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Newborn Puppy Care – Nutrition, Health, Growth & Tips

Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Published on
Wednesday 9 September 2020
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
newborn puppy care
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Newborn puppy care is an exciting and daunting job to take on. During their first few weeks of life, puppies develop fast and their needs change along with them, so it’s important to know how to keep up. Your newborn puppies need to be fed every two hours, toileted every two hours, and their whelping box needs cleaning once a day.

These are just a few of the jobs you will take on whilst caring for a newborn puppy. Ready to find out what else is in store? Let’s take a look at what newborn puppy care entails.

Newborn Puppy Nutrition

A mother dog’s milk provides all the nutrition a newborn puppy needs during their first four weeks. If the mother is unable to care for her little ones, it’s down to you to bottle feed and wean them in her place.

Bottle Feeding

Your orphaned pups must be fed a canine milk replacer for four weeks. A puppy’s growth is fast-paced through the first weeks, so their diet must be dense in calories and high in protein to keep up. To meet these needs, your canine milk replacer should be enriched with essential vitamins and minerals as well as amino acids. These nutrients might be delivered in the form of skimmed milk, protein isolates like whey and casein, vegetable oil, and egg products.

Puppies under one month old need approximately 3.5 to 3.75 calories per ounce of their body weight every day. Following this rule, a 6-ounce puppy needs about 22.5 calories every 24 hours. Most puppy milk replacers supply 1 calorie per ml, so for this 6-ounce puppy, the 22.5 calories can be divided between the recommended 6 feeds. This pup would need approximately 3.75 ml of milk in each feed. But how do you feed the puppy this milk?

While it might seem natural to turn your puppy onto their back like a newborn baby, this position is unnatural for puppies. Your newborn puppy would lie on their belly to nurse from their mother, so you’ll need to simulate this position when you bottle-feed them. Wrap the puppy in a warm towel and lay them on their stomach. Press the syringe gently into the corner of the pup’s mouth and squirt a small amount of milk replacer inside. Never squirt the milk directly down their throat as this can cause them to aspirate it. Between squirts, allow the puppy time to swallow.


Starting from three to four weeks of age, puppies begin to crave more nutrients and calories than milk alone can provide. However, they’re not quite ready to eat solid dog food yet! As well as this, a sudden upgrade from milk replacer to solid puppy food would cause diarrhea and an upset tummy. Your goal is to slowly introduce more puppy food whilst reducing the amount of milk your puppy drinks. This process is called weaning. If done correctly, weaning should be complete by the time your puppy is eight weeks old.

To make sure that your puppy is healthy and happy during the weaning stage, offer small amounts of high-quality, moistened puppy food four times a day, as well as a milk replacer. You can moisten puppy kibble soaking it in milk replacer or lukewarm water to create puppy mush.

Be sure to always use fresh ingredients to provide your puppies with the highest quality nutrition! It’s also important to regularly weigh your puppies through the process. If your puppies fail to gain weight, reconsider how you prepare your puppy mush or consider if your puppy might be unwell.

caring for a newborn puppy
Puppies need more nutrients around 3-4 weeks after birth.

Introducing Solid Food

By 7 to 8 weeks of age most puppies complete the process of weaning. In addition, growing puppies have special caloric needs. Protein requirements for puppies are the highest right after weaning is complete.

The recommended protein percentages for healthy puppy growth range between 22 and 32 percent on a dry matter basis. To meet this need, your puppy’s solid diet should be a high-quality food with a real meat source of protein. Your puppy also has different calcium requirements. Small and medium breeds appear to be less sensitive to slight over or underfeeding of calcium. On a dry matter basis, calcium levels can range anywhere from 0.7 to 1.7 percent in high-quality puppy food.

Before the puppies were born, you probably fed your bitch a kibble formulated for growth and reproduction. For convenience and consistency, it’s best to give your puppies the same kibble that you fed to your bitch.

