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Happy Beginnings: Tips on Caring for Newborn Puppies


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Newborn puppies are adorable and typically their arrival is a cause for celebration. However, whether mom is able to care for her pups or you are preparing to care for orphan puppies, these little bundles of cuteness require a great deal of special attention. Canine moms require good prenatal care as well as help with the newborns when they arrive. It is up to you to make sure all the puppies are breathing and otherwise healthy at birth and to ensure they have access to warmth and proper nutrition.

Examining the Newborn Puppy

Your first job is to inspect the newborn puppies to verify that they are normal and experiencing no distress. Check to make sure puppies are all breathing as they are born and that they are nursing. Watch mom for signs that she is taking care of her puppies’ needs. She should clean them all up, and lay down to let them nurse and find warmth. A dog that is nervous, picking her puppies up and carrying them around a lot, or not allowing them to nurse may need some help.

It is crucial that puppies never get chilled, so make sure that your dog’s birthing area is warm and draft-free. Make sure there is plenty of insulation beneath the puppies and the floor. A chilled puppy will appear limp and lethargic and will be located apart from the rest of their litter mates. If you discover a chilled puppy, you can warm them very slowly using your own body heat.

It is also important to check that your puppies’ reflexes are good. Most important of all are the sucking and rooting reflexes, so watch each puppy to confirm they are finding their mother’s teats and can latch on and suck. Healthy puppies also have the ability to right themselves if they are on their backs. If you find that any puppy is weak, watch them carefully and consider taking them to your vet for a closer examination.

Feeding and the Newborn Puppy

When your puppies are first born it is important to watch them and the mom very carefully to make sure that there are no issues with nursing. Verify that mom’s milk comes in, and that each puppy is getting adequate time to nurse. If one puppy is being pushed away frequently or if puppies are spending more time nursing than they are sleeping, there may be a problem with milk supply. If it is a very large litter, it is especially important to watch for signs that every puppy is getting proper nutrition. 

One way to ensure that puppies are getting enough nutrition is to weigh them frequently over the first few weeks. You can purchase a baby scale to weigh your puppies. Experts advise that you weigh newborns right at birth, after 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, 3 days, 5 days, and 7 days. Weights may vary between puppies, but each puppy should be gaining weight steadily. If any of them are not gaining weight, it could indicate a problem with milk supply – or with the puppy – that needs examination by a vet.

What Happens When Mom is Not There

It happens: mom may refuse or be unable to care for her puppies, may have too many, the puppies may be abandoned by an owner, or there may be any number of other reasons why puppies are orphaned. Orphaned puppies require the same exact care, with a few exceptions. You will need to feed the puppies on your own, which can be tricky since sucking from a bottle is very different from nursing on mom. If you try to feed your babies and they will not nurse, a vet can help by teaching you how to tube feed them until they catch on. 

Your vet can also help you choose the right formula for your puppies and show you the best way to feed them. There is formula, as well as bottles, designed specifically for puppies. Formula will need to be warmed to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and you will need to feed the newborns every two to three hours. Always feed puppies on their stomach, as feeding them on their backs can cause them to choke. 

Keeping puppies warm and weighing them is especially important if you are bottle feeding and they do not have mom available for warmth. You must also take care of mom’s other job if she is not available and that is to stimulate the newborn puppies' genitals so they are able to urinate and defecate. This can be done with a moist cotton ball by simply massaging the genital region until elimination happens. Finally, cleaning their faces and stroking their bellies and sides will simulate the licking action that naturally occurs from the mother. Experts believe this stimulation is also important for puppy health.

A Happy Beginning

In most cases, both puppies raised by their mom and by humans thrive and grow up to be strong healthy companions. It is important to remember, however, that things can go wrong, and the best way to ensure your puppies’ health is to know when it is time to call the veterinarian. If mom pushes a puppy away consistently, if they are not nursing properly or not gaining weight, or you have any other concerns, do not hesitate to call your vet. They can head off any potentially serious issues and help ensure your puppies grow up strong and healthy.

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© 2023 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.