Breather puppies are usually seen in the first 1-2 weeks of life. Causes appear to be related to decreased humidity which leads to drying of the mucous membranes, inflammation and obstruction of the upper airways; inadequate clearing of the airways during whelping; and “fat” palate problem in pups with overdone muzzles.
Clinical signs: These puppies are not happy. They move around the whelping box constantly, they can’t settle down. They will latch onto a nipple and nurse for a few seconds and then let go. Due to trouble breathing through the nose they can’t tolerate nursing for very long. They vocalize excessively and do a lot of open-mouth breathing. Then tend to lose weight or at least don’t gain like their littermates and become dehydrated. The moms get very irritable and fussy with these pups because they don’t know what to do. The prognosis is guarded. I’ve actually seen pretty good survival rates, but it requires early recognition and persistence in treatment for a few days.
Initial treatment involves:
- Increasing the humidity in the whelping area to greater than 50%.
- Antibiotic drops such as cephalexin, amoxicillin, or Clavamox®.
- Increase the environmental temp to 80 – 85 degrees.
- Saline nasal drops in the nose 4-6 times a day.
- Baby aspirin ¼ tablet twice a day.
If I don’t see a response in 12 -24 hours (some improvement) I add the following: 1. Triaminic drops (antihistamine) 2 drops twice a day or Benadryl® elixir (12.5mg/5ml) at 2-4 mg/kg three times a day.
If I still don’t see a response in another 12-24 hours I try Prednisolone 5 mg tablet ¼ tab every 6 hours for 24 hours only.
These pups need to nurse for small periods of time very frequently – throughout the night. They can’t breathe well so they can’t nurse for long periods of time. Generally if they survive 48 hours or so they will make it. Older pups with respiratory problems (8-16 weeks of age) and having trouble breathing are pneumonia pups and need veterinary care ASAP. I’ve also had colic pups with abdominal pain who act somewhat like breather pups. Warm compresses to the belly help move gas along and Hycodan® syrup 3 drops 2-3 times a day helps the pain.
Breather pups seem to occur more frequently in certain lines – I believe there is a genetic aspect to this problem.