Subjecting Your Puppy to 3 Meals a Day

Starting from four months of age, puppies should have a meal three times a day. A specially formulated puppy food should be fed at regularly spaced intervals to avoid over stretching their tiny stomachs. As well as this, puppies are susceptible to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, so regular feedings can help to keep their blood sugar steady. As well as this, regular meals encourage a quicker metabolism, encouraging your puppy to burn more calories. For these reasons your four month old pup should stay on three meals every day until they reach six months.

You will need to portion your puppy’s food so that their daily allowance is spread across the three meals. The overall amount that you give will depend on your puppy’s weight. According to James Wellbeloved, a 2kg and 4 month old puppy can have a daily serving of 60g. A 5kg puppy can be served 116g, while a 10kg puppy can eat 193g. Find the complete chart here!

2 Meals Per Day

Unless your vet suggests otherwise, your six month old puppy can safely move on to having just two meals per day. Depending on their breed, your six month old pup requires up to twice the amount of daily calories as a two month old pup. As a general rule, you can increase your puppy’s portion sizes gradually over 12 months as they work up to eating adult dog food. Toy and small breeds may be able to switch to adult food earlier, some as early as 7 to 9 months of age. Some giant breeds won’t transition until 18 to 24 months old.

Just as you did with three meals, you will need to portion your pup’s food so that their daily serving is spread between the two meals. Don’t be tempted to serve the full daily serving in both bowls – this can quickly lead to your little one becoming overweight. Once you’ve worked out your puppy’s daily serving, simply divide it by two to find out how much to give them for one meal.

Health Concerns in Newborn Puppies

Newborn puppies are completely helpless from birth, and consequently, they need protection from injury and disease. This is where you come in – as a breeder, it’s up to you to look out for signs of illness in your new litter. If you spot signs of illness in your puppies, ask a vet for advice on your newborn puppy care as soon as possible. A newborn puppy’s health can decline very rapidly without treatment.

newborn puppy health decline
Always treat any health issues as soon as possible.

Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal worms can make your puppy sick, tired, and unable to benefit from the nutrition in their diet. Not only this, but severe infestations cause blood loss and anemia. This can be very dangerous for a newborn puppy. Puppies are more susceptible to worms because of their immature immune system. Most commonly, puppies pick up intestinal roundworms from their mothers before they’re born. This is because roundworm larvae can lie dormant in the mother’s tissues. Towards the end of the pregnancy, these larvae can migrate through the placenta to infect the puppies.

In order to protect your pup from intestinal worms, it’s best to worm your puppies as soon as they reach two weeks old. Thereafter, worm your pups at 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 weeks old. After 12 weeks, you can worm your puppies once a month. Pregnant bitches should be wormed during the last three weeks of their pregnancy. Nursing bitches can be wormed when the puppies are two weeks of age and every two weeks thereafter until they are 12 weeks.

Communicable Disease

Communicable diseases are diseases that can spread from human to human or from animal to human. In cases where disease is transmitted from an animal to a human, the disease is called a “zoonotic” disease. Puppies can transmit the following diseases to humans: intestinal worms, campylobacter infection, cryptosporidium infection, ringworm, salmonellosis, and leptospirosis.

To prevent zoonotic diseases, make sure that the whelping box is disinfected regularly, wash your hands after handling the puppies, and regularly weigh the puppies to monitor their health. You should also de-worm your puppies when they are two weeks old. Thereafter, worm your pups at 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 weeks old. Monitoring the bitch is just as important, as she can transmit diseases to her puppies through direct contact or even through her milk. Be sure to worm her monthly.


Hernias are relatively common in puppies, and they can even be born with them. Umbilical hernias are the most common type of hernia in puppies. These are caused by an incomplete closure of the umbilical ring. Umbilical hernias protrude the most when the puppy stands, barks, cries, or strains to go to the toilet. Smaller hernias sometimes close spontaneously by the time a puppy is 3 to 4 months old. While this may sound uncomfortable, most umbilical hernias are painless for puppies.

