Over the past months we have discussed and answered questions pertaining to base-data associated with the newborn and young pups -including feeding regimes, toilet training, ensuring an optimal relationship between the mother and her pups, recognition of a non-thriving puppy, etc.
Today we will begin documenting and answering Frequently Asked Questions relating to specific ailments/diseases that the young puppy may encounter during the first days/weeks/months of its life.
Firstly, a caregiver must recognize that puppies (like human babies) are fragile and vulnerable to stressors often related to a disease-filled and inclement environment. Right at the outset as the pup arrives into the world, the stump of the umbilical cord (navel) can become infected. The mother’s milk can also be a carrier of infectious agents, and therefore can pass on the serious and even lethal germs to the newborn pups. These two problems can lead to a septicemia, which is a condition whereby the germs can enter the pup’s blood stream with distressing consequential effects.

Let us deal with Navel Ill today.
Q: What is Navel Ill?
A: Technically and correctly speaking, the navel is defined as the mark or depression in the skin of the outer ventral abdominal area at the point where there was the attachment of the umbilical cord of the puppy. Do not let us confuse ourselves with the matter at hand by too much scientific jargon. Most people know fully well what the navel is and where it is located.
Navel Ill is a serious septicemic condition of newborn mammals (puppies included ) caused by pus-producing bacteria entering the newborn’s body through the umbilical cord. The first location of the infection is at the umbilical stump which remains on the puppy after the cord has been severed.
The infection may be caused by the mother dog, if she severs the umbilical cord with her infected teeth or gums (see Pet Care columns of August 9th and 30th, 2020). Also, if the puppies are in a germ-infested environment, (for example a whelping box which is unhygienic and contaminated by faecal matter, etc.), bacteria will enter the unhealed soft tissue at the navel and infect them.
Of course, once the bacteria get into the newborn’s blood stream they move to other parts of the body – the most susceptible being the joints of the legs. In fact, this disease (especially in calves) is known on the farmstead as “Joint Ill”. The spread of the disease within the newborn’s body is rapid. If not threated immediately, the pups/kittens die within one week after birth.
Q: How does one recognize Navel Ill?
A: Under normal conditions, within a day or two, the navel stump dries up. If the stump area is infected, the navel will be swollen and moist – even oozing yellowish pus. For this reason alone, the caregiver should (after cleaning) gently squeeze the area (on day 2, latest day 3 after birth) to see if there is liquid/pus discharge.
Q: How can the caregiver prevent this problem from arising?
A: I always advise breeders and caregivers, whose dogs have just given birth to a litter of puppies, to dip the respective umbilical stumps in a thimble (small container) of Povidone Iodine. This work wonders as prophylactic measure through its antiseptic properties.
Q: Is there any treatment?
A: If an infection is already present, rush the puppies to your veterinarian. He/she will most probably introduce an antibiotic of his/her choice. I find the old favorite Penicillin, to be highly effective over a 5-7day period.
If you do not have access to a veterinarian, you can try as best as you can to cleanse the area with 1%-2% Hydrogen Peroxide solution; wipe away the wetness and introduce a triple antibiotic cream/ointment topically on the infected stump area, twice daily.
You may have to remove the puppy or puppies (if one pup is infected, check the entire litter) from the mother. Too often have we noticed that once a pup is not faring well, she (the mother dog) might very decidedly reject the ailing pup. We have dealt in detail (in previous Pet Care Columns) on how you can successfully hand rear orphaned/abandoned puppies.
NB: You may have noticed that I have not referred to newborn kittens having Navel Ill. This is because kittens are not very susceptible to this ailment, and because the caregiver often may not know until later that the mother cat went into seclusion to deliver her offspring. However, when Navel Ill occurs in cats, all of the symptoms, prevention and treatment described above for puppies, are basically the same for kittens.

Next week we shall discuss how neonates (newborn pups) can become seriously ill by their own mother’s milk; and the issue of septicaemia, referred to above, will be addressed in more detail.