How to Raise Orphaned Puppies

When my pet Roxy died a few days after giving birth, I was left with a litter of puppies to care for. I owed it to my furry friend to commit myself to raise healthy puppies by ensuring their specific needs for warmth, nourishment, and socialization were met. Here is what I learned from the exercise, and tips that can help you turn the responsibility of raising orphaned puppies into a heartwarming and rewarding experience.

Tips for caring for orphaned puppies

Newborn puppies are fragile and can quickly take a turn for the worse if not cared for properly. Raising several orphaned lab puppies can be overwhelming, making it easy to forget some basic necessities of proper pet care. Based on the lessons I learned while caring for orphaned puppies, I can offer a few tips to help ensure a positive outcome.

Keep them warm

All puppies need love and protection. Orphaned puppies cannot thermo-regulate their temperature and can quickly become hypothermic when they do not get warmth from their mother, siblings, and environment. During the first few weeks of their lives, you should provide the young animals with a heat source. I used hot water bottles, heat lamps, and heating pads to keep my little canines warm and placed padding between them to prevent overheating and burns.

Give them the appropriate environment

My little puppies were just a few days old when their mother died. I got them a cardboard box with plenty of padding to ensure they are protected from the elements by keeping the box temperature at the puppy level. Although the ideal temperature is between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, I had to maintain it at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit because the puppies huddled together. The box had to be placed away from air-conditioning vents, doorways, and windows.

Provide proper nutrition

As a pet parent, I have understood that proper nutrition is critical to keeping these furry companions healthy, strong, and happy. However, puppies have specific nutritional needs, and those that do not nurse frequently can develop hypoglycemia. I had to choose a milk diet that provides essential nutrients to the young dogs and is easy to digest. It is crucial to weigh the pups regularly to evaluate the amount of feeding and weight gain.

Wean at the appropriate age

When the little pups were five weeks old, it was time for them to transition from an exclusive milk diet to solid foods. However, I had to consult a veterinarian to confirm whether this was the appropriate age to wean them. During this period, I gradually adjusted the feeding schedule, starting with slurry, then wet and finally, solid foods. I also ensured that each of the puppies had regular fluid intake to reduce the chances of dehydration.

Cleaning and grooming

Bathing helps to avoid health and skin issues in dogs. Proper grooming is partly why female dogs will lick their puppies from time to time. However, I was careful not to bathe the pups too often since this can lead to skin irritation. All my puppies were bathed once a week using puppy shampoo that was gentle on their skin. Grooming also helped me bond with my young dogs while presenting an opportunity to check for irritations, infections, and mites.

Veterinary care

A good number of orphaned puppies are at a high risk of developing infectious diseases. Contracting an infectious disease is particularly likely when they have not received any of their mother’s colostrum. The colostrum, which is produced within the first 24 hours after birth, helps to boost the pups’ immunity. Immediately my little pets were orphaned, I visited my vet to schedule a preventive health plan. The expert also checked for health issues and advised on feeding and other home care.      


A momma dog will typically teach her puppies valuable life lessons such as eating, playing, and hierarchy. In the absence of their mother, I had to find activities that would provide the young dogs with the mental and physical stimulation they need. As much as they could stimulate each other, they needed this nurturing to thrive. The orphaned puppies gradually learned how to interact with other members of the household and made to feel secure in their environment.

Bottle-feeding tips

Milk from a mother dog supplies puppies with all the nutrients they need during the first weeks of life. When a puppy has been orphaned, you will need to find the right milk formula and the best feeding techniques. Bottle-feeding puppies is a readily available and preferred method of ensuring adequate nutrition. Here is what you need to know:

Use the right puppy feeding bottles

Depending on the size of the breed of your puppies, you can use special bottles that are made specifically for puppies. Ensure that the bottle nipples are properly sized so that you protect your pup from choking or aspirating the milk. In case there are no holes in the nipples, pierce two holes using a needle. The holes should allow milk to drip out slowly when the bottle is in an upside-down position. Feed the young dog the right puppy milk replacement formula at room temperature.

Position the puppy properly when feeding.

Place your pup on your lap or a tabletop. Make sure he is resting on his stomach, and his head is level, creating a natural nursing posture for the puppy. Avoid holding the young animal on his back as this can cause it to choke or breathe in the milk. Feeding your puppy while on his back can lead to aspiration pneumonia or death in extreme cases. To ensure proper feeding, make sure there is no fluid coming out of his nose or sides of the mouth.

Let the puppy nurse naturally.

Feeding newborn puppies incorrectly can cause unintended harm. To minimize the risk of accidents when bottle-feeding the pup, you should allow him to nurse naturally. Use your finger to gently open the puppy’s mouth and place the nipple on his tongue, making sure that it is slightly tilted, so the puppy does not inhale too much air. Avoid squeezing the bottle, forcing the pup to nurse, or allowing him to nurse too fast. The puppy will feed on the bottle in quantities that he can comfortably handle and stop suckling when he is satisfied.

Do not try to feed a puppy who feels chilled.