Umbilical hernias that don’t close on their own sometimes require surgery, especially if an intestinal organ protrudes into the hernia. In rare cases, a portion of the organ or tissue can become trapped and strangulated, leading to the death of the tissue. Signs of this complication include abdominal pain, vomiting, depression, and anorexia. Tissue strangulation like this is a medical emergency.

Cleft Palates

Cleft palate is a relatively common defect in puppies. If a puppy has a cleft palate, the roof of the mouth fails to close, leaving an opening between the mouth and the nose. It’s most often a congenital disorder. Some breeds are more predisposed to having a cleft palate than others, including Beagles, Labrador Retrievers, Dachshunds, and brachycephalic breeds. Treatment involves surgical repair of the defect. This is usually postponed until the puppy is 3 or 4 months old if possible. As well as this, more than one surgery might be needed to completely close the opening in the palate.

Coughing, sneezing, and milk bubbling out of a puppy’s nose are typical signs of cleft palate defects. Other signs include failure to gain weight, sudden onset of pneumonia, and even sudden death. You may be able to see the defect for yourself by inspecting the inside of your puppy’s mouth. Your puppy will need to be fed using a feeding tube. If you have never tube fed a puppy, it’s a good idea to ask a vet to show you how and to provide you with the correct equipment.

Skeletal Abnormalities

Juvenile orthopedic diseases are diseases that affect the musculoskeletal system of growing puppies. Some of these diseases can be traced back to pathologic events, such as inappropriate nutrition or trauma, occurring during growth or even in the womb. Some of the most common skeletal diseases in dogs include swimmer puppy syndrome, panosteitis, and hypertrophic osteodystrophy. Oftentimes, skeletal abnormalities are noticed due to the puppy showing leg lameness, pain in the affected area, fever due to inflammation, and loss of appetite due to discomfort and pain. Because newborn puppies can’t walk, most skeletal abnormalities remain undetected until they are weeks or months older.

Most skeletal disorders are noticed when puppies start walking, especially when other puppies in the litter walk with confidence. If your puppy has a flat chest, exhibits lameness, has weak hind legs, or appears to have broken or fractured limbs, contact a vet right away. A skeletal abnormality is likely the cause.

Undescended Testicles

Cryptorchidism in puppies occurs when one or both testicles fail to descend into the scrotum. In most cases, only one testicle is retained, and the right testicle is more than twice as likely to be retained. Puppy testicles should descend by the time they are two months old.

Cryptorchidism is presumed if the testicles don’t descend after your puppy is two to four months old. While this condition is rarely associated with pain, some dogs experience spermatic cord torsion. If this happens, your puppy might exhibit sudden, severe abdominal pain. A retained testicle can also become cancerous. Neutering or removal of the problem testicle is the recommended treatment for this problem.

Your newborn puppy’s testicles won’t descend for a few more weeks. However, it’s helpful to know what to look out for when your puppy reaches the right age for their testicles to descend.


Hypoglycemia is more commonly known as low blood sugar. Like us, dogs can suffer from hypoglycemia between meals and will experience similar symptoms. However, hypoglycemia can be life-threatening for newborn puppies. If your newborn puppy starts shaking, twitching, is disoriented or falls unconscious, hypoglycemia could be to blame. Fortunately, most puppies respond very quickly to treatment.

Most breeders give hypoglycemic puppies sugar water, Karo syrup, or honey. If your puppy is groggy, it helps to offer a small amount of water first to make sure that they swallow. Next, if your puppy is unable to lap up sugar water or syrup, you can use a small syringe to introduce the liquid to their mouths. If your puppy can’t drink, gently rub the sugar syrup on the inside of their lips and gums.

hypoglycemia in puppies
Keep your eye out for any signs of hypoglycemia.

