Bottle-Feeding Puppies — FREE Guide to Bottle-Feed Puppies

Bottle-Feeding Puppies

Our free comprehensive guide to bottle-feeding puppies is a page all dog breeders should bookmark. This article will explain you, step-by-step, how to bottle feed a puppy (or a whole litter), but also answer the most frequent questions you may have.

Because bottle-feeding is all about the nursing of puppies that are few hours or few days olds, everything is very critical. From the bottle disinfection to the formula temperature, you do not want to do the wrong thing with such fragile dogs. No stress, though, this guide tells you all about hand-rearing very young pups, so just do some reading and note taking.

Whether you are wondering how often do bottle fed puppies need to eat, or how much puppy formula the whelps should eat, we’ve got an answer!

How To Bottle-Feed a Puppy?

Prepare all your supplies.

  1. Measuring device
  2. Bottle and nipple, or a syringe for toy breeds
  3. Digital scale
  4. Wash cloth
  5. A record system
  6. Wash your hands.

The first step should be to sterilize the bottle and the nipple.

Prepare the formula. The formula should be prepared according to the package directions. The formula can be warmed by running it under a warm tap or by putting it in a bowl of warm water. The nipples should be pricked with a sterilized sewing needle or a sterilized razor blade.

There are two kinds of formula. One is already reconstituted and the other is powdered. It is convenient to have the reconstituted, but it is expensive. The formula should be checked for an expiration date. The formula should show no signs of moisture. If there is any sign of spoilage it is better to pitch it than to have a sick puppy.

The formula does not keep well. It is better to prepare what is needed. Formula should not be warmed in a microwave because it is easy to get it too hot, and scald a newborn’s mouth.

Weigh the puppy. Carefully prepare the formula. Test a few drops on a wrist to see if the formula is warm. Put a couple drops of formula on the side of the puppy’s mouth. The puppy should move to latch on the nipple. Bottle-feeding puppies is time-consuming. It is not something that should be rushed. A puppy should have a firm stomach, and will likely fall asleep with the nipple still in its mouth.

After each feeding, the puppy should be stimulated to urinate and defecate. The dams of newborn puppies lick the puppy so it goes to the bathroom. Part of the bottle-feeding job includes making sure the puppy eliminates. A warm wash rag can be used to massage the puppy like the dam would do by licking. A little lubricant can be used in the analyzed area. This should be just another step in the process of taking care of the puppy for the first few weeks of its life.

Here is a well-made Youtube video showing you how to properly bottle-feed a puppy.

Bottle-Feeding Puppies — Frequently Asked Questions

Because everything is always easier said than done, we also wanted to directly answer the most frequently asked questions about bottle-feeding a litter of puppies. Remember that each puppy is different and you should absolutely use common sense to gauge every stressful situation. Having your vet on speed dial is always a great idea, too.

How often to bottle feed puppies?

Puppies should be fed every two hours the first week. Puppies should have approximately eight feedings a day during the first week. The second week, they should have around five feedings a day. The third and fourth week they should get four feedings. Puppies should be fed 30mls of formula for each 8oz of weight as a rule of thumb, but check your formula’s packaging for precise instructions.

If there is a large litter, it is going to take a long time to get each puppy fed. In this event, it is helpful to have more than one person do the feeding. One person can feed males and the other females, for example. Each puppy should be labeled in some way. The date and time, weight before and after, and amount of formula should be written down.

When to stop bottle-feeding puppies?

Puppies can be weaned beginning in the fourth week. Weaning should be a gradual process. A cookie sheet of dry food can be put out. It can first be softened with formula and then with water. A good high quality puppy food, and one manufactured specifically to meet the demands of growing puppies is a good choice for transitioning puppies to solid food.

By the fourth week, the puppies should be fed only four times per day. The puppies will receive their first dewormings and vaccinations. Sometimes deworming medicine can cause diarrhea in puppies. If the deworming medicine causes a couple of days of diarrhea, it may be a good idea to slow the weaning process down until it is resolved. Too much of a different (i.e. new) food can exacerbate diarrhea. It is best to not dehydrate the puppies when they are affected by a prolonged diarrhea. Of course, sometimes deworming medicine does not cause diarrhea.

Past litters should give good information about how well the puppies will do on a particular medicine. Generally, the larger infestations cause more of a die-off of the parasites and are more likely to cause diarrhea. Vaccinations, also, can cause some reactions in susceptible puppies. Again, if the puppies react negatively to vaccinations it may be wise to back off on new foods until they are over with fevers.

How much to bottle feed puppies?

