Newborn puppies are just like any other babies: their time is spent eating and sleeping and being cute. Most dogs are naturally good mothers and will see to the needs of their babies. Typically your only job will be to monitor the puppies' physical condition to ensure their health.
Newborn puppies need to nurse roughly every two hours. Their mother will stay with them most of the time, which allows them to eat whenever they need to. As they mature, the time between feedings increases, until at around four or five weeks the pups are old enough to start weaning and transition to solid food.
Importance of Mother's Milk
The mother dog's milk contains all the nutrients that a newborn puppy needs. It is vital that puppies be able to nurse from their mother at least for the first 24 hours of their lives. This is necessary because the mother's milk contains colostrum, a substance that provides important antibodies to the puppies to guard them from infection for the first few months until they start producing their own antibodies.
Things to Watch For
As you monitor your dog's litter, all the puppies should be nursing heartily and be plump, gaining weight consistently. If you notice that any of the pups don't seem to be gaining weight or nursing enough or at all, you shouldn't hesitate to contact your veterinarian for an immediate visit. Puppies can become sick quickly if they aren't getting sufficient nutrition. Other signs that you should consult your vet about are vomiting, diarrhea, coughing or difficulty breathing, and continuous crying.
Supplementing or Fostering
There are unfortunate occasions when you might need to bottle-feed a puppy, either to supplement nutrition for a small, weak pup or for the whole litter if the mother is unable or unavailable to nurse her babies. In these cases, the most favorable situation will be that the babies were able to nurse for at least their first 24 hours or longer. When it is necessary to bottle-feed, you can get puppy milk replacement formula from your vet or at a pet supply store, along with puppy-sized bottles. You will need to feed the puppy on schedule (every two hours for those under two weeks old), but your vet will be able to provide advice on feeding frequency based on the puppy's age and condition. She will also show you how to safely feed your pup from a bottle.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.