Craigieburn Animal Hospital

9 Craigieburn Road
Craigieburn, VA 3064

(03) 9305-5855

Managing Orphaned Puppies

Why Hand Rearing?

Successful rearing of orphaned puppies before four weeks of age requires much dedication, but can be very rewarding. The bitch does not have to die to deprive the puppies of vital nutrition. Puppies will also need hand-rearing when the bitch rejects her pups, when she has no milk production, mastitis, an infected uterus or toxic milk syndrome, or when the pup is too weak or sick to suck from the bitch. As a rule, puppies raised as orphans are not as robust and do not grow as rapidly as naturally reared puppies.

Natural Rearing vs Hand Rearing

The bitch provides the puppies with heat, stimulation to urinate and defecate, mothering, security and nutrition in natural rearing. Hence a similar environment must be provided for hand reared motherless puppies. The rearer must ensure that the right quantity and quality of nutrients are provided for different stages of growth. The hand-rearer must ensure regular feeding, sleeping, grooming and exercise schedules, and that stimulus provoking urination and defecation is provided.


Puppies are unable to efficiently control their body temperature during the first five days of life. It is especially important to maintain an environmental temperature of 30oC to 35oC for the first two days. Over the first seven weeks this environmental temperature will reduce - from 8 to 28 days the temperature should be maintained at 27oC, from 29 to 35 days at 21oC to 24oC, and over 35 days at 21oC. Humidity should be maintained at 55% to 60% during this period.

The puppies should be kept in a clean environment with circulating air but without drafts. Ideally the box the puppies are kept in should be heated using a heating pad.

Urination and Defecation

Newborn puppies are normally either eating or sleeping. After a bitch feeds her puppies she normally licks the genital area to stimulate defecation and urination. It is important to simulate the tongue action when hand rearing. This can be done by massaging the genital area with a piece of damp cotton wool after each meal. Once the puppies reach approximately three weeks of age puppies are normally able to relieve themselves without simulated stimulation.

Most puppies benefit from gentle handling before meals to allow some exercise and promote muscle and circulation development. Also twice weekly the puppies should be lightly washed to clean the skin.


Puppies grow rapidly and can more than double their body weight in a few days. The most obvious alternative to a bitch rearing her own puppies is for another nursing bitch to act as a foster mother. Unfortunately a suitable foster mother at the right stage of lactation and with sufficient milk to rear a litter is rarely available; meaning puppies need to be hand fed with a specially formulated replacement food that meets the optimum requirements of the puppies. This food needs to be a concentrated source of nutrients based on the composition of normal canine milk. Commercially prepared formulas such as Animalac and Divetelac are preferred to homemade recipes as they more closely resemble the bitch's milk. It should be noted that cow and goat milk are inadequate for rearing puppies as their protein, fat, calcium and energy density are lower, and the water and lactose content are higher when comparing with dog milk. When desperate cow milk can be modified as follows:

Option 1:
1 cup whole cow milk
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon corn oil
1 drop/pinch multivitamin
Mix and heat for puppies less than 2 weeks of age

Option 2:
800 ml whole cow milk
200 ml cream
1 egg yolk
6 g sterilised bone meal
4 g citric acid
2000 IU vitamin A
500 IU vitamin D
Mix and heat

Puppies can only accommodate 10 to 20 ml at any one feeding.

Caloric needs of an average sized puppy are:

Week 1  12 kcal/100 g/day
Week 2  14 kcal/100 g/day
Week 3  16 kcal/100 g/day
Week 4 to weaning  18 - 24 kcal/100 g/day

Most commercially available milk replacers provide 1 to 1.24 kcal/ml of formula. Hence a puppy should receive 13 ml of formula per 100 g body weight per day during the first week of life, 16 ml per 100 g body weight per day during the second week, 20 ml per 100 g body weight per day during the third week and 22 ml per 100 g body weight per day during the fourth week. These amounts of formula should be given in equal portions six times daily and should be warmed to approximately 38oC prior to feeding. When preparing the formula always follow the manufacturer's directions and ensure all feeding equipment is kept clean.

Ways to Feed Puppies

Puppies can be fed in several different ways. An eye dropper may be used, or a special puppy drinking bottle with teat. Most people prefer to bottle feed while holding the puppy upright. The teat is placed in its mouth and pulled up and away to elevate the head and encourage vigorous suckling. The bottle should be held in such a way that the amount of air taken in is minimised. Also if the milk flow is too fast excess milk may come out the nose resulting in aspiration pneumonia.

Experienced handlers can also administer the formula via a rubber catheter or infant feeding tube (with syringe attached) introduced into the stomach. Care must be taken to ensure the tube is placed in the stomach and not the lung (i.e. tube should be introduced to the level of the pup's last rib). Once the tube is in the stomach the formula should slowly be administered over a couple of minutes to allow for slow filling of the stomach.

It is important not to overfeed during the first 2 to 3 days of life. At about 3 weeks of age puppies can be encouraged to lap milk replacer from a shallow bowel, and once lapping feeding from a tube or bottle can be stopped. Slowly over the next few weeks solid food is added to the milk replacer and by six weeks of age the puppies should be fully weaned.