Neonate care: Hand-rearing new-born puppies - contd

Devna Arora

Link to Page 1: general guidelines

Stages of growth and the corresponding care for the pups

There is a vast variation in the size and weight of different breeds of dogs with the smallest of breeds weighing roughly 2 kilos while the heaviest may well weigh over 100 kilos. The smaller the breed, the smaller will be the puppies. It must be kept in mind that smaller sized puppies require more warmth than bigger sized puppies as smaller bodies tend to lose heat a lot faster than bigger ones.

This document has been made keeping in mind medium-small to medium sized dogs weighing 15-20 kilos and their pups which would weigh roughly 80-100 grams at birth. Bigger puppies would obviously require more feed while smaller ones would require less but the feed concentration would remain roughly the same. Likewise, there may be young that are weaker and may consume smaller quantities of feed until their health picks up. Fresh arrivals also tend to accept smaller quantities of feeds until they have stabilized, and have settled down and adjusted to the handling and feeding. It is therefore impossible to outline specific quantities and the best way to gauge your puppy’s requirements would be by monitoring it – the puppy must look healthy and satisfied.

A word of caution: Enthusiastic puppies tend to overfeed and beg even on a full tummy. They must not be overfed as this will immediately cause diarrhoea. The suckling reflex of most puppies isn’t easily satisfied because they get a tummy-full a lot faster through a feeding bottle or syringe than they would when suckling on the mother. You must know when to stop feeding them. Over-feeding the puppy will only make it regurgitate its feed and/or end up with an upset tummy.

Puppies have a strong suckling reflex and will suckle on your hands and fingers even after they have been fed. Although this might seem quite exciting for most people, it is not hygienic for the puppies and they must NOT be encouraged to suckle on your hands.

New born puppies that haven’t been stimulated adequately during meal times are likely to soil the box. If the bedding has been soiled, the puppies must be cleaned immediately and their bedding changed.

Week 1 New-born puppies

Devna Arora - Day old puppies

Puppies are born with a short, sparse coat of fur and their eyes and ears closed and appear really pink. Their sense of smell gradually develops over the first couple of days which helps them in finding their way to the mother’s teats. They also start responding to you touch within the first couple of days itself. Puppies are extremely delicate at this stage of life and need rather tender handling and care.

Devna Arora - Feeding new born puppies

New-born puppies must be fed carefully with their bodies supported when feeding them. Their suckling reflex is poorly developed and they may take 10-15 minutes per feed. New-born puppies always lie on their stomach. They must NOT be rolled onto their back as it makes them very uncomfortable and they don’t have enough strength to roll over which adds to an unnecessary struggle. Holding or forcing them into unnatural positions could also make them regurgitate and choke.

Feed: Milk replacers are ideal for neonate puppies. The feed should be prepared as per the instructions given for the feed and then diluted to a concentration of 70% formula and 30% water for the first few days of the puppy’s life. This makes the formula easier to digest and addresses any concerns of dehydration. Probiotics and digestive enzymes must be added to the formula from the first day itself.

Quantity per feed: The pups will consume 3-4 ml per feed for the first few days of their life. The quantity must gradually be increased by 0.5–1 ml per feed every day or every other day. The pups should consume roughly double the quantity of feed by the end of the first week. The puppies must be allowed to have a tummy-full if they prefer to feed more but they must never be forced un-necessarily as it only does them more harm. Puppies at this age are rarely greedy and it is best to let the puppy feed until it falls asleep. The puppies’ health and behaviour would be the best guide to its nutritional requirements.

Devna Arora - Puppy falls asleep as soon as it is fed

Feeding frequency: New-borns require minimum of 8 feeds per day. Each feed should be 2–2½ hours apart. They can be given a 6 hour gap between their feeds at night. Each feed must take at least 5-7 minutes and the flow of the feed must be adjusted accordingly. It is vital not to hasten the speed of the feed as it can easily result in aspiration in the young of this age.

Special care: New-borns will require a warm (never hot) hot-water bottle throughout the day even at normal room temperatures. The hot-water bottle must be checked every time the young are fed as it will need to be refilled with warm water every 2-3 hours. Even though the new-borns need not be fed through the night, their hot-water bottle must be changed once mid-way between their feeds, around 2-3 am.

Week 2

Devna Arora - 10 day old puppy

The pups rapidly put on weight in the first few weeks of their lives, their fur becomes darker and denser and their sense of smell sharpens – they will be able to smell you out in a room especially if they can smell their feed. The puppies are stronger and begin to lift themselves in the second week. By the end of the week they will even be able to pull themselves out of the lower tubs and boxes. The puppies will sleep most of the day, unless disturbed, and wake up only for the meals.

