Bottle Feeding Orphaned Puppies
Ron Hines DVM PhD
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Most momma dogs are excellent mothers. But occasionally, when the mother dog is very young or is one of the temperamental toy breeds, it may neglect its offspring. Then you need to step in.
Some older dogs suffer milk failure and have no milk to give their puppies. Other mothers produce contaminated milk or vaginal exudates that are toxic to the puppies. At other times, a litters contains one or two star-crossed runts that will not survive unless you hand-raise them yourself. Any pup that weighs twenty or more percent less than its littermates is best raised by hand.
What Supplies Will I Need?
You will need to have a nest box for the puppy (s). Since the infants often soil their container, I usually find a small cardboard box that I can readily replace to keep the baby in. Pick up a few and replace them as need be. Just be sure nothing toxic was stored in them.
You will need a heating pad. I usually pick up a heavy-duty model at WalMart. Then I go to their aquarium section and purchase an aquarium thermometer. The ones that contain a red liquid are more accurate than the strip type. A feed store chick thermometer works well too. In the same section you will find pet nursing bottles and , if you are lucky, Pet-Ag's Esbilac brand of canned puppy milk. You can also purchase Esbilac powdered puppy milk online and at veterinary offices and pet stores. Just be sure the container hasn't sat around a long time and that it does not smell rancid when you first open the can. It should not have lumps and clumps in it. If it does - return it. (I have no connection to Pet-Ag, its just that their products are usually conveniently found. The Fox Valley line is equally as good)
A small food scale is also very nice to have to weigh the infant(s). If the pup is weak you may want to tube feed it. I will get to that later, but you will need several 3-ml syringes and 18Guage butterfly infusion sets from a veterinary hospital or human medical supply center if you go that rout.
Delivering The Puppy
When puppies are born they are wrapped in a clear sac called the amniotic membrane. This membrane must be removed from the puppy’s face in order for it to breathe. I tear this membrane with my fingers and slide the whole puppy out. Then I use scissors to snip off the umbilical cord which connects the puppy’s belly button to the afterbirth. I leave about a half inch of cord attached to the puppy and tie it off with a piece of thread so it will not bleed. Moms just chew it off, so there is really no need to tie them. It is only a danger if the pup has any degree of umbilical hernia when it is born.
Then I use a rubber bulb to clean mucus away from the puppy’s mouth, throat and nose. The same one they sell for human infants.
The nest box does not need to be elaborate. It needs to be just big enough for the puppy to turn around but not much bigger. Be sure the sides are tall enough so that the puppy can not fall out. Line the box with clean bathroom hand towels, diapers discarded underclothes, etc. Be sure that there are no threads or holes in the material for the puppy to get tangled in.
To maintain temperature, keep a heating pad set at its lowest setting under one side of the box. Wrap the pad with sufficient bath towels so that the inside of the box stays at about 90 degrees Fahrenheit but no higher. Puppies housed at that temperature will themselves be a few degrees warmer - more so if more than one are huddled together.
With only one side of the box heated the puppy will be able to crawl away from the heat source if it gets too warm. Place the box in a draft free location. As the baby matures the temperature in the box can be gradually lowered. The heating pad will go under one side of the box , not in it. Young children delight in puppies. But they are not good for puppies. Secure the puppies area from children and other pets. Buy the kids a new stuffed puppy to raise just like Mom (or Dad) is doing.
Newborn puppies can not generate enough heat to keep their bodies warm and have not yet developed a shivering reflex. They will rely on you to regulate temperature during the first 14 days of their life. Normal rectal temperature for a newborn puppy is 94-98F. By their second week of life, rectal temperature should be 97-100F. By the fourth week normal rectal temperature is 100-102F (the same as adult dogs). The first thing to do with chilled puppies is to warm them up, very slowly, to 95 degrees F.
Orphan pups need an environmental temperature of about 90°F (32.2°C) their first week, in the mid 80's the second week, and then in the mid 70's. When the mother is there to keep the pups warm, additional temperature is unnecessary. When the pup reaches the end of its first month of life it will be happy in room air temperature of 70-75F.
Be very cautious using the heating pad since the puppy can be easily hurt by too high a temperature while it is still too young to move away from the heat source.
