Holle is a retired English and creative writing teacher. She is a professional freelance writer and former dog trainer.
How to Care for a Litter of Puppies
I’m in puppy-care mode once again. When I had my first litter of Great Dane puppies years ago, my bitch, Ebony, was a great mom. Her six babies were thriving and growing quickly. When they were just a week old, however, Ebony was injured by a truck and suffered several broken bones and some other injuries. She had a long stay in the veterinary hospital, so I had to take over the care of the pups.
I had bred other breeds before, but these were my first Danes. Also, it was the first time I’d had a lactating bitch put out of commission. I had to have a long talk with my vet and do a lot of research on my own to make sure I did a good job with puppy care. Fast forward about 25 years—we’re now caring for another litter of Great Dane puppies, temporarily, while their mom is at the vet’s with kennel cough.
Thankfully, I already have experience with raising orphaned puppies, so this wasn’t something new to me. For tips on puppy care and raising puppies, read on.
All About Great Dane Puppies
I love Great Danes! In my opinion, the Great Dane is the best dog breed in the world. I have two neutered males, and my Hamlet is the best dog I’ve ever known. Unfortunately, I had him neutered as a pup, but had I known what an amazing dog he’d grow into, I would never have taken him to get “fixed.”
My daughter, Melissa, bought Hamlet’s full sister a year after we got Hammie. I desperately wanted her to have a litter of pups so that I could have another canine with Hamlet’s bloodlines. 12 days ago, on my birthday, the Great Dane puppies were born. Like Hamlet, Kayla is a fawn, and she was bred to a black male Dane. She gave birth to five black Great Dane puppies—two males and three females. One of the females was tiny—less than half the size of her littermates, and she died the following day.
Kayla is a great mom, and her puppies were really growing quickly. She began coughing and gagging a couple of days ago, however, and she stopped eating. The vet diagnosed her with kennel cough and put her on IV fluids and antibiotics. She’s having to stay at the clinic for a couple of days, without her offspring. The puppy care has been left up to my daughter, her husband, and me.
What Do Newborn Puppies Need?
Newborn puppies come into the world completely helpless. They’re blind for the first 10 to 12 days, and they’re even deaf for about the same amount of time. They can’t really walk, and they usually have trouble regulating their body heat. In other words, they can get cold easily. Newborn puppies even need help urinating and defecating. Their organs have to be stimulated by the mom’s licking.
In the perfect scenario, the mother dog takes care of all the puppy care. Of course, sometimes she might need a little help from humans. And when the mother dies or is otherwise not there for taking care of the puppies, the responsibilities fall to the human owners.
Providing Adequate Warmth
One of the most crucial elements of puppy care is warmth. Puppies have to stay warm, and they often don’t generate enough body heat on their own, especially if they’re not kept in a warm place. They share their mother’s body heat, but without her presence, you’ll have to make some heat for them. Keep them in a warm place away from drafts. Give them a cozy blanket, and keep them in a box just a little larger than the area they take up. This will hold in their heat. For the first 10 days, the newborn puppies need to be kept very warm—about 90 degrees. After the 10th day, the temperature can be gradually reduced to 85. By the end of the first month, the temperature can be reduced to 75 as long as they still have their blanket and each other.
Passive Warming Is Safest
It’s a good idea to keep a thermometer in the box. Make sure the box doesn’t get too cold or too hot. If the temperature drops, use a hot water bottle near the puppies, but not on the puppies. A 25-watt light bulb suspended over the box will work, as will a heating pad. If you use a heating pad, place it under a blanket so that the puppies won’t be directly against the pad.
Puppy Food and Puppy Milk
Of course, puppy food is another requirement, so you’ll have to bottle feed the pups with puppy milk for the first few weeks. The veterinarian recommended Esbilac Puppy Milk Replacer, so that’s what we’re using.
How Often Should They Feed?
Newborn puppies must be fed every 2–4 hours. The best milk is milk replacer for puppies—one you get from your veterinarian that is especially formulated for dogs. Cow’s milk is not meant for dogs! Also, purchase a special bottle made just for puppies. Don’t try to use an eyedropper or some other device. If the milk flows too freely, the puppies can aspirate it and get pneumonia, or they could actually drown.
