How to Clean a Newborn Puppy When the Mother Didn't

A warm towel and a gentle touch are all that's needed to clean newborn puppies.
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When Mama Dog is close to delivery, her instincts usually kick in to guide her. She'll usually get a rhythm going that suits her, involving birth, cleanup and caring for her new little ones. But instincts are not foolproof, and sometimes Mom needs a little help.

Give Mom a Minute

Don't get concerned if Mama doesn't swoop in to clean her newborn immediately after it slides out. Childbirth is tiring, so give her a moment to catch her breath. Because of the protective amniotic membrane and afterbirth, newborn puppies generally have about six minutes of, well, breathing room inside their sac. In most cases Mama licks the sac open a minute or so after birth, freeing her baby, cleaning him off and stimulating breathing.

Lend A Hand

If Mama seems to be taking her sweet time getting to her newborn, you may need to roll up your sleeves and get your hands wet. Literally. If left too long in the sac, the puppy could suffer brain damage or die, so the quicker he's freed the better. Gently pick up the puppy and tear open the sac around his face. It's fairly thin and should tear easily if you pull it apart with your fingers. Once the sac is open, use a clean washcloth to wipe his little face dry and clear any fluids from his nostrils and mouth.

Nice and Dry

After the sac is opened, your next job is to clean and dry the pup. Have some warm, clean towels spread out on the floor and place the pup in the middle. Pull the edges of the towel in, as though you're wrapping the pooch up like a burrito, and firmly rub him until the sac and various fluids are absorbed. This should also encourage breathing, if he isn't already. Once all the ickiness of birth is cleaned up, you can place him back with his Mama for warmth and his first meal.

Cord Care

A typical puppy birth involves Mama licking the pup out of the sac, cleaning him up and severing the umbilical cord leading to the placenta with her teeth. If you've helped clean the puppy, be careful around his cord, as pulling it could cause internal damage. When he's clean and dry, place him near his Mama to see if she'll take care of the cord herself. If she doesn't, use clean thread to tie knots in the cord—one knot about an inch from the puppy's belly and the other about a quarter of an inch further along the cord. Use clean scissors to snip the cord between these knots and discourage infection by applying antiseptic to the cord still attached to the puppy.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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