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Hand-Rearing Puppies

In general, newborn puppies don't need hand-rearing. The mother performs the task automatically. But this is not always the case and you may need to undertake some, or all of the care of a single puppy or even a litter, from birth. This involves bottle- feeding, stimulating bowel function and sometimes, maintaining adequate warmth. Puppies needing active care may be: orphaned, weak, ill, premature, rejected, unable to be fed by mother. Occasionally, your vet may suggest a foster mother for orphan puppies. If not, you will have to hand-rear them. It is important to distinguish weak puppies from strong, healthy ones.


Feeding healthy puppies
Strong, healthy puppies can be started immediately on standard bitch milk substitute - ask the vet which one to use. Mix the feed using a kitchen mixer to avoid lumps. Make up fresh milk every day, store it in the refrigerator and feed it at about 38'C. Alternatively, make up your own feed.


Ingredient Amount
 Whole Milk.  800 ml (28 fl oz)
 Single Cream.  200 ml (7 fl oz)
 Egg yolk.  1
 Sterilized bone flour.  6 g (1.5 teaspoons)
 Citric acid powder.  4 g (1 teaspoons)
 Pediatric vitamin drops.  2-3 drops


Anyone with a whelping bitch should obtain a nursing bottle just in case, although many vets stock them for emergencies. Use a special pet nursing bottle or premature baby bottle. Avoid eye droppers; they force in too much air. Newborn puppies should be fed two-hourly at first, and then three- hourly; amounts will depend on their appetite.

Puppy Bottle Feeding

First sterilize the bottle with sterilizing fluid.
Mix the feed, add it to the bottle, and heat to about 38'c by placing the bottle in boiling water.
Hold the puppy, supporting its rib-cage, and guide the teat into its mouth. Let its leg move freely while feeding, to allow the "kneading" reflex.


Feeding weak puppies
Milk substitue can be too rich for weak puppies. For the first few feeds, give them cow's milk, diluted with the one-third the volume of water and with 10g glucose added per 500ml. To compensate for vitamins in colostrum ( first mother's milk) add two drops of a pediatric vitamin mixture per 500 ml.


Heat the mixture to about 38' C and feed at least two-hourly (very weak puppies may take tiny amounts as often as half hourly until they pick up).


A puppy which won't feed will rapidly fade and die. Try dripping a little milk into its mouth. If this fails, after two hours consult the vet who can feed it with a tube. Forcing milk into a puppy is dangerous - you could flood its lungs.


Bowel and bladder problems
Every time you feed the puppies you must stimulate the normal cleaning activity of the bitch, who would be busily licking them and cleaning up their urine and faeces. Clean each puppy's face, and wipe away any milk on its fur. It is also important to stimulate the bowel and bladder actions of newborn and young puppies.


Puppies can become constipated when fed milk substitutes. You can help by using a stubby bulb thermometer to introduce some petroleum jelly around and into the anus. A drop of sunflower oil or liquid paraffin can be given in the feed or directly until the puppy is back to normal (stop the treatment so as not to cause diarrhoea). If there is no response after 24 hours, call the vet.


Returning Puppies to the Bitch
You may wonder whether or not to replace hand-reared puppies with their mother between bottle feeds. There is no simple answer to this - it depends on your relationship with the bitch and your knowledge of how she may react. With a highly-strung bitch, the slightest interference with her puppies can result in total rejection. The fact that you have handled a puppy can cause her to clean it frantically, licking and nibbling so much that she may even kill and eat it. If a discreetly supervised trial period suggests that she won't fully accept a weak puppy, it is best hand-reared away from her.


On the other hand, some nervous bitches seem to take pleasure in selected humans becoming involved with the litter. Never take advantage of this precious confidence and remember that young puppies should be handled minimally. When you do need to handle puppies kept with the mother, begin by washing your hands without soap (to avoid carry-over of scent), then stroke the bitch with both hands. This is to mask your human scent and avoid leaving it on the puppies. If you are feeding a premature litter, it is better to keep them with the bitch and take them out for feeds. The presence of puppies can encourage the production of milk and hopefully hand-rearing will only be temporary.