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What Temperature Should the Formula Be?
The milk should be warmed. Test it on the underside of your wrist, just as you would when feeding a human baby. The milk should feel just a little warmer than your skin. After each feeding, the pups need to be burped over your shoulder. Once the babies are two weeks old, feedings can be stretched out to every four hours. When the pups are about 21 days old, you can feed them milk at room temperature.
Talk to Your Vet
One of the best methods for feeding puppies is with a feeding tube. To do this, you’ll have to get special instructions and a demonstration or two from your vet, along with the necessary supplies, of course. Since our puppies were more than a week old, and because they’re big and strong, we didn’t need to use a puppy feeding tube. In fact, our little guys actually prefer a regular baby bottle to the puppy bottles. That might be because Great Dane puppies are so large.
Make sure the puppies are actually drinking the puppy milk and not just wasting it. It’s important to weigh the puppies every few days to make sure they’re gaining weight. If they’re not, take them to the vet.
Other Tips for Caring for Puppies
There are other puppy tips you’ll need to follow other than feeding the puppies and keeping them warm. Keep the pups away from bright light until they’re four weeks old. Even then, introduce them to bright light, like sunlight, gradually. These little critters will spend their first week and a half or so in complete darkness, so they’re not accustomed to bright light.
Helping the Puppies to Urinate and Defecate
The mom is responsible for getting the puppies to pee and poop for the first couple of weeks. She does this by licking their genital area. You’ll need to stimulate the orphaned puppies with a warm wet washcloth. Do this just after each feeding. After the first 2-3 weeks, the puppies should “go” on their own.
When Do Puppies Get Mobile?
Once the pups are about three weeks old, they’ll be crawling around, so they’ll need a bigger box. At this time, you need to provide them a small, shallow dish of water. You can start offering them a little dog food now, too. Soak some dry puppy food in a little puppy milk replacer and a little water until it’s soupy. Gradually decrease the amount of liquid you add to the kibble.
Tips for Building Strong Immunity
Orphaned puppies are especially prone to diseases. They don’t get the disease-fighting colostrum from their mother’s first milk, so you’ll need to be extra careful. Always wash your hands before handling the pups, and make sure the bottles and nipples are sterile. Keep their bedding clean, too. It’s also imperative to not allow other canines near the puppies before the pups are vaccinated. If you’ve handled another dog, change your clothes before handling the babies.
Remember: Raising Puppies Takes a Lot of Work
Raising orphaned puppies is a rewarding yet arduous task. I’m happy to report that all six of Ebony’s babies survived and went to good homes. Because of Ebbie’s internal injuries, she had to be spayed, so this was her first and last litter. Kayla’s puppies are doing well, too. I just finished bottle feeding the puppy that will be mine once he’s weaned. Hopefully, Kayla will be well enough to take over her puppy care duty tomorrow, as her veterinarian anticipates.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: What if my puppy drank milk?
Answer: A little milk probably didn't hurt him, but cow's milk isn't good for puppies.
Question: What should I do for a bloated puppy?
Answer: Take it to the vet immediately!
Question: Can I give a two month old Great Dane puppy replacement milk?
Answer: It's old enough to stop nursing, but if it isn't weaned yet, I suggest adding the replacement milk to puppy food so it'll get used to eating solid foods. Gradually reduce the amount of milk replacer.
Question: Is whole warm milk good for your puppy?
Answer: NO! Don't give puppies cow's milk. Get puppy formula from your vet or from a pet store.
jasmine on May 04, 2014:
allof dogis so cute and i love it i wish i have a dog likethat
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on November 01, 2009:
Thanks, Zsuzsy! I do luvs me furkids!
Zsuzsy Bee from Ontario/Canada on November 01, 2009:
Isn't it just amazing what we won't do for our beloved pets.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 29, 2009:
I did, except for those middle-of-the-night feedings! Thanks for reading!
Hello, hello, from London, UK on October 29, 2009:
Habee, whatever will you get up next? It was a lot of work but I bet you loved every minute of it. Thanks for sharing.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 29, 2009:
It was a tough job, but it was totally worth it!
Flightkeeper from The East Coast on October 29, 2009:
Aw that little tyke is so cute. It's nice that you were there to be surrogate Mom-pooch.