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Caring for a Newborn Puppy

Caring for a Newborn Puppy

Caring for a newborn puppy can seem overwhelming, especially if this is your first litter. You’ve spent the last 9 weeks caring for your pregnant dog, making sure to meet her nutritional requirements. Then you started preparing for whelping, making sure you had all of the essential supplies on hand to help ensure a smooth whelping experience.

Now the real fun (and work!) begins—taking care of those newborn puppies. After all of the puppies are born and have been cleaned up, it’s time to focus on ensuring they are nursing well and staying warm.

Nutrition for Newborn Puppies

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

For the first few days, the momma produces a substance called colostrum, which contains essential maternal antibodies that help the puppies fight off infections. A puppy’s immune system isn’t completely developed when born, so getting adequate colostrum is essential.

Owners should keep track of each puppy’s weight as they grow, especially during the first few weeks. Because each dog 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 dog’s breed. 

Puppies typically nurse about every 2 hours during the first week. The interval between feedings will increase as the puppies grow. At around 4 weeks, the puppies can start to be weaned and transition to eating solid food.

Common Nursing Issues

It’s a good idea to check on the momma and puppies every few hours to make sure they are all nursing and staying warm. Be on the lookout for puppies that appear cold, are crying, or aren’t nursing. These puppies should be placed on a hind teat (where there is generally the most milk) and checked frequently to ensure they are receiving the warmth and milk they need.

Although most mother dogs don’t have any issues during nursing, there is a chance that they will develop canine mastitis. Mastitis is a bacterial infection of the lactating glands in the breast, commonly caused by a blocked milk duct, weaning too early, a scratch from a puppy’s nail, or an infection. Mastitis is painful for the momma, and it limits the availability of milk.

Common signs of canine mastitis include hot, dark, red, and painful teats. A momma with mastitis may snap at her puppies if they try to nurse. If you think your mother dog has mastitis, you should call your veterinarian and not allow the puppies to nurse.

Feeding the Momma Dog

Your mother dog may not want to eat the first day after whelping, but she should be eating within 24 hours of delivering her last puppy. Because so many calories and nutrients are going to the puppies, nutritional deficiencies can be common in nursing mommas.

Lactating dogs require increased nutrients and energy than other dogs, so it’s often recommended to increase the fat content in her diet. Your vet can help you find the right food to ensure your mother dog is receiving adequate nutrition.

Ensuring Your Puppies Stay Warm

In addition to ensuring puppies receive adequate nutrition, owners must also make sure puppies stay warm. The Merck Veterinary Manual points out that puppies aren’t able to control their own body temperatures until 4 weeks of age. Having a low body temperature puts stress on puppies and negatively impacts immunity, nursing, and digestion. Therefore, it’s essential that puppies are kept in a warm environment.

Using an external heat source, like an overhead heat lamp, can help ensure puppies stay warm. Be sure to position the lamp high enough that it doesn’t burn the puppies or momma. If a puppy becomes chilled, you should rewarm it slowly and avoid letting the puppy nurse until it is warm to help prevent aspiration.

Inspecting the Puppies’ Health

After making sure all of the puppies have eaten and are staying warm, the owner should complete a physical examination to ensure they are healthy. Your veterinarian can give you advice on what to expect and look for while inspecting the newborns.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, healthy newborns should have a functioning urethra and anus, no cleft palate, a healthy suck reflex, a healthy coat, and pink and moist mucous membranes.

If the puppies appear healthy, many veterinarians recommend that puppies receive their first round of vaccinations at 6 weeks old. Deworming should begin when the puppies are 2 to 3 weeks old.

Caring for an Orphaned Puppy

In some cases, a momma may reject her puppies or not be able to produce enough milk. If you are caring for an orphaned puppy or the mother rejected her puppies, you’ll need to step in and provide nutrition for the puppy. You’ll want to make sure that the orphaned puppy is steadily gaining weight and having normal, well-formed stools.

Feeding an Orphaned Puppy

An orphaned or rejected puppy will need to be fed a commercial milk replacer. You should choose a milk replacer that is specifically formulated for puppies, like Goatalac, which delivers essential vitamins and minerals, along with probiotics, to promote balanced growth and development of newborns. It’s important to properly store milk replacers because the improper handling or storage of milk replacers can lead to illness or even death.

Orphaned puppies should be fed about every 2 to 4 hours. You should warm up the milk replacer to body temperature, or approximately 100 degrees. When you bottle feed a puppy, hold the puppy in a horizontal, head-neutral position as if it’s nursing from its mother. Angling the bottle is important for preventing air bubbles.

Helping an Orphaned Puppy Eliminate

Puppies can’t urinate or defecate on their own until they are about 3 or 4 weeks old. Normally, the mother dog would stimulate their puppies to urinate and defecate by licking them. Owners with an orphaned puppy will need to stimulate the reflex to eliminate.

After feeding the puppy, you should take a clean cotton ball or soft washcloth, dip it in warm water, and then gently rub the anal and genital area. This will help stimulate the reflex to urinate and defecate.

Caring for a Newborn Puppy: When to Worry

If you are concerned about the mother dog or her puppies, please consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. Call your vet immediately if a puppy shows any of these signs:

  • Poor weight gain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Constant crying
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Pale gums
  • Eye or nasal discharge
  • Inability to urinate or defecate

Caring for a newborn puppy requires commitment and attention to detail. But all that work pays off as you watch the puppies start to grow, develop, and socialize!


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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