The First Milk Or Colostrum
Colostrum is the milk that the mother produces the first days after birth. It is very thick, yellowish-cream in color, and rich in antibodies that protect the puppy against disease. Puppies that do not drink colostrum during their first 12 -14 hours of life can not fight the diseases and bacteria they encounter as well as pups that do.
If your puppy could not nurse, giving it oral doses of blood serum or plasma from a healthy dog is one way to compensate for the lack of colostrum. After the first day, the puppy looses its ability to absorb most of the antibodies in colostrum. If your pup is older than that, the only effective way to give the blood product is by injection. When this is not done (and it is usually not done) you need to be especially sanitary when handling and feeding the puppy. It might also benefit from daily probiotics, yogurt or bene-bac paste. It is better to give small amounts of these products over long periods than a whole lot at once.
What To Feed The Puppy?
I prefer to feed puppies a powdered Esbilac formula that comes in powdered form and which I prepares just before use. The chief reason is that dry formula is more economical. But you can use their canned product initially. It is easier to find around town quickly.
I store opened canisters in the freezer. You can't d freeze the cans of liquid because it causes the ingredients to separate out. Allow some time after mixing a batch for bubbles to leave the formula. Really blend the powder well, so no lumps or goop remains. You can keep reconstituted formula in the refrigerator between uses, but discard any remaining formula at the end of the day. Pour just what you need into a secondary container and put the remainder back in the fridge immediately.
If, in an emergency or some isolated location, you can not obtain puppy milk replacement you can mix a formula. It consists of one-half cup evaporated whole milk, one half cup boiled water, one teaspoon full of corn oil, one drop of pediatric multivitamin (Visorbin or equivalent), two raw egg yolks and a tablespoon full of plain whole yogurt. For some reason, formulas based on evaporated milk cause less diarrhea and indigestion than those based on fresh cow’s milk. Adding a quarter of a lactase tablet to each batch of formula helps the puppy digest the large amount of lactose present in cow’s milk. If it will be less than 24 hours before you can obtain a commercial puppy formula, you will be better off just giving healthy puppies pedialyte until then.
I mix my milk formula just before I use it. A good puppy-nursing bottle holds 2-4 ounces of formula. They are generally sold without holes punched in the nipple. I use a flame-heated needle to melt two small pin holes in the latex cap. The holes should only be big enough for a few drops of milk drip out when the bottle is vigorously shaken. If too many holes are punched in the cap, the puppies tend to inhale the formula into their lungs rather than ingest it. If too few or too small a hole is made, the puppy will ingest too much air and become bloated and colicky.
After the formula is well mixed, let it cool until it is slightly above room temperature. Always feed pups while they are resting on their stomachs. Never feed them upright or upside down as you would a human infant. Gently insert the nipple into the pup’s mouth using a prying motion while you apply pressure to the sides of the bottle to release a drop or two of milk. From then on the pup should suck on its own. There are good instructional videos on You-tube. Here is just one of them.
We all have a tendency to over feed puppies. But it is much safer to give them a little less than they are willing to drink. Over-feeding can lead to pneumonia when milk is inhaled into the lungs rather then swallowed into the stomach. It can also cause diarrhea.
It is much safer to feed smaller amounts more frequently than larger amounts less frequently. If milk bubbles out of your pup’s nose it is flowing too rapidly from the bottle. This is usually due to too large a hole(s) in the nipple or over feeding. I microwave a bowl of water and set the bottle in it after it comes out of the microwave to heat the formula to 99-100 degrees Fahrenheit before use.
Very rarely, a puppy will be born with a cleft palate. These puppies snort milk from their noses and must be tube-fed if you are planning to save them. (You need to think hard before you decide. Birth defects often come in multiples and this pup may have other life-ending defects.)
Some owners find it easier to feed very small newborn pups from a one or three milliliter syringe and switch to a bottle when the pup is two weeks old.
nursing bottles, syringes and utensils for 10 minutes between every
use. Pop the plungers out of the syringes so the steam penetrates all
That is a very difficult question to answer because puppies arrive in so many sizes. Experienced breeders generally decide when to stop feeding based on the shape of the puppies stomach and its greediness to continue feeding rather than by giving a set amount of formula.
But I can give you some idea: When the powdered formula I suggested is mixed according to directions (one part formula powder to two parts water) ; each day the average puppy needs 25-35 milliliters of formula for every 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of body weight. Divide this number by the number of feedings per day to obtain the amount for each feeding. During week two, give 15-20 ml for every 100 grams body weight. During weeks three and four give 20 ml for every 100 grams body weight. These amounts are always only a rough estimate. Feed the puppy until its belly is gently rounded or pear-shaped - never more. As long as it is slowly but steadily gaining weight, everything is fine.
