If you have not bred a litter of puppies before it can be an anxious time. Knowing what is normal for a newborn puppy will help reduce some of that anxiety for you and also enable you to detect a problem early, which is vital if a sick puppy is to have any chance of survival.
Once the litter has been born and the bitch has had time to settle it is a good idea to have a look at the puppies to make sure all is well. At this time keep visitors and handling of the puppies to a minimum to avoid upsetting the bitch.
Puppies should nestle up together when not feeding
Before you handle the puppies have a look and see what they are doing. Healthy puppies sleep for most of the time and, apart from occasional twitching, should appear relaxed. When woken, puppies should search vigorously for a nipple (the ‘rooting reflex’) and actively seek their mother with a strong progressive crawl. They may vocalise when doing so in a serious of low grade squeaks. Once fed, they should rapidly nestle back with the litter and the bitch and go back to sleep.
Sexing and Weighing
As soon as the bitch will allow, pick up each puppy in turn and identify if the puppy is male or female. If multiple puppies look similar then applying a small dot of nail varnish to an ear tip or tail is a useful way of identifying them. Weigh the puppy on digital scales and make a note of the weight in grams. Create a chart on which to record the bodyweight of each newborn puppy every 24 hours.
- Normal birth weights for the smaller breeds can range from 75g to 350g, medium breeds 200g to 300g and the larger breeds from 400g up to 800g
- For the first 24 hours, the puppy may lose a few grams, but should at least remain stable or increase slightly as they become more hydrated with feeding
- Over the next 48-72 hours, there should be a steady daily increase in weight
- Daily weight gain depends very much on the breed, but should be fairly even across the whole litter
- As a general rule body weight should double by 7 to 10 days with an average increase of 5-10% body weight each day
Puppies may appear lean at birth, but they should fill out rapidly within the first 24 hours as they feed and become fully hydrated. Similarly, their foot pads should plump out. The puppies should be sleek with a shiny coat, warm to touch and, when handled, root around in the hand looking for a teat from which to suck. A clean finger inserted into the mouth should stimulate a strong suck reflex.
Puppies should be born with their eyes closed. Eyes usually start to open at around 10 days, but can be delayed to 14 days. A newborn puppy is not born with any teeth erupted. By 3-4 weeks of age, the temporary teeth start to erupt.
Urine and Faeces
A newborn puppy requires manual stimulation to pass urine and faeces. The mother does this by licking the perineal region (around the anus). The first faecal material passed is called the ‘meconium’. This is dark and greasy in appearance. After this, the faeces should be of toothpaste consistency or firmer and of a dark yellow to brown colour. By 2-3 weeks of age, the puppy should be able to pass urine and faeces spontaneously.
Puppy with a cleft palate – this is seen as an opening in the roof of the mouth (arrow)
- Check that the umbilical cord has not been chewed off by the bitch too close to the abdominal wall leaving a hernia or hole in the body wall. This requires urgent veterinary attention
- Look inside the mouth using a good light source to check that the puppy does not have a cleft palate or gap where the roof of the mouth should be. If you think there is a cleft palate you should contact your vet immediately as the puppy will not be able to feed normally
- Check the puppy has two eyes and two ears. Check that the nose, mouth and lips are formed correctly
- Check that all four limbs are normal in appearance and that there is the correct number of toes on each foot
- Check the spine is straight and check the tail for any abnormality
- Check the bitch and puppies every 2-3 hours for the first 24 hours to ensure all is well and to be able to pick up on problems early.
Remember that newborn puppies have a very limited way of showing distress, pain or illness. They are limited to wandering aimlessly and crying constantly. Any puppy showing these signs needs to see a veterinary surgeon urgently.