A thin layer of skin pulls back from the ears of the pups towards the beginning of the second week and the development of the external ear is clearly visible by the end of the week. The puppies also start wagging their tails a little visibly in the second week.

Devna Arora - Puppies suckle from the syringe in week 2

The pups will now suckle very well and should suck the feed from even a syringe, much as they would from a milk bottle. The use of the plunger would now be unnecessary but to slow the flow of the feed.

Feed: Same as the feed for week 1 but minute amounts of egg yolk and infant cereal can be introduced to the feed 2-3 times a day. A drop of digiton or gripe water can also be started once or twice a day.

Quantity per feed: The pups would consume 6-8 ml per feed by the beginning of the second week. The feed must gradually be increased by 1 ml per feed every day or every other day. As the frequency of the feeds reduces, the quantity of feed must be brought up to roughly 15 ml per feed by the end of the second week.

Feeding frequency: The young require at least 7-8 feeds a day. Each feed should be 2½–3 hours apart and the puppies can be given a 6 hour gap at night.

Special care: Same as that for new-born puppies but they may require less warmth during the day. The use of the hot-water bottle may be reduced or discontinued depending on the weather conditions and the puppies’ requirements. In most cases, the puppies may only require the hot-water bottle in the morning, late evening but definitely at night.

Week 3 4

The puppies’ eyes start to open in the 3rd week, typically at/after 14-15 days of age. You will first notice a teeny slit in the eyes and the eyes open completely in another 2-3 days. The pups slowly start responding to visual stimuli by the end of the 3rd week. The ears of the puppy also open in the 3rd week and they start responding to sounds. Their first set of incisors erupts by the time the puppy is 3-4 weeks old.

The puppies feed vigorously and may claw you in the excitement as their claws are very sharp at this stage. You might prefer to cover your hands with cloth while feeding them to minimize the scratches. Their muscles develop rapidly at this stage and they are able to take their weight on the legs and even if wobbly, will attempt to walk around.

Devna Arora - Puppies comfortably roll on their backs in the third week

The puppies also start rolling on their backs in the second week and comfortably roll over in the 3rd week. It will be safe to give them a belly rub at this stage and play with them while they are lying on the backs but you must let the puppy decide when it wants to roll over. By the 4th week, the puppies will attempt to feed out of a bowl. They must be offered small quantities in shallow bowls initially until they learn how to eat out of a bowl.

Devna Arora - Introducing a puppy to feeding from a bowl

Thicker feeds like Cerelac (prepared to the consistency of porridge or kheer) would be ideal when first offering the feed in a bowl as liquid feeds are easier to inhale and it will prevent the puppy from inhaling the feed. Feeding puppies from a bowl can be a messy job initially and it would be easier to hold the bowl for the puppy. This will prevent the puppy from walking into the bowl and getting food all over it. It would be best to feed one puppy at a time for the first few days as they will all jump into the bowl otherwise.

Devna Arora - Puppies' first meal from a bowl

Feed: The proportion of Nestum can gradually be increased to 25% per feed and each puppy can be given ½ egg yolk every day. A drop of digiton or gripe water can also now be added to alternate feeds. The probiotics must be continued. Each puppy will require 2 pinches of probiotic powder 2-3 times a day.

Solid foods may be introduced in the 4th week. The puppy can be given mashed egg (both yolk and white), dal ka paani (lentil soup), mashed banana, cerelac made to a thicker consistency, chicken broth, etc.

Quantity per feed: The feed quantity will gradually increase to around 25 ml per feed by the end of the 3rd week and about 40-50 ml per feed by the end of the 4th week.

Feeding frequency: At 3 weeks of age, the pups can be given 6 feeds a day with an 8 hour gap at night. Each feed should be 3 hours apart. At four weeks of age, the puppies may be given 5 feeds a day with an 8 hour gap at night.

Special care: The hot-water bottle may be completely discontinued at night unless the nights seem to be cold. The pups must be given warm bedding nonetheless.

Potty-training must begin by the time the puppies are 3-4 weeks old. By now the puppies will require less stimulation and will be more likely to poop once you put them back in their box. The pups will attempt to move away from the bedding and sleeping area when they want to relieve themselves. Most puppies will also call for your attention when they want to be moved to their pooping area. Responding to them in a timely fashion will encourage and speed the training process.

