Caring For Newborn Puppies

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Caring For Newborn Puppies

The Nursing Period

The puppies are here! It doesn’t get more exciting than the moments after delivery when you finally get a chance to meet the new litter. How many puppies are there? What colors are they? How many males or females? (Feel free to use WHELPING LOG FORM). It’s a heartwarming time as the mother dog forms a bond with her new puppies. Even if you have a healthy mother dog that loves her litter, you’ll still be involved with newborn puppy care.

Feel free to use the PUPPY DESCRIPTION FORM to record each puppy’s weight and identifying characteristics. We suggest using different colored paper collars to identify similarly marked puppies. Each record should be updated every day for the first two months of the puppies’ lives.

Weight gain is one of the biggest means to determine the health status of the puppies. If a puppy loses weight, start supplementary feeding, and contact your veterinarian. These records will prove helpful as a comparative record of growth. The less interaction you have with puppies under 4 weeks of age, the better, because they are very fragile and handling them may needlessly stress the mother.

A mother with newborn puppies will need a quiet, warm place (such as a WHELPING BOX), plenty of food and fresh water and opportunities to leave her puppies for short periods of time to eliminate. Most dog food bags include recommended portions for lactating mother dogs on the label. Lactating dogs tend to drink more than non-nursing dogs. Feed mom as much as she will eat – you cannot over feed a lactating dog.

A nursing mother does not need to interact with other pets, and she may become very aggressive if she fears her pups are in danger. Once the pups start eating on their own, they will begin exploring their environment and the mother will welcome help entertaining them, feeding them, and cleaning them. She’ll need longer periods away from them, perhaps in the yard by herself or short walks around the neighborhood. Take your cues from the mother; if she seems anxious away from her puppies, leave her with them.

Brand new puppies receive important protection from germs through antibodies in their mother’s milk during the first few days of nursing. Dog moms produce a milky-textured substance called colostrum that gives puppies the ability to fight off infections. It is essential that your puppy nurse for as long as possible to receive this substance.

  • Puppies should nurse vigorously and compete for nipples.
  • Newborns can nurse up to 45 minutes at a time.
  • Watch puppies nursing at least once a day to check that every puppy is nursing.
  • A great deal of activity and crying could indicate a problem with milk flow, quality or availability.
  • Puppies will sleep 90% of the time and eat the other 10%.

If their mother dies or rejects them, call your veterinarian to get the supplements they need to survive.

A puppy not nursing well may need to be helped by gently opening their mouths and placing them on a nipple. Squeezing a drop or two of milk may also help give them encouragement to nurse.

Nursing should be sufficient for most puppies. However, the use of a formula or simulated milk product will help save the borderline puppies. In special cases, your vet may suggest therapy using a special diet additive for dehydrated or weak puppies. (SEE TUBE FEEDING INSTRUCTIONS)


  • Puppies usually can drink and eat from a saucer by 4 weeks.
  • Weaning should be done gradually.
  • Introduce them to solid food by offering gruel, warmed canned food mixed with a little water in a shallow saucer. Placing one puppy by the plate of gruel and hope for the best – if she starts eating, great! Her littermates will probably copy her and do the same.
  • Some puppies may prefer to lick the gruel from your fingers. If this is the case; slowly lower your finger to the plate and hold it to the food. This way the puppies will learn to eat with their heads bent down. The puppies will get food everywhere. Be patient, sometimes it takes two or three meals before they catch on.


  • Feed gruel 4 times a day. Thicken the gruel gradually by reducing the amount of water.
  • Introduce dry food and water. If you are fostering a litter with their mother, continue weaning.
  • For reluctant eaters, try mixing some puppy milk replacer into the gruel or tempt the puppy with some meat-flavored human baby food mixed with a bit of water. The familiar formula taste and smell or the meat flavor of baby food is often more appealing to the picky eaters than dog food.
  • Once the puppy accepts the formula-based gruel or baby food, gradually mix in dry puppy food until the puppy has been weaned like the other puppies.


  • By this age, the puppies should be eating dry food well. Feed the puppies at least three meals daily.
  • If one puppy appears food-possessive, give him a separate dish and with plenty of food so that everyone can eat at the same time.
  • Puppies may not eat much at a single sitting; they usually like to eat at frequent intervals throughout the day.


  • Offer dry food 3 – 4 times a day. Leave a bowl of fresh water for them to drink at will.
  • If you have a litter with a bitch, she should only be allowing brief nursing sessions, if any.
  • Do not feed the puppies table scraps.


