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Colostrum: how important is it for the puppy?

At birth, the puppy acquires the immunity necessary for its survival during the first hours thanks to the colostrum given to it by its mother through breastfeeding. What is this "first milk" and why is it so important for the newborn puppy? Are there alternatives?

What is colostrum?

Colostrum, a yellow to whitish-yellow liquid, is the "first milk" that a mammalian mother gives to her pup in the first few hours after birth. Colostrum is the first source of immunoglobulins after birth, so it fills the immune gap of the newborn. These proteins play a vital role in defending the body against bacterial and parasitic aggression.

They are certainly transmitted to the fetus during intrauterine life by the placenta, but only in infinitesimal doses, in the order of only 5% of systemic immunity in dogs. Immunoglobulins (Ig) are antibody-rich substances that are essential for the survival of the young. They are a barrier to pathogens and prevent them from binding to cells. Fortunately, colostrum is well supplied with them, since it provides nearly 95% of the immune system's needs. It is therefore the most important natural defense solution for the puppy and, more generally, for all mammals at birth.

Colostrum is also involved in :
  • Digestive immunity and the maturation of the digestive tract,
  • The contribution of essential elements to the growth of the puppy,
  • The protection of the newborn puppy against hypothermia.

Colostrum: the first hours of a puppy's life

As soon as he is born, the puppy must be suckled by his mother. It is only during the first 24 hours after birth that the passage of immunoglobulins into the bloodstream is possible due to intestinal permeability, because at that time the level of digestive enzymes is extremely low. It is therefore essential that the puppy has access to his mother's teats to suckle the colostrum. Colostrum is accumulated by the mammary glands but its secretion is very short-lived - 24 to 72 hours postpartum (after whelping). After that, the colostrum is replaced by the mother's milk.

If the puppy doesn't suckle the colostrum, he won't have this incredible immune protection because his body is unable to produce antibodies.

No colostrum for the puppy: what to do?

In some cases, a newborn puppy can't benefit from colostrum. The most common situations are as follows:
  • The puppy is too weak to reach the mother's nipples or the litter is too large,
  • The bitch rejects her puppies and does not let them suckle,
  • The bitch is dead at whelping.
If the puppy is too weak, the master can help him to reach the teats. If the mother rejects her puppies, it is then necessary to collect her colostrum as soon as possible to give it to the puppies by means of adapted and perfectly sterilized bottles since the puppies are not yet immunized. To keep all its benefits, colostrum must be kept in the best conditions. It can even be frozen.

If the puppies are orphaned, it is essential to opt for a substitute feeding. You should buy a colostrum milk supplement adapted to the puppy. It is a fundamental antimicrobial and immuno-protective food that can also be given to newborn canine puppies in case of lactation pathology in their mother for example.

Knowing the importance of colostrum for puppies, an owner must take care to do everything possible to ensure that his bitch is in perfect health. To prevent her from passing on poor quality colostrum, it is imperative that she be given a complete diet throughout her pregnancy, suitable for females expecting puppies. But it is just as important during lactation.