The birth of puppies is an exciting time. It's beautiful to watch a mother care for her newborns, especially in the early stages of life.
A newborn puppy is completely helpless and dependent upon its mother. The first week of a puppy's life is mainly about sleeping and eating so it will grow.
Puppies should remain with their mother and littermates until about age eight to 12 weeks. However, it is most crucial to have a mother during the first few weeks of life. A puppy that has been separated from its mother will need human intervention. Raising a newborn puppy takes a lot of time and intensive care. This is not quite the same thing as caring for a young puppy.
Puppies are born with closed eyes and ears. They cannot see and can hear very little, if at all. Yet they are able to make noise, which sounds like high-pitched squealing. They have no teeth at birth and are unable to walk. Newborn puppies are incapable of urinating or defecating on their own. In addition, a newborn puppy cannot regulate its own body temperature.
Most newborn puppies are instinctively able to find their mother's nipples and begin nursing right after they are born, or whelped. Once cleaned up (by mom or a helping human hand) they will crawl towards the mother's warm belly, find the teats, and begin to suckle.
Newborn puppies will spend about 90% of the time sleeping for the first few weeks of life. That's more than 22 hours a day, but sleep doesn't happen all at once. Pups will nap on and off throughout the day and night, keeping warm with littermates and the mother's body heat. In between naps, they spend the rest of the time eating and being groomed by mom. Newborn puppies eat about every two hours or more.
Because newborn puppies cannot see, hear, or walk, they do not have much exploring to do early on. The puppy's world is all about mom, littermates, and the box they all sleep in.
Health and Care
During the first few weeks of a puppy's life, the mother dog spends the majority of her time providing food and care. The mother keeps her puppies clean and nurses them. She licks the anus and genitals of each puppy to stimulate urination and defecation. During this time, humans can gently hold and pet the puppies for brief periods as long as this does not seem to upset the mother dog. It's more likely for human contact to be welcomed if those humans are part of the mother dog's family.
In general, it's best to let mom do her job and stick to just petting the puppies. However, there are situations where the mother is unwilling or unable to care for her pups. Or, mom might be doing a fine job, but one or more puppies are not growing properly. This is when human intervention is the only possible way to save the puppies. If you decide to care for an orphaned puppy, be prepared to spend most of your time with the puppy for the next few weeks.
Any time a puppy is not gaining weight well or becomes orphaned, that puppy should be taken to a vet as soon as possible to assess her health. Puppies can get very sick very quickly without proper care. When in doubt about the health of a puppy, do not delay the vet visit!
If the puppy was rejected by her mother, it may be due to a health issue detected by the mother. In the meantime, you will need to do your best to provide the care her mother would have.
- Create a warm environment for the puppy to sleep. A small box with blankets and a heating lamp is ideal. Keep the lamp at a fair distance so the environment does not overheat. A heating pad and blankets can also work, just make sure the heating pad is well-covered to prevent burns.
- Bottle feed a special puppy formula every 2-3 hours. You should be able to find puppy milk replacement at a pet food store or through your veterinarian. Do not feed puppies cow's milk, as it does not provide adequate nutrition and it can cause digestive issues.
- Use a warm cloth or cotton ball to stimulate urination and defecation immediately after each meal. The amounts of urine and feces will be very tiny. A normal stool will be yellowish and soft.
- Regularly massage the puppy's body and clean the puppy as needed. Massage will mimic the feeling of the mother grooming, something experts believe is an integral part of development.
Food and Nutrition
In general, a newborn puppy gets all the nutrition it needs from its mother's milk. The first milk made by the mother contains colostrum, a substance that contains additional antibodies to help the puppy fight infection. This can be absorbed by the puppy for the first day or two of life and provides some temporary immunity against whatever illnesses the mother has immunity against.
Be aware that commercial puppy formula will not provide colostrum. Bottle-fed puppies that do not get colostrum are especially vulnerable to illness and may not thrive. A veterinarian may be able to administer serum from another dog to the puppy within the first 24 hours of its life to mimic the effects of colostrum.
Newborn puppies will not have teeth for several weeks and are unable to digest puppy food. Do not introduce any kind of dog food until the puppies are ready to begin the weaning process, usually around 3-4 weeks of age, unless it is otherwise recommended by a veterinarian.
Training and Socialization
A newborn puppy is too young to go through any kind of training, but there may be some things you can do to get her used to people and her environment. If the mother permits it, handle the puppies regularly for a short time. Take care not to keep the pup away from mom for more than a few minutes. You can use the time to cuddle and pet the puppy, acquainting her with the smell and feel of humans and the environment.