  • Offer dry food 3 times a day. Leave a bowl of fresh water for them to drink at will.
  • You can begin housetraining at four weeks of age. Use a pile of newspapers or training pads in a corner. After each feeding, place the puppy on the papers for him/her to go to the bathroom. Be patient!
  • They may not remember to do this every time, or may forget where to find the papers, but they learn quickly. Be sure to give the puppies lots of praise when they first start using their papers or cry to go out.
  • It is a good idea to confine the puppies to a relatively small space, because the larger the area the puppies, the more likely they will forget where the papers are. Keep the papers clean and away from their food.


Once the puppies are 5-6 weeks old and can tolerate time away from mom, you can begin to introduce them to other animals in your home. It is important for other animals in the home to be up to date on vaccines to provide protection to the puppies.

Their milk teeth are cut during this period. They learn to sit and touch objects with their paws. Puppies begin their socialization phase – they will be influenced by the behavior of their mother for the next six weeks. To socialize puppies, slowly increase the amount of handling, and get them accustomed to human contact. It is important not to expose them to anything frightening; children may seem intimidating and should be supervised closely while visiting to ensure gentle handling.


In the two first weeks of life, puppies are helpless and vulnerable. They are still developing basic reflexes, their hearing and vision is not fully developed, and they are unable to properly control their body temperatures. They should be kept warm in the nursery area, which they will do by sleeping together in a heap. Small litters and singletons need help keeping warm, singletons will also often find comfort in a stuffed fluffy toy to snuggle up to. Keep neonates away from heaters or cold drafts.

As the puppies get older, from 4-5 weeks of age, they can be allowed to roam a larger area of your house, but they should still be closely supervised and kept in a secured area when not confined to their nursing area.


  • Ear canals open between 5 and 8 days.
  • Eyes open between 8 and 14 days. They open gradually, from the nose outward. All puppies are born with blue eyes, and initially no pupils can be distinguished from the irises – the eyes will appear solid dark blue.
  • Healthy puppies will be round and warm, with pink skin.
  • When you pick a puppy up, it should wiggle energetically and when you put it down near the mom it should crawl back to her.
  • Healthy puppies seldom cry.


  • Adult eye color will begin to appear but may not reach final shade for another 9 to 12 weeks.
  • Puppies begin to see and their eyes begin to look and function like adult dogs’ eyes.
  • Puppies will start cleaning themselves, though their mother will continue to do most of the serious cleaning.
  • If there is a mother present, she will usually begin weaning by discouraging her puppies from nursing; however, some dogs (particularly those with small litters) will allow nursing until the puppies are old enough for permanent homes.
  • Some nursing activity is the canine equivalent of thumb-sucking, that is, for comfort only.
  • Even if puppies appear to be nursing, they may not be getting all the nutrition they need from mom. Make sure they are eating food and gaining weight.
  • Be sure that the puppies always have access to fresh water in a low, stable bowl.


  • At about five weeks, puppies can start to roam around the room, under supervision. The strongest, most curious puppy will figure out how to get out of the nest. The others will quickly follow. Be sure to take them to their papers or outside after meals, during play sessions, and after naps. These are the usual times that puppies need to eliminate.
  • Vaccinating and de-worming: Starting at about 4 weeks, puppies should get booster shots and de-worming every 2-3 weeks for a series of 3.


  • By this time, you have “mini-dogs.” They will wash themselves, play games with each other, their toys, and you, and many will come when you call them. This is a very entertaining time to have puppies – they play hard, sleep hard and are learning all about their world.
  • Socialization is key during this period to make sure the puppies learn not to be threatened by new things.


  • Puppies should now be ready for adoption if they are free of any symptoms of illness (runny nose, cough, diarrhea or hair loss).
  • Take pictures of your puppies individually, cropped horizontally, and titled by their animal ID number for your records.
  • Arrange for the puppies and mom to spayed or neutered and microchipped so they are ready for adoption.

Caring For Orphaned Puppies

You can give your orphans complete nutrition by buying a commercial puppy milk replacer (such as Esbilac), which can be purchased through your veterinarian or a pet supply store. Puppies should be fed approximately 8 times a day, or every two hours, the first week. The second week, decrease to 5 feedings a day. The third and fourth week they should get 4 feedings. Puppies can be weaned beginning in the fourth week.

