes of neonatal mortality are undernourishment and chilling. Undernourishment can be due to ineffective nursing or not enough milk from the mother, but it can also be because the puppy itself doesn't suckle properly.

Chilling can be a major cause of neonatal mortality as well. Puppies are unable to regulate or adjust their body temperature in the first few days. If chilled, they are unable to suckle, they stop nursing, and are ignored by their mother. Warming the puppies restores the suckling reflex and can reverse this.

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