Puppies may be fed by bottle or stomach tube, but not with an eyedropper. Many people prefer to bottle feed puppies with a vigorous suckle reflex because they will suck until they are satiated and reject the bottle when full. Bottle-fed puppies require an appropriately-sized bottle and nipple, so avoid sizes that could be swallowed. Nipple bottles made for feeding orphans (or infant preemies) work well.
Ensure the nipple hole is properly sized to allow proper flow. A hole too large can cause gagging, drooling of milk from the corners of the mouth, and an increased risk of aspiration (inhalation). A hole too small requires extra time and energy to consume a meal, which may cause fatigue. When bottle is inverted, milk should ooze. The nipple hole can be enlarged with a hot razor blade by making a horizontal slit, allowing the neonate to suckle easily.
The bottle should be inverted, a drop of milk squeezed onto the nipple and then the bottle should be gently placed in the mouth. Puppies should be held horizontally with the head in a natural position. The milk should be sucked and not squeezed out of the bottle into the mouth. Great caution should be taken because if done in haste this may cause aspiration, pneumonia and death.
Tube feeding is faster and especially handy with large litters. Tube feeding is useful in puppies less than 10 days of age, those that are weak or those with poor suckle reflexes. The tube feeding procedure uses a soft, rubber, feeding tube. Use a # 5 French feeding tube for puppies weighing less than 300 grams or a # 8 to 10 French feeding tube for puppies greater than 300 grams. An equivalent-sized soft rubber urethral catheter can also be used.
The tube should be pre-measured from the tip of the mouth to the last rib. Re-measuring is essential for as the neonates grow as the distance will increase. The puppy should be positioned horizontally with head in a normal position. The tube can be moistened with water for lubrication, inserted into the mouth and gently pushed into the stomach. The tube should go easily to the mark. If the tube does not go easily, it may be in the trachea and the tube should be removed and reinserted.
Attach the tube to a syringe preloaded with milk formula. Ensure that there are no air bubbles in the syringe. The meal should be given slowly over 2 minutes. If you notice any resistance to feeding, the stomach may be full. Stop feeding and wait until the next feeding to give additional formula.
Regurgitation is infrequent, but if it occurs, stop feeding and wait until the next feeding to give additional formula.
Newborn puppies should be fed 4 times daily by tube feeding or 5 to 6 times daily by bottle-feeding. At two weeks of age, 4 feedings per day are usually sufficient. It is best to feed small amounts at frequent intervals, rather than large quantities infrequently, to prevent diarrhea and lower the risk of aspiration. Overfeeding can be worse than slightly underfeeding.
Follow all manufacturers directions on formula preparations. Refrigerate milk formula between meals but warm to approximately 100 degrees F before feeding. Prepare only a 48-hour supply of formula at a time.
Cold milk, rapid feeding and overfeeding cause regurgitation, bloating, diarrhea and/or aspiration. Formula, both liquid and powdered forms, should contain 12-15% total solids (12 to 15 g/100 ml water). Greater total solid values cause diarrhea and bloating whereas lower values may lead to volume overload before the animal's nutritional requirements are met.
Milk replacers consist of water, sugar, fat, proteins, minerals and vitamins. The composition of dam's milk differs with species and even the stage of lactation. However, the composition of puppy milk replacers is the average nutrient profile based on available research. Avoid feeding cow's or goat's milk to puppies because the lower protein and higher lactose content make them poor substitutes. If feeding problems occur, reduce volume and/or total solids in the milk replacer, then re-feed at required rate after problems have been resolved.
See your veterinarian for additional information and recommendations.