Brightwood Animal Hospital

9640 Old Johnnycake Ridge Rd
Mentor, OH 44060


Canine Raising Puppies

How should I care for newborn puppies?

If the mother is able, she will care for her puppies. Your job is to make sure the puppies stay warm and get plenty of milk. Check the litter every few hours. Also check to make sure the mother is producing milk. If the puppies feel cold, you'll need to provide some heating, such as a heating pad or heat lamp. Be careful not to burn or overheat the puppies. With very young puppies (1-4 days of age), aim for a temperature in the box at puppy-level of 85-90ºF. For puppies 7-10 days of age, the temperature can be slightly lower, around 80ºF. Gradually lower the temperature over the next couple of weeks to about 72ºF by the time the puppies are 4 weeks of age. With large litters, you can set the temperature slightly lower, as the puppies will huddle together and keep each other warm.

Most new mothers are very protective of their puppies; some will try to hide their puppies from you by moving them from place to place. Anxious, overprotective mothers have even been known to kill their young to protect them from perceived dangers. Fortunately, this extreme behavior is uncommon. There are a few things you can do to reduce your dog's anxiety about her puppies. Placing a sheet or towel over the top of the whelping box so that it covers most of the opening can make the mother feel less anxious. It will also reduce drafts in the box. If your dog frequently moves her puppies in an attempt to hide them, you may need to lock her and her puppies in a secure area. Choose a place that is draft-free, quiet, and away from most of the usual household traffic.

How can I tell if the puppies aren't doing well?

Excessive crying by the puppies indicates that there is a problem. Healthy puppies spend 90% of their time eating or sleeping during the first 2 weeks of life, and they do both activities with gusto. So, whenever you look in the box during this time, chances are that you will see the pups either nursing vigorously or sleeping soundly. If the puppies are getting insufficient milk or are becoming ill, they will cry incessantly. This behavior should alert you to watch the mother and her litter closely for the next hour or so and call your veterinarian if you feel there is a problem. Newborn puppies are susceptible to infection, and they can die within 24 hours if not examined and treated immediately.

What should I do if the mother doesn't have enough milk for her puppies?

If the mother's milk supply is inadequate or if her udder (and therefore her milk) becomes infected, you will need to supplement the puppies until they are 3-4 weeks old. (Raising orphan puppies is discussed in a separate fact sheet.) It is best to use one of the commercial milk replacers that are specifically formulated for puppies. Canned goat's milk is a suitable short-term alternative. Before feeding it, warm the formula to 95-100ºF and test the temperature on the underside of your wrist as you would a baby's bottle.

In an emergency, feeding the puppies using a medicine dropper is the easiest and safest way to get them to drink the milk replacer. If you are going to be feeding the puppies milk replacer for days or weeks, buy a baby bottle designed for feeding puppies.

If the mother is still nursing the puppies and has some milk, the puppies will need supplemental feeding one to three times per day, depending on the mother's milk supply and the litter size. The commercial products have recommended feeding volumes on or in their packaging. If the mother has some milk, feed 1/3 to 1/2 of the recommended daily amount, divided into one to three feedings. As long as the puppies are not crying and are gaining weight, they are getting enough to eat.

If the mother is unable to nurse her pups for whatever reason, complete replacement feeding is necessary, unless the puppies can be adopted onto another nursing dog. For complete replacement, feed the amounts recommended on the commercial formula. Feed young puppies (less than 2 weeks of age) every 3-4 hours. Older puppies (2-4 weeks of age) can be fed every 6-8 hours. Whether providing supplemental or complete replacement feeding, you can begin weaning the puppies at 3-4 weeks of age (see below).

What is milk fever and what causes it?

Milk fever, or eclampsia, is a condition that can occur in nursing mothers. Milk production drains the body of calcium, so mothers that are producing a lot of milk, such as those nursing large litters, can become calcium depleted. Eclampsia occurs when the mother's blood calcium level drops below the normal range. Signs include muscle spasms, stiff legs, spastic movements, and panting. Eclampsia can be fatal so call your veterinarian immediately if your nursing dog develops these symptoms. This problem is most likely to occur at peak lactation, which in most dogs is when the pups are 3-4 weeks of age

When do puppies first open their eyes?

