Shaken puppy/kitten syndrom: how it can be prevented

I recently took part in a discussion on a social-media forum concerning neonatal resuscitation in puppies and kittens. The initial question was “what is the best technique to free the airways of the newborns after birth?” In my opinion that was a very good question: in neonatology (whichever species you focus on), airways must always be considered (BTW, that’s what the “R” in APGAR scores used in humans obstetrics stand for: Respiration). But when I looked at the first comments, I started to worry a little bit: there was a complete description on how to “properly swing the puppies/kittens in order to remove the extra-fluids”. Mmmm, apparently these people haven’t had the same bad experience I had back in the days. Let me tell you about it.

When I started as a young vet, we had an old vet tech working with us. She’d been there for more than 40 years and that’s how she was taught, back in the days, to resuscitate newborns kittens and puppies. So when we were doing a C-section and she was in charge of neonatal resuscitation, she was swinging the newborns to remove the fluids that could have accumulated in the airways. It’s true that by doing so, you’ll remove these extra-fluids, no doubt about this. But she always put a lot of energy in her swinging… Certainly too much I think. And once I observed some puppies nose-bleeding… We followed them and fortunately, they all turned out well. But at this time there were lots of discussions on the “shaken baby syndrome” in humans: we simply decided to banish this technique from our surgical block.  And we never went back to it.

Few years later this paper was published, clearly describing the consequences of what became the “shaken puppy/kitten syndrome”:

Ok… But what are the alternatives? Fortunately there are plenty, here is the one we were recommending and performing:

-          Vigorous massage of the thorax of the puppy/kitten using for instance paper towels

-          + Aspirating the content of the oral and nasal cavity with a suction

This is what I did during the last 7 years and I never ever saw a puppy/kitten nose-bleeding again. And we were able to resuscitate almost all these neonates that were born in our surgical block. I know that today the “swinging” technique is still being used out there, and many will tell me they’ve been doing this for years and they never had any issue. Knock on wood then. We now have evidence this technique can cause issues in newborn pets. And we have alternatives that are safe. I still believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And these issues can be easily prevented…

Remember we are all part of the same PRO community! Don’t hesitate then: share with us your experiences, ask your questions and let us know what you think! Social networks enable us to keep the discussion going, so whether you are a Facebooker or a Twitter-addict, you can – and should!- be part of it!


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Comment by Emmanuel PRO Technical Service on July 25, 2014 at 8:45am
Hi Ellie. Just read this comment you posted while I was on vacation. I do prefer to use the suction that you can see on the picture above I always had great results with it. You don't necessarily need to enter the nares, just bringing the device next to them and aspirating is usually enought to pull the fluids out. It can be bought at the pharmacy and is really cheap. I met some breeders who are also using pediatric suction devices from humane medicine, which are smaller and then can be inserted directly in the nares. These can be found in hospital supplies store. Hope this will help !
Comment by Ellie Smith on June 30, 2014 at 1:43pm

Hello Dr Fontaine!

I did have some questions after watching part two of breeding and reproduction for felines but then I found this article:) The only question I have is which device do you find works best for aspirating fluids safely from the airway of kittens after birth? Mine have very small nares when they are born and someone suggested a catheter tube connected to a syringe....thanks Ellie


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