Those of you who have had children probably know how stressful and time-consuming caring for a helpless infant can be! Those of us who haven’t (myself included!) can probably never imagine it! But perhaps there are some similarities with caring for a newborn puppy? If you are preparing to care for a newborn puppy, we have a handy guide you can follow below.
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Caring if Mum is Around
Pregnancy is a difficult time for any dog, so you should seek assistance from your vet if you are wanting to breed from your dog; there’s a lot to consider! But after giving birth (also known as parturition or whelping), even if it went well your work doesn’t stop, because now you have both mum and pups to care for! Mum will do a lot of the work for you, but there are still things to consider.
Mum’s health should be a top priority, so regularly check she is still giving milk, has no smelly discharge from her back end and is active. If there is anything not quite right, it is essential you speak to your vet immediately – post-birth diseases progress quickly and can be very dangerous. She should be provided with food and water, and taken outside regularly to use the toilet – she may not want to leave her puppies for long. Keep her nest warm, quiet, clean and dry. Ensure she is mothering the puppies properly – if one or more are being neglected, they may need to be hand-reared.
Keep an eye on the puppies as well, looking for any weakness or being pushed away from the teats by littermates. Those that are weaker should be placed on teats giving the most milk. As with mum, if there are any signs of illness in the puppies seek veterinary advice immediately.
Caring if There’s no Mum
Although we’d like every puppy to have a parent, for some it just isn’t possible. If the puppies were abandoned by a stray dog, rejected by mum or if mum sadly passed away, you may be faced with hand-rearing a pup. The rest of this article will discuss how to do this.
Newborn puppies are entirely reliant on mum’s milk. If this isn’t available for whatever reason, you will have to bottle feed them using either dog’s milk (you can milk the mother to feed a rejected puppy) or special newborn puppy formula milk. Feed using a well-cleaned bottle with a teat. The milk should be warmed to about 37°c in a hot water bath. Avoid using a microwave. A thermometer will be essential.
Feed the puppy slowly laying on their belly, so they do not choke on the milk. Stop regularly and allow them to latch back on if they are still hungry. Afterwards, it is good to gently rub the puppy to help them ‘burp’, like a human baby. You will have to feed the puppies every hour or two for the first few weeks, then less frequently as time goes on. This will continue until 5-7 weeks old, when they start to wean. Once you notice they are chewing on the teat of the bottle, you can start to place down puppy food – continue to bottle feed milk however until they are fully eating puppy food.
Water should be down in a shallow dish from around 3 weeks old. Weigh the puppies regularly to track their growth – a puppy should grow a little every day after birth. If they stop or start to lose weight, there may be a problem and a vet should investigate.
Newborn puppies even need assistance weeing and pooing – normally, the mum will lick their back end to stimulate urination and defaecation. In her absence, you will have to simulate this by gently rubbing the area using damp cotton wool. Continue until they urinate and defaecate, then clean them up. Not doing this can lead to bloat, constipation and sickness. Take this chance to observe their stools – once the meconium has passed, it should be normal colour and consistency. Too soft, too hard or a strange colour could be a sign of disease. Continue this for the first 3-4 weeks of life until the puppies are capable of going by themselves.
Newborns have very little fat reserves and easily get cold. Without the mum around to keep them warm, you should keep their environment between 29-32°c using blankets, heat pads (be very careful to double-wrap them to avoid burns) or heat lamps. As they get older, it can gradually be lowered to a normal room temperature of around 22°c.
Flea and Worming Treatments
Worms are unpleasant at the best of times, but for puppies, they can be quite dangerous. Worms feed off the nutrients in a dog’s food, or even from the host themselves. In small puppies, high worm burdens can easily lead to illness. Always talk to your vet about suitable treatments, as many are unsuitable for very young puppies.
We recommend a standard protocol using a worming tablet or liquid at either 2, 5, 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age, or every two weeks depending on the drug used. After this, they can be wormed every 1-3 months depending on the specific risk (puppies that are outdoors a lot should be wormed more than those entirely indoors).
Fleas are less of a problem in puppies, but can still be a problem in high numbers. We usually don’t advise treating for fleas unless there are fleas present, until they are vaccinated and starting to go outside. Again, this will vary depending on the individual vet and puppies.
It is very important that all puppies, regardless if they have a mother around or not, get vaccinated when they are old enough. Most vets recommend starting a vaccine course at 8 weeks old, but some may encourage earlier vaccination, particularly if the puppies had no milk from mum.
We vaccinate against distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and leptospirosis as standard. These bacteria and viruses are very nasty diseases that can make puppies very sick – in some cases without treatment, they can even be fatal. Optional, but recommended depending on the individual puppies’ situations, include kennel cough, Bordetella and rabies.
With a standard vaccination course starting at 8 weeks, most puppies can start to go outside from 12-16 weeks old. Going out before this increases the risk that they will catch one of the nasty diseases above. However, this period is also a critical socialisation period for puppies, where experiencing new sights, sounds and smells will turn them into a brave and well-adjusted dog. Without this, they may have behavioural issues in future.
To provide experiences without risking disease, it is a good idea to take your puppy out and about by carrying them. They should be safe from disease, and can learn that all the scary things out there aren’t so scary. A nice idea is to find a park bench somewhere and let them watch the world go by. Some vets may also permit mixing with older vaccinated dogs – ask your vet if they think this would be suitable for your puppies. You can also encourage socialisation at home, by interacting with the puppies regularly, having different sounds and smells on, and allowing them to explore the house.
As we mentioned above, we recommend speaking to a vet as soon as you can for advice on how to care for a newborn puppy. Your vet may wish to check the puppies regularly to ensure they are healthy. It also is a good way for puppies to socialise in a clean environment.
Remember that puppies are vulnerable in the first few weeks of life, so if there are any signs of illness, let us know immediately. These may include: vomiting; diarrhoea; constipation; off-food; losing weight or not gaining weight; lethargy or weakness; coldness; tremors; not active; swollen joints or navels.