We had concluded discussing the topic of feeding the newborn pup and were about to commence dealing with puppy ailments, when it occurred to me that perhaps it would be opportune to firstly share some comments on the critical period relative to the mother-pup(s) relationship soon after birth, and to the first moments associated with the pups’ arrival.
I might have mentioned before that unlike a human fetus, which is usually only one by itself in the womb surrounded by its own thin covering membrane (the amniotic sac), the several puppies in a bitch’s womb are each surrounded by its own amniotic sac.
When each pup is born, its surrounding sac is ruptured and the puppy is set free to breathe on its own. If this does not occur, then the massaging motion of the mother’s tongue, licking at the pup, clears away the membrane around the puppy. Please note that there is a further membrane called the placenta (afterbirth) which encases all of the amniotic sacs. If this, for whatever reason, does not occur and the pup-enclosing sac remains, then you will have to intervene, so that the pup can begin breathing on its own. Intervention (only if the mother dog has not torn open the membrane) means that you must open the sac and remove it yourself. Authors/researchers differ on whether you must feed the placenta (afterbirth) to the mother. My own opinion is that she should be given the membranes (amniotic sacs and afterbirth) to eat, because they contain hormones which are needed, inter alia, for her milk let-down. Anyway, that is what I was taught long years ago, and 5 decades of clinic practice later, I still see no adverse effects from this intervention. It fact, left on her own, the new mother eats the membranes surrounding the pups on her own. Several mammalian species do this.
Now don’t just rip off the membrane. You should make the first tear in the area of the puppy’s mouth and then enlarge the tear by working your way backwards over the pup’s body. You may find that there is some fluid (which was in the amniotic sac) still remaining around the puppy’s nostrils. You don’t want the pup to aspirate the liquid when the first breath is taken by the pup. This means that you have to wipe the liquid away from the mouth and nostrils. If some of the liquid is already in the passageway of the pup’s nostril or mouth, you have to suck this fluid out. You may use a syringe with a small conus at the end, or use a rubber bulb syringe, or some absorptive tissue (toilet paper) which you must roll into a point and place it in the nostrils/mouth. This tearing off of the membrane and sucking up of the fluid should take place within 30 seconds of birth of the pup.
Some textbooks describe an alternative method that can be used to clear away the threatening fluid in the nostrils. They advise that the puppy be held in your hands in such a way that the head is supported while affording you the opportunity of swinging the pup downwards, stopping abruptly when its nose is pointing to the floor. The created centrifugal force expels the fluid from the nostrils. I am just a little fearful of this method, because owners are usually already a bit flustered during the birth process, and the puppy is slippery. It could be fatal, if the pup slips from grasp and falls to the floor with the force of the swing.
Once the pup is freed from the surrounding tissue and from the fluid in its nostrils, it should be presented to the mother to lick, sniff, cuddle and massage. If she doesn’t seem interested in the pup, you must take a soft cloth and do the cleansing and massaging. Then place the puppy onto the nipple, which you would have gently squeezed to ensure a droplet of milk oozes on to the surface. The pup should begin the suckling reflex immediately, if the mother doesn’t totally reject her offspring.
Sometimes, after a difficult delivery, a puppy may be too weak to breathe on its own. Squeeze the chest gently from side to side and then from front to back. If the puppy still will not breathe, place your mouth over his mouth and nostrils and breathe out gently until you see his chest expand. Do not exhale too forcefully as this can rupture his lungs. Then remove your mouth to allow the puppy to exhale. Repeat this several times until the puppy is breathing and crying. Place him/her on the bitch’s nipple.
Next week we’ll discuss the mother-pup relationship soon after birth.