VCA Animal Hospitals

Puppy - Raising

Raising puppies can be an extremely gratifying experience or it may produce disappointment and letdown. The following information is provided in order to increase your chances of success when caring for young puppies.

What do I do to care for the newborn puppies?

The mother should spend most of her time with her puppies during the first few days after birth.

"The puppies should be kept warm and should nurse frequently."

The puppies should be kept warm and should nurse frequently. They should be checked every few hours to ensure they are warm and well fed. The mother should be checked to make certain that she is producing adequate and normal-appearing milk.

vaccines_4_2009If the mother does not stay in the box the majority of the time, the puppies' body temperatures must be closely monitored. If the puppies are cold, supplemental heating should be provided. During the first four days of life, the newborn puppies' box and external environment should be maintained at 85º to 90ºF (29.4º to 32.2ºC). The temperature may gradually be decreased to 80ºF (26.7ºC) by the seventh to tenth day and to 72ºF (22.2ºC) by the end of the fourth week. If the litter is large, the external temperature doesn't have to be kept as warm. As puppies huddle together, their body heat provides additional warmth.

If the mother feels the puppies are in danger or if there is too much light, she may become anxious and not produce adequate milk. Placing a sheet or cloth over the top of the box to obscure much of the light may resolve the problem. An enclosed box is also an excellent solution. Some dogs, especially first-time mothers, are more nervous than others. Such dogs may attempt to hide their young, even from the owner. Moving the puppies from place to place may endanger the puppies if they are placed in a cold or drafty location. Dogs with this behavior should be caged or confined in a secure, secluded area. This type of mother has also been known to kill her puppies, intentionally or inadvertently, presumably as a means of "protecting" them from danger.

What are the signs that the puppies are not doing well and what do I do?

Puppies should eat or sleep 90% of the time during the first two weeks of life.

"If they are crying during or after eating, they are usually becoming ill or are not receiving adequate milk..."

If they are crying during or after eating, they are usually becoming ill or are not receiving adequate milk or the mother's milk has become infected (mastitis). A newborn puppy is very susceptible to infections and can die within a few hours of becoming ill. If excessive crying occurs, the mother and entire litter should be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

When the mother's milk supply is inadequate, supplemental feeding one to six times per day is recommended and should be performed routinely on any litter with greater than five puppies. There are several excellent commercial milk replacers available. They require no preparation other than warming. These milk replacers should be warmed to 95º to 100ºF (35º to 37.8ºC) before feeding. Its temperature can easily be tested on one's forearm: it should be about the same temperature as your skin.

"Any milk replacer that is used should contain optimal levels of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA..."

Any milk replacer that is used should contain optimal levels of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a nutrient that is important for the development of the puppies' brains and eyes Supplemental feeding may be continued until the puppies are old enough to eat puppy food on their own.

If the mother does not produce milk or her milk becomes infected, the puppies will cry. If this occurs, an entire litter can die within 24 to 48 hours. Total milk replacement feeding using the mentioned products or adopting the puppies to another nursing mother is usually required. If replacement feeding is chosen, the feeding amounts listed on the product should be used. Puppies less than two weeks of age should be fed every 3-4 hours. Puppies two to four weeks of age do well with feedings every 6-8 hours. Weaning, as described below, should begin at three to four weeks of age.

What should I expect from the puppies during the first few weeks of life?

For the first month of life, puppies require very little care from the owner because their mother will feed and care for them.

"In the vast majority of cases, the pet owner should not interfere with the mother's care."

In fact, in the vast majority of cases, the pet owner should not interfere with the mother's care. Puppies are born with their eyes closed. Most puppies will begin to open their eyes within seven to fourteen days of birth. If there is swelling, bulging or discharge underneath the eyelids, they should be opened gently. A cotton ball dampened with warm water may be used to assist opening the lids. If the swelling is due to infection, pus will exit the open eyelids and should be examined by a veterinarian immediately. If the eyes have not opened within fourteen days of age, the puppy should be examined by a veterinarian.puppies-raising-2_2009

Puppies should be observed for their rate of growth. They should double their birth weight in about one week. Careful and routine daily to weekly weighing should be performed to ensure the puppies are growing normally. Failure to gain weight may be indicative of a problem and the need for veterinary care.

At about two weeks of age, puppies should be alert and trying to stand on their own. At three weeks, they generally try to climb out of their box. At four weeks, all of the puppies should be able to walk, run, and play.

