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Few things are more delightful than a litter of newborn puppies, but the prospect of caring for all of these brand new little lives can be daunting. But don't worry. Check out this guide to newborn puppy care to tell you what need to know to raise a healthy, happy litter.
1. A Clean Environment
Newborn puppies will spend their first few weeks in the box or pen in which they were born, so it's important to choose wisely when preparing for their arrival. The space should offer enough room for the mother to lie down and stretch out comfortably without crushing the puppies, and she should be able to come and go freely while keeping the puppies contained. It should also be easy to access so that you can change out the bedding each day.
In these early days, Mom will clean up her pups' waste, but if it's a large litter she may need help keeping up. Around the end of the second week or the beginning of the third week, the puppies will open their eyes and become more active. Once they start to toddle about, you can move them to a larger pen with room to play, and bathroom cleanup will require more of your attention.
New puppies can't regulate their body temperatures and must be protected from drafts, cautions the American Kennel Club (AKC). Although the puppies will snuggle up with their mom and each other for warmth, it's best to use a heat lamp during their first month of life.
The lamp should be placed high enough above the box to prevent any risk of burning the mother or her pups, and there should also be a cooler corner that the pups can crawl to if they get too warm. For the first five days, the temperature inside the pen should be kept at about 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. From days five through ten, gradually dial back the heat to 80 degrees, and then continue to reduce the heat little by little until it reaches 75 degrees by the end of their fourth week, suggests PetPlace.
3. Nursing and Nutrition
During their first few weeks, puppies rely exclusively on their mother for their nutritional needs. Although she may be less active during this time, nursing uses up a lot of the mother's energy and her daily caloric requirements will be higher than normal, says the AKC. To ensure both mother and puppies receive adequate nutrition throughout the nursing stage, the mother should be fed several servings of a quality puppy food throughout the day. Your veterinarian can recommend the type and amount of food to feed your nursing mother.
It's important to keep an eye on the puppies' weight during this time. If you notice any of the puppies being underfed, you may need to keep an eye on them when it's time to nurse and make sure the smaller puppies latch onto the fullest nipples for feeding, says The Nest. Puppies who cry or whimper frequently may also be hungry and need more attention during feeding.
If the smaller puppies still don't show signs of healthy growth or weight gain, talk to your vet. It might be necessary to take over and bottle-feed them. It's also important to watch the mother for signs of mastitis, says Wag!, an infection of the mammary glands that can interfere with milk production. Signs of mastitis include red and swollen nipples and reluctance to nurse. The mother may even snap at the puppies when they try to eat. If you notice these signs, contact your vet right away.
By the fourth or fifth week, the puppies will start getting their teeth and the weaning process will begin as the mother's milk production slows. Once you notice the puppies starting to sample Mom's food, it's time to provide them with their own dish of puppy food.
Young puppies are susceptible to disease and infection, so you'll need to keep a close eye on them. Newborn puppy care should include regular inspections to watch for signs of infection or poor health. Report anything unusual such as vomiting, diarrhea or a puppy who won't stand or eat to your vet.
Little puppies are also especially vulnerable to fleas and other parasites, says The Spruce Pets, so talk to your vet about appropriate parasite control. Although antibodies they receive from nursing will help protect them from illness in the early weeks, these antibodies wear off around six to eight weeks, which is when they will need to receive their first round of vaccinations. Make sure you and all family members thoroughly wash your hands before interacting with these puppies to help reduce the risk of getting them sick from any bacteria that might be lying in wait on your hands.
By the fourth week the puppies are ready to begin socializing with humans and other dogs. Weeks four through twelve are a critical window during which puppies need to learn about the world they'll inhabit so they'll become well-adjusted, happy dogs, says The Spruce Pets. Poorly socialized puppies tend to grow into anxious dogs who may have behavioral problems, so whether you plan to keep the puppies or send them to good homes, it's important to cuddle and play with them, allow them to explore and play and expose them to as many new experiences as possible.
Newborn puppy care entails a lot of work, but these first several weeks go by in a flash. If your puppies end up being adopted, you'll be saying goodbye to them in no time, an event that is often bittersweet. Enjoy the pups while you have them, and when it's time to let go, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you gave them the best possible beginning.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.