Orphaned Puppy Care


Important Tips to Caring for an Orphaned or Sick Puppy

An orphan is a newborn puppy without a female parent or dam. The maternal instinct is one of the strongest in nature, but pups can become orphaned as the result of a variety of circumstances, such as death or illness of the dam, or the inability of the dam to produce sufficient amounts of good quality milk. A canine mother may abandon her litter as part of the natural selection process of weeding out sickly puppies, or due to a lack of bonding with her litter. In any of these cases, the pups will need someone to take over their care if they are to have a chance of survival.

The Normal Puppy

Newborn puppies should be sleek and round with good muscle tone and pink mucous membranes. The primary activities of puppies are suckling and sleeping. Birth weights range from 100 to 750 g depending upon breed and body weight should double in first 8 to 10 days. Heart rates are 230 to 240 beats/minute for the first 2 weeks. Normal respiratory rates are 15 to 35 breaths/minute. Normal rectal temperature at birth is 96 to 97 degrees F, which gradually increases to 100 degrees F by four weeks of age.

Common Problems with Orphaned Puppies 

The most common causes of sickness, and sometimes death, for neonatal puppies are hypoglycemia, dehydration and hypothermia. Call your veterinarian if your pup does not double its weight in 8 to 10 days or frequently cries for more than 20 minutes. These are both abnormal and usually indicate a problem of hunger, cold, maternal neglect or illness.

What to Watch For

Signs of problems with orphaned puppies may include: 

  • Persistent crying
  • Failure to gain weight
  • Decreased activity
  • Decreased muscle tone

    Diagnosis of Orphaned Puppy Problems

    To be certain the puppy is in good health, your veterinarian may recommend the following diagnostic tests:

  • Complete medical history and thorough physical examination, weight and vital signs (temperature, pulse and respiratory rate)
  • Blood glucose tests
  • Further blood work on neonates is often not done initially because response to immediate treatment is usually positive.

    Treatment and Care of Orphaned Puppy Problems

    Treatments will depend on the findings of the diagnostic exam. These treatments revive most neonates within a few hours, but if the puppy is not revived, then additional diagnostics may be performed. Your veterinarian may perform the following:

  • Slowly raise the puppy’s body temperature to normal if the puppy is hypothermic.
  • Administer dextrose (sugar solution) if the puppy is hypoglycemic.
  • Administer fluids subcutaneously (under the skin) to correct dehydration.
  • To provide nutrition, tube-feed the puppy a warmed milk replacement formula.
  • Home Care of Orphaned Puppies

    Maintain a log (record) identifying each puppy’s weight, appetite, amount of formula fed and urination and defecation frequency. It is important to identify each puppy if there is more than one because they can be difficult to differentiate.

    Tips for Feeding Orphaned Puppies

    Puppies may be fed by bottle or stomach tube. The stomach tube is faster and especially handy with large litters. Many people, however, prefer to bottle-feed. Feeding with an eyedropper should be discouraged due to poor accuracy, tendency to give food too rapidly (increasing risk of aspiration) and the rigid nature of an eyedropper, which can cause soft tissue injury to the oral cavity. A bottle might be best.Newborn puppies should be fed 4 times daily by tube feeding or 5 to 6 times daily by bottle-feeding 4 times daily by tube feeding or 5 to 6 times daily by bottle-feeding. At 2 weeks of age, four feedings per day are usually sufficient. It is preferred 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.

    The recommended daily feeding amount is based upon weight and age (most milk replacers contain 1 kcal/ml). This amount of milk should be divided into at least 4 feedings per day:

    Week 1: 13 to 15 ml per 100 g body weight

    Week 2: 15 to 18 ml per 100 g body weight

    Week 3: 20 ml per 100 g body weight

    Week 4: 20 ml per 100 g body weight and also eating mostly solid food

    Recommended milk products:

  • Milk from another nursing bitch (foster mother if possible)
  • Esbilac Powder or Liquid (Pet-Ag, Inc)
  • Canine Milk Substitute (Waltham)
  • Unilact Liquid or Powder (Upjohn Company)
  • Bitch’s Milk Replacer (Iams)

    The puppy should be burped after a meal to relieve swallowed air. Hold the puppy in the palm and gently rock back and forth or massage the abdomen until an air bubble comes up.

    The puppy should be stimulated to urinate and defecate after feeding. Simulating the licking mother by rubbing the urogenital area with a moist warm cloth or cotton ball can do this. Puppies should be able to relieve themselves after three weeks of age.

    By three weeks of age, introduce solid foods mixed with water or the same milk replacer used to feed previously. Pan-feed a thin gruel made by blending an approved puppy food with the milk formula (e.g. 1 part dry food with 3 parts formula or 2 parts canned food with 1 part formula). Gradually thicken the gruel using less liquid until about six weeks of age. At this time, the pups should be offered an approved puppy food 4 times daily. Fresh clean water should always be available and replenished daily.

    Supplies to Have On Hand for Orphaned Pups

  • Thermometer
  • Puppy nursers or tube
  • Feeding kits
  • Gram scale for weighing puppies
  • Soft blankets and heating pads
  • Common Causes of Illness in Newborn Puppies


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