Orphaned Puppy Care


The most common causes of sickness, and sometimes death, for neonatal puppies are hypothermia, dehydration, and hypoglycemia.

  • Hypothermia. Neonates cannot control their body temperature well during the first 4 weeks of life and are dependent upon staying close to the dam, huddling with littermates or an environmental heat for warmth. Immediate environmental temperature of orphans should be 84 to 90 degrees F during the first week and 79 to 84 degrees F during the second week. Immediate environmental temperature of litters should be 75 to 81 degrees F during the first week. Their shivering reflex does not develop until 6 to 8 days old. Therefore, orphaned neonates are highly susceptible to hypothermia, and with a fall in body temperature and decreased ability to suckle or cry, circulatory failure and death may result.
  • Dehydration. Body water content of neonates is 8 percent at birth and their water requirement is 60 to 100 ml (cc) per pound of body weight per day. If the pup has not nursed or received a milk substitute within hours of birth, dehydration becomes apparent within 12 to 18 hours. Again, circulatory failure and death may result from dehydration.
  • Hypoglycemia. Neonates should receive colostrum from the dam within 12 to 16 hours of birth. Commercial milk replacers with a similar composition to bitch’s milk and those that have been tested in puppies should be fed to orphaned puppies. Most milk replacers contain 1 kcal/ml (cc) and most neonates require 24 kcal/100 g of body weight per day.
  • Other possible illnesses in orphan puppies can include: pneumonia, early placental insufficiency, induced hypothermia, infectious diseases, drug toxicity, congenital abnormalities, abnormally low birth weights, traumatic insults during or after the birth process, parasites, placental infections, neonatal isoerythrolysis and undetermined causes.
  • Instructions for Feeding Orphaned Puppies

    The two most common methods for feeding sick or orphaned puppies are bottle feeding and tube feeding. Below is information and instructions on how to bottle feed or tube feed a puppy. 

    Bottle Feeding Puppies

    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 Puppies 

    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.


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