White stools in newborn kittens/puppies: what does it mean?

Here is a question I am often asked: “What does it mean when white stools are observed in newborn puppies/kittens? ” (and by newborns I mean puppies/kittens less than 3 weeks of age). This is usually typical clinical expression of malabsorption/maldigestion, the white color representing the milk the newborns were not able to properly digest. One thing I am sure of: this should always be taken seriously. Quick dehydration and hypoglycaemia could indeed follow, and those are often lethal in newborn kittens and puppies.

  • Septicemia vs greediness

“Normal” stools in newborn puppies and kittens are usually orange in color (see below), soft in consistency but neither hard nor liquid. Not always easy to observe since the mom usually eats them, but this is definitely something to pay attention to when raising a litter of kittens/puppies. If there is something going on, very often will you find clues (like signs of diarrhea for instance) inside the maternity.

Aspect of normal stools in newborn kittens and puppies.

There are two main reasons for white stools in these neonates:

-          Greediness: What happens when a pup or a kitten has a tendency to drink “too much” while suckling its mother? This milk overconsumption overwhelms its digestive capacities. Milk is no more properly digested, feces turn white and are often diarrheic.

 

-          Septicemia: Neonatal septicemia is still one of those grey areas of small animal veterinary medicine. They occur, for sure. But we don’t know much more about it. The germs causing the septicemia are usually coming from the mother (milk, oral cavity,…) or from the environment (for instance in case of inappropriate sanitation measures). They interfere with the digestive process, inducing maldigestion/malabsorption. When this occurs, neonates’ stools might turn white as well.

  • How to react in case it happens

How would you know if this occurs because of septicemia or greediness? Always hard to tell… Focus on the neonates and see if other clinical signs are observed as well. If you see weakness, seizures (usual signs of neonatal hypoglycaemia), puppies/kittens crying after suckling their mother (that can happen when the milk is contaminated) or anything else you judge abnormal, only one way to go: go straight consult your vet, a medical treatment might be necessary.

If the newborn seems to be doing ok and you suspect greediness, here are few things you can try at first:

-          Bottle-feed: this will allow you to control the amounts of milk the puppy/kitten receives on a daily basis and avoid the side-effects of its greediness. Certain milk replacers like our Babydog and Babycat milks are enhanced in terms of digestive safety (they contain prebiotics like FOS) that will help better regulate the digestive process. If it is just greediness, everything should come back to order in less than 24h. You can then try to let the neonate (s) suckle their mother again, but if the white stools come back, you might have to bottle-feed them until weaning them.

-           Remember that in newborn puppies/kittens, defecation and miction are reflexes mediated by the mother licking their perineum. In case you need to hand-rear canine and feline neonates, you need to stimulate the perineal area after each feeding to be sure they properly eliminate.

-          Monitor the newborns’ weigh gain: the rule of a thumb in small animal neonatology: a healthy puppy/kitten gains weight on a daily basis. If there was one thing I would definitely recommend you to have in your maternity, it’s a scale! Very often, when something’s wrong, weight loss will be the first clinical sign you will detect. After starting bottle-feeding them, you should observe this weight gain in the next 24h. If not, as we said before, go visit your vet. 

  • Neonates ≠ small adults !!!

I remember a phone discussion I had few years ago with one of my French breeder. He had experienced this very problem, white stools in his neonates, few months prior and was looking for some answers. He told me on the phone that he had some drugs remaining from a treatment he gave to one of his adult dogs. He was wondering if he could use it the same way in the newborns in case the white stools ever come back on one of his next litter.

“Call me prior, did I tell him. Neonates are NOT small adults.” Indeed posologies, frequency of administration, drugs that can be used are very different. I know automedication can be tempting, but think of the consequences: they can be devastating and increase the severity of the disease. Before using any medical alternative, again turn to your vet. Always a good idea to ask before doing a mistake…

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