Portosystemic Shunts

A portosystemic shunt (PSS) occurs when a vein bypasses the liver from the intestines. Puppies are actually born with a portosystemic shunt, which, in normal circumstances, closes within three days of their birth. If this shunt fails to close, the puppy’s blood will bypass the liver. This means that the liver cannot filter the puppy’s blood and toxins build up in their body. If your puppy has a PSS, they might have stunted growth, poor muscle development, diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, and excessively urinate.

When this problem is left untreated, puppies usually don’t survive. Fortunately, some dogs and puppies improve with proper diet and medication. One-third of treated dogs go on to live a long life. Treatments include diet changes, lactulose, and antibiotics.

If your newborn puppy fails to gain weight, vomits, has diarrhea, or seizures, a portosystemic shunt could be to blame. Some puppies will only show one or two symptoms. Seek veterinary treatment immediately for the best prognosis. A PSS cannot be treated at home.

Signs Your Newborn Puppy Needs to See the Vet

Newborn puppies are vulnerable and completely depend on their mother for protection, warmth, and food. Even in the cleanest, safest environment, newborn puppies can fall ill or struggle with fading puppy syndrome. But what signs should you look for, how do they relate to newborn puppy care, and what do they mean for your puppy?

health of newborn puppies
Newborn puppies need their mothers.


Puppies who constantly cry might do so for many reasons. They might not be getting enough milk, could feel cold, or could be physically unwell. Crying can also indicate pain and discomfort in your newborn puppy. If your puppies are not too cold, consider if they might be too warm, or burning themselves on heating equipment. If you are unable to find the cause of your newborn puppy’s crying, always ask your vet for advice.


If your newborn puppy coughs frequently they may be struggling with milk aspiration, kennel cough, or another respiratory infection. It’s not a good idea to administer medications to newborn puppies without the help of a vet, so get some expert advice before attempting to treat any respiratory infections at home. Similarly, milk aspiration can quickly lead to aspiration pneumonia. Your newborn puppy will need antibiotics to treat this problem.


Constipation can arise when puppies are bottle-fed. If you are bottle-feeding your puppy, you may need to re-evaluate how you prepare your milk formula. If constipation occurs, mix in 25 percent more water and monitor the pup’s feces. Once they appear normal, only mix 10 percent extra water. Other causes of constipation in puppies include dehydration and underfeeding. If your newborn puppy is constipated, don’t be tempted to give them a laxative at home, as it can cause further dehydration. Ask your vet for advice.


Diarrhea is concerning in newborn puppies as they are especially vulnerable to dehydration. Newborn puppies might get diarrhea due to many reasons:

If your puppy has bloody diarrhea, black or tarry stools, a fever, pale gums, is vomiting, or doesn’t get better, call your vet immediately.


Similar to diarrhea, vomiting is concerning in newborn puppies because they are so vulnerable to dehydration. Most commonly, puppies will vomit due to a roundworm infection or eating too much. However, the underlying cause can be more serious – ingestion of toxins, bacterial diseases, and viral diseases are just a few other culprits. If your newborn puppy frequently vomits or shows other signs of illness, call your vet immediately.

Difficulty Breathing

Labored breathing can prevent your newborn puppy from getting enough oxygen into their bloodstream. This is a medical emergency. Not only is it near impossible to identify the cause at home, but there are far too many to count; pain, pneumonia, kennel cough, and injuries to the chest wall are just a few. Book an emergency appointment with your vet as soon as possible.

Swollen Eyes

Newborn puppies are born with their eyes closed. In normal circumstances, they will open after one to two weeks. If your puppy’s eyes are swollen, bulging, leaking discharge, or even pus, they may be suffering from an eye infection. This can render the puppy unable to open their eyes when the rest of the litter does. If the eyes have not opened at two weeks, or you notice any of these worrying symptoms, it’s important to get veterinary care right away. Neonatal conjunctivitis could be to blame.

Slow Weight Gain

You’re weighing your puppies daily and seeing no or little improvement in one or all of them. A healthy puppy should gain 10 to 15 percent of their birth weight every day.

