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How to Bottle-Feed Puppies & Kittens

How to Bottle-Feed Puppies & Kittens

Most mother dogs and cats will provide all of the necessary care and nutrition for their young puppies and kittens. A mother dog or cat’s milk is designed to provide all of the nutrition that newborns need during their first few weeks of life. 

However, sometimes a mother isn’t able to provide nutrition to her newborns for a variety of reasons. Some common causes include illness, eclampsia, infection, insufficient milk supply, abandonment, or rejection. When this happens, you’ll have to step in and bottle-feed the puppies or kittens until they are able to eat regular pet food. 

Here are some tips and guidelines for bottle-feeding puppies and kittens! 

How Often Do Newborn Kittens & Puppies Eat?

The frequency that newborn kittens and puppies eat will depend on their size, condition, and age. Generally, kittens and puppies will need to be fed every 2 to 3 hours during the day and overnight. 

What You’ll Need

You’ll need the right supplies in order to successfully bottle-feed kittens or puppies. Here are some of the supplies you’ll need: 

  • A commercial milk replacer: Finding the right commercial milk replacer for your kittens or puppies is important. You want to find a milk replacer that is specifically formulated for puppies or kittens. A milk replacer like Goatalac delivers essential vitamins and minerals, along with probiotics, to promote balanced growth and development of newborns.

    You should avoid feeding cow’s milk to your kittens or puppies because it can make them very sick. If you need help choosing a milk replacer, your veterinarian can help you choose the right one. 
  • Newborn kitten/puppy bottles and nipples: You’ll need bottles and nipples that are specifically designed for newborn kittens and puppies. You can usually find these at pet stores. It’s important to note that bottles made for human babies will likely be too big. 
  • A scale: Owners should keep track of each newborn’s weight as they grow, especially during the first few weeks. Because each breed is different, appropriate weight gains will vary among breeds. The normal neonatal weight gain is an increase of 5% to 10% body weight per day. Be sure to talk with your veterinarian about the appropriate weight gain for your specific breed. 
  • Towels and washcloths: Towels and washcloths will be needed for handling the newborns, keeping them warm, and helping stimulate their reflex to eliminate.

Preparing the Formula 

Preparing the formula is an important step when bottle-feeding puppies and kittens. You want to make sure the formula isn’t rancid or too cold. Here are some steps to follow when preparing the formula: 

  • You should always wash your hands before and after feeding kittens and puppies. 
  • Sterilize bottles and nipples in boiling water for a few minutes between uses. 
  • Using the directions on the package, mix and fill a bottle with milk replacer. 
  • Warm the milk replacer by placing the bottle in a bowl or mug of hot water. You should never use the microwave to heat the formula as it can heat the formula unevenly and create hot spots. 
  • You should warm up the puppy or kitten formula to just above room temperature or approximately 100°F before feeding. It’s important to ensure the milk replacer is barely warm and not hot. You can test the temperature of the formula by putting a few drops on your wrist. If it burns, it’s too hot.

Bottle-Feeding Steps

Now it’s finally time to bottle-feed those little ones. Here are some steps to follow: 

  • Keeping the puppy or kitten warm is important for proper digestion. You should handle them gently; holding them in a soft towel can help keep them warm during feeding. 
  • When you bottle-feed a kitten or puppy, you should hold or place the newborn on their stomach in a horizontal, head-neutral position as if it’s nursing from its mother. You should never hold them on their back. 
  • Hold the bottle of formula to their mouth and let them suckle at their own pace. 
  • Angling the bottle is important for preventing air bubbles. 
  • Continue to feed the kitten or puppy until they turn away, which is a sign that they are full. 
  • After feeding, you should burp them by gently patting their back until you feel or hear them burp.

If you have any trouble bottle-feeding your kittens or puppies, you should contact your veterinarian. 

Bottle-Feeding Guidelines & Tips

Here are some guidelines, tips, and best practices to follow when bottle-feeding a puppy or kitten! 

You should always properly store milk replacers because the improper handling or storage of milk replacers can lead to illness or even death. 

It’s important to ensure that the opening of the nipple is small. When the flow rate is too fast, it can lead to aspiration. Try to make the opening small enough that only one drop comes out at a time. 

If the kitten or puppy isn’t suckling or having trouble getting milk, you can try gently patting it on the back or stroking its forehead. These techniques can help stimulate the nursing reflex. 

If puppies or kittens are too weak to bottle-feed, they may need to receive their nutrition through tube-feeding. Your veterinarian can help you with this if it’s deemed necessary. 

VCA Hospitals points out that if an orphaned kitten or puppy develops diarrhea, you should reduce the formula volume. It is better to slightly underfeed than to overfeed neonatal kittens or puppies. A commercial milk replacer should be the only source of nutrition for the first few weeks of the newborn’s life. When your puppy or kitten is around 3 to 4 weeks, you can start the weaning process. 

Helping Kittens & Puppies Eliminate

Kittens and puppies can’t urinate or defecate on their own until they are about 3 or 4 weeks old. Normally, the mother dog or cat would stimulate their newborns to urinate and defecate by licking them. When bottle-feeding, owners need to stimulate the reflex to eliminate. 

After feeding the kitten or puppy, you should take a clean cotton ball or soft washcloth and dip it in warm water. Then start gently rubbing the genital and anal area. This will help stimulate the reflex for urination and defecation. It’s important to do this several times a day.

Caring for a newborn puppy or kitten can be a lot of work, but it is rewarding to see those little ones grow and thrive! 

The materials and information provided on this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your veterinarian or other pet healthcare professional. Consult your own veterinarian if you have medical questions concerning diagnosis, treatment, therapy, or medical attention.

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