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PET CARE Preventing the death of new-born puppies

Preventing the death of new-born puppies

Ask the vet
Esther Van Luipen

I’m always so surprised when people tell me that their female dog had a litter of puppies and they all died. They often tell me this a few months afterwards and seem surprised when I ask them why they didn’t bring the bitch and pups to the vet.
For some reason people think it is ‘one of those things’ that happens naturally. However, these deaths can often be prevented. The most important thing is to bring the bitch and puppies to the vet as soon as possible after the first puppy dies.
Of course I’m not talking about those cases where the bitch lies on a puppy and it dies that way, although this could also often be prevented by having a special whelping box with ledges on the sides, where puppies can be pushed under instead of getting squashed between the wall and their mother.


There are a three main reasons why newborn puppies die. The first has to do with the temperature of the puppy. When newborn puppies don’t get a suck of biestings (the first milk secreted by the mother immediately after giving birth) straight away when they are born they don’t have any reserves and can die of hypothermia.
To prevent this it is crucial to be there when the puppies are born and make sure they properly latch on to the mother and get milk.
Warm surroundings are also crucial. An old shed in the winter is not good enough. The bed of the bitch should be comfortable and warm, and the room where she pups should be what we humans consider to be room temperature.

Make sure that the bitch has enough milk by trying to express milk from her teats. If a few teats are ‘not working’ get some milk replacer at your vet. Normal cow’s milk from a bottle is not good enough. It doesn’t have the right balance and is not fatty enough, so the pups will still die from malnutrition despite your good intentions.


The most common reason that puppies die is because the bitch has mastitis. When this happens she produces milk with toxins in it and this way she slowly poisons her pups. They die slowly one by one. This is called ‘puppy fading syndrome’.
The only way to stop this process is to bring the bitch and pups to the vet. She or he will prescribe the right antibiotics for both the bitch and pups. You also need to temporarily take the pups off the mother and feed them with milk replacer until the poison is gone out of her system.

To prevent the death of new-born puppies, it is important that you understand the process and that you know what to do if something goes wrong. It is also important to bring your bitch into the vet to make sure she is healthy and vaccinated before you start breeding her. This way she will give all her good maternal antibodies to the pups and you will get a strong and healthy litter of pups.

Esther van Luipen is a veterinary surgeon in Claremorris Small Animal Practice. Feel free to contact her with any of your small-animal concerns on 094 9373955 or at living@mayonews.ie.