Rearing of Preamature puppies and Tube Feeding
This article is about my recent experience of hand rearing a premature puppy which I hope will be of interest. The puppy was born 56 days gestation at first day of mating – the bitch was mated three times over five days.
I am an avid believer in taking the bitches temperature from 10 days before her due date and it was due to this that I noticed something not quite right. I suspected the bitch was carrying three pups but on this day I had my suspicions that one had died inside her (I listen for heartbeats) and at lunchtime my feelings were correct as upon taking her temperature I noticed a very small amount of green discharge. We went immediately to my vet who agreed with my theory and so to try and save the remaining pups an emergency caesarean was performed. The bitch was not in labour so this was essentially an elective caesarean so not at all ideal.
There was one dead pup and two live pups. Very premature, no hair and so so tiny, they looked like little moles. Mum had no milk and the pups no sucking reflex so I couldn’t bottle-feed, so tube feeding was the only option. I used a very small latex tube that was soft and very flexible it is usually used for premature human babies as a nasal tube but vets also use them for small mammals. The pups weighed just under 65gms and so working out the formula I started with .75 of a ml every two hours to keep them hydrated, the formula I used was Liquid Life Aid (a rehydration liquid used for lambs and calves) dilute 8ml to 100ml of cool boiled water and then mixed this liquid with equal parts of evaporated milk (1ml of liquid with 1ml of milk) this formula can be kept in the fridge for 24hrs. Also the pups had to be kept very warm – mum accepted them which was a god send so she snuggled up to them and kept them clean and with the aid of a heat pad, bedding that also lightly covered the pups and the central heating on, my bedroom became a furnace and a special care puppy unit!!
Dehydration and getting cold are the two main reasons of deaths in newborn pups. Before inserting the tube you should measure the bottom of the tube from the last rib to the opening of the mouth – mark the tube and this is a guide as to how far you should insert the tube. The main thing to remember in tube feeding is to insert the tube into the mouth slowly and follow a line from the middle of the tongue to the back of the throat and into the stomach, keep the tube in the middle and you should have no problems, any resistance, coughing or gasping then remove the tube and start again. If a pups cries when the tube is fully inserted this is a good sign as if you had put the tube into the wrong place she wouldn’t be able to cry but would cough etc., Always insert the tube without the syringe attached. Once the tube is in place attach the syringe (with formula) and slowly insert a very small amount – if any milk comes out of the nose or the puppy chokes again remove the tube and start again. It is natural for the puppy to try and suck on the tube and is a good sign that the sucking reflex is coming in.
It is very important to administer the formula very slowly into the tube; you will see the tummy start to fill, do not overfeed, it is better to slightly underfeed, the tummy should be soft and plumb not hard and distended – from above the pup should look pear shaped. When you have fed the pup remove the tube with syringe still attached – do not remove the syringe as this can have the effect of a siphon and milk could come back up the tube plus removing the syringe before hand can cause wind. It goes without saying all feeding utensils must be sterilised between feeds – hygiene is vital.
To check a pup is not dehydrated pinch the skin on the back of the neck and it should return quickly, if it sticks up then it is dehydrated and you need to get fluids into the pup quickly – on saying this do not feed a cold pup – always gently and slowly warm up a pup first.
Very sadly despite my best efforts one of the pups died the next day – I also thought the other pup was fading as she felt chilled and was gasping so wrapping her lightly in a towel I placed her inside my bed to see what happened. I went out to see to the other dogs and 15 minutes later my son came out to say he could hear the puppy squeaking and low and behold the gentle warming had done the trick – remember this puppy was premature with no hair so despite my room being a furnace and ensuring the environment was at a constant temperature she still got chilled as she just couldn’t regulate her body temperature. Once warmed we again started the two hourly feeds day and night and slowly increased the amount to between 1ml and 1.2ml. Now prem pups should not be expected to gain weight during the first 7 – 10 days as they use all the nourishment to grow hair etc., it’s great if they do gain but do not be alarmed if they don’t. This pup stayed at 60gms until 10days old (by then she was on 1.5mls of formula per feed) and then day-by-day put on 1 or 2gms. From 10 days old I altered the formula to 1 part of life aid/water to 1 ¼ parts evaporated milk. Her sucking reflex was improving but I decided to stick with tube feeding rather than a bottle due to her size. I had one occasion when the pup was constipated (her tummy looked full even though she was due a feed and she was whinging and looked uncomfortable) – I gently massaged her tummy and bottom and tried in vain to get her to empty – but eventually I had to insert a small amount of KY jelly into her bottom using a tiny syringe (vegetable oil or similar is also very good) wait 10 mins and then try massaging etc., again – this did the trick, she emptied satisfactorily and looked a lot more comfortable – on this occasion I waited another hour before feeding. Also after each feed I wiped the puppy over with a fragrance free Aloe Vera baby wipe to nourish the skin, especially the ears and legs – some peeling is to be expected.
I must add I put her to Mum’s nipples several times a day throughout this period to encourage feeding and although she did latch on it was a very weak attempt. I also worked on Mum’s nipples to encourage milk flow, she did have a tiny amount and I just hoped she would keep it until such time as the pup could suckle properly.
We had the break through at 12 days old when pup decided she would latch onto Mum and suckle for England – by this time the milk was very watery so I still had to tube feed day and night every two/three hours I would get her to suckle mum first and then feed her, then on day 14 Mum’s milk came in and filled the pups tummy – for the next day I only tube fed every 4 hours and the following just once in the day and once at night and latched the pup onto mum in between. Then mum took over full time although I still had to latch the pup on, but over the next couple of days as the pup got stronger she was able to find mum herself and now it is just like it should be. I was still getting up once in the night to make sure the pup has fed and at three weeks old the pup weighed 4ozs, with a lovely coat – I also have a cuddly toy for the pup to snuggle up to when mum is out of the bed (I have used this same toy for three singleton pups now). At six weeks of age the puppy weighed 11ozs and am trying to wean her onto solids but she is reluctant as mum is feeding her too well and as she had such a bad start I am in no hurry to take her off mum.
This is just my diary of my experience this time round – tube feeding was the only way to keep the pup alive and once mastered is a lot easier than bottle feeding and you know exactly how much you have fed. The housework piled up and oh for a full nights sleep but it is so worth it when you see the end result. Its great to see her up on her feet, tottering about and playing with mum, so fingers crossed she will continue to thrive.