The new born are very vulnerable and depend on the mother for food, water, heat, waste disposal and a good stock of antibodies against disease. As mentioned before, they need a room temperature of 80-85F dropping to 75F after the first day and this is usually provided by the mother‘s body heat and snuggling up to the other litter mates. They cannot shiver to increase their body heat until they are a week old. If you feel that the young are a bit cold it is usually safest to put an electrical convection heater in the room with the young.
During the first week, the young will sleep approximately 90% of the time, only waking to feed. While asleep, they usually twitch a little. The eyes do not open for 10 - 15 days and ears are closed until they are 2 weeks old so their ability to find a nipple to feed on is quite remarkable. While very young, they are particularly prone to dehydration and missing only a couple of meals can be very serious. During their first 12-24 hours, the mother passes a large quantity of antibodies from her bloodstream, into her milk and on to the young pups or kittens. This is very rich colostrum, similar to that provided by humans to their young and it is vital for the young to get this straightaway to help them to fight off any mild infections while their own systems are still very underdeveloped. After 12-24 hours, the young are no longer able to digest the antibodies which they obtain in the milk and instead of reaching their blood stream, these antibodies carry right through and are passed in the stools. Thus, the mother‘s milk is especially important in the first day or so.
The mother will lick the rear end of the young to stimulate them to pass their yellow stools and any urine and these are then cleaned up by the bitch - don‘t expect to see any ‘waste‘ from the pups or kittens for several weeks.
How do I know if there‘s a problem?
The young should have a sleek coat and elastic skin, with a rounded stomach. They should feel warm to the touch. They will sleep most of the time and feed about every 2 hours when first born. Crying is usually heard either when they are disturbed or just prior to feeding and should only last a few minutes. Placing a finger in the mouth should elicit a sucking reflex from the first day.
Any change from the above should alert you to a problem - keep a particular eye on any of the litter which are especially small (the runt).
The main signs of problems are:
- Excessive crying.
- Constantly failing to settle at a nipple.
- Dehydration. This can be tested by taking a small pinch of skin over the shoulders and letting it go. It should return to normal immediately - if it takes a few seconds, the pup or kitten is dehydrated.
- No sucking reflex.
Pups or kittens very quickly go downhill and die, so don‘t hesitate to call the Vet if there‘s any problem.
These are deformities which the young are born with. The three most common are:
- Deformed legs.
- Cleft palate. The bone between the nose and the mouth is missing and the sucking reflex is much less strong. Any milk that is taken in often comes out of the nose.
- Umbilical hernia. This is a small bulge of fat at the site of the umbilical cord, where the muscle under the skin has not come together as it should. This is not a problem unless very large and will only need corrective surgery if it is still severe when the pup or kitten is fully grown.
Either of the first two problems will not allow the pup or kitten to live a normal life and it is kindest to them to put them to sleep as soon as possible.
All pups and kittens are infected with roundworm in the womb or via the milk, or via the mother‘s stools. The young should be wormed with a wormer that kills migrating larval stages of round worms as well as the adults. Please contact us for advice as to what is the best drug and dosage regime to suit your circumstances. The mother should be wormed at the same time.
This is very important as roundworm infection often causes disease or loss of condition in the pups or kittens and can also be caught by us, by contact with the worm eggs which have been passed in the mother‘s or young‘s stools. It should be remembered that the eggs are not infectious for two to three weeks after they have been passed, so it is quite safe to clear up the stools, which should be done as soon as possible. The risk to humans is mainly to young children whose personal hygiene may not be all that would be desired. The disease in humans can be very serious in a tiny number of cases, causing blindness and epilepsy. However if you follow the worming regime as above there will be no risk at all, so don‘t worry unduly about this.
There is no need to worm the young for tapeworm, as they will not catch these (if they ever do) until later.
Docking and dew claw removal in puppies
The docking of tails is now banned other than in exceptional circumstances, and vets who do it are liable to be disciplined by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons; please do not ask us to do it.
