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Care of Orphan Neonatal Puppies

By: Michelle A. Rivera

Puppies born to unhealthy moms have little chance of survival without intervention.

Of all the moms in the animal kingdom, the dog ranks right up there with the bear. They instinctively know the three most important things puppies need are warmth, hydration and nutrition. But if mom is under the weather, acting strange or just absent, you'll need to step in.

The Nest Best Thing

Step 1

Prepare a room to be used as the nest area. Use a room out of a high-traffic area, but not too isolated, either. Humidify the room if you have dry heat. Keep curious resident pets and children, even those with the best intentions, away from the puppies until they are at least 3 to 4 weeks old. If possible, an unused guest bathroom with a tub is ideal. Line the tub with thick towels and place the puppies in the tub. Make sure everyone knows they are there or someone may turn on the faucet unwittingly.

Step 2

Prepare a cardboard box big enough so the puppies can spread out comfortably but not so big as to allow them to move too far away from one another. Keeping them close and cuddly is essential as it helps keep them warm and calms them. Ensure the box is clean and line it with old, clean towels or blankets. Large plastic tubs work well, too.

Step 3

Keep the puppies warm as newborn puppies are not capable of staying warm on their own. If you have an unusually cool room, or a single puppy, use a heating pad set on low, a heat lamp or, as a last resort, a hot-water bottle that you check on regularly. For the first week, the ambient temperature should be 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. After that, the temperature can be slowly lowered but not below 80 degrees. Check the puppies' temperature rectally, it should be 94 degrees or higher.

What Goes In Must Come Out

Step 1

Feed the puppies every four hours using bottles with nipples specially made for puppies. You will need to do this for the first three to four weeks. It's important not to miss feedings because low blood sugar is a real concern for neonatal puppies. Use a warmed puppy milk replacement formula. Follow the instructions on the formula label for feeding schedules based on your puppy's size, weight and breed.

Step 2

Moisten a cotton ball or soft cloth with warm water and gently massage the puppy's anal area to help him eliminate. In nature, the mother dog licks the puppy's genitals to stimulate elimination as they are not able to do so on their own. Do this after every feeding for two weeks after puppy's birthday.

Step 3

Wean the puppies at 3 to 4 weeks of age. To prepare their meals, soak puppy kibble in warm puppy formula until it is the consistency of oatmeal, or put the kibble in a food processor, process until powdered and add a few drops of formula. Provide this meal for them six times a day. You'll finally get to sleep through the night!

Watch and Wait

Step 1

Observe your puppy(s) for any signs of a medical problem that may require veterinary intervention. If you notice any puppy not gaining weight, is unable or unwilling to eat, vomits or has diarrhea, has a low body temperature or cries incessantly, get him to the vet right away. Putty-colored gums, coughing, wheezing or runny nose or eyes are all reasons for concern, so check your puppy often.

Step 2

De-worm your puppies as soon as your vet recommends it, usually between 4 and 6 weeks of age. Puppies frequently get internal parasites from their mothers so it's common for puppies to be born with bugs on board. Never use an over-the-counter de-worming product.

Step 3

Take your puppies to the vet for their first vaccinations at the age of 6 weeks. Unless you have had some trouble, this will be their first visit to the vet and their first check up. During the visit, discuss with the vet all the things you have done to raise the puppies and then sit back and enjoy your vet's admiration for a job well done.


If you are squeamish about cleaning puppy poo, or feel you need your sleep and cannot commit to getting up every four hours, or if you cannot provide the litter with these important basic needs, do yourself and the puppies a favor and turn them over to shelter personnel who will place them in an experienced foster home.


The most ideal situation is if you can find another litter who has a mother who is raising them and may allow your puppy or puppies to crash the party. This is especially true if you only have one puppy. Put the word out among friends that you are seeking a nursing momma dog.

Items You Will Need

Heating pad


Cardboard box or rubber container

Bathtub (optional)

Puppy nursing kit: bottles, nipples, bottle brush

Rectal thermometer

Puppy milk replacement formula

Brand name puppy kibble

Prescription de-worming medication

Good luck!


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