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Bottle Feeding Your Puppy

May 23, 2010 by  
Filed under The Puppy Corner

Most mama dogs will be more than capable of feeding all of their puppies, but some dogs either cannot bring down enough milk or are just plain not interested in caring for their puppies. If this happens, you will have to provide the nutrition for the newborns. In addition, if one or more of the puppies is more than 15 – 20% smaller than littermates, you should begin supporting the puppy with additional formula until he or she catches up.

Tube Feeding

If the puppy has a poor suck reflex or is unwilling to take to the bottle, you may have to tube feed the puppy by placing a tube through his or her mouth down into the dog’s stomach. A syringe full of milk substitute is attached to the top of the tube, and the milk is slowly dispensed into the tube. Your vet can help you determine proper placement of the tube. A good estimate of the tubing length you will need can be found by laying the tube alongside the dog and marking the tube with a permanent marker next to the puppy’s last rib.

You must make sure the tube is in the dog’s esophagus and not in the windpipe before starting a tube feeding. To do this, gently feel the dog’s throat. You should feel two tubes – the one in the center of the throat is the windpipe, and the other one is the catheter tube. If you only feel one tube, you are probably in the windpipe, and the dog will tell you this by squirming and whining. The tube is much more comfortable in the esophagus.

Bottle Feeding

As long as the puppy is strong enough to suck, you can use a human baby bottle although you will probably need to either enlarge the nipple hole or poke several holes in the nipple. If you hold the bottle upside down, you should be able to expel milk through the nipple by gently squeezing the bottle. If it requires more than a gentle squeeze, you need to enlarge the hole. You want to strike a balance between the milk coming out of the bottle easily enough not to tire the small, weak puppy and not coming out so easily that it runs down the puppy’s face and neck because he or she can’t eat as fast as the milk is flowing from the nipple.

bottle feeding a hungry puppy

Most dogs will need about 1 cc of formula for every ounce of body weight every three hours, although this depends on the caloric value of the formula you are using. Commercially produced puppy milk replacement formulas usually offer just 1 – 2 calories per cc. You can check the calorie count on the label. Many vets and breeders prefer to make homemade formula, which can provide as much as 11 calories per cc. For reference, a cc is equivalent to 1/30th of an ounce, or just a little under 1 gram.

A recipe for homemade formula used by Leerburg Kennels in Wisconsin is a mixture of 10 oz. of canned evaporated milk or goat’s milk, 1 raw egg – yolk only, 1 cup of whole milk yogurt, and ½ tspn. Karo syrup. If evaporated milk is used, add 3 oz. of water that has been boiled and cooled. If Karo syrup can’t be located, you can mix together 1 cup of white sugar dissolved in ¼ cup of hot water. The Leerburgs recommend that cow’s milk never be used, and that the formula be stored in the refrigerator for up to seven days after it is made. You can read more about bottle feeding puppies the Leerburg way on their web site, which also has numerous training tips and other information about German Shepherds.

Some mama dogs will be uninterested in their puppies at first, but may take on a mothering role within a few days. If you had just given birth to seven or eight babies at once, wouldn’t you be tired and want to be left alone? Even if you have to hand feed the puppies, try to re-introduce them to the mama each day and see if she is willing to take over. If there is no physical problem preventing her from caring for her pups it is usually better to allow her to do so.

Problems with newborn puppy feeding

It is not uncommon for a puppy to become dehydrated, and this can become fatal very quickly when the puppy is already weak. A key sign of dehydration is if you pick up a fold of skin – usually on the neck – and it stays tented. The gums may appear blue, and the dog will have a dry mouth and tongue due to decreased saliva production, and you may notice that the urine output is decreased. Your puppy should be kept in a slightly humid environment and feed regularly to him or her properly hydrated. A home humidifier in the whelping room is usually sufficient. Overly wet air can cause breathing problems, so take care not to overdo the humidity.