Hind dew claws in some breeds, especially working dogs, often catch on things and get torn and their nails usually grow round in a circle so cutting into the dog‘s flesh, and so we would usually recommend removing them. In some breeds they don’t often cause problems and are indeed required to be there if you wish to show the dog, and we usually leave these on. Front dew claws do not cause many problems and so opinions differ as to whether these should be removed, however it is our opinion that it is a good idea in working dogs. If you would like the dew claws removed please make an appointment straight away as it has to be done within 3-5 days of birth.
This should start at about 3 weeks old. The young are offered a mixture of freshly made up milk substitute and soaked puppy food or chopped meat/tinned food, egg yolk or baby rusks which is changed 4-5 times daily. The consistency of this is gradually made thicker. A bowl of fresh milk substitute or water should also be available at all times. The quantity of mother‘s milk drops at about 5 weeks old and this is made up by the supplementary food which you provide for the pups or kittens. During this time the mother may vomit up her food for the young to eat - this is not a sign of illness, but the way they used to do it before they had such things as Chum or Whiskas!
Kittens and puppies are very susceptible to fleas, which can cause severe anaemia and death. There is only one product licensed to use on puppies and kittens from 2 days of age, which is FRONTLINE SPRAY. This is a spray you put on their coats that kills fleas and ticks but can't harm the pup or kitten. It works well and lasts for a month from one application.
Pups and kittens receive antibodies from their mother‘s milk, as mentioned earlier. When these are no longer useful, the young are very susceptible to infection. Vaccinations are given to give the young immunity to certain common fatal diseases.
We recommend that puppies are vaccinated from 6 to 8 weeks and again at 10 weeks old against Distemper (Hardpad), Infectious Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza and Parvovirus. In some areas a third Parvovirus vaccination is given at about 17 weeks old, but we do not find this necessary here with the vaccine we use. After the initial vaccinations an annual booster is necessary in all cases to keep their immunity high.
The vaccinations are not completely effective until 2 weeks after the second one and all pups should be kept away from the possibility of meeting ill or unvaccinated dogs until then. However we have never yet seen a problem from them meeting well vaccinated dogs and would always recommend that the new puppy is introduced to other puppies and vaccinated dogs from one week after the first vaccination.
Kittens should be vaccinated at 9 and 12 weeks old against feline enteritis, cat ‘flu and Feline Leukaemia. Cat ‘flu is not usually fatal, but many cats continue to carry the virus for life and may get recurrent bouts themselves or infect other cats. Feline Leukaemia is a viral infection that kills approximately 13% of cats nationally. We probably see less cases than that locally, especially in rural areas, but the virus is always about. The vaccine is both safe and efficient. An annual booster is necessary to keep protection up against these diseases.
From about 5 - 15 weeks old, pups and kittens are especially impressionable. The emotions they associate with types of people, cars, other animals or even vacuum cleaners are often life-long. Therefore it is important to introduce them to as many different people or things as possible in a relaxed atmosphere, to avoid them carrying certain ‘hang-ups‘ through to their adult life. Some of the litter will be noticeably more timid than others, so don‘t push these too much.
Many breeders have different views on what age a pup should go to its new home and there are many differing factors involved. We do not feel that it is possible to recommend one age to suit all animals, however they certainly shouldn‘t go to their new home before six weeks of age, and there is probably little advantage in keeping them with their mother after twelve weeks. In practice, for pet dogs, the best age seems to be 8 weeks and for pedigree kittens the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy insists that they go at 12 weeks, and that they are fully vaccinated before leaving the mother. It is wise to give them at least their first vaccination before they leave mum and the cost of this can be passed on to the new owner. This will allow the pups or kittens to go and explore their new world that much sooner and also gives them the best protection against these highly infectious diseases.
We would always recommend that you have the pups checked by us before they go to their new homes to check for any abnormalities and congenital defects, as this can save a lot of heartache and expense later.