If you have newborn puppies either in your home or on the way, you're likely "nesting," getting ready for the tiny, squeaking balls of fur. Where will they sleep? How often will they eat? Will they need blankets? How will you know if they're healthy?
Yes, in an ideal world, spay and neuter programs would be everywhere, but sometimes puppies happen. Maybe you're fostering a pregnant dog or are taking care of orphaned puppies. In any case, the puppies are here, so this is how to care for your newborn canine babies.
The early days
Dogs are pregnant for about nine weeks, so that's how long puppies have to develop inside their mothers. When they're born, they still have a lot of work to do. In the sense of development, "a newborn puppy is not unlike a premature child," Dr. Margret Casal, associate professor of medical genetics at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine, explains to PetMD.
Puppies are born blind and mostly deaf and without any teeth. But even though they can't see or hear very well, they can make noise. They make mewling, little sounds.
Newborn puppies will open their eyes usually between 10-14 days old. Their eyes are a bluish-gray, hazy color and they can't see very well at first, reports Spruce Pets. A puppy's vision will gradually improve and his eyes will turn their true color between 8-10 weeks of age.
How to feed a newborn puppy
A mother dog's milk gives puppies everything they need for the first four weeks of their lives. Although newborn puppies can't walk, they scoot around on their bellies and instinctively find their mother's milk.
Puppies usually nurse every couple of hours and sleep the rest of the time. To make sure puppies are getting enough milk, check them every few hours to make sure they are warm and nursing.
If any puppies are crying or seem cold, VCA Hospitals recommends putting them on the mother's back teats because they have the most milk. Also check often to make sure they aren't being pushed away by other puppies.
You also can weigh newborn puppies every few days to make sure they are gaining weight. Use a kitchen scale when they are tiny. It depends on the breed, but most puppies should double their birth weight in the first week, says PetMD. They should gain 10% to 15% of birth weight daily, according to WebMD.
Bottle-feeding newborn puppies
If something has happened to the mother, raising orphaned puppies can be very heart-warming, but also difficult to do. The puppies must be fed every couple of hours. If you've never done it before, work with your veterinarian or a rescue group that specializes in puppies for advice.
You'll feed newborn puppies milk replacement formula that is made just for puppies. Prepare the formula as directed on the package and use the guidelines suggesting how much to give the puppy. Generally, it's 1 cc of formula for every ounce of body weight, according to Best Friends Animal Society.
Don't feed cow's milk to puppies. It doesn't have the same nutrients as dog's milk, points out the AKC, and doesn't have enough calories, calcium or phosphorus for growing puppies.
Feed the puppy with a bottle or syringe, slowly offering milk while the puppy is on his stomach. Don't feed him on his back or he could get milk in his lungs. Be careful not to feed him quickly, which could cause choking. Burp the puppy at the end of each feeding by putting him on your shoulder and slowly rubbing his back until he releases air.
For step-by-step tips, visit Best Friends for newborn puppy feeding and care instructions.
How to keep newborn puppies warm
It's very important that the puppies stay in a warm room. If they are with their mother, they will try to stay snuggled up with her and rely on her body heat and each other to stay warm. They can't regulate their own body temperature, so they depend on outside sources for warmth. Have you ever seeing a pile of puppies? They like to snuggle for the warmth and comfort.
When mom leaves to go outside or just get a break, it's important that they have another source for heat. You can either keep the room warm or put a heat lamp over the area where the puppies are being kept.
VCA suggests that the temperature be around 85 to 90 degrees F (29.5 to 32 degrees C) for the first few days. After that, it can be lowered to about 80 F (26.7 C) by the end of the first week or so to about 72 F (22.2 C) by the end of the fourth week.
How often do newborn puppies poop?
Newborn puppies need help to go to the bathroom. Their mother does this by licking them, which stimulates them to urinate and defecate. If the puppies are orphaned, you can help them by dipping a washcloth or cotton ball in warm water, then gently massaging their bottoms after feeding.
It's very important that you do this because puppies can't do this without help until they are about 3 or 4 weeks old.
You no doubt will be wondering when newborn puppies can go outside to the bathroom and play.
Puppies need a lot of upbeat interaction with other dogs — especially during the key socialization period when they're between 9 and 14 weeks. But they are also susceptible to illnesses before they are fully vaccinated, which usually isn't until they are around 16 weeks old.
Your vet likely will say it's OK for your puppy to be outdoors in your own yard as long as you haven't had a lot of other dogs around. But you'll want to carry your puppy when going for walks or going in and out of the vet's office until he's had all his shots.