Caring for a newborn puppy is a time-consuming and difficult job, but it’s so amazing (and rewarding!) to watch them progress from helpless tiny babies to vibrant, robust pups.
This article will cover the basics of newborn puppy care. For the first four weeks of their lives, puppies depend on their mother for warmth, nutrition, waste elimination, and hygiene. During this critical time, you should also be observing them carefully. Be sure to consult your veterinarian immediately if you have any concerns about a pup’s health.
Keeping newborn puppies warm
From birth until about 3 weeks, puppies cannot regulate their own body temperature, so you must carefully guard against chilling, which can be fatal. Keep puppies indoors, off cold floors, in a draft-free room that’s between 70-80 degrees. The puppies get their best heat from mom, but if you have orphans your room temperature should be about 80-85 degrees. Indirect heat from warm water bottles or heat lamps may also be used.
A large animal carrier lined with towels makes a nice, safe bed for newborn puppies. For the first two weeks, place a towel over the top to avoid drafts. If a pup has no litter mates, place a stuffed animal inside the carrier.
During the first week, normal temperature should be between 95-98 degrees, increasing gradually each day. At three weeks, the temperature should be 99-100 degrees. After this time, it should be close to the normal temperature for an adult dog (101.5).
Keeping newborns clean
During the first 3-4 weeks, the mom dog licks her puppies to keep them clean, and also to stimulate elimination. Because newborn puppies usually do not spontaneously eliminate on their own, you’ll need to help them with this if the mother’s ill or absent. Using a warm, moist washcloth, gently stroke the genital/anal area before and after their feedings. If they don’t go, try again in an hour.
Keep bedding clean and dry at all times to prevent chilling. If the pups needs to be bathed, use a mild baby or puppy shampoo. Bathe in warm water, towel dry and use an electric hair dryer on low to make sure he’s completely dry before being returned to his bed. If fleas are present, bathe as described but don’t use flea shampoo as it can be harmful to newborns.
Feeding and weaning
A well-fed, healthy puppy has a round stomach (not bloated), and seems content. Constant crying is usually a sign of trouble and should be reported to a vet immediately. Introduction of a puppy milk replacer may be done at 3-4 weeks of age, followed by gruel made of puppy food soaked in warm water. At 4-5 weeks, offer warmed canned puppy food mixed with formula or human baby food (chicken or beef) mixed with formula four times a day. Weaning should be completed by 6-8 weeks.
Newborn puppy care tips
After 4 weeks, puppies are able to regulate their own body temperature, and supplemental heat shouldn’t be needed. Continue to use the kennel for their bed. If possible, put it where they can get out to play, such as in a utility room or spare bedroom. Puppies don’t like to soil their bed, so place newspaper on the floor outside their kennel.
Healthy puppies look vibrant, vigorous and strong, and their tongues are pink and warm. They nurse with enthusiasm and twitch while asleep.
Hydration is important to monitor in new pups. Pinch the skin on the back of the neck. If a puppy is properly hydrated, the skin returns to normal right away. If the pinched skin stays creased, the dehydrated puppy needs fluid replacement.
Internal parasites are common in puppies; a stool sample should be taken to the veterinarian when pups are 4-6 weeks old.
No article on newborn puppy care would be complete without addressing the issue of when to seek medical attention. Treating a sick puppy early is very important, and can mean the difference between life or death. Warning signs of a puppy in trouble are incessant crying, weakness, failure to nurse, insufficient weight gain, temperature drop, dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, listlessness, sneezing, coughing, and rejection by the mother dog.
Newborn puppy care is hard work, but the rewards are well worth it!