If your puppy does not gain or even loses weight, it’s often a sign that something is amiss. The cause can be something as simple as the other puppies bullying them off of the teats. Other causes include hypoglycemia, which can cause puppies to lack the energy to feed properly. Conversely, abnormalities such as a cleft palate can cause poor weight gain.

There are some dog foods focused on weight gains but they are for older puppies.

healthy newborn puppy weight
Newborn puppies should gain a healthy amount of weight daily.

Newborn Puppy Growth and Development Stages

Your puppy’s growth and development is an exciting thing to witness. But what exactly happens through every week you spend raising your puppy? And how does newborn puppy care differ from older puppy care?

Weeks 1-2

This stage is called the neonatal stage. Your one to two week old puppy is completely dependent on their mother. Their mother provides all the food, warmth, and protection they need at this stage. Newborn puppies are born with fur but can’t control their body temperature yet. Their eyes and ears are tightly closed, rendering them blind and deaf. At this stage, they are completely unable to control their toileting habits and need help from their mother to defecate. However, as a breeder, it might be part of your newborn puppy care regime to help your pups to go the toilet.

Puppies sleep 90 percent of the day, spending all of their awake time nursing or crawling towards warmth. So, if your newborn puppies frequently wake up to cry, it can be indicative of a health problem or something amiss in their environment.

Weeks 2-4

This stage is known as the transitional stage. During this exciting time, your puppy’s eyes and ears will gradually open, finally granting them their senses of sight and hearing. Your puppy might not be able to see you very well at first, and you might notice them trying hard to focus on seeing you. Their baby teeth also begin to emerge. Because of the emergence of the puppies’ teeth, some bitches might be reluctant to feed their pups. Continue to stay with her and encourage her to nurse them until weaning begins.

At some time between two and three weeks, your puppies begin to stand, and by four weeks, they can walk, play and even wag their tails. Your four-week-old puppy gains a lot of independence and can control their need to go to the toilet better. They can now also begin weaning. Through the weaning process, your goal is to gradually introduce more puppy food and to reduce the amount of milk in their diet. By the end of this process, your puppy will be eating solid puppy food like a pro!

Weeks 4-16

Following your puppy’s transitional phase, the socialization period occurs. This socialization period is split into two phases. These are the primary (canine) socialization period, and the secondary (human) socialization period. During this time, your puppy will form attachments that will influence their mental development. Not only this, but failure to socialize your puppy in a safe and positive environment can lead to phobias of specific situations, dogs, and even humans. Be sure to invite lots of trusted people to meet your new puppy. You might also benefit from signing up for puppy classes!

Now that they can walk and play, your puppies will want to explore and have fun, so be sure to introduce plenty of toys and play with your little ones. The personalities of your puppies will be apparent now too. Some might be bossy, others are quieter. You might find that some puppies prefer different toys or don’t want to share toys with others. Whilst your puppies socialize with one another, monitor them to make sure they stay safe. Your little ones will be prone to accidents and might even hurt each other during play. You want your puppy’s socialization to be as positive as possible.

This period is also the time to plan each puppy’s vaccination schedule with your local vet. Some shots will be given as soon a possible, while others may be slotted in a few weeks later.

Between weeks 8 and 12 is when most dog breeders invite their customers to pick up their puppies to go “home”. So it’s also important to have all the paperwork, puppy packs, and starter kits, all ready to go.

Weeks 17-24

Your 17 week old puppy is a force to be reckoned with. A few weeks ago they followed you everywhere but now they want more independence. As well as this, the experiences of your puppy prior to this time will now clearly shape their personality and anxieties. This is because your puppy’s socialization period has closed. While there is a lot of growth going on at this time, you’ll probably also notice some apparent regression.