Devna Arora - Begin potty training in week 3

Ideally, the puppies must be shifted out of the box and into an enclosed space that is covered with paper. Once the puppy feels the need to relieve itself, it will move away from the bedding and onto the paper to relieve itself. Having the floor covered with paper makes it easier to clean as the pups are now likely to soil the room often. Puppies that have been conditioned to newspaper are likely to retain the habit for a while making it very easy to potty train them and clean after them. In a few weeks, you would only need to have one patch of the room covered with newspaper. Even though the puppy might not be able to aim, it will attempt to relieve itself on that patch of paper rather than around the house. [Refer to guidelines on housing puppies in page 1 of the draft]


As the puppy’s reliance on solid foods begins to increase and their feed becomes thicker (especially with the addition of Nestum and egg yellow), they require additional water to maintain their hydration levels. Puppies will start to drink water from a bowl by 4-5 weeks of age and there must be a bowl of fresh drinking water for them at all times. The puppies’ may frequently dirty the water by dipping food-covered muzzles into bowls or by walking through them and the water must be changed as frequently as necessary. 

1 2 months

Devna Arora - Puppies 1-2 months old

The pups will be confidently eating out of a bowl by the time they are a month old and will be a lot less messy now. Once eating from a bowl, they may be given solid foods. The pups will now play for a longer duration after their feed and then fall asleep again. They must be tucked back into their space once they finish playing as they will now sleep until their next meal.

Puppies must be given plenty of space and freedom to run around and play in order to get exercise and for the muscles to develop well. Exercise is also important for co-ordination, gastro-intestinal tract functioning and learning, and must be encouraged and the puppies must be given ample play time. Sunlight too plays an important factor in the development of the young and lack of the same can result in rickets.

Feed: Similar feed as that given in week 4 but the puppies can now be given an entire boiled egg every day. Infant cereals like Cerelac can be given for 1-2 feeds every day. Weaning begins at this stage and the quantity of milk offered can now be decreased. The puppy can be started on puppy foods and other soft and easily digestible foods like milk ‘n bread, rice, chicken broth, minced chicken, mashed fish, soft-boiled lentils, mashed vegetables, etc. Fresh drinking water must be available for the pups at all times..

Quantity per feed: 1 small-to-medium sized bowl as per the puppy’s requirements and energy expenditure. It is much easier to judge the puppy’s requirements at this stage than it is when they are younger. The puppy must be fed as much as it will eat in one go and must be offered a fresh feed at the next scheduled time. Puppies that regurgitate will likely have fed too much on one go. They must be given smaller and frequent meals.

Feeding frequency: 4-5 feeds a day with an 8-10 hours gap at night.

Special care: Puppies normally pee and poop a few minutes after their meals so it’s always a good idea to take the puppies downstairs after their meals so they get the idea that they must not relieve themselves in the house. This is the first step towards toilet training the puppy.

Devna Arora - Puppies upto 2 months of age

The puppies will be inquisitive and will want to thoroughly explore their surroundings. It is extremely important to “puppy proof” the house at this stage. All important documents, wires, laptops, etc. must be kept out of reach as they will now also start to nibble on everything. Keep anything dangerous like knives, scissors, glues, chemicals, cleaning liquids, etc. well out of the reach of the puppy. It the puppy can reach it, it will likely end up in its mouth at some point of time!

Socializing and training are important in the developments in a young pup’s life and must begin at an early age itself. Well trained and socialized puppies are easier to manage and a pleasure to keep.


In addition to the milk formula, solid foods may be offered to the puppy by the time it is 3-4 weeks of age and the puppy can be shifted completely onto solid foods by the time it is 6 weeks old. Puppies are normally weaned off at about 6 weeks of age.

Milk is an ideal source of protein and calcium, and weaning the puppies early can compromise on their growth and development. Puppies that digest and enjoy milk may be given milk for longer duration but puppies that are lactose intolerant must never be forced to consume milk beyond the weaning stage.

Homing puppies

The ideal time to home puppies is just when they are weaned, which is at roughly 6 weeks of age. There is no substitute for mother’s milk and the puppies must never be separated from her whilst still feeding from her. Small puppies also require a lot of attention and care which is best given to them by the mother. Hand-reared puppies, on the contrary, can be given to good homes at any point of time as long as the new home can commit to the extensive care required by small puppies. Neonates must preferably only be homed after 3-4 weeks of age as very few people will be able to give them the required time and care.

Minimizing imprinting 
– relevant only for wild canids

Imprinting is a process by which a young animal learns and impersonates the behaviour patterns of the surrogate parent, human or other animal, thereby forgoing behaviour patterns essential for its survival in the wild. The young must therefore only be handled by as few people as required. This ensures that they will only look upon the handler as their foster parent and not seek security from humans in general. Refrain from housing the young with animals of different species as the young may begin to impersonate the behaviours of the other species, which might not be conducive for their survival as well.

