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Colostrum Intake & Neonatal Mortality

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)


|January 2015

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Neonatal mortality within 3 weeks of birth is highly prevalent in puppies (17%–26%) and has not been well studied. Puppies are born with few to no gammaglobulins, and adequate passive immune transfer through colostrum intake is a key component affecting neonatal mortality. Quality of passive immune transfer is evaluated by measuring concentration of immunoglobulin G (IgG) in neonatal blood. In puppies, IgG absorption at 4 hours of life is decreased 2-fold compared with absorption at birth, decreasing to nearly nothing at 12–16 hours.

IgG concentrations 2 days after birth were measured in 149 puppies from 34 litters; levels correlated significantly with weight gain. Seventy randomly selected puppies were supplemented orally with hyperimmunized adult plasma twice within the first 8 hours of life. A minimal IgG concentration at or below 230 mg/dL was associated with a significant increase in mortality. Puppy IgG concentration was significantly correlated with growth rate but not with breed size, sex, supplementation, litter size, or colostrum IgG concentration. Oral IgG supplementation with hyperimmune plasma did not decrease risk for mortality or improve serum IgG concentration at 2 days of age. This study demonstrated an association between neonatal mortality and passive immune transfer. Because no alternative source of immunoglobulins has proven to be effective, attention must be paid to colostrum intake within the first 12 hours of life.

Global Commentary

“Attention must be paid to colostrum intake within the first 12 hours of life; it is important to focus on those puppies that are known not to have obtained colostrum.”

One of the basic principles of animal husbandry is that newborn animals need to take in colostrum in the first hours of life to provide passive immunity (in the form of maternal antibody) to protect them from infectious disease in the neonatal period. This phenomenon has been well investigated in farm animals and horses, but this study provides a nice evidence base for what we have all believed to be the case for puppies as well. This could not have been an easy study to undertake—who would fancy taking jugular blood from 149 2-day-old puppies or stomach tubing 70 puppies at 4 and 8 hours after birth? The study reinforces the importance of puppies taking in adequate colostrum with clear statistical evidence that those that do not “fail to thrive.” However, it is interesting that providing oral hyperimmune serum in addition to colostrum did not decrease the incidence of puppy mortality. In a practical context, it is important to focus on those puppies that are known not to have obtained colostrum. These should still be supplemented with milk replacer mixed with hyperimmune serum, even though (as suggested by this study) that might be less effective than ingesting true colostrum.— Michael J. Day, BSc, BVMS(Hons), PhD, DSc, DiplECVP, FASM, FRCPath, FRCVS

This capsule is part of the WSAVA Global Edition of Clinician’s Brief.


For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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