Though it may seem intimidating, feeding puppies by hand doesn’t have to be hard! Taking the right steps and being consistent are the best ways to ensure the puppies are well taken care of and will grow into strong dogs.
A newborn puppy should only be bottle-fed if its mother is unable to provide or care for them. The best milk and care a newborn puppy can get is from their mother, so keeping pups with them is the best course of action if they are able to. Some mothers have too many puppies in a litter and can not care for them all. Runts and other puppies with health issues may need the extra milk from bottle feeding to make it through their puppyhood. When in doubt, ask a vet!
The first few weeks of life are critical for newborn puppies to ensure they receive the nutrients and energy their body requires. Colostrum is produced in the mother’s milk the first 48 hours after birth and provides immune and growth support that helps protect them from infection. If the newborn puppies don’t have the opportunity to get colostrum the natural way, there are store-bought supplements that they can be given that offer it!
Being fed by their mother also gives them body heat and social experience with their siblings. Puppies know when they are full and will stop nursing when they are, both from their mother or from a bottle.
Taking on a litter of puppies or even just a single puppy can be time-consuming and difficult at first, but once you get in the rhythm it gets easier!
Tools You Will Need
Having the right tools will make your job even easier! Check out the list below to get a head start on the tools you will need for success.
- Food scale
- Nursing Bottle
- Puppy milk formula!
- Puppy pads
- Cotton balls
- Measuring tool for liquid
Premixed vs Powder Formulas
Both options offer the puppies the benefits of dog milk, which is much better for puppies compared to cow’s milk and other homemade supplements. Puppy milk formula offers vitamins and minerals that support the pups on their journey to doghood. Do not feed a puppy cow milk, kitten milk, or human formula. Puppies need specific nutrients from milk and formula that other animal milk doesn’t offer.
Premixed formulas are, hinting to the name, pre-mixed! They can come in bottles or cans and most likely need to be refrigerated. This is convenient since puppies need to be fed every 2-4 hours but they tend to be more expensive. You can pick up premixed formulas at your local pet store or wholesaler.
Quick mix powders are cheaper but require more preparation time. Incorrectly mixing the powder and water can give puppy diarrhea. This is extremely dangerous for young dogs due to the water and nutrients lost during diarrhea. Milk replacers should not be prepared more than 24 hours in advance or used if left at room temperature for more than an hour due to spoilage.
Quick mix powders are able to be stored longer than premixed formulas, so if you tend to foster puppies or want to buy the formula ahead of the birth, a quick mix may be the way to go.
Signs of soiled puppy formula include the following:
- Separation of formula
- Sour smell
- Clumping up and not dissolving
- Causing diarrhea
When in doubt, throw it out!
Clean, clean, clean!
Each time a new puppy milk replacer is used in the bottles, all of the equipment should be cleaned and sterilized by boiling them in water for a few minutes. Make sure your hands are clean when handling the puppies and the feeding tools! Use antimicrobial hand soap before feeding or handling the pups. Puppies are absolutely adorable, but their immune systems are still weak and need to have precautions in place to prevent them from getting sick.
Puppy vaccinations will also help ensure that they stay healthy and fit!
How Often and How Much to Feed
Small dog and large dog breeds require a different amount of formula. Most formula brands have recommended amounts based on the weight and breed size for the measurement of formula. For every 8 ounces a puppy weighs, they should be given a cc of milk.
Puppies should be fed every 2-4 hours and around 4-5 meals a day. Overfeeding puppies can lead to bloating and diarrhea; it is better to slightly underfeed them rather than overfeed them. If puppies are overfed, they are also at an increased risk for health issues as they grow older.
If a formula is coming out of their mouth or nose while feeding, the hole in the nipple may be too big, and too much formula is coming out at a time. Some bottles come without holes in the nipples so you will need to make them. Cutting an X in the tip may be easy, but it often leads to the milk coming out too fast for the puppies. A good plan of action would be to use a sewing needle and poke a few holes in the nipple to make it easy for the puppies to suckle it, but also to limit the flow of milk. With the small poked holes, you will need to clean them with the safety pin or sewing needle to ensure that the holes are clean, as well.
