Thankfully Mother Nature has provided the perfect balanced nutrition for puppies. The female, after whelping, will immediately begin to nurse the puppies, typically starting by a good licking to clean off all amniotic fluids and remove any possible membranes that may be covering the nose and mouth area of the puppy. This will also stimulate blood circulation and body functions. One of the first tasks that a newborn puppy has is to crawl towards the mother's belly, both for nutrition as well as for warmth. Puppies are unable to regulate their own body temperature, so having them all bunch together against the female is a great way to provide warmth and safety.
Unfortunately there are situations that can occur where either the female dog refuses to allow the puppies to nurse, or becomes sick during the pregnancy and does not produce milk. Worse case scenario is that there is some serious health complication during whelping that prevents the mother from being able to care for and feed the puppies. If this situation occurs, the owner needs to be prepared to feed the puppies and keep them warm for the first few critical weeks.
What To Feed
The first milk that a puppy gets from the mother is important for overall health and antibody development with the puppy's own body. When the mother is unable to nurse, the puppy does not receive this essential component, however if they are cared for properly and routinely they will eventually build up their own defenses, just not with the extra boost from Mom.
When feeding newborn puppies always buy newborn puppy formula from either a vet, breeder or from a pet store. Never use milk for human consumption such as cow's milk or goat's milk unless you have no other option. Cow's milk can be especially problematic as it contains lactase, which dog's do not have the enzymes to digest. Cow's milk will cause diarrhea and vomiting in dogs and can be fatal to puppies as these conditions result in dehydration.
Puppy formula is typically sold in a powdered form and needs to be mixed with water in very specific and measured ratios. It also should be mixed only as needed or only on a daily basis to prevent any type of contamination or spoilage. If you have to store the formula between feedings do so in the fridge in a sealed container and warm up to room temperature before feeding.
When To Feed
A newborn puppy needs to be fed multiple times per day and through the night. Most newborn puppies or puppies up to about four to six weeks of age will feed between 10 and 12 times per day, or roughly about every two hours. As puppies mature and grow they will feed less frequently but eat a bit more. Newborn puppies have very tiny stomachs and their bodies have to learn how to digest and process food. Offering formula every two hours is the best possible option for newborn puppies, however not every puppy will always be interested in eating at exactly the two hour mark.
Supplies You Will Need
Besides the formula warmed to room temperature or just slightly above, you will also need a small nursing puppy bottle or possibly even a very small plastic syringe case in the case of toy breeds of puppies. It is also a good idea to have separate feeding bottles or syringes for each puppy, clearly marked to avoid cross contamination by feeding all the puppies with the same equipment. Having separate feeding bottles also allows you to clearly keep a measured record of how much each puppy is consuming at a feeding.
How To Feed
The ideal option is to feed the puppy as close to the natural prone position as it would be in when feeding at the mother. The first few feeding you will have to help support the neck and head in an upward position to assist with formula ingestion and compensate for developing neck muscles. You can also hold the puppy on your lap on a towel and feed in that position. Don't allow the puppy to drop his or her head below the level of the body as this can lead to choking. If you are using a syringe be very careful not to squirt the formula to the back of the throat, this also can cause choking. It will be necessary to moisten the nipple of the bottle with a bit of the formula to help the puppy understand what he or she is to do. Make sure the hole is clear and easily allows formula to pass from the bottle to the puppy.
The puppy may not get the hang of bottle feeding right off, so keep dipping the nipple of the bottle or the end of the syringe rather than trying to squeeze or force liquid into the puppy's mouth. Don't hold the puppy upright or on its back to feed as these are both positions that can cause either gulping of air with the formula or choking on the liquid if it goes into the lungs. Keep accurate records of how much the puppy eats and rely this information to the vet as needed.
What To Watch Out For
Most puppies will quickly pick up on the bottle or syringe feeding process and should be feeding naturally on the bottle after the first day or two. If the puppy is not, call your vet and ask for assistance as there could be a physical problem that is preventing the puppy from nursing. This is most commonly the issue if you are successfully feeding all the puppies except one. This usually indicates it is not your feeding technique that is causing the issue.
If the puppy starts to choke or has formula that comes out of his or her nose during feeding, some formula has at least started down the respiratory tract. This can happen if the puppy gulps air with the food or if there is too much formula going from the bottle or syringe at one time. This is a serious issue that can cause ongoing respiratory problems including pneumonia, and can even cause death in severe cases of too much liquid enters into the lungs.
Hold the puppy in the palms of your hands, head towards your fingers. Place the thumbs over the puppy's back and the bottom two fingers under the puppy's belly. Support the neck and head in a firm grip with the first two fingers. Extend your arms to shoulder height and quickly move your arms in a downward motion, fully and firmly holding the puppy and supporting the neck and head securely. The liquid should be released from the lungs and out the nostrils in one or two movements. Be very careful to only do this in a controlled manner and it is not important to really move your arms down fast, but the formula has to be removed quickly. Carefully monitor this puppy over the next few days and watch for any signs of respiratory distress.
Finally, as puppies mature they will need more formula and slightly fewer feedings. Check with your vet or a breeder to find out what you can expect for your particular breed.