Tube Feeding

Get Ready

  • Commercial milk replacers have feeding directions on the label and should be given at the puppy’s body temperature (about 100 degrees).
  • Milk should be warmed to body temperature. This is particularly essential when feeding one- to three-day old puppies, as their thermoregulatory mechanism is still poorly developed.
  • Measure the correct amount of milk into a microwaveable bowl (add 1 extra cc to be safe).
  • Microwave for 3-5 seconds so it reaches a lukewarm temperature. Put a drop of the formula on the inside of your wrist to make sure that it is lukewarm and not too hot. If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your puppy.
  • Use the syringe to draw the milk up until you have the measured amount of milk.
  • Press down gently on the syringe until a tiny drop comes out to ensure the syringe is working properly.
  • Attach the end of the rubber feeding tube to the end of the syringe.
  • Place the puppy on a table; cover with a towel in case there is any spillage.
  • Position puppy on all fours, so that they are lying on their belly with front legs outstretched and back legs tucked up.

Insert the Tube

  • Grasp the puppy’s head with your hand and hold firmly in between your index finger and thumb so that your fingers are located at the corners of the puppy’s mouth. Tip the head slightly upward.
  • Hold the end of the tube on the puppy’s tongue and let her/him taste a drop of the milk; place a drop on the tube as well to help lubricate.
  • Insert the tube slowly but efficiently (don’t go too slowly or else the pup may gag). Guide the tube over the tongue and down into the back of the throat.
  • You will know you are on the right track when the puppy starts swallowing the tube. It is important to make sure the tube is in the proper position as to not accidentally feed the tube into puppy’s trachea. If there is any coughing or gagging, remove the tube and try again.
  • Stop feeding the tube once the marked part of the tube reaches the pup’s mouth. Make sure that the pup is not coughing, crying or gagging.
  • Secure the tube by placing it between your index and middle fingers. Hold the syringe perpendicular to the puppy for the most efficient feeding method.

Feed the Puppy 

  • After securing the feeding tube, depress the plunger of the syringe and feed 1 cc or ml at a time.
  • Count 3 seconds while slowly depressing the plunger then check to see if milk coming out of the puppy’s nose. If there is, withdraw the tube as this means that the puppy is choking. After you have checked, depress the syringe for 3 more seconds. It should be easy to feel when adequate liquid has been given; the syringe plunger will feel obstructed when the stomach is full. Once all of the milk has been fed, slowly remove the tube.
  • To do this, gently pull it out while still holding the puppy’s head. Once the tube has been removed, place your pinky in the puppy’s mouth and let it suck on your finger for 5 to 10 seconds. Doing this ensures that the puppy will not throw up.
  • Log feeding times and amount fed in PUPPY FEEDING CHART.

Help the Puppy Eliminate

  • Doing this is very important, as defecating will help the puppy remove any waste in their intestines.
  • Use a wet, warm cotton ball or piece of cloth and gently stroke the puppy’s belly and anal area while it is on the towel. You can also hold the puppy over a sink and stimulate it the same way using warm water just over the private areas. Keep stimulating the puppy until it finishes eliminating (but know when to stop or you may make the delicate skin raw).
  • Normal stools have a toothpaste-like consistency and are a yellow-mustard color.
  • Puppies will start to eliminate on their own by two to three weeks of age.

Transition to Bowl Feeding

The weaning process is messy. Your puppy will wade in the bowl and stick their entire face in the milk. It’s important to wash him/her off and make sure they are dry and warm after each feeding. Always provide a bowl of fresh water between feedings. Continue to monitor and log each puppy’s progress when starting to eat on their own.

  • The first step in the weaning process is to introduce your puppy to a bowl. This can be done when the puppy is about 3 weeks old.
  • Fill the bowl with the milk replacement formula your puppy is used to getting. At this early stage, your puppy may do more playing in the bowl than eating. You can dip your finger in the milk and let the puppy lick it off to help them understand that the bowl contains food. Continue to bottle-feed your puppy during this time, though you may decrease the amount of milk replacement given at each feeding or the number of feedings if it seems your puppy is starting to eat enough when they are offered the bowl.
  • Once your puppy can lap up milk from the bowl, it’s time to introduce gruel. This can happen a few days after you first introduce the bowl of milk, depending upon their progress.
  • Gruel is made by adding some of the milk replacement formula to dry puppy food. Let it stand for a few minutes, so the kibbles become soft and soupy.
  • Continue to bottle-feed during this time, though you may decrease the amount you feed or the number of feedings even more if your puppy is responding well to eating the gruel.

The largest puppy in the litter may be chowing down on the kibble within a few days and be done with the bottle by the time he/she is 4 weeks old, while the runt may need to be supplemented with bottle-feedings for a couple of additional weeks. By the time your puppy is 7 to 8 weeks old, the weaning process should be completed. This means that there are no more bottle-feedings and you’ve gradually reduced the amount of water in the gruel to the point that the puppy is eating dry food.