The first step is to weigh the puppy, as a puppy should get 30ml of formula for each 8oz of body weight. That total amount has to be divided into eight feedings for the first week.

Also, the first thing to do is write down the weight of the puppy, then feed, then reweigh. All this information should be recorded each time a puppy is fed. A puppy that continues to suckle should be given a half ounce more. The goal is for the puppy to make it a couple of hours without getting too hungry.

The goal is neither to overfeed or underfeed the puppies. Underfeeding them will cause them to whine and not grow at the proper rate. Overfeeding may cause diarrhea, and result in dehydration. In general, start with a minimum amount of formula based on weight, and after getting to that amount if the puppy is still vigorously sucking, you may continue by increments of 1 ml with a few seconds of rest in between. Burp the puppies; and if a puppy still wants to eat, continue to feed an additional 1 ml. Do not exceed more than 50% of the allotted amount of formula. Give the puppy at least a two-hour break before feeding again.

What is the best bottle feeding puppies formula?

Esbilac is a nutritionally balanced puppy formula for newborns to six weeks. Some breeders like to make their own formula, but the best puppy formula is the one that provides as close to what the dam would supply the puppy. If a dam can nurse for the first twenty-four hours, then that would be ideal. This is because there is no way to package all the benefits of the immunity provided in the colostrum (the first milk).

Many breeders seem to use goat’s milk or a recipe based on goat’s milk. Goat’s milk will be cheaper than the commercially based formula. How the goat’s milk recipe compares to Esbilac is unclear. It would seem that with the large number of veterinary schools in the United States that there would be more of a consensus on what formula meets the nutritional needs of puppies. Again, this question should be asked of a veterinarian that knows the breeder, and the dogs.

How big should the bottle feeding teat be?

It should be the size of the puppy’s mouth or just a bit smaller so the puppy can firmly latch on.

A firm latch on will limit the amount of air that gets in the puppy’s stomach. Excess air may fill the puppy and as a result the puppy will not take in the amount of formula it normally would. If this excess air repeatedly happens, the growth of the puppy will be negatively impacted. A puppy can rebound from a poor start in life, but a dog that takes a dip in growth in those first weeks are being set up for a bunch of health problems. Puppies may have the best genetics, but if there growth is stunted they may never get show as a winner.

Tube feeding, syringe feeding, or bottle feeding puppies?

Tube feeding gets the milk directly in the puppy’s stomach. Syringe feeding gets the milk directly in the puppy’s throat. Bottle feeding gets the milk directly in the puppy’s mouth. Breeders start with the latter and only use a syringe or tube for very small breeds or in case of emergency (e.g. when a puppy isn’t actually swallowing the milk it suckles out of the bottle.)

Tube and syringe feedings are good ways to get some weight on a puppy that is not eating as much as it should. In some extreme cases, a catheter can be used to pipe the formula directly into the puppy’s stomach. First, the tube should have the air pressed out of it. A little water based lubricant can be put on the tubing to help guide it into the puppy’s stomach. Care must be taken to get the tubing into the stomach. If the tubing goes down the windpipe, aspiration pneumonia can endanger a dog’s life. The tubing should be measured so that it extends into the puppy’s stomach. A puppy will swallow the tubing, and the formula should be very slowly put in the puppy’s stomach. Any sign of formula bubbles in the nose is a sign to stop the feeding immediately.

Bottle feeding is safer for someone that is not experienced in feeding newborn puppies and works in all normal cases. For very small dogs, a syringe may be more appropriate. Tube feeding is only for very exceptional cases and would generally be performed by a veterinarian.

Can I use regular cow's milk to bottle feed a puppy?

Cow’s milk should never be used to bottle feed a puppy. It does not contain the proper nutrients for a growing puppy, and it will cause stomach upset and diarrhea. Cow’s milk is for calves, not canines. There are some breeders who like to make their own puppy formula. The most common recipe uses goat’s milk. Full term puppies should be fed a powdered milk replacer like Esbilac. Do not go for a cheap puppy milk replacement.

A study of canine replacers did find that some milk proteins were lacking in the commercially prepared formula. This study showed a surprisingly lack of nutritional completeness in the most popular commercial puppy formulas.

goats milk for puppy formula
Esbilac is great for puppies but some breeders prefer to use Goat’s Milk and make their own puppy milk replacer!

When should I start weaning off the puppies?

In weeks three and four, the feedings should be four a day. A little dry food softened with formula can be started in the fourth week. The milk teeth come in at week three so the puppy will be able grind dry food. One bottle feeding should be replaced with a solid feeding until the puppy is completely weaned.

