Care Guide for Newborn Puppies

Kelly Roper
Newborn puppy

Newborn puppies are some of the most adorable creatures in the world. Learn how to oversee the care of these puppies and their mother during the earliest weeks of their lives until they hit the "up and running" stage.

Defining "Newborn"

Although there isn't one firm definition of a newborn pup, most puppies are considered newborns until their eyes and ears have opened up, which doesn't happen until between ten and fourteen days old. After 21 days, the puppies begin to be more aware of the world around them. At this time, they are no longer considered newborns.

Newborn Puppy Development Week by Week

  • Week one - Newborn puppies mainly eat, sleep and potty. They can wiggle around, but they cannot walk. Their eyes and ears are sealed.
  • Week two - The eyes and ears open, and the pups begin to use their legs just a little more to creep around the box.
  • Week three - The pups become more mobile and more aware of their surroundings. You can almost see their personalities switch on around 21 days old. The first teeth also begin breaking through the gums at this time.
  • Week four - Begin teaching the puppies how to lap up water and puppy milk formula.
  • Weeks five to six - Move the puppies to begin eating soft, mushy food such as moistened kibble or soft dog food.
  • Weeks seven to eight - Puppies should be able to eat soft, moist kibble and eventually dry kibble by the end of week eight.

Caring for Newborn Puppies

Mom's Job

Once your bitch has delivered her litter, she will take care of the lion's share of the work during the first few weeks of life. She will nurse the newborn puppies and clean them by licking them. She will also keep them close to her so they stay warm, and she'll protect them as she sees necessary.

Caring for the New Mother

Your main job will be to care for your bitch and provide her with plenty of nutritious food and water so she can feed her puppies. The mother will need several trips outside each day to exercise and relieve herself, but keep her in your own yard and away from other dogs. These trips should be just long enough to do her business so she can get back to her pups as quickly as possible.

Maintaining a Whelping Box

Your next order of business is to help keep the whelping box clean. You'll want to take the opportunity to change out the bedding in the box while mom is outside. Replace the newspaper lining and put in a fresh blanket or mat while you wash the soiled one.

Examine the Puppies

Also, take this opportunity to give the pups a quick exam. You'll need to:

  • Make sure they are eating well. A puppy that has just been fed will have a rounded tummy rather than a flat one.
  • Weigh each pup and record the weight so you can make sure everyone is gaining weight. A newborn puppy should gain approximately 12 to 15 percent of its birth weight each day during that first week. If it doesn't, make sure the pup is getting a turn to nurse. Put the strongest pup on a nipple to get the milk flowing and then switch to the smaller pup so it gets a good meal.
  • Check the puppies' behinds to make sure they are clean and unblocked
  • When the pups are in with mom make sure they aren't being laid on. A whelping box that has a low inner rim offers the pups a safe space in case they get backed into a wall.

Newborn Puppy Crying

It's very normal to hear newborn puppies crying. While you shouldn't panic if you hear them crying as it's a normal sound to make, you should also be aware of any potential issues that might be indicated by excessive crying. If you see crying accompanied by behaviors such as scratching or biting at themselves, contact your veterinarian as they may have a skin irritation or parasites such as fleas. If you notice one puppy crying a lot and the others are not, it may be something is happening to distress that one that could be medically related. If all the puppies are crying a lot and the mom appears uncomfortable, it's time for a consult with your veterinarian.

Fading Puppy Syndrome

The sad fact is that it's not uncommon to have newborn puppies dying in your litter. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the normal pre-weaning loss can be as high as 30%. Most often this happens soon after birth and within the first week. Fading Puppy Syndrome refers to puppies who simply cannot thrive after birth and eventually die. The signs a puppy is suffering from Fading Puppy Syndrome are:

  • low birth weight
  • inability to gain weight after birth
  • low activity in comparison to the other puppies
  • inability to nurse from the mother
  • high-pitched crying (called "seagulling" because it sounds similar to a seagull's cry)

The Proper Environment for Newborns

Newborn puppies cannot regulate their own body heat, so you must make sure the whelping box is kept at a temperature of approximately 85 degrees Fahrenheit for the first five to seven days after birth. After that, you can gradually reduce the temperature over the next four weeks to about 75 degrees.

  • You can provide this extra warmth by either using a heated whelping pad beneath the bedding or by off-setting a heat lamp above the litter box far enough overhead to avoid overheating the area.
  • Have a thermometer on hand near the whelping box but not within reach of mom or the pups; this will help you keep track of the ambient temperature in the area.

Supplemental Feeding

Puppy being tube-fed

The mother may not be able to meet the feeding needs of her puppies. If the litter is large or mom simply can't provide enough milk, you may need to supplement one or more pups. In that case, you need to know what to feed newborn puppies without (or in addition to) mother's milk.

  • This is typically done by purchasing a puppy milk replacement formula and a nursing kit that contains a bottle, a nipple, and a nipple-cleaning brush. The formula comes with complete mixing and feeding directions.
  • Tube feeding is another option when the time you can spend feeding the pups is limited. Your vet is the best person to set you up with the equipment and teach you how to insert the tube down the throat and feed the pups. This method seems a bit daunting at first, but it's quite easy once you get the hang of it.

When to Begin Weaning

The puppies are able to begin lapping water around three weeks old. Teach them to do so by offering a shallow dish of water and coaxing each pup to lick a little water from your fingertip as you hold it close to the water. Eventually, the pups get the idea and begin lapping directly from the dish.

Once they can lap easily, you can grind high-quality puppy kibble in a blender and mix in puppy formula to make a loose, wet mixture the pups can lap. Once they are accustomed to this mix, you can gradually add less formula so the mix is thicker. Once the milk teeth have fully cut through, somewhere around four weeks old, you can switch to soaking whole puppy kibble until it's soft and offer that to the pups. By the time the pups receive their first vaccinations between six and eight weeks old, you'll be able to offer dry puppy kibble always accompanied by a bowl of fresh water.

Selling Newborn Puppies

Some breeders allow potential owners to leave a deposit on newborn puppies to secure the sale when they are ready to leave their mom. This usually involves an application form, an interview and a money deposit based on a percentage of the total cost of the puppy from the owner. Under no circumstances should you sell a puppy before they can be safely weaned as this leads to a potential lifetime of behavioral problems as well as some potential medical ones. In general, a puppy should be eight weeks old before they can leave for their new home. State laws vary on when a puppy can be sold so consult your state's regulations to be sure.

Caring for Newborn Puppies

Newborn puppies are fragile, but they can also be surprisingly resilient. Make sure they get plenty of milk and keep their environment safe and clean. If you can do that, you will have a litter full of playful, healthy pups.

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Care Guide for Newborn Puppies