In the wild, a newborn puppy must survive only on the care the mother dog is able to provide. For domestic dogs, however, a little human intervention can go a long way toward preventing serious problems. Inspecting and cleaning the umbilical cord stump at birth and for the first few days of life can mean the difference between a healthy start and a life-threatening infection.
Shortly after giving birth, a mother dog will chew through both the sac that contains the puppy and the umbilical cord. The crushing action of chewing normally seals the cord shut just enough to stop the bleeding. Once the puppy is out of the sac, the mother will lick him clean. This stimulates breathing and circulation, and cleans up the umbilical cord. At this point there should be a small stump of the cord left attached, about an inch or less, and it should not be bleeding. Don't let the mother continue to chew on the cord. Apply some iodine, lidocaine topical liquid or rubbing alcohol to the end of the umbilical cord to ward off infection. If it continues to bleed, contact your veterinarian.
If the mother dog has difficulty during labor or does not follow her instinct to release the puppy from the sac and chew the cord, human intervention is necessary. Break the sac, rub the puppy vigorously with a clean towel, and tie the cord off about 1/2 inch from the puppy's belly with thread or dental floss. Cut the cord with a pair of scissors that have been cleaned with alcohol, using a crushing-type motion that pinches the ends of the cord together. Wipe or dip the cord in rubbing alcohol, iodine or lidocaine topical solution.
The first 24 hours, before the umbilical cord has really started drying out, it is especially vulnerable to infection. Dip or wipe the cord with alcohol, lidocaine topical solution or iodine several times throughout the day to prevent infection and promote drying. Each time, check the cord for any signs of infection, such as oozing fluid or blood, swelling, foul odor or redness around the base. Contact your veterinarian if there are any signs of infection.
After the first 24 hours have passed, the cord should be dried enough to be hard and fibrous. Wipe it or dip it once per day, checking for signs of infection, until it falls off at the base. Keep the cord clean and dry by changing or washing bedding as soon as it becomes soiled, and wiping the puppy clean if he soils himself. The cord stump should fall off in about two or three days. Check the skin and belly button where it fell off for any signs of infection. A small light pink mark is normal, but any redness, swelling or oozing indicates an infection that should be treated by a veterinarian.
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