Puppy Care And Feeding

By | August 3, 2011

The first week of the puppies’ lives is the most critical to their survival. Newborn animals are physiologically immature; body fat percentage is low — 1% to 2% compared with 12% to 35% in adults — and they do not develop adequate glycogen reserves until after the first few days of nursing. Puppies have rapid respiratory rates (15 to 35 breaths per minute from 24 hours to 5 weeks of age) and heart rates (200 to 220 beats per minute from 24 hours to 5 weeks of age). The first nutritional concern with puppies is that they receive colostrum immediately after birth; all pups should be held up to a nipple to ensure they get colostrum within 24 hours of birth. The next priority is that they stay warm. Neonatal pups cannot regulate their body temperature (which is 94° to 97° F for the first 14 days). They need to be kept in an environment that is 85° to 90° F during the first week, and 80° to 85° F during the second week of life. Hypothermia makes pups unable to eat, which may result in their rejection by the dam.

A good way to ensure that pups are eating and developing normally is to weigh them daily. Pups should gain 1 to 2 g per day per pound of anticipated adult body weight. For example, if the anticipated adult body weight is 50 pounds, the pups should gain 50 to 100 g (l ½ to 3 oz) per day.

Surveys indicate that a high percentage of deaths before weaning are due to a relatively small number of causes: infectious diseases, congenital defects, and malnutrition. The malnutrition usually results from the death of or neglect by the mother, lactation failure, or a litter that is too large for the milk supply. In these circumstances milk substitutes must be used to feed the puppies. As shown in Table Composition of Animal Milk the composition of cow’s milk is quite different from that of dog’s and cat’s milk, and cow’s milk should not be fed by itself.

Composition of Animal Milk*

Volume (ml) Protein (g) Fat(g) Lactose (g) Calcium (mg) Phosphorus (mg)
Cat 70 6.7 4.9 7.1 25 50
Dog 85 5.9 6.9 3.2 190 130
Cow 140 4.7 5.3 6.9 190 140

* Values indicated are per 100 kcal.

Several companies have developed milk replacers for dogs and cats; until a commercial product can be purchased, the combination of 1 quart (950 ml) whole cow’s milk, 4 egg yolks, and 1 tablespoon (15 ml) corn oil may be fed. This homemade formula can be used for a day or so.

Orphaned puppies can be fed four times daily if the temperature of the environment is maintained at an appropriate level. Feeding every 6 hours is optimal, but feeding at approximately 8:00 am, 12:00 noon, 4:00 pm, and 9:00 pm (do not wake pups to feed them) is adequate if the pups are kept at the proper temperature.

Most milk replacers supply about 1 kcal/ml. Puppies need approximately 15 to 20 kcal (milliliters) per 100 g (3 ½ oz) of body weight per day. The milk and equipment used for feeding must be as clean as possible. Larger puppies can be fed from a small baby bottle nipple; for smaller puppies, a doll bottle nipple or one made for puppies can be used. Feed milk, at least initially, at body temperature. If diarrhea develops, maintain the amount of fluid given, but reduce the solids by diluting the formula 25% to 50%. As with puppies raised by their mothers, orphan pups should be encouraged to eat from a pan by 3 weeks of age and should complete the transition to a growth diet by 6 to 8 weeks.

To ensure that orphaned or inadequately mothered puppies are maintained in an appropriate environment, an incubator can be constructed for them. This can be made from a cardboard box, a dry heating pad, a thermometer, cloth towels, newspaper, a cup, and a sponge. The heating pad cover should be pinned to the towel so that the heating element is secured under the towel and covers approximately half the floor area of the box, allowing the orphan to choose a comfortable temperature relative to the heat source. The cup should be taped in a corner of the box, and a moistened sponge kept in it to humidify the air. The thermometer should be hung in the box near the floor, and the top of the box should be covered to help retain the heat.

Client Communication Tips: Gestation and Lactation

• Plan to discuss with the owner the importance of body condition scoring (BCS) and what kind of conditioning you recommend for the bitch during the different stages of gestation and lactation.

• Plan to discuss how and when to make adjustments in energy intake, the need to increase intake in late gestation, and the need to decrease intake at the time of weaning to the prebreeding level.

• Advise clients that dams should not be fed the least expensive dog food on the market during gestation and lactation, nor should they be fed a product with which the veterinarian (or the owner) is unfamiliar (“go with what you know”).

• Recommended diets should be from manufacturers that have both a growth and an adult product with which the clinician is familiar and that meet the clinician’s criteria for adequately supporting late gestation and peak lactation.

• Provide the client with the practice’s top list of manufacturers for adult and growth products.

• Discuss with the staff the criteria for determining which diets everyone in the practice recommends, as well as diets to avoid recommending. Which foods are on the practice’s “A list,” and why. Which are on the practice’s “B list,” and why. Help staff identify clients who are receptive to learning more about dietary recommendations.

Tech Tips: Gestation and Lactation

Pregnancy is one of the most nutritionally stressful times in a dog’s life. Client education is a very important part to the successful outcome of producing a litter. The following guidelines are recommended.

• Obtain a complete dietary history, being careful to note the types and amounts of food eaten before pregnancy.

• Carefully evaluate body condition scoring, muscle condition score (MCS), skin, and haircoat, then teach owners how to do the same.

• If recommendations for a food change are given, instruct the owner on the proper way to transition the pet onto a new food.

• Instruct the owner always to provide plenty of water and to add water to food if necessary to help keep up with milk production.

