Once your puppies have been born, the real work begins – making sure they receive the proper care from their mother, and keeping them warm and well-fed in order to maintain their growth and development.
The first thing new puppies need is a warm environment. Their first few weeks should be spent in a confined area that stays around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If the area around the whelping box isn’t warm enough, you can place a heating pad or hot water bottle in one corner, to allow the pups to find a temperature they prefer. Alternatively, move the pups and their mom to a warmer part of your home.
The puppies are completely helpless when they are born. They are blind and deaf, their bodies cannot regulate their own temperature, and they need to be stimulated to learn how to urinate and defecate on their own. Their body temperature will gradually increase over the first three weeks of life to a normal adult temperature of 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s so important that the babies get the first milk, or colostrum, from their mother. This milk contains antibodies that can only be absorbed during their first twenty-four hours of life, and they help to protect the newborns from disease during their first few weeks. If your pups are tiny or weak, they may need your help to latch on to the nipple.
The mom will do her best to keep them clean in the beginning, but as the pups grow, you’ll need to change the newspapers in the whelping box more regularly.
The pups need to be monitored closely and weighed regularly to ensure they are getting enough nutrition. In some cases, the mother may need to receive medication from a veterinarian to increase their milk production, or you may need to supplement their diet with formula. After four weeks, they will be ready to start nibbling on soft food like puppy porridge or mince.
The puppies will need to be wormed every two weeks for the first twelve weeks of life, and these babies will also need their first vaccinations when they are between six and eight weeks old. This protects them from viral diseases like Hepatitis, Parvovirus, and Distemper. Your veterinarian can recommend a vaccination program for your pups, depending on where you live and the disease risk in your area.
After three or four weeks, the puppies can be handled gently by people to get them used to human contact. At around five weeks of age their teeth will start coming through the gums, and at this point, their mom will start to wean them. Most pups will still nurse from mom until they are seven and eight weeks old. It is important to keep litter mates and the mother together until then, so the puppies learn how to communicate and interact with other dogs. Pups who are taken from their litter mates too early may develop antisocial behaviors because they haven’t had this opportunity to learn dog body language.
Sometimes humans are required to act as surrogate mothers for newborn puppies, so it helps to understand their needs and what the mother does to help them grow and thrive. If the mother neglects or abandons a puppy, you are its only hope for survival. You’ll need to not only feed them regularly with formula and keep them warm, but you’ll need to gently wipe their bottom with a moist cotton ball to stimulate them to go to the toilet. Raising orphan puppies is a lot of work, and very tiring but it’s so worthwhile.