I have hand raised more puppies than I could even possibly begin to think about and have found that had I not done so, my success rate of puppy survival would have been dramatically lessened. The secret is to know when to step in and then knowing exactly what to do in order to keep these babies alive, happy, and healthy. I am all for having the natural mother raise her own babies, as hand raising can be a lot of hard work, but if you want to have live babies, then the art of hand raising should be mastered. Without this knowledge, you will lose puppies that could otherwise be saved. Every puppy deserves the chance to live and you just never know at the time the puppy you could be saving, could also be your next Best In Show winner.

In order to know when you must hand raise a puppy, you must become familiar with what a healthy puppy looks and feels like. If the puppy or puppies are not thriving with their mother, you will have to be alert to this and know the job of raising them has just become yours! Of course, there are a multitude of other reasons why one must resort to hand raising, such as bad mothering, insufficient milk supply in a lactating dam, Metritis (uterine infection), Mastitis (infection in the mammary glands) and that is just to name a few. This therefore means, you must also be alert to the condition of the dam as well as the puppies. So we shall now take note of what to look for in both a healthy dam versus a sick one; a healthy puppy versus a sick one.

A healthy and maternal dam will be attentive to her puppies. She will nurse them, clean them, stay with them to the point of refusing to leave the puppies even to feed herself, and will constantly make sure they are being kept warm by ensuring they are all in close body contact with her. She will nestle herself around them and the puppies will be near her mammory glands all the time for the first few days. She will look bright eyed, alert, and relaxed. She will eat well, drink well. Her bowel motions will be normal.

A restless dam. A dam who will not settle with her puppies. She is constantly restless, panting excessively, her temperature may be elevated, she may be constipated, refuses food, and is stiff gaited or not balancing properly when she is walking. She may have an anxious look in her eyes. She may show signs of shivering, These could be signs of ECLAMPSIA. This condition needs veterinarian attention immediately. Left untreated it could result in the death of the dam. It is caused by a lack of calcium in the blood stream. The end results are collapse, convulsions, coma and then death.

Refusal To Eat. One of the signs of illness or nervousness is the refusal to eat. This accompanied with depression and a lack of interest in her puppies and or leaving the whelping bed, could be a sign of problems. The first thing to do it rule out illness. Take the temperature, if elevated this is a sign of infection. Palpate the abdomen, if it feels enlarged, tight, or tender, this could be a sign of Metritis. This is a condition for your vet to treat.

Abnormal Discharge. There sometimes is a discharge post whelping and it important to keep a check on this. Any brownish, thick, discharge that smells offensive is indicative of infection. Bright red abundant discharge, is also a sign of trouble..

Hot and Inflamed Teats. The mammary area should be of normal pink color, not red, hot to the touch, and lumpy. There should not be any pain and discomfort if you palpate the area or if puppies nurse. Also keep a look out for any abnormal discharge from the nipples. All these signs could be Mastitis. Veterinary advice should be sort.

Vomiting and diarrhea. Both of these signs could be indicative of a viral infection, Enteritis, nervousness, or another type of bacterial infection. The dam should be examined by your vet.

Intensive itching, skin abrasions due to biting the area, and pustules. Indicative of a skin bacterial infection. Needs veterinary treatment.

Swollen vagina with pustules. This could be indicative of Vaginitis or another bacterial infection. Usually the dam will lick herself excessively.
If any of the above conditions are present in your dam, you should remove the puppies from the dam and hand rear them. Your dam should be treated by your vet and left to rest until she recuperates. Chances are high that she will not feel up to nursing her puppies anyway and she will need all her energy to regain her strength.

Healthy puppies should have a certain look and feel about them. Their coats should be shiny, they should be well covered with fur and also fat. New borns are not fat, but they are firm and when you pick them up in your hand, they should feel solid. They should have good tone, meaning they should not feel limp. Their abdominal colour should be pink and healthy looking, not red or have a bluish tint and certainly should not have any pustules, these signs could be Septicemia. The following signs are what to look for in health puppies.

Good Tone. When you pick the puppy up in your hand it should feel solid and firm and should wriggle, cry, and try to escape from your hold.

Good Hydration: When you gently pinch the nape of the puppy's neck, the skin should spring back very quickly.

Suckling Reflex. Every strong, healthy, puppy should have a strong suckling reflex. When nursing on the dam, if you gently lift the puppy in your hand and try to remove from the dam, the pup should latch on to the teat and suckle strongly.

Rooting Reflex. Place a hungry puppy on a warm blanket and hold out your hand in front of the puppy. The Rooting Reflex is when the puppy pushes against your hand with his head and muzzles to find a teat. Once on a teat, they will use their front paws to stimulate milk flow from the dam.

Full Abdomen. A full abdomen indicates the puppy is feeding well and usually the puppy is content and not crying. Viewing a full puppy from above, they should look pear shaped if well fed.

