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If you've found yourself in a situation where you are the person responsible for hand rearing a puppy or maybe even a whole litter, it's understandable to feel a little overwhelmed. Puppies from birth to one week old require feeding around every two to four hours day and night, which is a significant time commitment for just one person to make. If at all possible, try and get someone to help you to share the workload, and allow you to get some uninterrupted sleep!
If you are concerned that you simply don't have the time to be able to raise your new pups during the first two weeks of their lives when their care requirements are at their most demanding, there are a couple of other options you can think about. As mentioned, if you have some friends or other family members who can help you to spread the workload, this can make your life a lot easier and less stressful. If this is not the case, then you may have to look at a couple of alternatives. Most veterinary referral centres and 24 hour pet hospitals will normally accept litters of puppies from their clients for hand rearing in the first two weeks of life, although understandably this can be a costly endeavour. Something else worth considering is contacting local breeders in your area who may have a dam nursing puppies of around the same age- just as a dam may sometimes reject her puppy or litter, some dams can be convinced to adopt another dog's puppies and raise them alongside their own. This is not always possible and you must be prepared for disappointment, even if you do find another dog owner who is willing to have a go, but is certainly worthy of consideration.
During the first week of their lives, your puppies are at their most vulnerable and will need the greatest time commitment to their care. The first thing you will need to do is buy a suitable substitute milk formula for your pups, in consultation with your vet. Cow's milk is not suitable for the puppies as it does not contain the right proportion of fats, proteins and nutrients for the pups. A good milk substitute for puppies will be formulated to contain the right quantities of calcium, lactose and protein. While the puppies are particularly tiny, you will probably need to use a small syringe to feed them with, before going onto a bottle with a teat as they grow larger. For the first five days of the puppies' lives, they will require feeding every two to four hours, day and night. Feed each puppy carefully, making sure that they can get enough milk but that you are not swamping them when syringe feeding. You may be able to see bubbles of milk at the corners of the pup's mouth, but milk should not be running down their chins. Milk should drip out of the syringe or teat, but never run. Swamping your puppy with milk brings with it the potential risk of drowning or pneumonia, so make sure that you feed with care. Allow them to drink as much milk as they need in each sitting. Once the puppy has had enough, they will move their head away from the teat or the end of the syringe. Make sure they are not just having a break and have in fact finished! Just as with human babies, you will need to burp the puppies after they have drunk, to prevent gas. Try not to let hungry puppies gulp milk or drink too fast, or burping may leave you with more on your hands than you bargained for! After feeding, you will need to help them to go to the toilet. Very young puppies cannot go to the toilet on their own, and puppies raised with the dam will have the dam stimulate their bladder and bowel movement by licking them. In order to mimic the stimulation they need to go to the toilet, use a slightly rough moist towel and gently rub your puppies back end until they defecate and urinate once they have finished drinking. A puppy which has had enough milk will generally then go to sleep. If the puppies appear restless, are crying or seem otherwise distressed, they may not have fed enough and you should offer the bottle again. It's important to monitor the weight and development of all puppies on a daily basis, and this is especially important in the case of hand reared puppies. Weigh the pups daily to make sure that they are getting enough milk- they should be gaining 10- 15% of their body weight every day during the first week of life. Very young puppies cannot moderate their own body temperatures, and so you should take their temperatures regularly to make sure that they are neither too hot nor too cold. You may also need to treat your new puppies for fleas as well, in consultation with your vet. Some spot on flea remedies can be used on very young puppies, but never treat your pups with anything without consulting your vet in the first instance. Once the first week of hand rearing has passed, things become slightly easier as the puppies get a little bit larger and managing the teat and the puppy becomes less unwieldy. Also the puppies will begin to need feeding slightly less often, around every four to six hours rather than as often as every two. From around one to two weeks old, the puppies will begin to be able to eliminate waste themselves without the need for manual stimulation, and so toileting should be easier. Make sure that you continue to provide enough milk for their developing needs, taking into account their increased appetites alongside their increasing sizes! At about four weeks of age, you can begin weaning your pups onto solid foods with a view to eventually stopping hand feeding altogether. Make sure that you use a nutritionally complete puppy food, and not one intended for an adult dog. At around four weeks old, your pups will also begin to sleep through the night, making your job a lot easier! Once your puppy is successfully fully weaned onto solid foods, the process of hand rearing is almost over. But remember that your pups are still very young and vulnerable, and that you will need to take the place of their dam for several weeks yet until they are ready to go out into the world on their own.
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