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Ask the Vet: How to Care for a Newborn Puppy Without Its Mother?

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In order to care for a newborn puppy without its mother, you will need to be prepared and keep several items on hand. The task is not easy and can be very involved especially in the puppy's first weeks. You will find yourself having to feed the puppy several times a day and ensuring all the puppy's needs are met in order to thrive and survive. Veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Muirhead explains how to care for a newborn puppy without its mother along with important tips on feeding, helping the pup eliminate, keeping the puppy warm and socializing the puppy.

How to Care for a Newborn Puppy With its Mother?

Even when everything goes according to plan, you'll invest a great deal of time and money when you have a new litter of puppies. If something happens to mom, you'll have an even more difficult time of rearing the puppies, especially as newborns. There are many things to consider, from how often the puppies need to be fed to how warm they are kept. You've also got to teach them how to be a puppy, a challenging task on the best of days.

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How to Care for a Newborn Puppy Without Its Mother?

Feeding Newborn Puppies 

When you are raising newborn puppies, you'll have to feed them frequently. The first thing to determine is if the puppies have a suckle reflex.

If they don't, there might be a medical issue with the puppy, so you'll want to have them examined by a veterinarian. Puppies without a suckle reflex often need to be tube fed, which is a challenging process.

Once you have established that the puppies can suckle, you'll want to get puppy milk replacer. Foods such as cow's milk are not balanced to meet a puppy's nutritional needs.

There are a variety of brands, and you are going to need to follow the directions to prepare the formula. The milk should be at room temperature before you feed it, so test it in an area like the inside of your wrist and prepare a bottle.

To determine how much to feed, check the labeled directions on the milk replacer. You should weigh each puppy before each feeding to determine exactly how much they should eat.

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You need to feed the puppies roughly every 2 to 3 hours; this means that with a large litter you're going to need to enlist some help or get very little sleep. Once the puppies are a few weeks old, you can slow the feedings down to four times per day, gradually transitioning them to puppy food (weaning process).

For weaning, you'll start by mixing milk replacer in with puppy food to form a gruel. Encourage the puppies to taste it; you'll probably have a mess on your hands as they walk through the food and drag it everywhere. It may take a little time to get them used to it, whereas if their mother was alive, they could see her eat the food.

You should start this process when the puppies are around three weeks old. Gradually, mix less and less milk replacer into the food to make it firmer and firmer. By around 6 to 8 weeks, your puppies should be eating hard kibble on their own, and the messes should be a lot less than they were in the early stages.

Stimulating Puppies to Urinate and Defecate

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One of the least fun parts of raising newborn puppies is also one of the most important - stimulating them to urinate and defecate. The momma dog does this, usually by licking her tongue on the puppies' undersides.

You can do this by taking a moistened cloth or cotton ball and gently rubbing it on the puppy's lower abdomen and around their rectal area.

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Especially as eating can be a messy affair, you're likely going to find yourself wiping the puppy all over. That's okay, as long as you still focus on stimulating them.

You should stimulate the puppies after every meal to help keep them from getting constipated. With your clean cloth, make sure to wipe away anything that comes out.

You'll need to do this for the first two weeks or so of each puppy's life. Gradually, they will be able to urinate and defecate on their own, so you'll only be responsible for wiping up any messes.

Keeping the Puppies Warm 

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The room that you keep the puppies in should be free of drafts or breezes, as they must stay very warm.

The normal ambient temperature for puppies is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than most of us keep our houses. You may need to safely secure a heater in the room or cut the temperature up in the house to keep the puppies warm.

Without the mother dog's warmth, the puppies may get cold easily. They will likely crawl and sleep in so-called puppy piles, which is fine. You may need to provide extra warmth, however, such as extra blankets.

Use extreme caution if you use something like a heating pad or heat lamps, as it's very easy for the puppies to get burnt. Using a hot water bottle slightly above room temperature may be a safer alternative.

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If the puppies are crying, it's time to check out their set up. They might be hungry or cold, so make sure you're checking the room as often as you're feeding the puppies. If they're still crying and the temperature is warm enough and they've eaten, you can also try to stimulate them to defecate or urinate.

Socializating the Puppies


Your mother dog's work is never done, and neither will yours be if your pups are orphaned. You will have to teach the puppies how to be just that, puppies. A big component to this is teaching socialization.

For socialization, you'll want to acclimate the puppies to a variety of situations and sounds. Other pets in the household can be introduced to them, although they should not be going places such as the dog park at this point.

You can get them used to different sights and sounds, such as running the vacuum cleaner near them to show them it's nothing to be scared of. This will help your puppies be more secure and socialized when they go to their new homes.

In Summary

Puppies are difficult to raise even with help, and they're even harder when they're orphaned or abandoned. With no mother to care for them, all of their comfort and care will rest on you. This is an important consideration if you're thinking about breeding, as you might end up in this situation. That said, it's a rewarding position to be in as the puppies grow and shower you with endless affection.

About the Author

Elizabeth Muirhead is a practicing veterinarian. She received an undergraduate degree in biological sciences before getting her doctorate in veterinary medicine. She has experience with a variety of household pets, from dogs to guinea pigs. She regularly attends international veterinary conferences to stay abreast of new information.

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