Puppies should begin eating solid food about three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half (3½ to 4½) weeks of age. Initially, make gruel by mixing a milk replacer in puppy food soaked in water and place this mixture in a flat saucer. The puppies' noses should be carefully dipped into the mixture two or three times per day until they begin to lap; this usually takes one to three days. Next, canned or dry puppy food should be placed in the milk replacer or water until it is soggy. As the puppies lap, they will also ingest the food. The amount of moisture should be decreased daily until they are eating the canned or dry food with little or no moisture added (usually by four to six weeks of age).

I have heard of milk fever. What exactly is it?

Eclampsia, or milk fever, is a depletion of calcium from the mother due to heavy milk production. It generally occurs when the puppies are three to five weeks old (just before weaning) and most often to mothers with large litters. The mother typically has muscle spasms resulting in rigid legs, spastic movements, and heavy panting. This condition can be fatal in 30-60 minutes, so a veterinarian should be consulted immediately.

Do puppies need to be fed a special diet?

Diet is extremely important for a growing puppy. There are many commercial foods specially formulated for puppies.

"...should be fed until twelve to eighteen months of age."

These foods meet their unique nutritional requirements and should be fed until twelve to eighteen months of age. To minimize developmental problems, large breed dogs should eat a large-breed puppy food and then transition to an adolescent formula until they stop growing. Puppy foods are available in dry and canned formulations.

You should buy FOOD FORMULATED FOR PUPPIES. Adult formulations are not recommended since they do not provide optimal nutrition required for a puppy. Advertisements tend to promote taste, color and shape rather than nutrition, so one should be careful that these ads do not negatively influence the eventual well being of their puppy. Generic dog foods should be avoided. Table or human food is not recommended for growing puppies. Although the puppy may show a preference for table food, unless you follow a properly-balanced recipe developed by a veterinary nutritionist, the puppy's long term health will be compromised.

Purchase a NAME BRAND FOOD RECOMMENDED BY YOUR VETERINARIAN. The diet should contain optimal levels of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a nutrient that is important for the development of the puppies' brains and eyes. It is generally a good idea to avoid generic brands of food. We recommend that you only buy food that has the AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) certification. Usually, you can find this information very easily on the food label. AAFCO is an organization that oversees the entire pet food industry. It does not endorse any particular food, but it will tell you if the food has met the minimum requirements for nutrition, which are set by the industry. Most of the commercial pet foods will have the AAFCO label. In Canada, look for foods approved by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) or premium brands of food that are labeled as having undergone feeding trials.

When should my puppies receive vaccinations?

"...passive antibody transfer from their mother."

puppies-raising-3_2009Puppies are protected against many canine diseases before and shortly after birth by passive antibody transfer from their mother. Some antibodies cross the placenta and enter the puppies' circulation. However, the majority of antibodies are provided in the mother's first milk known as colostrum. These "maternal antibodies" protect the puppies against the diseases to which the mother is immune during the first few weeks of life. This explains why it is often recommended to booster the mother's vaccinations within a few months prior to breeding.

Although very protective, maternal antibodies last for only a few weeks; after this time, the puppy becomes susceptible to disease. The vaccination program should be started at about six to eight weeks of age. This is the age when many maternal antibodies are beginning to die and the puppy becomes susceptible to infectious disease. Puppies should be vaccinated against canine distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, parainfluenza virus, and rabies. Other vaccines are also available for certain situations, and will be discussed at the time of the first visit for vaccinations.

Maternal antibodies are passed in the mother's milk only during the first one to three days after delivery. If, for any reason, the puppies do not nurse during this important period of time, their vaccinations should begin about four weeks of age, depending on likely disease exposure. A veterinarian can make specific recommendations for each particular situation.

Do all puppies have worms?

"Intestinal parasites ("worms") are very common in puppies."

Intestinal parasites ("worms") are very common in puppies. Symptoms of intestinal parasites include poor overall condition, chronic soft or bloody stools, loss of appetite, a pot-bellied appearance, a dull, dry haircoat, and weight loss. Some parasites are transmitted from the mother to her offspring either in utero (while in the womb) or in the milk and others are carried by fleas or other insects. Some are transmitted through the stool of an infected dog. Very few of these parasites are visible in the stool, so their eggs must be detected by the veterinarian with a microscope.

A microscopic examination of the feces will reveal the eggs of most of these parasites. Generally this test should be performed at the time of the first vaccinations. However, it may be performed as early as two to three weeks of age if an intestinal parasite problem is suspected. Treatment is based on the type of parasites found although some veterinarians elect to treat all puppies because they know that fecal tests can be falsely negative due to low numbers of parasite eggs shed in the feces of a young puppy. Your veterinarian should be consulted for specific recommendations for your puppies. You should not administer any over-the-counter de-worming compounds without first consulting your veterinary hospital.

Related Tags

puppies, puppy, newborn, replacers, docosahexaenoic

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