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How to care for newborn puppies
Taking care of newborn puppies is not an easy task. If possible, it should be left to breeders and experts who have experience in raising pups. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to care for newborn puppies, it is important to be prepared.
What you will need
Whether you are caring for orphaned newborn puppies, or ones with a caring and attentive mother dog, there are a number of things you will need to prepare to ensure the health and comfort of the puppies.
- A safe spot
- Heat lamp or other source of heat
- A scale
- Damp washcloths
- A lot of time and some coffee for you – you’ll need it!
You should also know where to get goat’s milk or prepared dog milk just in case you have to bottle feed, or if you are caring for newborn puppies whose mother is absent. Do not feed cow milk to a newborn puppy.
The right environment
Newborn puppies are tiny and easily damaged, so you will need to prepare a safe location for the puppies and mother. This should be a place where they will be able to remain out of trouble but where you will also be able to check in on them often. A dark space or enclosed box are a good idea to provide as well, as this will comfort the mother and prevent her from taking her puppies to a place where she feels safer. Introduce the mother to the area before she gives birth, to get her used to it. An ideal spot is protected from drafts, and has sides that are tall enough to keep the puppies in, but short enough for the mother to be able to clear easily. For the dogs’ comfort, a few layers of towels should be placed in the nesting area.
Newborn puppies must be kept warm at all times. Getting a chill can mean death for a puppy! Sometimes a mother will even turn a puppy away if it does not feel warm enough. For this reason, set up a heat source just outside the safe area, or place a heating pad wrapped in a towel inside the nest. The temperature should be kept between 80 and 90 degrees for the first four days, and can then be gradually reduced. Be absolutely sure that the puppies are not in danger of burning themselves on the heat source.
The mother dog’s health, comfort, and well-being is a top priority. This is not only for her sake, but for the puppies’ sake as well – poor health in a pregnant dog can lead to health problems and defects in her puppies. Read up on dog pregnancy as well as labor and delivery so that you are ready and knowledgeable.
Things to expect
Knowing what to expect once the puppies are born will save you a lot of time and worry.
- Weight increase – Weigh the newborn puppies every day for the first three weeks. They should show a steady weight gain after the first day. As a general rule, in the first week the puppies should be about double their birth weight.
- Temperature increase – At birth, a puppy’s temperature is about 94. This number steadily rises and by about the third week should be close to an adult’s regular body temperature of 101.5. Take puppy temperature regularly to make sure it is doing well.
- Development – By the time they are about 2 weeks old, the puppies should be alert and trying to stand up. They should be able to run around and play by around a month of age.
- Frequent cleaning – You will need to keep the area that the puppies are in extremely clean. Unless you have an endless supply of towels, you will be doing a lot of laundry during the first few weeks.
- Licking of the hindquarters – Newborn puppies cannot defecate or urinate on their own, so their mother licks their hindquarters to help them.
- Eating feces – Sometimes a mother dog eats her puppies’ excretion. This is perfectly normal, and is a defense mechanism used in the wild to hide the smell of her puppies from potential predators.
- Immunization – Puppies are born with their mother’s immunity, but this starts to wear off at around 6 weeks. A puppy should begin to receive its puppy shots at that time. Most puppies get a number of immunization vaccines from 6 weeks old until the final shot at 16 weeks old. Until then, they should be quarantined for their safety. For more details on puppy shots, visit Canine Vaccine Recommendations.
Things to watch out for
The first few weeks in a puppy’s life are crucial. Be on the lookout for signs of health problems or discomfort, such as the following:
- Constant squeaks or cries – A newborn puppy does not make much noise aside from soft grunts. If a puppy is constantly making squeaking or crying noises, there might be something wrong. This might be as simple as not getting enough milk or are not warm enough, or it might be a sign of a more serious problem.
- Poor weight gain – If the newborn puppies are not gaining much weight, the mother might not be producing enough milk. If this is the case, you may need to hand feed the puppies. Newborn puppies must be fed every 2 to 3 hours. By the fourth week this can be spaced out to every 4 hours, and you can begin to add solid food to their diet by mixing some solid food with their milk.
- Trouble defecating – If the mother does not lick her puppies’ hindquarters, or if the puppies appear to be having trouble expelling, you may need to fill in for the mother and wipe their hindquarters with a damp washcloth. It is a good idea to do this after every mean until they start walking in general, as this will also keep them clean.
- Dehydration – Hydration is extremely important and can lead to death if it is not regulated. To check if a puppy is properly hydrated, pinch the skin on the back of its neck. A hydrated puppy’s skin goes right back into place. If it remains pinched, the puppy is most likely dehydrated. Treat this right away or you might lose the puppy! Sometimes giving the puppy some Pedialite is enough, but in more severe cases, you need to either rehydrate the puppy yourself, or take it to a vet.
If the puppies display any of the aforementioned behaviors, or if you suspect that the puppies or the mother are unwell in any way, contact your veterinarian immediately! Spotting and stopping problems quickly can be a matter of life or death.