Nursing Puppies — Frequently Asked Questions

Nursing Puppies — Frequently Asked Questions

Nursing puppies is a very delicate subject matter and encompasses a lot of dog owners and dog breeders’ worries. Whether you are wondering how to nurse puppies without their mother, or just curious on what to expect when your dam gives birth, we’ve got answers for you.

As a good rule of thumb, human intervention should be minimal unless an emergency occurs. Leaving the puppy nursing to the mother dog will in nearly all cases be the best you can do: provide the mother with quality food, a warm whelping box, and she will grow these puppies the right way.

A dam may have lactation failure or not enough milk production for the entire litter. Along with some other rare situations, these are cases where the dog breeder should intervene and take it on himself to care for the entire litter of puppies. In other words, the puppies will have to be bottle fed, cleaned, burped, and that should be done several times a day.

Because puppies are so fragile and the owner’s stress level is off the charts, we wanted to offer some reassurance to anybody caring for a pregnant or nursing bitch, or anyone who is in charge of bottle-feeding pups. We’ve selected the most common questions people asked us about the nursing of newborn puppies, and answered them thoroughly.

When do puppies start being nursed?

When a puppy is whelped, the dam should typically immediately turn her attention to the puppy. She will vigorously begin licking the puppy. She will eat any of the membranes (placenta, too) on the puppy. The puppy will be kept very close to the dam’s body.

The puppy, as soon as it is cleaned and stimulated by the dam, will seek out the dam’s body and teat, and ask for nourishment. If the dam is still laboring the puppy may not be able to continually nurse until its littermates are finally whelped. When all puppies are whelped,all the litter will be focused on sucking and staying close to its mother’s warm body. Puppies naturally will nurse every two hours on average. They are born with an amazing package of instincts that tie them to the dam, and more often than not need no interference from the human being.

In a first litter, the dam’s labor will be longer and there may be more interruption in the nursing of the delivered puppies. However, each puppy will naturally seek out and begin to nurse as soon as it is whelped. The puppy does not need to see its dam in order to recognize her. That recognition more than likely begins even before birth. This is thanks to the rooting instinct in which the puppy finds the teat, and stimulates the flow and production of milk.

When do puppies stop nursing?

Puppies will nurse until they are approximately four weeks old and puppies should be fully weaned by six weeks of age. Dams will begin to wean their offspring over a period of time, gradually. Weaning is best for the dam and for the puppies because a dam will gradually have her milk supply dry up, and the nutritional needs for the puppy will start requiring actual foods.

If nursing is prematurely and suddenly stopped, the dam will experience an uncomfortable engorgement, and possibly mastitis—an infection of the mammary gland. If for some reason a dam is not available, softened solids can be introduced as early as three weeks. Weaning off puppies is best done gradually. The eruption of the milk teeth at around three weeks will cause the dam some discomfort when a puppy nurses, and the dam will naturally start weaning her puppies.

A cookie sheet of puppy chow can be set out for puppies beginning at three weeks of age. The puppy chow should be softened with some puppy formula or with water.

Mother or Breeder — who should nurse the puppies?

Mothers (dams) are the best source of nourishment for their offspring. The first milk or colostrum transmits immunity from the dam to the offspring. This benefit is in the first forty-eight hours of nursing. There is no commercial puppy formula that has the benefits of these immunities. Also, natural nursing does not only provide immunity, and nourishment for the puppies, it also helps the dam expel the afterbirth and contracts the dam’s uterus to its normal size. Human intervention is sometimes vital and life-saving, but it is not ideal and is generally unnecessary.

Breeders sometimes must step in and assist in the feeding of the newborn puppies when either the dam rejects the puppies or is too ill to care for them. On occasion, the dam produces such a large litter that the dam can’t adequately nourish all the those hungry mouths. Dog breeders should then use one of the currently available high-quality puppy milk replacers (e.g. Esbilac.)

For breeders nursing puppies, the size of the nipple should be the right one for the given breed of dog. A tiny puppy should not have an oversized nipple. A regular baby nipple sometimes works better than a puppy nipple. They are cheaper and more durable. A digital dog scale is, also, an essential item.

How to nurse puppies without their mother?

There are commercially prepared puppy formula and bottles and nipples to feed puppies when the dam is not able to take care of her puppies or the puppies need supplemental feedings. If a dam rejects a puppy or is not around to care for a newly whelped puppy a breeder must act quickly to provide nourishment. Puppies can die within forty-eight hours if they are not fed adequately.

A puppy needs to be carefully held horizontally. It must not be held upside down like a human infant would be held. The puppy can aspirate formula into its lungs if it is not suckled with its head and stomach held flat. The formula should be warm and a few drops should be expressed on the side of the mouth of the puppy. In response, the puppy should turn its mouth toward the nipple and the nipple should be gently guided into the puppy’s mouth. The puppy should then latch onto the nipple and begin suckling.

The bottle should be held an angle so that the puppy is able to nurse effectively. More than one person may have to assist in feeding the puppies especially if there is a particularly large litter. Puppies will need to eat about every two hours.

Can you give dairy milk to a nursing puppy?

Under no circumstances should a puppy be fed cow’s milk. Cow’s milk does not provide the nutrients needed for a growing puppy, and will upset its stomach because of the high lactose content that dogs do not digest well.