Puppies are born with their eyelids sealed closed. They begin to open their eyes at 1-2 weeks of age. If you notice swelling or bulging of the eyelids before this time, gently open the puppy's eyes using a cotton ball dampened with warm water. If you see pus in the eyes, contact your veterinarian. Also contact your veterinarian if a puppy's eyes have not opened by the time it is 2 weeks of age.

When do puppies begin walking?

Newborn puppies crawl around in search of the mother's teats. By about 2 weeks of age, the puppies should be trying to stand and walk. By about 3 weeks of age, they are coordinated and agile enough to try climbing out of their box. By 4 weeks of age, the puppies should all be walking, running, and playing.

When and how should I wean the puppies?

Puppies can begin eating solid food at 3-4 weeks of age. Here is what we suggest for gradually weaning puppies onto solid food. Place some milk replacer or a gruel made by mixing a small amount of canned puppy food with water in a saucer. Dip the puppies' noses into the liquid a couple of times per day until they begin to lap (this usually takes 1-3 days). Once the puppies are lapping on their own, add a small amount of canned or dry puppy food to the liquid. Over the next 1-2 weeks, gradually decrease the amount of liquid in the mixture until the puppies are eating only the canned or dry puppy food. By 4-6 weeks of age, the puppies should be fully weaned.

What should I feed my puppy after it is weaned?

All puppies should be fed a nutritionally complete and balanced diet that has been specifically formulated for puppies. Good quality diets are available as soft canned foods or as dry foods. Continue to feed this diet until the puppy is at least 12 months of age.

Do not feed your puppy a diet that is formulated for adult dogs; these diets are not suitable for growing dogs. Also avoid generic brands of dog food. When selecting a food for your puppy, check the packaging and buy food that displays the AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) certification. This certification indicates that the particular brand and formulation meets the minimum nutritional requirements set by the pet food industry. Your veterinarian can make specific recommendations on what would be best for your pet.

When should my puppy first be vaccinated?

In most cases, the vaccination program should begin when the puppy is 6-8 weeks of age. If, for whatever reason, the puppy did not nurse from its mother during the first 1-3 days of life, vaccination should begin at 2-4 weeks of age.

If the puppy did nurse from its mother in the first day or two of life, it will have received antibodies in the milk which help protect it from various diseases. These "maternal" antibodies persist in the puppy's system for several weeks, then they start to decline. Vaccination at 6-8 weeks of age is timed to stimulate the puppy's system to produce its own antibodies as the maternal antibodies are declining. Vaccination before this time can be ineffective because the presence of maternal antibodies interferes with the puppy developing its own immune response.

If the puppy did not nurse during the first few days of life, when antibody levels in the milk are high, it will have missed out on the maternal antibodies normally supplied in this milk. Maternal antibodies also cross the placenta, from the mother's bloodstream to the puppy. So, the puppy will have some protection, but not as much as a puppy that has nursed from its mother during those first few critical days of life. Therefore, puppies that did not nurse must begin their vaccination program earlier.

Puppies should be vaccinated against distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza virus, parvovirus, coronavirus, and rabies. Several of these vaccines are combined in a single injection, so initial vaccination may require only two or three injections. Other vaccines may be recommended in certain situations. Your veterinarian will discuss the options with you when you bring your puppy in the first time.

(Incidentally, as maternal antibodies are important for protection of the newborn puppies, it is a good idea to booster the mother's vaccinations a month or two before she is bred.)

When should I deworm my puppy?

Most puppies should be dewormed every few weeks beginning 3 weeks of age. Your veterinarian can make recommendations based on the parasite problems in your area. Signs of infestation with internal parasites include poor growth, poor body condition or weight loss, potbellied appearance, poor appetite, soft stools (with or without blood), and a dull coat.

Examination of a stool sample using a microscope usually is necessary to confirm infestation with internal parasites in puppies. Your veterinarian can perform this laboratory test when you bring your puppy in for vaccination. Internal parasites are common in puppies; and as some stool samples are falsely negative for parasite eggs. Your veterinarian may recommend treating all puppies for worms at the time of their first vaccination.

by William M. Fraser, D.V.M.

Brightwood Animal Hospital serves Mentor, Concord, Painesville and the surrounding communities.

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