Warm Body. A healthy puppy should feel warm when picked up. For the first week of life, a new born cannot regulate body temperature and chills very easily, but the puppy should feel warm when first removed from the dam.

Now, having described what a healthy puppy should look like, let us have a description of sick or weak puppy or puppies, as sometimes an entire litter can be affected.

Any differences to the above descriptions are a sign there could be trouble. The secret to successfully saving a puppy is being alert and stepping in to take action before it is too late. Puppies can begin crashing very quickly, within hours, from one feed to the next; one inspection may see a puppy apparently healthy and the next inspection could reveal a puppy in trouble. Puppies can be born weak and weedy, others tired from a long birthing process or from anesthetic in the case of a Caesarian, in any of these cases and in cases where there has been illness and the puppy needs a quick energy boost or to be re-hydrated the following mixture may be given from as early as birth.

Mixture: 10 drop of brandy
A quarter of a teaspoon of glucose powder
A few granules of cooking salt
1/2 ML of Nutrigel or Nutrical (US)
Add enough boiled cooled water to make 50 mls.

If the puppy is badly dehydrated and very weak, use subcutaneous fluid replacement injections. For a very tiny puppy up to 10 divided ML can be administered, 1 ml half hourly until there is improvement.

Now here are some tips that indicate a puppy is in trouble.

Failure To Thrive: Keep a close eye on the entire litter and make sure all the pups are gaining weight. If one seems not to be gaining weight, it is time to supplement feed or take the puppy from the dam and completely hand raise, depending on whether there are other symptoms accompanying the lack of weight gain.

Chilled And Listless: If a puppy is lying away from the dam and his litter mates, limp, listless and chilled, immediately remove the puppy. DO NOT FEED MILK FORMULA TO A CHILLED PUPPY, this will be the quickest way to kill him. When chilled, his little digestive system is shut down. First you must gently warm the puppy by holding him in direct body contact, then place on a covered hot water bottle. Give the above mixture a drop at a time, increasing frequency and amount as the puppy responds,

Infections: Symptoms are chilling, diarrhea, dehydration, not nursing, constant crying or in some cases no crying, bloated abdomen, skin discoloration, pale membranes, and a very listless puppy. In these cases every breeder should know how to stomach tube feed. Give the above mixture and take the puppy to your vet to have antibiotics administered.

Over-heated: Puppies can become over-heated in extremes of temperature. Usually they will lie sprawled apart, cry, gasp, and be in distress. Immediately cool the puppies down and the room temperature. Place puppies on a wet towel and have a fan in the room but not blowing directly on the puppies. Administer the mixture above.
I have not covered all things that can go wrong with puppies or in any case even with nursing dams, more explicit details and treatments can be found in my book "Lets Talk Dogs", I have however, touched upon the more common problems. Now, if you are in a position of having to hand raise a litter or a puppy, the following is the method I have found to be the most successful.
Hand raising is hard work but when successful, also very rewarding.

Firstly I have found warmth and proper environment is very important, I have used plastic storage boxes approximately 15 inches or slightly larger depending on breed size and litter size, by 15 inches square. At the very top I have drilled holes about an inch apart the circumference of the box, the same is done to the lid. I choose the transparent plastic. At the bottom I place a heating pad and then a soft quilt or baby blanket which is chances daily. This "humidity crib" is created with the warmth and the humidity is maintained through the puppies breathing. It is easy to clean also. Puppies remain in this humidity crib until they are two weeks old.

Newborn puppies cannot regulate their body temperature very well. They quickly become chilled, or hypothermic, if their mother, their siblings, or their environment does not keep them warm. It will be necessary to provide a heat source for your puppy for the first few weeks of life. Suitable heat sources include hot water bottles, incubators, and heat lamps. Whichever heat source you use, make sure the puppy doesn't become overheated or burned. In addition, avoid drafts by placing the puppy's box away from windows, doorways, and air-conditioning vents. During the first 4 days of life, aim to keep the air temperature in the box at puppy-level between 85F and 90F. Gradually decrease the temperature to about 80F degrees by days 7-10. If you are raising a litter of puppies, the temperature can be a little lower, as the puppies will huddle together and keep one another warm.

The normal rectal temperature for a newborn puppy is 95-99F. If its rectal temperature is below 94F degrees you are dealing with a potentially life-threatening case of hypothermia. The puppy needs to be warmed immediately. Take care not to overheat the puppy or warm it too quickly; this can be fatal in a weak puppy.

Newborn puppies quickly become dehydrated very quickly if they are not nursing. They can also become dehydrated if their environment is too hot and dry.

Two indicators of dehydration are loss of elasticity in the skin (the skin stays tented when gently pinched up) and decreased saliva production (the gums and tongue feel tacky or dry).

