We are always excited about a new litter of puppies but that doesn’t mean that everything goes smoothly. In fact, many breeders plan for problems so that they can be pleasantly surprised if there are none. One problem that can be seen with newborn puppies is that they are congested. In this article, we will look at why a puppy sounds congested and what to do to help him or her feel better.
What is Congestion?
When we use the word congestion, we are talking about the build up of fluid in the puppy’s upper respiratory system and/or lungs. It can have a number of symptoms, including:
- Runny nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Rattling sound when breathing
- Snuffling sound
In very young puppies, congestion can be life threatening if it is not treated quickly.
Complications for a Congested Puppy
While it may not seem like a big issue, a congested puppy can suffer from a lot of complications.
First, a puppy that is congested may not want to eat or may find it difficult to nurse and breath at the same time. This means puppy may not nurse. This can be very bad for the puppy as he could become hyperglycemic and could die because of this.
Second, if the congestion is in the upper respiratory, he should be fine, however, if the fluid moves down into the lungs, or starts there, he runs the risk of developing pneumonia, which can only be treated with antibiotics and may result in the death of the puppy.
Once congestion progresses further, then there are complications with fevers that can spell disaster for your puppies.
Why is my Puppy Congested?
While you may understand how serious a congested puppy is, you may not realize why the puppy is congested. There are actually several reasons why a puppy will be congested. These are:
- Inhaled Fluids During Delivery: Puppies can inhale fluids during delivery or can have delivery fluids in their throat and nose. If this liquid isn’t removed after birth, it can develop into congestion.
- Inhaled Milk: When nursing, and especially when bottle fed, puppies can inhale milk. This often happens when they overeat and milk bubbles out of their nose. When that happens, they inhale it when they take a breath. This is often a very common reason for a congested newborn puppy.
- Illness: Puppies can get infections and respiratory illnesses and this can be the reason for your puppy to sound congested. In this case, you will need to speak to your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.
Treatment # 1: Suction
This is very handy right after delivery and I always recommend that breeders have an infant suction bulb handy for deliveries. Once puppy is born, you can place the bulb into the puppy’s mouth and suction out any fluid and mucus. You can repeat in the nose but it is important to be careful when you do.
Another option is to use the DeLee Suction Catheters for this treatment. They are very handy and I find they are much more effective for removing mucus.
With older puppies, you can use the suction to carefully alleviate congestion and to help your puppy breath. Again, you can take it from the mouth of the puppy, but I often hold one nostril closed and then suction that other side carefully.
Be sure to use sterilized suction devices every time you go to suction out the congestion to help prevent cross contamination or infections.
Treatment # 2: Antibiotics
Depending on the type of congestion, you may need to treat it with antibiotics. This means that your vet will have to assess the puppy and determine if he needs it.
For myself, I usually call the vet if the puppies are not getting better after 24 hours, unless they start to take a turn for the worse and then I go sooner. After that point, my vet will assess and will usually opt on the side of caution and prescribe a low dose of puppy safe antibiotics.
With antibiotics, you should continue treatments as you would without them. Keep puppies warm, try to remove congestion and break it up. The antibiotics may upset the puppy’s tummy so I usually increase the number of meals with smaller portions so that puppy is constantly getting fluids. If the antibiotics upset the stomach, the frequent meals means he won’t go too long without eating.
Treatment # 3: Warmth
It is important for puppies to stay warm, and this is included when they are congested. Puppies that are warm and dry are less likely to have more serious infections.
In addition, it can help dry out the fluid in their lungs and throat that is making them sound congested. To help with keeping them extra warm, you can set up a whelping box with a heating lamp. The heating lamp will make it a little drier and will dry out the mucus in their nose.
Be sure to check their temps and don’t make it too warm, as that can cause other problems.
As an alternative, you can use an incubator to help with keeping a congested puppy
Treatment #4: Steam and Humidity
Another way to help a puppy that is congested is to use humidity and steam. There are two things that you can use.
The first treatment, you can set up a vaporizer near their whelping box. You don’t want it directly in but close enough that the steam from it can get into the whelping box. Turn it on and run it through the day. Give them a few breaks but I find that the moisture often helps break up heavy congestion.
The other treatment is to take the puppy into the bathroom. Close the doors and turn the shower on at full heat. Sit in the bathroom as it fills with steam, holding the puppy in a blanket. When it is filled with steam, sit in the bathroom for 10 to 20 minutes.
Be sure to keep a dry blanket just outside the bathroom and wrap the puppy in the dry blanket as you leave the bathroom. The damp from the steam shower can lead to more complications if you aren’t careful.
Repeat several times a day until the congestion is gone.
Treatment # 5: Handling
While this isn’t a treatment exactly, I did want to mention handling as a part of treatment. When a puppy stops thriving, they start to flatten out. Some breeders believe that handling prevents this flattening and, subsequently, prevents the puppies from dying.
For myself, I find that handling the puppies a lot, moving the positions that they are laying, helps to work that congestion out of the puppy. I will pick them up, burp them like a baby and tip them down to help with drainage.
This type of handling does see some of the congestion come out and then I reach for other treatments to remove it fully.
When to Seek Medical Help for a Congested Puppy?
With a congested puppy, I generally watch how they are over the course of one day. If none of the treatments are working, I take them to the vet. Often times, it is nothing, but my vet will do a course of antibiotics to stave off any infection that might happen.
However, if you find the pup is lethargic, is not eating and is gasping for air, you need to get him to the veterinarian immediately. Puppies can quickly go from thriving to very sick in only a matter of hours and you can lose the window where you can save the puppy.
In the end, a congested newborn puppy can be cause for concern but if they dry out and the congestion goes away, you should be fine.
Taking care of a congested puppy can be time consuming but if you follow a strict treatment plan, your puppy should turn the corner quickly and will soon be breathing well on his own without the congestion. Remember, to treat a congested newborn puppy, you will want to use as many of the treatment options as you can.