After 17 weeks, many owners find that their teenage puppies apparently “forget” all of their training. This is normal and partly influenced by hormones. Your male puppy will reach reproductive maturity in his adolescence and this surge of testosterone will encourage him to test the rules more. If this sounds like your puppy, be patient, and go back to basics. You will need to be consistent and use positive reinforcement to reward the behaviors you want to see.

We’ve reviewed a lot of YouTube channels, podcasts, and blogs, focused on puppy training so check them out.

what to feed a growing puppy
Newborn puppies need extra nutrients.

Newborn Puppy Care – FAQ

Need to know anything else about newborn puppy care? Our Frequently Asked Questions should answer any questions or concerns you might have. If in doubt, always ask your vet for advice on newborn puppy care.

How do I make sure my newborn puppy is healthy?

Newborn puppy care involves five important roles. These are to keep a clean environment, provide enough warmth, regular weigh-ins, to ensure good nutrition, and to socialize them well.

It’s important to keep the whelping box dry, warm, and clean during the puppies’ growth. You will need to clean up the whelping box once a day for the first week to ensure the best newborn puppy care. To do this, avoid using household chemicals and only use pet-safe detergent when washing any towels. Be sure to disinfect the box and to replace any newspaper and bedding. As well as this, the whelping box should be between 85 and 90°F (29.5 and 32°C) for the first 4 days of your puppies’ lives. After this point, the temperature can go down to a milder 80°F (26.7°C). You can use a heat lamp, space heater, or heating pads to achieve this temperature.

Newborn puppies should be weighed once or twice a day. If your puppy is healthy, you should notice a steady daily increase in weight! As a general rule, a puppy’s body weight should double by 7 to 10 days. If your puppy can’t drink their mother’s milk, you need to provide a high-quality canine milk replacer. Canine milk replacers should be enriched with amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

What do you feed a puppy that is growing?

Growing puppies need more protein, calcium, and calories than adult dogs. Your dog especially needs more protein after weaning is complete. For healthy puppy growth, your pup should be getting 22 and 32 percent of protein on a dry matter basis in their puppy food. Your growing puppy also needs calcium to support healthy skeletal growth. On a dry matter basis, calcium in your puppy’s food can range from 0.7 to 1.7%.

Your growing puppy needs small but frequent feedings. Until your puppy is four months old, they will need four meals per day. Once a puppy is four months old, they can begin eating three meals per day. Feeding your growing puppy three or four times per day helps to keep their energy levels consistent. Whilst doing this, it’s important to keep portion sizes small so as to not overstretch your pup’s tiny stomach.

How often should 4-month old puppies eat?

Your four week old puppy needs to eat three meals per day. It’s best to feed your puppy their breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same time each day to establish a schedule. What’s most important throughout this stage is to monitor your puppy’s weight closely. Luckily, it’s easy to use a body condition score chart to check your puppy’s weight.

Puppies grow rapidly between four and six months, but can easily become overweight if fed too much. Overweight puppies, particularly large and giant breeds, are predisposed to orthopedic problems. If your puppy is overweight, adjust your puppy’s feeding schedule accordingly. You can divide their daily food allotment into four or five meals per day. Multiple small meals increase the body’s metabolic rate, encouraging your puppy to burn calories faster.

How often should you feed a newborn puppy?

Newborn puppies must be fed every two hours during the first week. If your newborn puppy care involves orphaned pups, you will need to give nighttime feedings as well. Overall, a newborn puppy should be fed 6 to 8 times across 24 hours. Over the next few weeks, the frequency of feeds can gradually be reduced. A three-week old puppy should feed every six to eight hours.

If you are feeding a puppy yourself, be sure to use a sterilized bottle or syringe to feed them canine milk replacer. As well as this, it’s important to make sure that the nipple of the bottle is clean and free from bacteria. You can place the bottle and nipple in boiling water for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, allow the bottle to air dry in preparation for the feeding.

Newborn puppy care is a round-the-clock job. As a responsible breeder, it’s up to you to ensure your little ones are getting the nutrition, preventative care, and socialization they need.

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