12 Worst Mistakes When Bottle Feeding Puppies

To make sure you are totally ready, we’ve compiled a list of the worst mistakes dog breeders make when bottle-feeding their puppies. Most of them are not life-threatening at all, but no mistake is good, even the smallest ones.

Read these tips to get the right habits from the start.

1. Buying the wrong type of puppy milk formula

The dry puppy formula is better, and cheaper, than the more expensive liquid formula. A liquid formula does not keep very well, and there will be a lot of waste. There is also a puppy formula designed for premature puppies, ask for it at the vet practice you go to.

There has been a recent study that analyzed the different puppy formulas on the market. There was a surprising amount of variability among the brands. This variation would simply not occur in human infant formula. In light of the study, it would be wise to check with the veterinarian (ideally a vet that is familiar with the growth patterns of the breed.) Veterinarians, in addition, sell some of the formulas and supplies in their practice. A good veterinarian frequently has some discounts and coupons for breeders.

The recipe for homemade puppy formula is as follows:

  • 10 oz of goat’s milk
  • 1 egg yolk*
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp. of Karo or corn syrup

Combine all the ingredients in a blender. Heat to 101 degrees. Refrigerate until ready to use. Shake the bottle and warm under a hot water tap or place in bowl of hot water. Test on wrist before feeding puppy. It should be warm not hot. Other recipes may be accessed here.

* Note that puppies are unable to digest egg whites properly.

2. Using a regular bottle for a puppy from a toy breed

A small bottle should work well with puppies from very small toy breeds. However, you should be better off with a big syringe. A small bottle, or a syringe, will make it more difficult for the puppy to get the formula it needs in a single feeding, so you may need to increase the number of feedings each day.

It is probably a good practice to buy an assortment of sizes to see which works best for the puppies. This equipment is inexpensive, and it is more expensive to have to see a vet or to lose a puppy, than it is to invest in different styles and types of bottles. The first bottle-fed litter will require the most expense and experimentation. Subsequent litters will be easier to manage.

If you use a very small bottle, make sure the milk steady drips when it is turned upside down. There are many different styles of bottles and nipples. Some breeders use syringes, some sponges, and others like to do tube feeding.

Tube feeding is best when puppies are premature or have a weak sucking reflex. Generally because of prematurity, or because they have had a poor start and have missed early feedings. Puppies that have grown that weak are in danger of dying. Sessions of tube feeding put the formula directly where it needs to be and does not rely on the ability of the puppy to be able to suckle.

3. Having too small holes in the nipple

On one hand, if the holes are too small, the puppy will be frustrated by the lack of food. Puppies shouldn’t have to work too hard to get fed.

On the other hand, if the formula is running down the front of the puppy, the holes are too big. The puppy will be gulping in air with the formula and the holes should be resized. Most commentators suggest making three small holes with a sterilized sewing needle. Again, it is better to just pitch a nipple and get a new one. They aren’t very expensive.

Whether or not certain plastics are dangerous to puppies is an open question. There is some research that BPA is a carcinogen and can leach out when hot formula is put in that kind of plastic bottle. These concerns have been raised for human infants, and whether or not veterinarians consider the issue of any importance for puppies. There are advertisers who do market BPA-free plastic bottles for puppy bottle-feeding as if it is important. There didn’t not seem to be any studies directly linking later cancers in dogs with exposure to this kind of plastic but you may want to take these things into consideration.

4. A too big teat for the puppy to grasp properly

The nipple should fit comfortably in the puppy’s mouth. If the nipple is too big, the puppy will not be able suckle effectively. A nipple the size of the puppy’s head is obviously going to be too big. The nipple should be held horizontal to the puppy or at a slight angle.

Most commentators suggest purchasing regular infant bottles. The Gerber bottle that uses liners seemed to be the most often recommended. These liners are convenient because it makes it unnecessary to sterilize individual bottles. With large litters those first two weeks are going to be tough especially if only one person is bottle-feeding twelve puppies round-the-clock. Anything that will help squeeze in a few more hours of sleep will be worth the cost. A 100-count box of liners costs $40.

5. Not logging every feeding time and quantity

Record-keeping is especially important if more than one person is feeding the puppies. Record-keeping can be kept on an index card or on a phone. The system should be one shared by everyone taking part in the feeding of the puppies. One way to keep a record is to take each puppy and paint it’s back toenails a bright and unique color. Six puppies would be identified by color and sex on a card, phone app, or spreadsheet.