In addition to providing adequate nutrition, you may need to humidify the puppy box or whelping room if the puppy is small or weak. Be careful not to make the box too hot and humid; this can also cause respiratory distress. A home humidifier should be adequate.

Hypoglycemia quickly develops in a newborn that is not nursing frequently.
As hypoglycemia worsens, the puppy becomes progressively more depressed and weak.
Without treatment it may develop muscle twitches or seizures and then it will become unresponsive and comatose.

If it is showing any of these signs place a few drops of corn syrup on its tongue. This simple procedure is often sufficient to revive a hypoglycemic puppy. Also watch for signs of hypoglycemia over the next several days, as you adjust your puppy's feeding schedule.

How much to feed depends on the puppy's condition, size, and breed so a good rule of the thumb is not to over feed, this in fact is worse than under feeding especially for the first week of life when the puppy's system is trying to adjust. If the abdomen is examined prior to feeding and when you make the puppy open bowels and urinate (do this also after feeding), you will be able to tell if the puppy has a sufficient intake of milk because the abdomen will look and feel fuller. Well fed puppies sleep contently from feed to feed, settle quickly after a feed, and usually, but not always have to be woken up for the next feed. Correctly fed puppies have firm stools of a normal yellow mustard color. Puppies must be burped during feeding and always after feeding. Gently rub their backs and sides of their abdomens with your fingers.

Making a puppy open bowels and urinate is simple. Use a damp cotton wool ball or tissue and gently stimulate the abdomen and the genital area until the puppy relieves himself. At least once a day, puppy should be washed down with a moist baby wipe, the same as used for human babies. Before you handle the puppy your hands should be disinfected. I have found the easiest way to do this is to have the pump bottle of a product named Aquine or Dermasoft near by. Rub this on your hands each time before handling. The correct way to feed a puppy is as shown in the pictures on this page.
I use no lactose milk to hand raise puppies.

The product I use is Pets Own Milk which is in a long life container and readily available from supermarkets in Australia. However, you can use goats milk instead. To the milk I use, I use 250 mls of the milk to 1 level teaspoon glucose powder, 1 ml of Nutrigel, I teaspoon natural yoghurt. I mix this formula and allow the milk to stand in boiled water to dissolve, then I use a fork or small wire whisk to stir the milk to make sure the Nutrigel in particular is dissolved . For the first 24 hours I will feed 50% milk to 50% boiled cooled water. I increase this to 75% milk by the following day and gradually by the fourth day they are on full strength.

Another tried and proven recipe is the following:

1. 10 oz. of canned evaporated milk or goat's milk (not pasteurized cow's milk - this will cause scowers - dogs cannot drink normal cow's milk) Goats milk is by far the best to use. Wall Mart sells it in the States and here in Australia it is available in Supermarkets.
2. 3 oz. sterilized water (baby water or boiled water) this is not needed if using goat's milk
3. 1 cup of whole yogurt (avoid skim or fat free if at all possible)
5. 1/2 Tsp glucose powder (NOT HONEY !!!)
6. 04ml Nutrigel or Nutrical.

Place ingredients in a blender and blend or use a wire whisk. Be careful to not over blend and create a milk shake full of bubbles and then tube bubbles into the puppy.
Keep cool and discard leftovers after 7 days.

Warm formula to body temperature (dogs are around 101 degrees). Discard any un-used formula. This is a thick mixture - use a stomach tube to tube feed or enlarge the hole in the nipple for easy access for the pup.

Take time to check the hole in the nipple before using the bottle the first time. The hole is the right size if, when you turn the bottle upside down, milk replacer drips from the nipple with only a gentle squeeze of the bottle.

If, when you upend the bottle, you must squeeze it firmly to get milk to drip from the nipple, the hole needs to be enlarged. Otherwise, the puppy will become discouraged or exhausted when nursing and may even refuse to nurse.

To enlarge the hole, heat a needle and then pierce the tip of the nipple a few times. If the puppy is weak and has a poor suck reflex, it is necessary to feed the puppy through a tube inserted into its stomach. Your veterinarian will instruct you on how to place the tube and maintain it for feeding.

If the puppy is very small and weak, I feed 2 -3 hourly. The Mikki feeder is excellent for weak puppies and you have full control over the flow. For the first week a feed is required in the early hours of the morning. After the first week, if you keep the puppy on 3-4 hourly feeds, the night feed is usually foregone. I keep feeding 4 hourly until the puppies are three weeks old and are ready for the introduction of solids then I feed 5 hourly.

I wish you every success if the need arises that you must hand raise a puppy. If you need further advice or specific advice further to this reading material you may contact me via the email and I will assist wherever possible. Please use the contact form on this site for this purpose.

Written By
Anne Roditis-Muscat

copyright 2008