Watching your own dog give birth to puppies is of course a very special experience, and something that few people are lucky enough to witness. Aside from dog breeds that are more prone to complications with delivery and that usually have to be delivered by caesarean section (like the French bulldog), dogs usually deliver their young without any problems, and don’t require any human intervention.
However, whilst most puppies of healthy dogs with appropriate conformations will be healthy and develop normally after birth, there are a number of problems and complications that can arise during or immediately after delivery, and one of the most frightening and upsetting of these problems is seeing a puppy that does not start breathing when they are born.
Stillborn pups are a sad fact of life, and not all pups that aren’t breathing can be saved – a developmental or hereditary defect, problems during delivery, or other intangible factors can all affect a pup’s chances of surviving delivery. That said, if you are monitoring your dam’s delivery and see that one of her pups isn’t breathing, you may be able to save it – if you know how.
In this article we will look at some of the most common problems that can result in a new born pup failing to take their first breaths on their own, and how you might be able to save them. Read on to learn more.
The most obvious cause of a new born pup failing to take their first breaths is that the placental sac surrounding them whilst they are in the womb remains sealed when they are born. The placenta is sometimes delivered before or after a pup’s actual arrival, which negates the issue, and even if the pup is born along with the sac, the trauma of birth itself usually serves to rupture it to allow the pup to breathe.
When a pup is born, the dam will usually bite and chew the sac or partial sac off the pup herself (if the sac is present) to allow the pup to breathe.
However, if the pup is born in the sac and the dam doesn’t take care of it herself in good time, the pup won’t be able to breathe.
This is something that you can do yourself – making sure beforehand that your hands are clean and that you wear sterile gloves to reduce the risk of introducing an infection. Tear the sac open carefully with your hands, and wipe the pup’s nose and mouth to ensure that part of the sac isn’t obstructing them.
A pup might be born with fluid in their airways as a result of the process of being born, and this will make them unable to breathe. If you act quickly, you can check and clear the pup’s airways to ensure that they can take their first breaths of air as normal.
Hold the pup in your hand with its head at a slight downward angle, and take care to support their head. Then, gently swing the supported pup downwards to encourage gravity to get to work clearing the fluids from the pup’s nose and throat.
If this proves ineffective after a couple of gentle attempts, you may need to suck the fluid out of the pup’s nose and mouth yourself. Keep a bulb-shaped pipette in reserve for this, to create a seal over the muzzle and use to suck the fluids free. Repeat the gentle downwards swing (again, ensuring that you support the pup’s head and are very careful) if required.
Immediately after a pup is born and when the placental sac has been removed, your pup’s mother will start to lick them and push them about with their nose to stimulate and trigger their breathing response. This is something you can attempt as well, by using a slightly rough clean towel to rub the pup’s body, working in a brisk but gentle manner across their trunk. Whilst new born puppies are of course small and fragile, this stimulation needs to be reasonably brisk rather than overly cautious, otherwise it will prove ineffective.
Generally, if the pup doesn’t start to breathe within around 30 seconds, they aren’t going to – or you may need to be a little firmer.
As a last-ditch attempt to save a puppy that isn’t breathing, you can try to administer CPR. First of all, check whether or not the pup’s heart is beating – and if not, begin by delivering gentle chest compressions. Before you deliver rescue breaths to a new born pup, you should first check all of the above points – clearing fluid, stimulating the breathing response, and making sure that the placenta has been removed.
Then, you need to form a seal over the pup’s nose and mouth, and gently – bearing in mind the tiny pup’s size and how delicate they are – deliver a small number of breaths to the pup, making sure that you can see (or that someone else can see and tell you) if the pup’s chest rises and falls to confirm that the air is making it into their lungs.
Alternate the breaths and the chest compressions until you get a response – although if the pup remains unresponsive after around 20-25 minutes, you are unlikely to be able to save them.
If any problems arise during delivery that constitute an acute emergency like a pup not breathing, it is unlikely that your vet will be able to get to you in time to save the pup. However, you should still ring them urgently anyway, as they may be able to provide advice and direction over the phone that might be able to help you to save the pup. Also, if one pup isn’t breathing or has a problem during delivery, it is wise to ask the vet to attend for the rest of the delivery, in case the same problem is repeated in one of their siblings.