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First milk

When they are born, the puppies abandon a sterile environment (the uterus) and find themselves exposed to various microorganisms, all potentially pathogenic.

Newborn puppies are therefore particularly vulnerable to infections in the first weeks of life and require protection to survive. The assistance against infections is guaranteed by the mother, who transfers immunoglobulins through the placental passage first and with the colostrum immediately after birth, guaranteeing the first level of protection immediately to the newborn. The transfer of immunity from mother to newborn is essential for the survival of the puppy.

The dog's placenta is endotheliocorphic, the epithelium of the chorion is in contact with the endothelium of the maternal capillaries: this type of placentation allows the passage of only a certain amount (about 10-12% of the total concentration) of antibodies and more precisely IgG, from the maternal to the fetal circulation starting from the 45th day of gestation until birth. The remaining part of the IgG class antibodies is acquired immediately after birth with colostrum. With a normal ingestion and correct colostrum absorption, a total of 95% of maternal antibodies is transferred to the puppy. This fact shows the extreme importance of a correct vaccination plan of the mother before each pregnancy.

Colostrum, also known as the "first milk", is a serous yellow liquid that represents the secretions accumulated in the mammary gland during the last third of gestation. The color is given by an abundant presence of carotene. It is secreted for 24-72 hours after delivery and the quantity produced depends on the number of puppies and the size of the mother. There are no data in the literature that indicate the amount of colostrum produced by the dam as there are no tests that determine the quality of the colostrum. In addition to the normal substances that make up milk, like water, proteins, amino acids, lipids and minerals, colostrum contains a large amount of Ig (immunoglobulins).

The immunoglobulins also commonly called antibodies, are produced by the body for defensive purposes against viruses and bacteria (antigens). They are large protein molecules made up of chains of hundreds of amino acids. Some circulate in the blood, others in the lymphatic system, while others reside in the mucous membranes and act as a barrier against the attacks of viruses and bacteria. Immunoglobulins are present in all mammals, including humans and are subdivided into different classes: IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG and IgM, each of which has different functions and tasks. Colostrum also contains trypsin inhibitors that reduce the proteolytic activity of the digestive enzymes of the stomach and duodenum of the newborn and antimicrobial factors such as lactoferrin (a powerful natural antibacterial agent), cytokines (anti-carcinogenic agents), some enzymes, glycoproteins, lysozyme, lymphokines (which include anti-cancer substances). The antitripsins also contribute to increase intestinal absorption of growth hormone (GH), the maximum concentration of GH is found immediately after delivery, then decreases rapidly and after 4 days is 10 times lower. Another interesting parameter concerns alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) that in colostrum are 10 and 1000 times higher than maternal serum. These very high values in colostrum also affect the puppy's serum for at least seven days and therefore the measurement of these elements in the blood of the puppy would allow to verify the successful intake of a good colostrum.

The numerous properties of colostrum can fully explicate only if the active components arrive intact in the intestine. In fact, in the intestine, pathogens begin to carry out their pathological action. It is therefore in the intestinal tract that it is played a large part of the defensive strategies of organism by both the immune system and the probiotic flora. The attack on the walls of the intestine by bacteria and viruses is in the vast majority of cases the first step in the onset of diseases. The intestinal mucosa of newborn puppies is able to absorb intact the Ig contained in the colostrum, but the time interval during which the intestinal mucosa remains permeable and therefore allows the passage of immunoglobulins from the intestinal lumen to the newborn's blood is limited: in puppies of dog the maximum absorption happens 8 hours after the birth while the "closing" happens after 24-36 hours. Through colostrum 90% of antibodies against parvovirus, 99% of antibodies against hepatitis and 77% of antibodies to distemper are transmitted. The lack of colostrum during the critical period, when the intestine is open to the absorption of the colostrum's own substances, can seriously compromise the health of the newborn puppy. This situation may occur either due to the dam's inability to produce colostrum or to the puppy's inability / impossibility to suckle properly.




Colostrum of poor quality Weakness Mastitis or metritis Temperature too low
Insufficient production Hypothermia Dystocia Noise
Breast pain Malformations in lips and palate Fever or hypothermia Premature or late delivery
Rejection of puppies   Death of mother  
Maternal instinct exaggerated in care that prevents puppies from feeding      


If, for one of the reasons listed above, the puppy has not taken the colostrum, passive immunity may be conferred through the administration of maternal blood serum or a correctly vaccinated adult, at a dose of 22 ml / kg of weight of the puppy ( possibly divided into various administrations) by mouth within the first 24 hours of life or subcutaneously in puppies born more than 24 hours. If failure to ingestion of colostrum is due to a delay / scarcity of the start of production of "mature" milk, the dam may be helped by subcutaneous administration of 2 IU of oxytocin every 15-20 minutes. Also metoclopramide (0.1-0.2 mg / kg three times a day) or domperidone (2.2 mg / kg twice a day) help increase the milk production as well as acupuncture in points LI4 and SI1.


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