2 months onwards

Devna Arora - Puppies beyond two months of age

The puppies are full of energy, and extremely inquisitive and naughty by this age. They need a lot of play time in and around the house. They will be teething at this age and will chew on anything soft that they can sink their teeth into. Rather than scolding the puppy for chewing on things it mustn’t chew on, the puppy must be offered adequate toys and chews and encouraged to chew on them.

Basic training must be begun and must become a subconscious part of your everyday interactions with the puppy. The puppy will just keep learning as it grows. With time and patience, most puppies are fairly toilet trained by the time they are 1 ½ to 2 months of age.

Meals per day for growing puppies:
Age - Number of meals
1-2 months – 5
2-3 months – 4
3-6 months – 3
6-9 months – 2
9 months and over – 1

Adult dogs may be given one snack and one meal every day. Adequate proteins, vitamins and supplements, esp. calcium, must be given to growing puppies.

Deworming schedule

The puppies need to first be dewormed when they are 4 weeks old and again when they are 6 weeks old. Growing puppies need to be dewormed periodically and it would be best to request your veterinarian for a deworming schedule.

Vaccinations schedule

The puppies will require anti-rabies, 7-in-one and corona virus vaccinations and their boosters which will begin once the puppy crosses 1 ½ to 2 months of age. The vaccine schedule may differ according to the country you are based in and it is best to get a current schedule from your veterinarian.


I thank Dr. Deepak Tulpule, Dr. Pooja Tulpule and Dr. Anjali for caring for my innumerable puppies through the years and giving them the best veterinary care that they can get.

I thank Sweta Pulijal, Shanti Sundaram, Preeti Pendharkar and Sujaya Ghormade for their feedback on the protocol. I thank Ms. Aparajita Kumar for editing this draft and her suggestions to improve the draft. Aparajita, you are a great support! The adoption blog run by you and Sanjay Sayani is a blessing for us all. I know for a fact that many of my puppies have gone to the most wonderful homes thanks to your efforts. Bless you!

I thank Shanti Sundaram and Preeti Pendharkar for selflessly hosting many orphaned puppies. I thank my dear friends Sujaya, Suhridh, Sujitha, Geetanjali, Anna, Dhruv, Krishna, Arjun, Anushri, Mallika and Varsha for always being there selflessly every time I need a hand and helping with all the adoptions. It’s heartening to see your efforts and your concern. Bless you!

Bernadette, thank you for letting us use your photograph. Deep Shawak and Sweta Pulijal, thank you for sharing your photographs with us. Sujaya ‘n Sujitha, thank you for helping to click the photographs – they were an indispensable part of this document.

Devna Arora - 6 month old puppy

Photographs used

Bernadette Bay – Puppies’ first meal from a bowl
Available from:
[Accessed: 06/12/2012]

Deep Shawak and Sweta Pulijal – Introducing a puppy to feeding from a bowl

References and further reading

Arora, D. (2011) Protocols for the rehabilitation of orphaned Indian palm squirrels, Rehabber’s Den. [Online] Available from:

Blue Cross UK – Looking after your dog [Online] Available from:
[Accessed: 06/12/12]

Breed, M.D. (2010). Both Environment and Genetic Makeup Influence Behavior. [Online] Available from:
[Accessed: 18/10/10]

Roach, P. (1995). The Complete Book of Pet Care. Revised and Updated. Australia: Lansdowne Publishing Pty. Ltd.

Trendler, K. (2005). The Principles of Care and Rehabilitation of Orphaned Wild Mammals. In: Menon, V., Ashraf, N.V.K., Panda, P., and Mainkar, K. 2005. Back to the Wild. Studies in Wildlife Rehabilitation. Conservation Reference Serious No.2. Delhi: Wildlife Trust of India. pp. 46-53.

Please note: This document is targeted at hand-rearing alone and does not address or substitute any veterinary procedures. For any medical concerns, please consult your veterinarian at the earliest.

For amateurs or people handling a new born puppy for the very first time, please keep in touch with a trained and experienced hand for guidance and regular progress updates.

Protocol published in 2012

First and foremost: if the animal is injured, it would be very obvious but is the animal truly orphaned? Please ensure if the animal is truly orphaned and not receiving parental care before you decide to pick it and take it home.

The second step would be to reach the animal to a rehabilitator or rescue center. If you are unaware of any in your vicinity, you will be able to get guidance from your local veterinarian, zoo or forest department.

This is not an uncommon situation to find yourself in. Although there are innumerable rescue centers and rehabilitators around, there may be times when there are none in your vicinity or you are unable to reach anyone in time for help. It may be best to prepare yourself to care for the animal in such an instance.

