We all want our newborn puppies to receive adequate nutrition and protection in their early days. I've been using fresh frozen serum or plasma as a replacement for colostrum supplementation and an immune booster for newborn pups.
Frozen serum/plasma is a natural immune booster that provides newborn puppies with the necessary molecular immune-boosting components essential in their first few days of life.
Serum/plasma contains antibodies that can help fight infection and provide passive systemic immunity in neonatal puppies. Serum/plasma can be used instead of colostrum to give these essential immune components. Like antibodies from mother's milk, passive immune transfer from serum/plasma can interfere with response to vaccination later. It's also important to note that maternal colostrum is always superior to serum/plasma (or supplemented colostrum), because the maternal colostrum also provides other factors for the protection of the puppies' guts.
Some studies have looked at components of the colostrum and milk of dogs and cats. Dam’s colostrum has a lot of two types of antibodies called IgG and IgA and has more of these antibodies than the dam’s blood has. Dam’s milk has more IgA than IgG, and again, more than the dam’s blood has.
When newborn puppies drink colostrum from their dam, the level of IgG in their blood goes up a lot, from 1.2 to 23 milligrams per milliliter. At the same time, the IgA and IgM levels also go up slightly. Blood IgG in puppies fed serum/plasma does not go up nearly as high when supplementing with serum/plasma, but studies still show substantial benefits, including increased immunity, weight gain, and survival rates. Antibody increase was noted in puppies that had plasma injections, but there are risks with that and should plasma should only be injected I puppies under the supervision of a qualified reproductive vet. Bottom line is: Use your bitch's natural colostrum whenever possible.
Most commercial colostrum comes from cows. While this does provide some benefits to neonatal puppies, cow (bovine) colostrum does NOT contain antibodies specific to canine disease, like their dam's colostrum will. (Think about it, cows don't need immunity against things like parvo or distemper and are not vaccinated for those, so you won't see those types of antibodies in their colostrum.) Bovine colostrum provides calories (which serum/plasma does not), which can significantly impact puppy health even if another source of antibodies is not given.
Colostrum and Fading Puppy Syndrome
Puppies without enough passive immunity transfer of antibodies from mother's colostrum have a higher risk of dying. This is often called "fading puppy syndrome." Puppies with sufficient antibodies from their dam are nine times less likely to die. The most common symptoms of fading puppy syndrome are not sucking, crying, diarrhea, losing weight, and not being able to stay warm. They are also much more susceptible to infections. Fading puppy syndrome is more common in large breed dogs, but can happen to any puppies.
Serum/plasma has also been shown to help puppies develop more robust microbiomes and grow better. And puppies with a more robust microbiome have better overall immunity since there's a relationship between neonatal gut microbes and the development of healthy immune tissue in the gut.
You can also use serum/plasma even if your bitch has provided them with colostrum as it's considered by many to add a "boost" to the puppies. Pups fed serum/plasma in the first 48 hours consistently show weight gain and are more vigorous than previous litters.
Some breeders also use serum/plasma to help prevent or manage "fading" puppies.
If your bitch has had a caesarian section, providing frozen serum/plasma for the pups becomes even more critical as the quality of the bitch's first colostrum may be compromised due to the antibiotics she received.
Serum vs Plasma
Serum and plasma are often used interchangeably, but there are some differences.
For both, the blood centrifuged and the red blood cells, since they are heavier, sink to the bottom, and the serum or plasma floats on top.
In simple terms, blood is allowed to coagulate before spinning to give you serum. For plasma, an anticoagulant is added before separating the red blood cells in a centrifuge.
Unfortunately, a lot of literature does not distinguish between plasma and serum and the terms are often used interchangeably by some veterinarians, even though they are not exactly the same.
Where to Get Serum/Plasma
There are two main sources for serum/plasma
Your own dogs
Purchasing from a vet or a canine plasma bank
I like to use serum or plasma from my own dogs. It's cheaper, easier, and there's an ample supply. Plus, I know their vaccination and disease history.
I am set up at home to progesterone test, so this means I can draw blood and have a centrifuge. If you are set up similarly, you can simply do the same. Typically, when I take blood for a progesterone test, I try to take a little extra so I can bank serum or plasma that way.
For serum, let the blood clot for 15-20 minutes before centrifuging at 2,000-3,000G for 10-15 minutes. Draw the serum off the pellet of red blood cells at the bottom of the tube and discard the red blood cells. Freeze immediately.
For plasma, do the same, but collect into a tube with an anticoagulant. Typically, you'll want to use citrate tubes (light blue tops). For best results, ask your vet what kind of tubes to use.
At the Vet
If you don't have any experience or or equipment to do this at home, simply take your dog to the vet and ask them to draw blood and centrifuge it for you. If you do this, be sure to keep the serum/plasma chilled on the way home and put it in the freezer immediately.
Purchasing Fresh Frozen Plasma
Using Serum/Plasma for your puppies
Here's what you need to know about using fresh frozen serum or plasma for neonatal puppies:
Keep serum/plasma frozen until use.
Do not mix serum/plasma with anything else (such as water, lactated ringers, etc) as that can affect the plasma's effectiveness.
To thaw, carefully warm the serum/plasma to body temperature. I put it in my bra or armpit to thaw and warm. Only warm the tubes you will use at each administration – keep the remaining ones in the freezer. Do NOT heat in warm water or microwave as this will denature/damage the proteins and render the product ineffective. Gently rock the tube during thawing; do not shake.
Like any other kind of nutrition or supplement for neonates, only give serum/plasma once puppies are dry and warm.
Discuss dosing with your veterinarian, but generally, it's around 3-5 cc per pound per puppy given three times in a twelve-hour span. Antibody absorption by puppies is highest within the first 4 hours post-birth, and virtually ceases after 12 hours. Therefore, my preferred approach is to give the first dose during the first 4 hours of life; the second, another 4 hours later, and the third, after another 4 hours. When tube feeding, it's possible to give the plasma all at once, but for syringe or dropper feeding, it's better to administer it gradually.
Discuss use of serum/plasma with your reproductive vet as there may be special considerations for puppies in certain situations. For example, if a puppy needs additional help fighting an infection, higher doses may be necessary. Ultimately, it is up to you and your vet to decide what the best course of action will be for your puppies' particular situation.
Serum/plasma can be given orally in the first 24 hours after birth either with a dropper, a syringe, or a feeding tube. After the pups are 12-24 hours old,it must be given by injection to be effective, and you'll want your vet to work with you on that. There have been reports of skin necrosis from subcutaneous plasma injections, so please consult your vet about risks versus benefits for your specific situation.
You can re-freeze serum/plasma once if it hasn't been at room temperature for over an hour or refrigerated for over 24 hours. I don't recommend refreezing multiple times as the serum/plasma is more likely to degrade.
Fresh Frozen Serum/plasma can also be given at any time during the first ten days of life if newborns appear to be fading. However, it is always best to consult your veterinarian to ensure proper administration.
More frequent transfusions of fresh frozen serum/plasma may be necessary for sick newborns. These transfusions are usually injected and should be given by a vet.
Plasma and Parvo or Canine Herpes
Plasma has also been used as a therapy for puppies with parvo or canine herpes virus (CHV), so consult your vet about using plasma if you are dealing with parvo or CHV.
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