How Often Should I Feed ?
Feed very young puppies every 2-3 hours or six to eight feeding a day. Some people get up to give their puppy a midnight feeding but this is not necessary if you have a vigorous ,healthy pup.
By the time the puppy is three weeks old, 4 feedings per day are quite sufficient. At 5 weeks of age, the puppy should be eating some solid foods. At this age feed it formula 2-3 times a day - if at all. Puppies that are hungry and need feeding will whine continuously, move their heads from side to side and suckle on each other and on objects in the nest box.
Burping The Puppy
After each feeding hold the puppy upright with its tummy against your shoulder and pat it gently until it burps - releasing trapped air. Nursing bottles that do not release enough milk lead to more air being trapped that you need to release through burping. If the puppy should bloat or become colicky add a few drops of infant anti colic medicine (simethicone, Equate Infants’ Gas Relief, WalMart Stores Inc.) to the formula. If the problem persists, take the pup to a veterinarian.
Helping Your Puppy Eliminate
Normal puppy stools are yellowish brown with a jam-like consistency. After every feeding, gently massage the anus and urinary orifice with a cotton ball or Kleenex moistened with warm water until they urinate and defecate.
Be very gentle when you do this and don’t worry if no urine or stool is produced after every feeding. By the time the pup is three weeks old it should be able to go without your help.
Problems That Can Occur
If diarrhea occurs, add more pedialyte to the formula to make up for the fluid that is lost. You can even give feeding of pure pedialyte to allow the intestines time to heal. If this does not rapidly cure the problem, try a new rubber nipple and a different brand or container of milk replacement. If that does not quickly solve the problem, take the puppy to your veterinarian. Puppies fade and dehydrate rapidly, so serious diarrhea must not continue for more than a day.
When diarrhea is severe, your veterinarian may need to place the puppy on medications that slow the intestine and, perhaps,antibiotics. The pup will almost always also receive injections of subcutaneous fluids.
Puppies can also become dehydrated if their environment is too hot or dry. Two indicators of dehydration are loss of elasticity of the skin (the skin stays tented when it is gently pinched up) and decreased saliva production (the gums and tongue feel tacky or dry).
Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar can develop rapidly in a puppy that is not nursing. These puppies are limp, depressed, weak and they are cold to your touch. Their gums are often bluish and their muscles may twitch. Dextrose solution or corn syrup placed on their tongue is sometimes helpful, but their best chance at survival is in the intensive care setting of a veterinary center where dextrose can be administered intravenously or intralingually (in the tongue) 24 hours a day if need be.
Because newborn puppies can not regulate their temperature well, they are quite susceptible to chilling. If this should occur, the best way to warm them is to place them on a hot water bottle and gently blow them with a hair drier. (it is easy to burn puppies with human hair driers. Hold it far from the puppy and always have your hand in the air blast so you can gauged the amount of heat)
Stools that are clumped and cheese-like can be due to feeding the formula too concentrated. When puppies strain to defecate and pass overly-hard stools, increase the frequency of feeding and dilute the formula. Impacted pups also have bloated abdomens. You can give them a few drops of flavored mineral oil or cat hairball ointment to help them evacuate the stool. Never place amounts of unflavored laxative oils in a puppy's mouth because they often inhale them rather than swallow. If they still remain bound up, take them to your veterinarian. They may need a warm water enema.
It is a good idea to worm your puppies with pyrantel pamoate when they are six weeks of age. You can purchase this worming medicine at WalMart Stores. (Products that state on the label that they contain piperazine are not sufficient. If you live Overseas, human infant pinworm medicine is usually parantyl pamoate. )
Fecal specimens from very young puppies with worms are often negative when they are checked microscopically. This is because veterinarians check for parasite eggs in the stool - not adult parasites. The adult parasites (hookworms & roundworms) in puppies can take a number of weeks before they produce telltale eggs.