Milk should be warmed to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and should be warm to the touch but not too hot. Too hot milk can burn the puppy’s mouth and make it harder for them to eat. Too cold of milk can cause the puppy diarrhea and aspiration. It is a thin target to hit but once you do it a few times it’ll be a piece of cake!
The weaning process should begin nearing 4 weeks old but will vary depending on the litter. When transitioning to solid foods, be patient and do research to find the best food for them. Small amounts of high-quality food should be given to them around 5 weeks after birth and can be completely solid or semi-solid. When transitioning, you can put some of the puppy formulae in a bowl to teach them that the food bowl means food.
Weighing the Pups
Feeding puppies enough milk is critical and weighing them is how you ensure that they are growing at the speed they need to.
According to VCA, puppies should gain about 5% of their body weight per day for the first four weeks after birth. This is where the logbook comes in handy! Make sure measurements are made at consistent times, such as right before the first morning feedings, and are recorded accurately.
Stimulating Bowel Movements
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but puppies are not able to pee or poop on their own until a few weeks after they are born, so you will need to do that for them. Take a moist cotton ball and rub the area between their stomach and their genital area gently to stimulate a mother dog licking her puppies the same way.
The discharge will not be pretty, but it’s healthy! They won’t need to poop after every feeding but still take the time to do this each time with each puppy. It’s a great way to give them socialization while you are doing it.
Make sure you clean the puppies after they poop because leaving feces on them cause lead to infection for them and their littermates.
Just a few more things to make sure you hit all the right marks!
- Ensure puppies are being handled and socialized during feeding times just as they would be doing with their mother.
- A litter of puppies may look similar, so have a color designated for each pup that lines up with their logbook and collar.
- Monitoring the puppy’s health is critical, as they can have to fail health extremely fast. Have an emergency vet’s number on hand or posted on the fridge.
- Feed puppies on their stomach with their head up to prevent choking.
- If a puppy is too weak to suckle, see a veterinarian for the best way to feed them.
- Puppies need to be kept warm, a heating pad in their sleeping area can do just the job. Make sure it is in half the area or less so the puppies are able to move away from the heat if they need to.
- It is extremely beneficial to keep a logbook while bottle feeding puppies. In this book, you should track the times and amounts of milk given, behaviors, current body weight, any issues you notice (such as eye discharge discoloration), and anything else that might signal a problem with a puppy.
Research is always the first step towards success! Many vets are willing to sit down with pet owners to go through the procedures and recommendations of raising puppies. Check with your local vet or dog rescue to see if they have any puppy fosters that would be willing to walk you through a few things and be there for you if you have any issues or questions.
Bottle feeding puppies may take time and energy, but you are making a difference in their life and raising someone’s best friend!
Frequently Asked Questions for Bottle-Feeding Puppies
1. How much should you bottle feed a puppy?
Depending on the breed and the type of puppy formula, puppies should be fed based on the label recommendations on the formula looking at their body weight. Puppies will need anywhere from 2 to 7 cubic centimeters (cc) of formula a day and should be fed 1 cc per 8 ounces of body weight.
2. When should puppies be bottle-fed?
Young puppies need to be fed every 2-4 hours, even at night. Once they start to get older, it can be reduced to every 3-4 hours. Dogs grow extremely fast, so they need a lot of energy and nutrients to support their rapid rate of growth.
3. Can you bottle feed a 2-day old puppy?
Yes! This is right near the end of the critical time for puppies to receive colostrum from their mother so make sure the puppy formula is for recently born puppies. Bottle feeding puppies this young will help them grow big and strong!
4. How often do you bottle feed a 5-week old puppy?
At that time, the puppies are mature enough to be fed every 4 hours and can start the transition to semi-solid or fully solid food. They may be able to eat fully out of the bowl by that time, depending on how the transition from milk replacement to solid food went. They grow up so fast!
5. How do I bathe a puppy?
Using a lukewarm, moist washcloth, gently wipe down the puppies once a week to keep them clean while also socializing them. Make sure you are cleaning them up after you stimulate them to poop after eating. Their ears and eyes should be wiped clean every few days to keep them safe from infection.
6. When can I start training the puppies?
Training puppies can be started as young as 8 weeks with simple tasks such as sit and stay! They will have a lot of energy and a short attention span so be patient with them. Starting them young is the best way to stop any bad habits from forming, such as jumping or begging.