Knowing what to do to save a newborn puppy that isn't breathing is very important when those seconds count. Newborn puppies are sure adorable, but when a puppy isn’t acting right, the experience is harrowing. It’s very easy to panic and not administer the right treatment, so knowing what is happening and what to do can potentially save a puppy that isn't breathing. Remember: you need to judge carefully which situation you are in, so that you don’t administer the wrong treatment. If you have a second person, they can call the vet for instructions, but if you are alone, you need to know what to do, because calling for help wastes precious time when every second counts.
Breathing Problems of Newborn Puppies
During life in mom's belly, fetal respiration in developing puppies takes place courtesy of blood-gas exchanges with the placenta.
The lungs are not yet in use and there is very little blood flow to them. The day when puppies are born though, the blood/gas exchange from the placenta is suddenly interrupted once the umbilical cord is separated. This interruption leads to a temporary deficiency of oxygen known as hypoxia.
Fortunately, a reflex contraction of the chest muscles jumpstarts these pups' breathing, drawing air into the lungs. Soon, the puppies are moving and loudly crying.
Not always though things go as planned. Some newborn puppies may struggle to breathe or they may breathe normally at first but develop breathing problems later on.
Signs suggestive of trouble breathing in newborn puppies include the puppy's chest and belly expanding more than normal, open mouth breathing or breathing with the neck and head stretched out. Other signs of trouble are noisy, rattling, or raspy breathing, gasping for air and an abnormal breathing rate compared to the other puppies. If your the puppy is not responsive, getting cold and the gums have assumed a pale or blue tint, these are signs of an emergency.
Can You Save a Newborn Puppy That Isn’t Breathing?
Whether you can save a newborn puppy that isn't breathing will depend on a variety of factors such as why the puppy is struggling to breathe in the first place and your quick intervention.
Newborn puppies who have trouble breathing upon being born are often premature puppies who have some form of underdevelopment of their respiratory tract. These puppies may not always be saved as have trouble properly inflating their lungs and some of these pups may need to be placed in an incubator with a certain oxygen level and around-the-clock care.
In normally developed pups, problems with breathing are often due to the presence of amniotic fluid or mucus in their lungs. These puppies may gurgle or bubble and be incapable of giving out a strong cry. With small nostrils, large tongues and small airways, it can be difficult for newborn puppies to get rid of these secretions. Never hold these struggling pups with their head higher than their lungs until they are capable of emitting a strong cry. Rather, they should be held at a head-down angle and a suction bulb should be used to withdraw fluids from their mouth.
What if the puppy is still struggling? Veterinarian Dr. Betsy Brevitz in the book "The Complete Healthy Dog Handbook" suggests in the case of a newborn puppy not breathing or moving, cupping the puppy in the hands, ensuring that the puppy's head and neck are well supported, and gently swinging it with its head pointing down for the purpose of draining any fluids from the nose and throat.
Afterward, the puppy's sides should be rubbed vigorously with a towel (simulating mom's tongue) so to stimulate it to breath. This brisk stimulation promotes circulation which will encourage the puppy to take deep, life-sustaining breaths.
How to Give a Newborn Puppy CPR
As seen, whether you can save a newborn puppy that isn't breathing will depend on a variety of factors, but it's always worth trying though. It is not unheard of a few apparently stillborn puppies to respond to the efforts of resuscitation. The below method of resuscitation along with shaking a puppy as described above has revived several listless puppies who weren't breathing.
Now a word of caution is needed here: never blow air into the mouth of a puppy who is gurgling and never blow air into a puppy's nose and mouth before it has been shaken and had fluids removed! These actions will only force the amniotic fluid into the lungs causing potential asphyxiation! The puppy basically drowns in its own fluids.
Administer CPR only after you have using the bulb syringe and shaking-down method several times so that you have cleared the airways as much as possible as these airways must be clear before you can perform CPR. Here's a brief guide on how to do CPR in a newborn puppy.
Wrap your hand around your pup's chest with the fingertips in contact with the ribcage right below the elbow. Pump your fingers in rapid 2 to 3 pumps for the purpose of stimulating the heart and expel any oxygen in the pup's lungs. These "finger compressions" are basically the equivalent of the chest compressions used in human CPR.
Next, immediately put the puppy’s nose and mouth into your mouth so that no air will escape. Gently blow 2-3 very small breaths into the puppy’s mouth and nose. Use caution: if you exhale your full breath, you can burst the puppy’s lungs, as it is still very small and developing. Do not blow air that you have purposely exhaled, simply use your cheeks to gently push air into the lungs. Give 4 breathes, then do a rep of finger compressions, until the puppy starts breathing again. Keep repeating this sequence several times, for as long as 20-30 minutes.
Check every five minutes that the puppy’s heart is beating. Keep trying, giving breaths and checking the heartbeat for 20 minutes. In newborn puppies, the pulse can be found just under the puppy’s front leg armpits. Gums that start getting pink rather than white or blue is promising. When the puppy begins to breathe again, simulate the mother’s tongue by rubbing the puppy briskly with a towel or cloth and patting the back.
Importance of Seeing the Vet
If your puppy has still problems breathing after performing CPR, it's important to see the vet. Your vet will likely have on hand a powerful respiratory stimulant called Dopram, also known as doxapram hydrochloride, which aids newborn puppies to breathe in case of a crisis. Oxygen may also be released through a facemask or endotracheal tube.
Newborn puppies are prone to getting fluid in her lungs, which is known as aspiration pneumonia. They may also get infectious pneumonia. If the affected puppy's littermates are perfectly fine, it's most likely a case of aspiration pneumonia rather than the infectious form which is easily contagious. Pneumonia in puppies is a serious and life-threatening condition that requires veterinary attention under the form of antibiotics, oxygen and nebulization.
At home, owners who cannot bring their pup with possible pneumonia to the vet immediately can temporarily provide relief by running a hot shower, letting the puppy breathe in the steam and then lightly tapping both sides of the chest, which is known coupage, explains veterinarian Dr. John.
-The Complete Healthy Dog Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Keeping Your Pet Happy, Healthy & Active [Betsy Brevitz D.V.M
-Breeding a Litter by Beth J Finder Harris
-Small Animal Pediatrics: The First 12 Months of Life - Michael E. Peterson, Michelle Kutzler - Google Books