If the puppies are kept isolated from other dogs their first vaccinations can be given at 12 weeks of age. If other unvaccinated dogs come in contact with the pup, the first vaccine should be administered at 6-8 weeks. The vaccine should immunize against canine distemper, canine hepatitis (adeno-2 virus), parvovirus and coronavirus. The most important booster vaccination of this puppies life will be the one it receives between 14 and 16 weeks of age. Be sure the vaccine is a reputable one (Merial, Pfizer, Intervet) and not a cheap product and that it is stored and administered correctly. (If you are raising puppies in or for a shelter, you have special challenges. I would be happy to talk to you about them, but they are not the subject of this article)
Never include leptospirosis in the vaccination of a puppy and think twice about giving it to mature dogs as well.
At 12 weeks the puppy should receive a rabies vaccination and at 14 and 18 weeks the pup should receive a booster of its first vaccination. After it receives it first birthday vaccinations, it should need no more distemper-parvo-corona vaccinations for many years to come. Some special-case dogs might require periodic adult lyme or leptospirosis vaccination but most don't. How you handle rabies vaccination requirements is an administrative decision for normal house pets. Dogs in the US receive entirely too many vaccination. That is in the process of change. Adult dogs probably need boosters for distemper/parvo every 7 years or never. Most vets will stretch it to every 3 years. Read more about what vaccinations your pet really needs here.
I discourage tube feeding of puppies that will nurse a bottle because puppies need the companionship they get when we slowly feed them from a bottle. But puppies that are too weak to nurse will need to be tube fed. And people overworked with oodles of puppies need to keep their sanity.
It is difficult to explain this process in writing. The best way to learn how to tube feed is to have someone experienced in the technique do it with you the first time.
When I tube feed, I fill a 3 or 6 milliliter (cc) syringe with warm formula, being careful that no air bubbles are present. Then I attach an eighteen-gauge infusion (butterfly) set to the syringe. I snip off the needle and fill the remaining tubing with milk. Then I lay the tube along side the puppy and make a mark with an indelible pen on the tube when the tip is alongside the puppy’s last rib. Then I gently open the puppy’s mouth and begin to thread the tubing over the puppy’s tongue very slowly. This gives the pup time to swallow the tubing rather than have it go into the windpipe. If you are accidentally in the windpipe the pup will squirm and fuss.
When I think the tube is partially in place, with my thumb and index finger, I carefully palpate the puppy’s neck to feel two tube-like structures. One, in the center of the neck, will be the windpipe (trachea). The other will be the catheter tube. If I only feel one structure I remove the tube and reinsert it again until I am certain I am in the esophagus and not in the trachea. Then I slowly inject the contents of the syringe being sure the syringe is positioned not to inject air. When you are tube feeding, feed no more than 75% of what the puppy would have taken orally so it does not regurgitate the formula. Never grasp a full puppy by its abdomen.
During their first 2 week of life it is best to just clean puppies with a damp pledget of cotton. Younger puppies should get only partial baths. Do one section of them at a time with a soft, wet hand towel.
When the "bath" is finished carefully blow dry the puppy. Be careful to keep the dryer far away from the puppy so as not to overheat it.
Check the underside and hind end of all puppies carefully for fleas when you groom them. Fleas can quickly get out of control. If you find any, pick them off with tweezers and drop them into some isopropyl alcohol or vodka. At the same time, throw away their nest box and put all reusable bedding through a hot air cycle in your drier.
Weaning – You Are Almost To The Finish Line!
Between 3 and 4 weeks, puppies should begin accepting fine textured solid foods. By four and a half to five and a half weeks the puppy should be weaned. Purchase some cans of gourmet cat or dog food in chicken and beef flavors and smear a bit on the roof of the puppy’s mouth. It will soon get the idea. I do not feed puppies very pungent foods because I fear I will make them into fussy eaters later in life.
This is the same time you should begin to offer formula to the puppy in a bowel. The earlier puppies eat on their own the better. I do not suggest baby foods because they are too low in calcium and vitamins. This will cause weak teeth and bones. Although many puppies will eat as early as four weeks, some take an additional two or three weeks before they have much interest in solid food.
As soon as puppy chow is offered, keep a dish of water available. By the time the pup is 10 weeks old it should be receiving its puppy chow dry. Congratulations !
You are not going to succeed every time. Sometimes one pup, or a whole litter were just not destined to be. Occasionally, puppies are lost to herpes virus, but many more fade away from hidden genetic defects that occur at the metabolic level and that will never be identified. When a whole litter is born star crossed, it is better to never breed that mother again.