Puppies who are being tube or bottle fed may become hypoglycemic. Their blood sugar level will fall if they are not fed frequently enough. The puppy will become even weaker and may develop seizures before slipping into a coma if the blood sugar is not raised quickly. The easiest way to raise blood sugar is to give the puppy a few drops of Karo syrup on his or her tongue. You should see results nearly immediately after the puppy swallows the sticky liquid.

Eliminating waste is a problem for all puppies, but the mama dog usually helps stimulate the puppies bowels by licking the pup’s anus. You can provide the same stimulation by gently massaging the puppy’s rear with a moistened cloth or cotton ball soon after each meal. Your puppy will likely stop needing this assistance after two or three weeks.

The stool should be yellowish brown and about the consistency of jelly or jam. If it is watery, you may be overfeeding the puppy and should cut back. Try diluting the formula with Pedialyte until the stools return to normal. You can also give 2 – 3 drops of Kaopectate before each feeding to help stop the diarrhea. If the problem is not solved quickly, you run the risk of dehydration and should consult your vet for additional treatment, possibly including sub-cutaneous fluids and antibiotics.

Hard stool may indicate that you are not properly mixing the formula, particularly if you are using a commercial powdered formula. Use more water and increase the frequency of feedings to prevent your puppy from having to strain to relieve his bowels. If the problem continues, you can feed the dog a few drops of mineral oil or cat hairball ointment to try to release the impacted stool. Vet care is required if the problem still remains, as your puppy may need an enema.

Immunity is conferred on puppies through their mother’s milk during the first twelve hours of life. Antibodies in the first milk, known as colostrums, help to protect the puppies from early diseases. If at all possible, encourage your mama dog to feed her own puppies during this critical period. After the puppies are twelve hours old, their stomachs will not absorb the antibodies from the mama dog. At that point, you can take over the feedings if necessary. If you have to tube or bottle feed from the very beginning, make sure you take extra care to wash your hands and boil the bottles and tubing before each use, as your puppy will literally have no immunity from disease.

Overfeeding a puppy is easy to do. Dr. Ron Hines of the organization 2nd Chance points out that overfeeding can cause the dog to aspirate milk leading to pneumonia. His preference is to feed puppies a little less than they want, and feed them frequently, rather than trying to stretch out the time between feedings by loading them up. If you are tube-feeding, he recommends using about 3/4s of the amount you would use in a bottle, as the puppy is not expending any calories in sucking and swallowing the formula.

The way you will know if you are giving the proper amount of food is by looking at the puppy’s figure. You want the puppy’s belly to be slightly rounded or pear-shaped after each feeding. During the first few weeks, you will feed six to eight times a day, gradually tapering off as the puppy gains weight. By three weeks, you should be able to get by with just four feedings a day, and by five weeks, you can start adding some solid foods, feeding just two or three meals a day.

If you are underfeeding your puppy, you will know because while his or her littermates sleep most of the time, the hand-raised puppy will be very active and very vocal, crying much of the time.

Just like our human babies, puppies who are bottle fed may develop gas bubbles in their stomachs. And just like our human babies, they will need to be burped. The process is the same: hold the puppy up against your chest and shoulder and gently pat him or her on the back until you hear a burp. If the puppy appears to be suffering a lot of gas pain, you can add a few drops of the infant gas relief supplement known as simethicone. It is available in chain stores in the baby section.

Weaning your puppy to solid food

At about four to four-and-a-half weeks of age, your puppy is ready to begin eating some solid foods. Start by presenting the formula you have been using in a bowl to get the dog used to the idea that the bottle is not the way he or she will be eating in the future. Buy a can of ground wet dog food or raw hamburger and smear just a bit on the roof of the puppy’s mouth to give him or her the feel of the new texture. Then begin adding a small amount of the wet dog food or raw hamburger to the dog’s formula. For very small dogs, you may have to mash up the solids into the milk replacement.

As the dog begins to master wet food, you can begin introducing dry food. Again start by mixing the food in with the formula at first, then begin to serve less formula and more kibble. By the age of ten weeks, most puppies are completely on dry food or converted to whatever feeding method (raw, BARF, canned adult food, etc.) you will be using.

Drs. Foster & Smith have some additional information on hand-raising puppies in their Pet Education Center.

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