Physical examination of the newborn is important to look for congenital defects and early signs of illness or potential for
illness since deterioration of neonates can occur suddenly and progress rapidly. Prematurity as well as labor that is difficult
or prolonged contribute to poor vigor of offspring. A soft, warm surface should be provided for examination of the neonate.
Ideally, the physical exam should take place away from the mother in an area that has not been recently exposed to pets with
infectious disease. Inspection of the newborn's hair coat may reveal that the dorsal aspect of the feet have a paucity of
hair, which can be a subtle clue that the newborn is slightly premature. The following responses should be checked in all
neonates to help determine their strength and general health:
Suckle response- Gently insert a clean, warm finger into the newborn's mouth. The normal newborn will suck on the inserted finger.
Righting response- Place the neonate on its back on a towel. The normal neonate will right itself quickly when placed in this position.
Rooting response- Using the fingers of one hand, encircle the puppy or kitten's muzzle close to the eyes. The normal neonate will respond
by pushing vigorously against the encircling fingers.
Although checking these responses and the anogenital reflex described below may provide some limited information about the
neurologic system, neonatal neurologic evaluation is difficult due to incomplete development of neuronal pathways.
A rectal temperature should be part of the general physical examination. The normal body temperature in neonates is lower
than that of an adult due to undeveloped shivering and peripheral vasoconstriction abilities, lack of body fat, and a comparatively
large body surface area. In the first week of the newborn's life the body temperature is in the range of 95° – 99° F,
rising to a range of 97° – 100° F during the 2nd week, and reaching an adult range by the 4th week of life. Neonates that have low body temperatures and will not remain with the mother and rest of the litter should be placed in a
small box with bedding and warmed carefully using a hot water blanket, rice socks, a heating lamp, an incubator, or a circulating
water blanket. Avoid the use of heating pads. Neonates that have poor suckle, righting, and/or rooting responses or that
consistenly have a low body temperature should be further evaluated for illness and monitored closely. The neonate's heat rate and character of heart sounds should be evaluated along with the respiratory rate and character.
Normal heart rate for the newborn is approximately 200 BPM and normal respiratory rate is in the range of 15 – 35 breaths
per minute. Although cardiac murmurs associated with congenital defects or other illness may be detected on auscultation of
the chest, it should be remembered that innocent murmurs may also be present, especially in large to giant breed dogs. Urine
and feces can be evaluated by stimulating urination and defecation through gently stroking the anogenital area (anogenital
reflex) with a moist cotton ball. Newborn puppies and kittens should be examined for signs of trauma sustained during delivery,
including inspecting the umbilicus for discharge, redness, or swelling since umbilical infection can lead to life-threatening
septicemia. Neonates should also be inspected for the presence of congenital defects such as cleft palate or lip, atresia
ani, open fontanelles, limb deformities, stenotic nares, cardiac defects, umbilical or inguinal hernia, anasarca ("walrus
puppies"), and swimmer puppies ("flat-puppy syndrome"). In breeding programs the hereditary and ethical aspects of congenital defects which have been identified should be discussed
with the breeder.
General considerations for care and monitoring of the newborn during the first two weeks of life are listed below:
1. Monitor weight of the neonate closely. Frequently one of the first signs of illness in neonates is failure to gain
weight. A feline neonate weighing < 90 grams at birth has a poorer chance for survival.
OPTIMUM BIRTH WEIGHT FOR NEONATES
2. Due to the neonate's lower body temperature, the ambient temperature should be maintained in a range of 86° – 90°
F where the puppies or kittens are housed. The temperature can gradually be lowered over the next few weeks to 75° F.
3. If desired, dewclaw removal and tail docking may be performed in appropriate breeds at 3 – 5 days of age.
4. Deworming for hookworms and roundworms with pyrantel pamoate (Nemex®) should be initiated at 2weeks of age and repeated
every 2 weeks until weaning
5. External parasites should be addressed as previously described in the description of care for the pregnant and lactating
bitch or queen.
6. Observe the neonate for crusts, pustules, focal areas of alopecia, and/or moist exudative lesions which can indicate
the presence of pyoderma, dermatophytosis, parasites, or irritants and treat appropriately, including environmental measures
needed for control. Umbilical infections usually occur during the first four days of life and may result from genital infection
of the bitch or queen frequently resulting from stool contamination. Umbilical infection can lead to a local abscess or septicemia.
Treatment of an abscess generally includes draining and flushing the abscess, antibiotics, and supportive care. Preventative
measures include umbilical disinfection at birth, proper sanitation, and antibiotic administration for genital infection of
the bitch prior to whelping or queening. Neonatal conjunctivitis can occur and often results in bulging of the eyelids due
to purulent exudate accumulating behind them prior to opening at 8 – 10 days of age. Treatment consists of application of
warm compresses to the eyelids followed by gentle separation of the eyelid margins with subsequent topical antibiotic ointment
7. Monitor newborn puppies and kittens for potential signs of developing illness such as lack of activity, isolation
from the rest of the litter, failure to nurse, failure to gain weight, excessive crying, and low or high body temperature.
The occurrence of any of these signs warrants further evaluation by the veterinarian.