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How Colostrum Gives Puppies a Head Start

What's more fascinating than the power of colostrum and its role in helping puppies! When puppies are born, it's important that they receive their healthy dosage of colostrum. This great "starter kit" produced by mother dog gives puppies an important head start in life. It's important for breeders to ensure that the puppies in their care get their first dose of this very important gift of nature. Failure to receive colostrum at birth may lead to sickly puppies and even death.

Mother's Liquid Gold

puppies nursing

What is exactly colostrum and why is it so important for newborn puppies? Colostrum is a special type of yellow and thick "pre-milk fluid" that's produced by mother dog.

When puppies are in the womb, they are protected by the placenta which provides them with essential nutrients and does a decent job in blocking harmful substances.

However, once puppies are born, this protection ends abruptly and puppies are left in a vulnerable state, with an underdeveloped immune system and exposure to microorganisms in their environment.

Fortunately, colostrum, which is absorbed by the pups' intestinal tract, contains important antibodies, vitamins, electrolytes, and nutrients that are meant to protect the vulnerable puppies against disease.

"It is well known that colostrum, found in mothers’ milk, is rich in immunoglobulins, growth factors and other active compounds that stimulate the immune systems of newborn puppies and kittens, and support gastrointestinal (GI) health. " ~Arleigh Reynolds, board-certified veterinary nutritionist

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Passive Immunity

This method of transferring immunity is known as "passive immunity" and in this case it refers to the immediate transfer of antibodies from mother dog to her newborn pups until they're capable of synthesizing their own antibodies.

Puppies will only receive antibodies against diseases that mother dog has been vaccinated against. If mother dog's vaccination status is not current, there are risks that the pups will not receive antibodies. This is why it's important making sure the prospective mother dog has been vaccinated before breeding.

"A bitch that had not been vaccinated against or exposed to parvovirus, would not have any antibodies against parvovirus to pass along to her puppies. The puppies then would be susceptible to developing a parvovirus infection." Race Foster, DVM.


Time is of the Essence

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Ingestion of colostrum is time-sensitive as it's produced only for a certain time and puppies aren't always able to absorb it. According to veterinarian Race Foster, newborn puppies are able to absorb its vital nutrients only during the first 18 hours (or less) of life.

After a certain time-frame, even though mother dog's milk may still contain some level of antibodies and nutrients, puppies may no longer be able to absorb colostrum because it's broken down and no longer able to pass through the pups' intestinal mucosal lining.

What to do if a puppy doesn't have access to colostrum? If for some reason your puppy cannot nurse, ask your vet about giving oral doses of blood serum or plasma from a healthy dog, suggests veterinarian Ron Hines.

"Remember, newborns lose the ability to absorb antibodies at approximately 18 hours post-partum." ~Race Foster DVM

Colostrum for Dogs

colostrum for dog

Giving colostrum to adult dogs is a subject of debate. On one hand you have those claiming that since puppies cannot absorb colostrum past the first 18 hours, adult dogs are unlikely to gain any benefit from its use.

On the other hand, there are those who claim that dogs are still capable of absorbing colostrum which can be beneficial. According to VCA Animal Hospital, once ingested, colostrum appears to still be able to exert a local effect on the intestinal tract and on the skin and mouth when applied topically.

Veterinarian Steven R. Blake believes that colostrum aids the dog's body by strengthening the intestinal tract which prevents harmful viruses, bacteria, yeast, parasites and toxins from entering through the gut wall.

He recommends using only colostrum coming coming from pasture-fed dairy cows who aren't treated with hormones, antibiotics, pesticides or raised on dead food. Anecdotal evidence suggests several benefits in giving dogs colostrum or lactoferrin; however controlled studies are lacking.

Did you know? Newborn puppies who have received adequate colostrum from their mothers don't respond to vaccines because mom’s maternal antibodies interfere. This is why puppies are vaccinated every 3 to 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. Eventually, at some point during this time frame one or more vaccines will “take," explains veterinarian Dr. Ken Tudor.

idea tip


  • Encyclopedia of Animal Science (Print), edited by Wilson G. Pond
  • Pet Education, Colostrum and Passive Immunity, by Race Foster, retrieved from the web on February 19th, 2016.
  • Center for Nutritional Research, Colostrum and Pets, an interview with Steven R. Blake, retrieved from the web on February 19th, 2016.
  • Pet MD, Vaccination Programs for Puppies and Kittens, by Dr. Ken Tudor, retrieved from the web on February 19th, 2016.
  • Chastant-Maillard, Sylvie & Freyburger, Ludovic & Marcheteau, Elie & Sandra, Thoumire & Ravier, Jean-François & Reynaud, Karine. (2012). Timing of the Intestinal Barrier Closure in Puppies. Reproduction in domestic animals = Zuchthygiene. 47 Suppl 6. 190-3. 10.1111/rda.12008.

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