Canines Raising Orphaned Puppies

August 3, 2016
  • Canine
  • Dogs

Raising an orphaned puppy can be a very heartwarming and rewarding experience. However, it takes a great deal of care and commitment. Orphaned newborns are particularly difficult to raise successfully. They have special needs and require intensive nursing care if they are to survive. This fact sheet begins by discussing the care of orphaned newborn puppies.

Three common and potentially life-threatening problems in orphaned newborns are chilling, dehydration, and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). All three may be present together in a puppy that has been abandoned and exposed to the elements, which would require to be seen at a local veterinary hospital. These problems can also develop in a puppy under your care unless you are paying close attention.

1. Chilling

Newborn puppies cannot regulate their body temperature very well. They quickly become chilled, or hypothermic if their mother, their siblings, or their environment does not keep them warm. It will be necessary to provide a heat source for your puppy for the first few weeks of life. Suitable heat sources include hot water bottles, incubators, and heat lamps. Whichever heat source you use, make sure the puppy doesn’t become overheated or burned. In addition, avoid drafts by placing the puppy’s box away from windows, doorways, and air-conditioning vents.

During the first 4 days of life, aim to keep the temperature in the box at a puppy-level between 85ºF and 90ºF. Gradually decrease the temperature to about 80ºF by day 7–10. If you are raising a litter of puppies, the temperature can be a little lower, as the puppies will huddle together and keep one another warmer. The normal rectal temperature for a newborn puppy is 95–99ºF. If its rectal temperature is below 94ºF you are dealing with a potentially life-threatening case of hypothermia. The puppy needs to be warmed immediately. Take care not to overheat the puppy or warm it too quickly; this can be fatal in a weak puppy.

The normal rectal temperature for a newborn puppy is 95–99ºF. If its rectal temperature is below 94ºF you are dealing with a potentially life-threatening case of hypothermia. The puppy needs to be warmed immediately. Take care not to overheat the puppy or warm it too quickly; this can be fatal in a weak puppy.

2. Dehydration

Newborn puppies quickly become dehydrated if they are not nursing. They can also become dehydrated if their environment is hot and dry. Two indicators of dehydration are loss of elasticity in the skin (the skin stays tented when gently pinched up) and decreased saliva production (the gums and tongue feel tacky or dry).

In addition to providing adequate nutrition, you may need to humidify the puppy box or room if the puppy is small or weak. Be careful not to make the box too hot and humid; this can cause respiratory distress. A home humidifier should be adequate.

3. Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia quickly develops in a newborn that is not nursing frequently. As hypoglycemia worsens, the puppy becomes progressively more depressed and weak. Without treatment it may develop muscle twitches or seizures (convulsions) and then it becomes unresponsive and comatose. If it is showing any of these signs place a few drops of corn syrup on its tongue. This simple procedure is often sufficient to revive a hypoglycemic puppy. Also watch for signs of hypoglycemia over the next several days, as you adjust your puppy’s feeding schedule.

What should I feed the puppy?

Until the puppy is old enough to start eating solid food (about 3 weeks of age), you’ll need to feed it a milk replacer. The best milk replacer is a commercial formula that is specifically developed for puppies. There are several good products available. In an emergency, use canned goat’s milk or the following recipe:

  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 3 egg yolks

Blend the mixture well.

For very young puppies, warm the milk replacer to 95–100ºF before feeding it, and test the temperature on the underside of your wrist as you would a baby’s bottle. In older puppies, the milk replacer can be fed at room temperature.

How do I feed the puppy?

There are several methods of feeding milk replacer to a puppy. Probably the easiest and safest way in an emergency is with a medicine dropper. Spoon-feeding is slow and messy, and there is a risk that some of the liquid will trickle into the puppy’s lungs.

Baby bottles made for puppies are excellent if the puppy has a good suck reflex. Take some time to check the hole in the nipple before using the bottle the first time. The hole is the right size if, when you turn the bottle upside down, milk replacer drips from the nipple with only a gentle squeeze of the bottle. If when you upend the bottle, you must squeeze it firmly to get milk to drip from the nipple, the hole needs to be enlarged. Otherwise, the puppy will become discouraged or exhausted when nursing and may even refuse to nurse. To enlarge the hole, heat a needle and then pierce the tip of the nipple a few times. If the puppy is weak and has a poor suck reflex, it is necessary to feed the puppy through a tube inserted into its stomach. Your veterinarian will instruct you on how to place the tube and maintain it for feeding.

How much and how often should I feed the puppy?

Follow the directions for the feeding amount on the commercial milk replacer packaging. First, weigh your puppy using a scale that is accurate to the ounce or gram. Unless the milk replacer package gives amounts per feeding, take the total daily amount recommended, and divide it by the number of feedings per 24-hour period. If the puppy is small or weak, we recommend feeding it every 3–4 hours. That means 6 meals (every 4 hours) or 8 meals (every 3 hours) per 24 hours. With older puppies, feeding four meals per 24-hour period, equally spaced every 6 hours, is adequate. By the end of the third week, you should be able to start weaning your puppy.

I’ve heard that orphaned puppies need help defecating. Is this true?

Mothers stimulate their puppies to defecate (pass stool) by licking or nuzzling around the puppy’s anus. To prevent your orphaned puppy from becoming constipated, you’ll need to mimic this action using a soft cloth or cotton ball moistened with warm water. Gently stimulate the puppy’s anal area after feeding for the first 2 weeks of its life.

When can I start weaning my puppy?

Your puppy will be ready to eat solid food by 3–4 weeks of age. A simple way of weaning puppies is described in the article, Canine Raising Puppies. Also discussed on that sheet is a suitable diet for your weaned puppy.

When should I bring my puppy in for its vaccinations?

The usual recommendation is to start puppies on their lifelong vaccination program at 6–8 weeks of age. If your puppy did not get to nurse from its mother in the first few days of life, its vaccination program should start earlier, at 2–4 weeks of age. The reasons are discussed on the fact sheet, Canine Raising Puppies. Also on that sheet is a list of the vaccinations commonly recommended for puppies. Our veterinarian in Nolensville, TN can recommend what is best for your puppy.

Does my puppy need to be treated for worms?

Internal parasites (worms) are common in puppies. Some of these parasites are passed from the mother to the puppies; fleas transmit others. Routinely deworm puppies every few weeks. Your veterinarian can advise you on an appropriate deworming program for your puppy. Avoid over-the-counter deworming products. Many of these products can be useless and even dangerous if improperly given.

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