Some breeders make their own formula out of goat’s milk, but the veterinary science has produced some high quality puppy formula that is not that expensive. For those that want to know. Combine 10 oz. of goat’s milk, 1 egg yolk, a cup of plain yogurt, and ½ tsp of Karo or corn syrup in a blender. Heat the mixture to 101 degrees. Make sure the formula is cool enough before feeding.

feeding a nursing dog
Offer as much food as your nursing female wants. She is feeding several other growing puppies and needs quality fats and proteins in high quantities!

How long do puppies nurse in each sitting?

Around 30ml of milk formula for each half pound of puppy should be divided over a twenty-four hour period. A puppy will consume formula until its stomach is rounded. A digital scale should be purchased to monitor the weight gain (or loss). Puppies should gain between ten and fifteen percent of their weight each day during the first few days. There should be no bubbles coming out of the puppy’s nose. The first feedings will be very short, and very frequent. The puppy will spend about ninety percent of its time sleeping and ten percent of its time suckling.

Each puppy should be rotated for an approximate ten to fifteen minute feeding. The first feedings will be shorter, and as time goes on the puppy will be able to nurse for longer intervals. By two weeks of age, puppies will be able to go four to six hours in between feedings.

How often do puppies nurse?

After birth and for the first few days, puppies should generally be fed every two hours, even at night time. After a couple of weeks, the interval between each feeding will naturally increase and puppies will be able to go for four to six full hours between each suckling session.

Puppies will make their way to the dam’s teat as soon as they are whelped and cleaned up by the dam. The dam assists the puppy as it makes its way to an open teat, latches on, and falls asleep as soon as it has finished its first meal. Some puppies will not have a strong and vigorous nursing. The runts of the litter may have a failure to thrive and may grow at a slower pace. If puppies are being bottle fed they should not be rushed in their first feedings. A fifteen minute stint at the bottle will give the puppy enough time to strengthen its sucking ability.

Puppies need to be given time to digest. Also, puppies will have to be gently burped after they are bottle fed. The amount of air in the puppy’s tummy can cause indigestion. The formula is nutrient dense, and it does not help a puppy put on weight if the stomach is filled with air. Puppies should be gently massaged to get up any trapped air. You can watch videos on Youtube to see how to burp a puppy.

What is the nursing schedule for whelps?

Puppies should be fed eight times a day in the first week. The second week puppies should be fed five times a day. The third and fourth weeks four formula feedings should be enough. A puppy’s milk teeth come out at around three weeks, and the dam will find nursing to be increasingly uncomfortable.

If you are bottle-feeding the whelps yourself, puppies should be gently awakened to feed at least every two hours in the first week. The schedule for bottle feeding should first include the sanitizing of the nipples and the bottles. There should be an effort to reduce the risk of infection to the puppy especially if it is not getting the benefit of the immunity from the first milk of the dam (i.e. the colostrum).

It is very helpful if more than one person assists in the bottle-feeding of puppies in the first couple of weeks. The round-the-clock feeding of puppies is going to require more than just a pair of hands. A chart of how much formula is fed to each puppy in the litter will improve the chances of all the puppies gaining enough weight in those first two weeks. Good record keeping for a litter is very important when bottle-feeding puppies. When a puppy is whelped it should be cleaned up, identified, and then regularly weighed. This is to make sure each puppy is growing at a healthy rate, as opposed to just assessing this visually.

Why do puppies whine while nursing?

Puppies have an immature nervous system, and some of their sounds are just part of that twitchiness. Puppies whine while nursing because the dam needs to identify the offspring. The dam is bonding with the newborn, and there is a feedback loop created by a dam letting down its milk supply in response to the rooting of the puppy and the sound of its whine.

Whining needs to be distinguished from excessive crying which indicates that a puppy may be in pain, or starving. For example, a cleft palate may cause painful nursing in the puppy. A puppy that engages in a continuous high pitched crying should be carefully examined by a vet for injury. A continuous high pitched crying could indicate trapped air in the puppy’s stomach. A puppy should be gently massaged to relieve trapped air. A warm wash cloth can be used to stimulate the puppy to urinate and defecate (this is often a source of discomfort in very young pups).

How to wean puppies off from nursing?

Puppies will eventually get weaned, whether bottle-fed or naturally nursed. The weaning process starts at around three weeks of age, and lasts between two to four weeks. We wrote a full article on the weaning of puppies if you want a comprehensive guide.

If the puppies are bottle fed, at three weeks the milk teeth will be coming in and puppy chow softened with water or formula can be started. At four weeks, two feedings of puppy chow as well as four supplemental feedings should be offered. One nursing can be replaced by one puppy chow until the puppy is completely weaned at six to seven weeks. After six weeks there is little nutritional benefit gained from continuing to nurse.

Sometimes a dam will become ill and puppies will have to be prematurely weaned. A dam that has mastitis or eclampsia will not be able to satisfy the nutritional requirements of the puppies, and herself remain healthy.

What is the expected consistency from nursing whelps' stools?

Puppies can’t urinate or defecate on their own. The dam, or breeder, needs to stimulate the puppy to go. A warm towel can be used to massage the puppy into elimination.

Puppies will pass a dark stool, called meconium, shortly after birth. The appearance of meconium passed in utero is a sign of fetal distress. Healthy puppies will have semi-solid stools. Puppies bottle fed will have more solid stools than natural nursers. A puppy with liquid stools or a puppy with green stools or mucus in the stool may have an infection.

Diarrhea can be a medical emergency in a puppy. Puppies can become dehydrated, and a replenishment of electrolytes. Puppies experiencing diarrhea in the first week should be treated by a veterinarian. Any loss of weight in the first week can be life-threatening for a puppy especially one that is a runt starting out in life.

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