The following is presented by a long-time breeder of Norwich and Scottish Terriers, Dorothea Sanderson and was originally printed in the Northern California Terrier Association Bulletin.
Always consult your veterinarian before trying any techniques with which you are not familiar. While tube feeding can literally be a lifesaver, it is not without risk to the puppy.
Occasionally a youngster or an entire litter needs a "jump-start" to get going. Sometimes it is because the mother's milk doesn't let down soon enough, or it simply may be a weak pup. If a mother has had a c-section, puppies may be a little slow getting started and require some supplementation.
Your veterinarian or emergency room vet is always ready to help teach you how to tube feed correctly so as not to damage the whelp. There are many books that give descriptions on the proper procedure. Here is another one to tuck away in your whelping book in case you need it sometime in the future.
Measure the tube (a #8 French Catheter works well) from the tip of the puppy's nose to the bottom of the last rib, following the line of the neck carefully. Mark the tube at that point, cut, and attach it to the plunger of a syringe.
When you insert the tube, put a drop of milk on the end and feed it gently into the throat. Do not force the tube. If you meet resistance, start again. The puppy will usually swallow the tube if it is inserted correctly and gently. If the puppy fights, it is probably because the tube is not going into the throat, as it should. Back up and try again. If the puppy swallows the tube, slowly press the plunger on the syringe. It isn't difficult, but it may be a little frightening the first time you try it.
In any case, keep the puppy warm! This is especially important after a c-section for both the mother and her family. Normally, a warm, active, twitching puppy should be no problem to tube feed. If the pups feel cool, cover them and keep them out of drafts.
Muriel Lee's book Raising and Whelping Puppies has some good illustrations on tube feeding. When my girls are whelping, that book is usually open somewhere near the whelping pen. The main concern with tube feeding is, keep yourself calm. Once you have done it successfully, you gain confidence and more self-assurance. Keep pressure on the tube when inserting it, but any resistance should alert you to try again.
Make sure that your equipment is kept clean. Wash everything after each feeding. You wash bottles for babies, make sure you do the same thing for your puppies! If you can get any milk out of the bitch, especially the colostrum-rich first milk, use it to feed the pups and give them the benefit and protection it provides. If you are using a commercial supplement or goat's milk, warm it and test it on your wrist just as you would do for a baby. Do encourage the pup to nurse on the mother every so often. Nursing helps to pull the milk down. I put the strong nursers on the smaller faucets to encourage milk flow!
Sometimes we lose the weakened pups no matter what we do, but at least we have tried. Ask your vet to show you how to measure and tube feed before your litter arrives so that if it does become necessary, you are prepared. It is just another tool to help puppies survive those first few days.
ANTIC, March 2002
(Posted with permission of author.)
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