Orphaned Puppies

What problems am I likely to encounter?

When caring for an orphaned puppy or puppies, there are several vital things to consider.


Chilling in newborn puppies is a major factor that can be fatal. Puppies lose far more body heat than adult dogs. Newborn puppies depend on heat from their mother to maintain their body temperature. Various methods of providing heat, like incubators, heat lamps or hot water bottles can be used in place of a mother.

If a puppy’s temperature drops below 34.4 °C, their condition is critical. Immediate action is necessary to provide the warmth the puppy needs to survive. A healthy newborn can usually survive chilling if warmed slowly.

During the first four days of their life, the orphaned puppy should be kept in an environmental temperature of 29-32°C.  If caring for a large litter, the temperature can be slightly lower, as puppies will huddle together to provide additional warmth.

Caution:  Too rapid warming of a chilled puppy may result in death.


A lack of regular liquid intake or exposure of the puppy to dry air can easily result in dehydration. Chilled puppies may also experience dehydration as their digestion is impacted by being cold.

Two signs of dehydration are the loss of elasticity in the skin and dry and sticky gums in the mouth.

One method of maintaining air moisture is to put a damp towel or dampened cotton wool near to the puppy in their bedding. Remember, a mother is continuously licking her puppies and herself which creates a fairly humid environment. Her breast area is also naturally moist while she is suckling her puppies.


The signs of hypoglycaemia (abnormal decrease of sugar in the blood) are severe depression, muscle twitching. and sometimes convulsions. If a puppy shows signs of hypoglycaemia, a few drops of sugar solution on the tongue can be life saving. If in doubt, please contact your local vet.

What should I feed my orphaned puppy?

Nutrition for newborn orphans should be supplied by a commercial milk replacer until the puppies are about three weeks of age. At this age, the puppies are ready to start nibbling moistened solid food.

Since newborns may have trouble generating enough heat to maintain their body temperature, the milk replacer should be warmed to 35-37.8°C for the best results. The milk replacer should be about the same temperature as the skin on your forearm or slightly warmer. As the puppies grow older, the milk replacer can be fed at room temperature.

Milk formula can be fed either by bottle or tube feeding, where food is directed into the stomach via a feeding tube and syringe. Tube feeding should be discussed with your local veterinarian if your puppies aren’t taking well to a bottle.

Commercial milk replacers have directions on their labels for proper amounts to feed. It is necessary for the puppy’s weight to be obtained properly in ounces or grams. Kitchen scales or postal scales are useful for this purpose. Four meals, equally spaced during a 24-hour period, are ample for feeding a puppy if the milk replacement is of high quality. Six or more feedings may be necessary if the puppy is small or weak.

The weaning process can be started as soon as the puppy’s eyes have opened at 14-16 days. Begin by placing the milk replacer in a flat dish and either dip the puppy’s nose into it or smear some round its mouth with your finger. By three weeks the puppy can start to eat food from the dish along with the milk replacer. A gruel can be made by thoroughly mixing a puppy food (canned or dry) with the milk replacer to reach the consistency of a thick milkshake. The mixture should not be too thick at first or the puppy will not consume very much. As the consumption of food increases, the amount of milk replacer can be gradually decreased. By four weeks old, the puppy should be able to meet all its nutritional requirements from solid food.

General puppy care

The puppy’s genital area must be stimulated after feeding to pass urine and faeces. This can be done with a moist cloth or cotton wool. This cleaning should continue during the first two weeks. If this procedure is not followed, the puppy may become constipated.

Puppies should be treated for worms from two to three weeks of age. Fortnightly worming should be carried out until the first vaccinations at six to eight weeks old. It is then worth consulting your veterinarian regarding future worming programs.

The first vaccination is normally given to puppies at six to eight weeks of age. However, if your puppy did not nurse from its mother during the first two to three days after birth, there may be no protective immunity passed on to it. In that case, your veterinarian may advise earlier or more frequent vaccinations to complete the program.

For more information about orphaned puppy care, contact your local Greencross Vets.

Your nearest clinic: Undefined