Much information on many topics and species is readily available online. Try to narrow down some pieces of information you can work with for a start. Also, get in touch with rescue centers or rehabilitators via phone or internet. Exchange digital photographs where necessary – it barely takes a few minutes. Even if unable to help you directly in person, any person or center will surely be willing to guide you through the care of the animal and help you in choosing an appropriate protocol for its care and rehabilitation.

It is a common myth that any baby (or adult) bird or mammal that has been touched by human hands will be killed by the rest of its group. This belief has most strongly been associated with baby birds, making people extremely reluctant to pick up and leave babies back in their nest even when the parents are around.

Over innumerable years, we have reunited many youngsters successfully, and inevitably, they have all been handled by human hands for several hours or days before being reunited. The key factor in the acceptance of the animal by the parent and other group members seems not to be the smell of human touch on the animal, but the actual process of reuniting.

A common mistake that most people make while attempting to reunite an animal is that they linger on too close and in turn, frighten the parents away. When trying to place an animal back in its nest, you must always keep a safe distance from the nest and the rest of the group so as not to scare them away. It is easy to get impatient and want to return to the animal after short intervals, but you must refrain from doing so, rather, observe from a distance. Success is more likely than not. I can hardly believe any parent would refuse to accept its own child just because a ‘human’ has touched it!

Some people have suggested the use of gloves to prevent direct contact with the animal. Although you may not always have gloves on you when you need to handle an animal and it isn’t completely necessary to have them when handling a rescue, you may choose to use them if you prefer to.

Yes, in all probability. But, no animal can be simply picked from captivity and released – that is when they will not survive. Animals need to go through a period of rehabilitation before they can be release. The technique and timeframe of rehabilitation will depend upon the species and individual in concern. Guidance on rehabilitating your animal can be sought from an experienced rehabilitator.

Wild animals belong in their natural habitats. Their true glory and happiness can only ever be seen in nature. As much as the babies will be attached to you and need you when they are young, they will soon outgrow their dependence on you and their heart will yearn to be outside, in the wild – where they belong.

Rather than waiting too long and releasing an animal that is not completely prepared, it is wise to plan the release, rehabilitate the animal and release a strong and prepared animal that will surely be able to survive in the wild.

If you truly love them and want what’s really best for them, I trust you will do what is best for your little one.

You can work with any species you are more comfortable with or all species that you come across. Often, we just work with animals as they come along but if you don’t feel particularly confident with any species, it might be better to transfer it to someone more confident. If you prefer to work with a certain species and feel your hands are better adapted for that species, you may specialize in it – its’ your call.

It takes lots of time, deep commitment and a genuine interest in the wellbeing of another animal’s life to enter the field of wildlife rehabilitation. Experience and knowledge are paramount as there are many that cannot be written or explained to you but those that you will learn through your own experience. Wildlife rehabilitation is a painstaking and time consuming task requiring your complete dedication and lots of sacrifices.

In a nutshell, the following are the basic qualities required to be a rehabilitator:

1. Genuine interest and concern

2. Dedication and sacrifice

3. Commitment to work in the best interest of the animal

4. Willingness to learn

5. Willingness to ask and look for help

6. Willingness to go the extra mile

7. Willingness to let go at the time of release

Many small animals, esp. urban species, can be rehabilitated and released from home as long as they have a natural distribution around your home. Many of these animals come back for visits until they are completely independent but sometimes for longer as they are closely bonded to the caregivers. Often, the animals may completely cease to return after release or some days after release. Although this seems disappointing, it a good sign demonstrating that the animal is completely independent and capable of surviving on its own without any assistance from you.

As rehabbers, our aim is always make the animal independent so it doesn’t feel the need to keep returning.

Yes, we can definitely attempt to help every animal that needs our help. But unfortunately, we may not always be able to cure every animal and restore it to its desired health status. As rescue workers, we come across a disproportionately disadvantaged population of animals, some of which are beyond human help. There may be times when it is in the best interest of the animal to euthanize it. But it is our duty and responsibility to make an informed choice and always work for the betterment and highest quality of life for the animal in concern.

Euthanasia, commonly known as ‘mercy killing’, is the act of killing someone to relieve it from unbearable and incurable suffering. Needless to say, euthanasia is always the very last resort after all other means to help the animal have failed and purely done to relieve an animal of unbearable pain and suffering. Euthanasia can be easily carried out by a veterinarian by means of an injectable drug – a quick and painless process. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on the same. Ensure you have the appropriate permission to do so when dealing with protected species.