For example:

  • Date: 11/09
  • Time: 23:50
  • Puppy: RedF
  • Pre-weight: 4.5oz
  • Ingested: 2.5ml
  • Post-weight: 4.7oz
  • Burped: yes
  • Initials: LI

If multiple people are responsible for feeding or if someone is hired to do feeding, a final column for the initials of the person who did the feeding can be added in the margin. An additional reminder to burp can be listed as a check box. The data can be viewed as a line graph which should show the rates of growth relative each other (see below). If there is any issue with any puppy, bring this log to the vet to help him assess any problem with more precision.

bottles for feeding puppies
Always buy different sizes of teats and bottles for feeding puppies!

6. Never monitoring the puppy's growth

Puppies should gain ten to fifteen percent of each day. It is normal for a puppy to lose a couple of ounces in the first twenty-four hours after birth. Any decline in weight after that should be reason to worry. Puppies should be weighed prior to feeding. This weight should be recorded each and every time.

Growth of the puppies can be plotted on a line graph. A puppy that is growing properly will have pretty much a straight line when its growth in ounces is plotted over time. Other than the expected weight loss in the few hours after birth, a trajectory that deviates from this growth pattern should be analyzed for a reason. Puppies do not have a lot of stored energy (i.e. fat) and puppies can rapidly become too weak to feed, eventually engaging in a vicious circle.

Visit this link to use a free puppy weight chart calculator.

7. Serving a too cold or too hot puppy formula

Puppy milk should be warm, but not hot. A few drops of formula should be expressed onto a wrist. Formula can be held under a hot tap or submerged in a bowl of warm water. Never heat a bottle in a microwave because it will not evenly heat. It may end up scalding the roof of a puppy’s mouth. One way to warm formula is to prepare it, fill a bowl of hot water, and put the formula in it while weighing the puppy.

Reaching a too high temperature will spoil and ruin the nutritional profile of the puppy formula, reducing the benefits associated with it.

8. Holding a puppy on its back or upright

Puppies should not be held like human infants. Puppies held on their backs or upright can aspirate formula into their lungs. This can cause a puppy to choke, and it can cause the puppy to develop aspiration pneumonia. Instead, the puppy should be on its stomach with the nipple held at a slight angle. The puppy should be vigorously suckle at the nipple.

Some commentators suggest that after the puppy is fed that it should be held nose down so that any formula will flow out of the lungs if some did make its way there. The signs that a puppy has developed aspiration pneumonia include: open mouth breathing, lethargy, fever, blue gums, and coughing. If aspiration pneumonia is suspected, the puppy should be taken immediately to the veterinarian. Treatment will include antibiotics and may have to include hospitalization and IV antibiotics. A puppy with cleft palate will be very susceptible to aspiration pneumonia. The best thing is for the cleft palate to be surgically repaired as quickly as possible. The use of tube feeding in the interim may be the best way to get some weight on.

9. Feeding too often or too seldom

In the first week, puppies will commonly receive eight feedings daily. They should be fed every two hours. Puppies that are overfed will not nurse as vigorously, will take on more air, and will not grow at a steady rate. The puppy should receive five feedings the second week. A puppy can be fed four times a day for the third and fourth week. Puppies should have doubled their weight by the seven to ten day.

Puppies should suck for a few seconds. Remove the nipple for a few seconds, and then put the nipple back in the puppy’s mouth. The puppy should continue to eat for another 30 seconds. Continue to give breaks and continue for what would be the expected amount based on weight. A puppy that is overfed will likely have diarrhea. Diarrhea is dangerous to puppies because it can upset the balance of electrolytes, and the puppy can become dehydrated.

10. Forgetting to burp the newborn whelp

A puppy that is not burped will have uncomfortable air in the stomach. The puppy will sound like it is in pain. The puppy should be burped like a human infant. Take a small towel and put it over the shoulder and lightly pat the puppy on the back.

11. Stressing too much and rushing things

Anxiety can be transmitted to a puppy. Feeding puppies is a time consuming and it best not to rush a puppy through a feeding. Puppies need to latch on to the nipple in order to reduce the amount of air and get the maximum out of each feeding. Accidents can happen if things are being rushed. A warm relaxed puppy will latch on and vigorously suckle. A puppy that just wants to mouth the nipple or play may be allowed to do so, but puppies should get down to business if they are hungry and ready to eat.

12. Using tap water

Some tap waters will have too many heavy metals. Well water, in particular, can have high concentrations of iron and may expose the puppy to contaminants. Nursery water can be used to reconstitute the formula. Distilled water should not be used because it can cause electrolyte imbalances (specifically, sodium).

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