What Do Puppies Eat the First Week of Life?

Where's Mom? We're hungry!
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During the first week of life, puppies receive all of their nourishment from Mom. They can live just on her milk for a month. While there's nothing comparable to mother's milk, orphaned puppies or those whose mother can't produce sufficient milk can receive special milk replacers designed for newborn canines.


Nothing prepares newborn puppies for their entry into the world like colostrum, the first milk produced by the mother for her babies. Not only does it provide puppies with antibodies for disease protection, but it includes nutrients promoting cell growth and fat utilization along with vitamins, minerals, proteins and sugar. Nursing puppies receive colostrum for only the first few days of life. It's thicker than regular milk, with a yellow tinge. Within the first 24 hours of life, a puppy should consume between 3 and 10 milliliters of colostrum, depending on the size of the pup.


After the colostrum, nursing puppies receive milk for the rest of their first week of life. Milk has higher levels of fat, protein, total fat solids and vitamin A than colostrum. Each week for six weeks, the mother's milk changes composition to match the needs of the growing pups. By the time the puppies are six weeks old, the amount of protein in their mother's milk increases from 4.5 percent to 6.5 percent. The amount of fat increases up until the third week, when it falls somewhat, again matching the puppies' needs for that time period. Growing puppies require calcium, so that also increases as the weeks pass.

Foster Mother

If a newborn puppy's mother dies or can't feed him, contact your vet or a local animal shelter to see if they know of a nursing mother who could take on another puppy. Finding a foster mother for puppies is more difficult than with kittens, because the size and breed of the mother's puppies must also be taken into consideration. If you can't find a foster mom, you'll have to feed the puppy a milk replacer.

Puppy Milk Replacer

Puppies can't digest cow's milk. They need something resembling canine milk, which is extremely high in fat. You can purchase puppy milk replacers at pet stores or through veterinarians. Ask your vet for a recommendation for the best product for your newborn puppy. Most puppy milk replacers for newborns contain colostrum, but read the label to make sure. Follow the directions on the container. For most products, you only make up enough formula to last 24 hours. If you have milk replacer left over after that period, throw it out.


Taking on the bottle-feeding of a newborn puppy is huge time commitment. As a general rule, a puppy needs to consume daily about a half-ounce of milk replacer for each 2 ounces he weighs. You'll have to weigh him every day, reporting any weight loss to the vet. Newborn puppies require feeding every 4 hours. They also need to burp each time. After each feeding, put his head on your shoulder. Rub his back gently until he burps. Imitating his mother's tongue, use a damp washcloth to gently rub his genital/anal area to stimulate urination and defecation.

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.

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