Taking Care of Puppies without The Mother

This article is inspired by the Frequently asked question of clients and individuals who rescue dogs especially puppies less than a month of age left by their mum or whose mum died after giving birth or some days or weeks afterward.

In their first 4 weeks of life, puppies are very critical and require intensive nursing care if they are not to die. This is because they have not yet fed on solid food and exclusively depend on their mothers’ milk! At this time mortalities are very high if nursing is poor and not well managed even with the presence of the dam. The most common causes of puppy mortality in their early life include:

  1. Chilling (hypothermia)
  2. Dehydration. 
  3. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels)
Image 1: Cute Rottweiler Puppies

These three including being lied on by the dam are the main common non-infectious causes of mortality in puppies less than a month of age. Make sure the puppies are kept in a warm dry well-ventilated room with warm soft beddings, puppies exclusively depend on their mum for warmth (radiant heat) in her absence provide an external source of heat such as heat lamps, heating pads or hot water bottle.

Hypothermic (cold) puppies are weak and are unable to take enough fluids (milk replacer), their digestion and metabolism are also compromised and hence become dehydrated and hypoglycemic. Dehydrated puppies have dry and inelastic skin (pinch the skin over the neck in well-hydrated puppies it should spring back to normal immediately, if dehydrated it takes long to spring back); the mucous membranes of the gums and planum are also dry. 

Low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia) are associated with the puppy not feeding or unable to feed or suckle milk replacer for long.

How and what then do we feed a puppy without a mother? 

Feed orphaned or abandoned puppies with commercial or home-made puppy milk replacer. Follow the following simple procedure to make a homemade milk replacer: –

  1. 30ml of cow’s whole milk
  2. 30ml of warm water.
  3. 2 egg yolks.
  4. 1 teaspoonful of vegetable oil.
  5. 1 teaspoonful of glucose.

Mix the ingredients well then feed a 0.5kg puppy with 60ml of the preparation per day. To boost the immunity and the puppy’s disease resistance ability, add oral multivitamin preparation to the formula and feed them until weaning age (3-4weeks). Hand feed the puppies using a bottle feeder.

Image 2: Bottle feeder for hand feeding puppies.

As a rule of thumb feed the puppies every 2-3 hours. 

Start deworming the puppies when they are 3 weeks of age and repeat every 2 weeks until when they are 12 weeks old. Vaccinations should begin at 6 weeks or earlier if they did not suckle colostrum.

Raising orphaned puppies is a huge undertaking. It requires great commitment and sacrifice of time to take care of them. With the right management, the puppies will make to be great loving dogs.

    Dr. Ngetich (BVM, UoN)

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