Growing Puppies

The first 6 months of life is the period of most rapid growth and greatest nutrient needs for most dogs. However, it is possible to feed a puppy too much. This can create problems, particularly in large-breed dogs. Overfed, rapidly growing large- and giant-breed dogs may develop a variety of orthopedic problems, including hyperflexion or extension of the carpus, osteochondrosis, hip dysplasia, fractures of the coronoid processes, radius curvus, wobbler syndrome, and enostosis. Owners of large-breed dogs should receive some dietary and feeding-management advice to help them avoid diet-related orthopedic problems in their pets.


Because the early growth period may be the most critical nutritional period in a dog’s life, only high-quality diets tested in feeding trials should be fed. The diet recommended should be one the veterinarian trusts, based on positive experiences with it. Some owners

prefer to feed large- and giant-breed dogs “adult” rather than “puppy” foods to try to avoid problems. These diets may be adequate, but it is important to determine exactly which diet the owner intends to feed to ensure that it is adequate for growth based on feeding trials. Once an adequate diet has been chosen, vitamin or mineral supplements are an unnecessary expense and are much more likely to cause than to prevent problems. See Appendix A for nutrient comparison tables for large-breed puppy or growth foods.


Proper feeding management is usually much more important than dietary choice in preventing orthopedic problems, because most of these problems are caused by overfeeding.

Experimental studies of nutritional and developmental orthopedic diseases (DODs) have shown that restriction of food intake so that the pup maintains a lean body condition during the period of growth is the best insurance against nutrition-related problems. Owners need to be taught how to recognize the desired body condition and be reminded not to trust feeding recommendations on food packaging, as they may not be accurate for a particular dog in a specific environment.

Young growing animals should be maintained in a lean body condition. This means that the ribs should be easily felt and barely seen in smooth-coated dogs. Feeding to this condition will minimize the risk of orthopedic problems and still permit the animal to reach its genetic potential for adult size. The dog should be fed the amount of food necessary to maintain this body condition, and the range is large. Some dogs can have food available continuously, whereas others may need to be restricted to brief access to food once or twice a day. If owners understand this from the start, it becomes much easier for them to adjust the amount of food they offer their pets. Recommendations on dog food labels can be used as an initial estimate but should not be used as a substitute for the “eye of the master” with regard to adjusting intake as the animal grows.

Feeding to achieve a body condition rather than feeding a number of cups or cans of food per day is the best insurance against orthopedic problems in growing dogs; however, clients should be advised that genetic peculiarities and trauma can also cause developmental orthopedic disease, and that these problems cannot be prevented by diet.

Detailed feeding directions to avoid developmental orthopedic disease.

1. Determine the diet fed (brand name, product name, form [canned, dry, semimoist]) and the daily amount consumed by the dog.

2. Assign a body condition scoring using a scale of 1 to 5, in which 1 is cachexic, 2 is lean, 3 is moderate, 4 is stout, and 5 is obese.

3. If body condition scoring is greater than 3/5, reduce daily food intake by approximately 10%, and feed this amount until the dog has reached a body condition scoring of 2/5 or 3/5.

4. Once the desired body condition of 2/5 is attained, increase food intake only enough to sustain this body condition until the patient is completely grown. If the amount fed declines to an amount that concerns the owner, a food of lower energy density that is complete and balanced for growth (or all life stages), based on feeding trials conducted according to protocols approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), maybe substituted on an equal-energy basis.

5. Manufacturer’s feeding recommendations may be used as a starting point if the animal already has a body condition scoring of 2/5 but the amount fed should be reduced as described in direction 3 if necessary. Because of the variability in growth rates and activity among dogs, they should be fed whatever amount is necessary to maintain a body condition scoring of 2/5 during the growth period. Once their adult stature is achieved, their condition may be allowed to rise to 3/5 if desired by the owner.

6. Suggest a feeding frequency that is appropriate for conditions and that accommodates the circumstances of the owner — from once daily to free choice.

7. Keep fresh, clean, liquid water available at all times.

8. The puppy may be switched to a recommended adult food at 6 months of age (or earlier depending on the nutritional claim), or at suture removal for neutering procedures that occur after 3 months of age.

9. Following these recommendations should minimize the risk of nutrition-related developmental orthopedic disease, and make supplementation of any kind unnecessary.

Client Communication Tips: Growing Puppies

• Plan to review the importance of body condition scoring at each well-puppy visit.

• Provide client with the practice’s top list of manufacturers for puppy growth products and adult maintenance products.

• Provide client with two or three options for commercial treats, and talk about replacing calories in the food bowl instead of adding to them.

• Explain the value of regular exercise and obedience training at each well-puppy visit; provide client with a list of two or three obedience trainers in your area.

• If your client insists on feeding a homemade diet, recommend that they use the service provided at www.petdiets.com.

• Talk to clients about decreased energy needs as a result of neutering and spaying, when to switch from growth to adult food, and how you see that process occurring during the first 12 months of the puppy’s life.

• For owners with large- or giant-breed pups, identify concerns about developmental orthopedic disease, and discuss the key nutrients of concern; the rapid-growth phase (i.e., the “window of opportunity” for developmental orthopedic disease); the variety of appropriate commercial diets available; and the relative risk of genetics, trauma, and nutrition in the pathogenesis of developmental orthopedic disease.

• Discuss with the staff the criteria for determining which diets everyone in the practice recommends, as well as diets to avoid recommending. Which foods are on the practice’s “A list,” and why. Which are on the practice’s “B list,” and why. Help staff identify clients who are receptive to learning more about dietary recommendations.

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