Caring for Newborn Puppies

Newborn puppy by mama's feet
If a puppy's mama can't provide for him you will need to care for the newborn puppy.

In an ideal world, the mama dog would be able to provide everything all of her puppies need, but in the real world, you may need to step in to assist if she can’t or won’t care for them properly. If a litter is especially large or if there are problems during whelping, she may be physically unable to take care of all of the puppies’ needs. In some cases, a mother might reject one or more of her pups, particularly if they are sickly or under-sized.

Newborns have four major needs for the first few weeks of their lives: warmth, food, hygiene, and physical safety.

Keeping Newborn Puppies Warm

Newborns, particularly if they are very small, may have a hard time maintaining their body heat. Typically, puppies cuddle with each other or with their mother to conserve and share body heat. When one of the puppies becomes too warm, he or she will simply move away from the group to cool off.

To simulate this if you have to take over care of the pups, you will want to provide a temperature gradient so that one end of the puppies’ area is warm, the other cool. This can be done by providing a heating lamp over one end of the box. Alternatively, hot water bottles can be wrapped in blankets or towels and placed at one end of the pen.

Under no circumstances should a heating pad be used for puppies. If the pup falls asleep on a heating pad, he or she can be seriously burned, and the dog’s sharp teeth can easily puncture the protective coating over the electrical wires in both the pad and the cord, causing electrocution.

Feeding Newborn Puppies

Newborn puppies typically need to be fed every 2-3 hours. Although mother’s milk is best because of the immunity it passes from mother to pups, there are acceptable substitutes if mom is not up to the task. Puppies receive most of their immunity within twelve hours after birth, so make sure all of the puppies get to suckle at least once from the mama soon after they are born.

Human baby formula does not meet the nutritional needs of puppies and should not be used. The breeders at Leerburg Kennel recommend whisking together the following ingredients:

  • 10 oz. of goat's milk (may substitute 10 oz. of canned evaporated milk thinned with three ounces of boiled water)
  • 1 raw egg yolk
  • 1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 cup whole yogurt (not skim or fat free)
  • ˝ teaspoon of karo syrup
  • If you are using canned evaporated milk, boil the water then let it cool. Boiling water has a temperature of 212 °F, which is way too hot for the puppies. Once the water has cooled, you will make the formula, and then heat it on the stove to about 100 degrees.

    Care should be taken not to over-blend the ingredients to the point where bubbles form, as they can cause very painful gas bubbles. This formula can be kept in the refrigerator for up to seven days.

    Puppies should be fed only a liquid diet for the first 4 - 5 weeks, and then gradually weaned to solid food. To begin the weaning process, feed the formula in a dish for a few days to get the puppy weaned from the bottle. Once they have the lapping thing mastered, mix a small amount of puppy kibble or raw ground beef with the formula. As the pups are able to tolerate it, increase the amount of solids and decrease the amount of formula. By 8 weeks, the pups should be totally on solid food.

    Newborn puppy on towel
    Warmth and cleanliness are two components of newborn puppy care.

    Hygiene for Newborn Puppies

    If you’ve ever observed a mama dog with her puppies, you’ve no doubt noticed that she spends a lot of time licking them. This is not solely to remove that funky puppy smell. Licking a puppy’s belly and anus actually stimulates the dog’s intestines, preventing constipation.

    If you are taking over for the mama, use a washcloth soaked in warm water to gently rub each puppy’s belly and anus a couple of times each day. If it’s warm outside, feel free to do this outdoors so the dog begins to associate being outdoors with going potty.

    You can give each puppy a warm sponge bath as needed to remove urine and any leftovers stuck in his or her fur and wrinkles. At this young age, however, soap and shampoo should not be used.

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