There are many reasons why you may have to take care of one or more unweaned puppies: at birth, some puppies are too weak to suckle on their own. In other cases, it is the mother who cannot breastfeed or even dies during the birth. You may then have to take over and take care of the litter yourself until weaning, at 8 weeks.
Having a healthy puppy
First of all, a puppy that cannot be raised normally by its mother at birth must always be seen by a veterinarian to make sure that it is strong enough to be raised in your home, and that it does not have any congenital anomalies.
There is also the problem of colostrum intake: 10% of the antibodies are transmitted through the placenta and the remaining 90% are present in the colostrum, which must be ingested within the first hours of life. Puppies that do not receive this substance are more sensitive to infections and mortality is more important in the first days of life. You should therefore contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to switch to artificial colostrum.
Furthermore, the absence of colostrum intake must be taken into account when designing the vaccination and deworming program.
Generally speaking, the first 36 hours of the puppy’s life are decisive. Without milk, colostrum and a sufficiently high temperature, the risk of death from hypothermia and hypoglycemia is high.
Ensure a suitable environment
The newborn puppy needs a calm, dry and clean environment. He must be placed in a comfortable bed, with the bottom covered with cloths or educational mats. The temperature is also very important: it should be 30°C for the first week, then 26°C for the next two weeks. After that, 21 to 22°C will be enough. Also, if the puppy is very weak, it may be preferable that he spends some time in an incubator and is fed by tube at the vet’s before you can continue the care at home.
Feeding a non-weaned puppy
If you don’t have bitch’s milk, the best solution is to use a milk substitute composed of about 33% protein and 41% fat. It comes in the form of a powder to be reconstituted. Because of its high lactose and low fat content, cow’s milk is not suitable.
Artificially fed puppies initially grow less than other puppies, but develop normally. The delay in growth is quickly caught up after weaning.
On the practical side, you should not overfeed a puppy, especially during the first 3 days. He must be fed frequently, but in small quantities. To know it, it is necessary to weigh the animal daily. At birth, a puppy weighs between 250 and 500 grams. The first two days, 8 small meals are necessary, then 6 during the rest of the first week. The frequency can then be lowered to 5 daily meals until the age of 16 weeks, then 4 meals until weaning. Also the gap between two meals should not exceed 4 hours during the first 15 days.
The milk should be prepared with warm water, then distributed at 37°C, keeping the puppy on its stomach, head upright. Finally, after each feeding, it is necessary to stimulate the ano-genital area with a wet cotton pad, in order to stimulate the urination and defecation reflex.
The progressive weaning starts at the age of 3/4 weeks, to end around 6/8 weeks. As with the kitten, the idea is to gradually introduce solid food. To do this, you can offer the puppy kibble with formula, then kibble mixed with water. Also, they should always have a bowl of fresh water available.
Training a non-weaned puppy
The absence of the mother is not without consequences on the psychological development of the puppy. It is strongly advised to seek advice from a behaviorist veterinarian in order to avoid the appearance of behavioral problems. The major risk is the lack of acquisition of self-control, i.e. the puppy is unable to control its bite. Because of the special place that the dog has in society and in the family, this type of disorder represents a danger and the recourse to a specialist seems fundamental.
Generally speaking, as soon as the puppy starts to be lively and playful, do not let him bite you until it hurts; as soon as the bite is too strong, say “no” firmly, grab the puppy by the neck and shake him lightly.
Remember, it is never a good idea to separate an unweaned puppy from its mother. Do not adopt or offer for adoption a puppy under 2 months of age, even if he is already eating solid food. Remember that weaning is also a time when the puppy has reached a certain level of behavioural maturity.