If your dog has given birth to puppies and is unable to look after them for whatever reason, it's important that you know how to care for the little ones until they are old enough to eat and drink themselves.
Taking care of newborn puppies is not the same as looking after a fully grown, mature dog. They need feeding at regular intervals and they also need to be encouraged to do "their business", something a mum would do if she were able to. The first few weeks of a puppy's life are crucial and it's when they need to be well-fed and kept warm. Below are a few tips and a little advice on how to take care of newborn puppies when mum cannot do so herself:
When puppies are first born, it's essential they drink from their mother as soon as possible. The first drink a puppy takes is the most important because it's extremely rich. If mum is not able to feed her puppies, it's important that you contact the vet and ask for their advice. The vet might ask you to take her and her litter along to the surgery so they can be examined, but this needs to be done as soon as possible.
Once the vet has carried out an examination, they would then be in position to recommend the right sort of commercially produced milk replacer which would be one that's formulated specifically for newborn puppies. It's crucial to use the right type of milk replacer because if not, puppies might end up with the "runs" which could mean they dehydrate very quickly and this could lead to all sorts of health problems which could even prove fatal.
It's also important to learn how to bottle feed a puppy. The vet would be able to show you how to do this correctly once they have examined the puppies and mum if she is around. The puppies would need to be fed frequently throughout a 24 hour period which means setting up a feeding routine that would last the first few weeks of the puppies' lives.
At around one month old, puppies can start being fed solid food which again, the vet would be able to tell you which type would suit the puppies the best. The vet would also be able to show you how to make the transition from milk replacer to solids which has to be done gradually and carefully to avoid any tummy upsets. When puppies are 8 weeks old, they should be on solid food only.
If mum is not around, it's crucial for puppies to be kept nice and warm as soon as they are born because they can easily and quickly succumb to hypothermia if they get too cold. It's important to remember that puppies cannot maintain their own body heat for the first couple of weeks of their lives so they depend on their mother to do so. If she is not around, this task falls to their surrogate mother, namely the person looking after them.
The first and most important thing to do is set up a whelping box and to place nice warm blankets in it for puppies to snuggle up on. They will get some heat from each other as they snuggle together, but this would not be enough to keep their body temperatures at the right levels. Ideally, the temperature of their environment should be between 85 and 90 degrees F when they are first born. This can be decreased to 80 degrees after ten days or so, but initially the temperature has to be that much warmer to keep the puppies nice and toasty.
The vet might suggest using heat pads to keep them warm, but lamps need to be used with care or the puppies might end up overheating or in a worst case scenario, they may even get burnt when lying on them. If you don't want to use heat pads, you can opt to use a hot water bottle making sure it has a cover on it. The bottle should not be too hot and it would need to be refilled on a constant basis to keep puppies warm which means puppies might get cold at times.
Another alternative is to place the puppies under a heat lamp, but again these need to be used with care because newborn puppies can quickly dehydrate under them. In short, you would need to keep a close eye on the puppies thoughout a 24 hour period to make sure they are not getting too warm.
If you notice that puppies are not settling, it could be they are too cold and therefore you would need to increase the heat to an appropriate level to make them more comfortable. If puppies are warm, they tend to be quiet and they put weight on rapidly which is what you want. A cold puppy will whimper a lot and have trouble gaining any weight because they will be using all the nourishment they get to keep themselves warm. If you have any worries or concerns, it's essential you discuss these with your vet earlier rather than later.
It's also essential to help newborn puppies do their "business" which as previously mentioned their mother would do by licking their bottoms. As a surrogate mum, you would need to do this by massaging their backsides with a very soft and warm damp cloth. If you are not sure how, you should ask the vet to show you so that you don't hurt or injure any of the puppies when encouraging them to wee or poo. This would need to be done until the newborns are around 4 weeks old which is when they start going to the toilet on their own and when "house training" typically starts.
It's also important to weigh puppies at regular intervals to make sure they are putting on the right amount of weight. If any of the puppies are failing to gain weight yet eating normally, it's time to get them along to the vet for a check up to make sure no underlying health issue is causing the problem. When a problem is diagnosed early enough, it is generally easier for the vet to successfully treat.