When you find yourself caring for a litter of newborn puppies, you will likely soon realise that there is more to keeping them healthy than ensuring they stay with their mother. Puppies should be examined by a vet within a couple of days of being born, but being responsible for several little lives can still be overwhelming. Here are three vital tips for caring for newborn puppies to ensure you start off on the right foot:
Good Nutrition Is Key
Newborn puppies will be exclusively breastfed by their mothers for the first weeks after their birth, and the mother will require a diet with a higher fat content than usual in order to have an adequate milk supply to allow the puppies to feed on-demand and grow at a healthy rate. You may wish to switch the mother to a specialist food for lactating dogs or seek nutritional advice from your vet.
Observe the puppies feeding at regular intervals for the first few days to ensure they have the hang of how to get milk and that the mother is allowing them to feed. It's advisable to weigh the puppies regularly for the first few weeks, and your vet can provide you with a growth chart to ensure their weight gain is appropriate. If you notice the puppies are losing weight, check the mother's teats for signs of mastitis. This is a painful bacterial infection that can cause a reduction in milk production. Signs of mastitis in dogs include red, painful teats and the mother snapping at the puppies when they try to feed. Mothers with mastitis need to be seen by a vet urgently.
Create A Suitable Whelping Pen Environment
A whelping pen is the area the mother gives birth in and where the puppies will remain for the first weeks of their lives. This area should be quiet and enclosed to keep the puppies from wandering and to keep them safe from overeager young children or other pets. Additionally, as newborn puppies can't control their body temperature, it's a good idea to place a heat lamp in a corner of the whelping pen. This will allow them to stay warm while having cooler areas of the pen available to prevent overheating.
Meet Early Healthcare Needs
For the first couple of weeks of their lives, puppies are kept safe from several illnesses by their mother's antibodies. However, around five weeks after their birth, they should begin a vaccination schedule. This will protect them from a number of serious illnesses, such as parvovirus, kennel cough and distemper. Puppy vaccinations consist of five rounds that are given two weeks apart. You can take your puppies to your veterinary surgery to be vaccinated or ask your vet to carry out home visits to protect them coming into contact with unvaccinated dogs. Look for a puppy litter vaccination service near you to learn more about the vaccinations the puppies will need.
From around two weeks old your puppies will also need to start a deworming schedule. Dewormer suitable for their age should be given every two weeks for the first three months, and you can administer most brands yourself at home.
If at any point you have any concerns about the health of your puppies, you should seek advice from your vet. They will be happy to answer any questions and have a breadth of knowledge and experience to draw on.