Whenever I suspected one of my orphaned puppies was cold or sick, I avoided feeding him. When a newborn puppy gets too cold, some of his major organs will start to shut down. Feeding will make things worse, leading to further complications. However, a cold pup that is not eating could also get dehydrated, making it essential to get the young dog to a dog when you cannot get him warmed up enough to feed.

Burp the pup after each feeding

During and after each feeding session, you should burp your puppy. Hold the animal upright or over your shoulder and gently pat his back. Burping helps to release any air that may have been trapped during feeding, effectively preventing bloating. Bloating can cause discomfort and cut off blood supply to the stomach and intestines, especially in breeds like Labradors, Rottweilers, and Shepherds. When raising orphaned lab puppies, this simple act can save you a trip to the vet.

Feeding quantity and frequency

Administering food in the right quantities and frequency will help to avoid underfeeding or overfeeding. Each day, a puppy should eat approximately one ounce of food for every eight ounces of body weight. This means that a one-pound pup should eat two ounces of food daily, while a five-pound puppy should be fed 10 ounces of food every day. Puppies that are younger than four weeks should be fed every six hours, after which you can begin introducing puppy food.

Formulas to feed orphaned puppies

When a lactating dog is unable to feed her puppies, you will need a high-quality milk replacement product to ensure your pups grow strong and healthy. I took the time to find nutritious and effective formulas that were gentle on the sensitive digestive systems of the small puppies to ensure I took proper care of my puppies. Below are some options you can consider:

Esbilac Goat’s Milk

This is arguably the best puppy milk replacer on the market. The formula is made with natural whole goat milk and does not contain any harmful additives. Esbilac Goat’s Milk is high in fats and proteins that your puppy requires to be strong and healthy as he grows up. This milk replacer supplies the young dogs with vitamins A, B12, D3, E as well as plenty more minerals. The premium composition of the product makes it palatable and perfect for pups with sensitive and developing digestive systems.

PetAg Esbilac Powder milk replacer

Esbilac by Pet-Ag is a preferred choice among dog breeders and one of the top-selling milk replacers for puppies. The manufacturer recommends the product for newborn puppies until when they turn six weeks old. This powder milk replacer contains crude proteins and crude fat and is fortified with minerals and vitamins to ensure it is balanced and complete for your puppy. One of the reasons why I love this formula is because it does not contain preservatives or artificial colorants.

Nutri-Vet milk replacement for puppies

This veterinary-formulated milk replacement is the closest you can get to milk from a lactating dog. The product is enriched with colostrum to boost your pup’s immune system and offers a host of healthy components that the young dog needs to thrive. In addition to having the perfect ratio of proteins and crude fat, the formula contains vitamins, essential amino acids, and other minerals. It also supplies electrolytes to keep puppies hydrated. For me, Nutri-Vet milk replacement ensured excellent and safe growth rates without causing stomach upsets.

PetLac Milk Powder for puppies

This milk powder contains crude fat and high-quality proteins to ensure that puppies have plenty of energy. The high palatability makes it ideal for picky young puppies and has earned it excellent ratings from customers. PetLac Milk Powder is made from skimmed milk, vegetable oil, and soy protein isolate. It is also fortified with vitamins and minerals and contains Lactobacillus fermentum, a positive species of bacteria that produce acid to help with digestion. This milk replacer is easy to mix, allowing you to prepare a healthy meal for your puppies by simply adding warm water.

Advance 402172 Premium Performance

The Advance 402172 Premium Performance is a multi-purpose milk replacer that helped me care for my puppies the way they deserved. This high-quality product contains all-milk protein and fat that supply puppies with the energy they need to be healthy and active. The fat and protein also strengthen the pups’ immune systems, while added vitamins enrich the food. My puppies loved this formula because it converts into a nutritious and delicious milk substance when mixed with water.

Beaphar Lactol milk replacer for puppies

When your puppies have no moms to feed them, you need a replacement product that comes close to real milk in terms of nutrients. Beaphar Lactol milk replacer has the DHA fatty acids that are found in real milk from a female dog. It also contains a unique mix of nutrients that ensure the proper development of your puppy’s bones, joints, and muscles. This formula stands apart because it comes in an air-tight container that can be opened and closed on a needs basis. The container keeps the formula fresh and dry.

Other tips

Raising healthy puppies takes a lot of work. As a dog lover who has drawn many valuable lessons raising orphaned puppies, my passion is to share this information with other pet parents. Below are a few things I tried and worked for me.  

Helping the puppies go to the bathroom

For the first couple of weeks, the mother dog will usually lick her puppies’ genital areas to stimulate them to pee and poop. When the mom is not available to do this, you should use a warm wet washcloth on the pups after each feeding to prevent constipation. You may need to do this for the first two to three weeks, after which the pups should be able to pee and poop on their own. It will then be time to establish a bathroom routine.

How to build immunity

Orphaned puppies that did not get the immune-boosting from the mother’s first milk will be prone to diseases. You will need to observe high hygiene standards to help protect young dogs from various health conditions. Some of the measures I took included washing hands before handling the puppies, sterilizing their feeding bottles and nipples, keeping their bedding clean, and keeping up with their vaccinations.

Exercise and play

Puppies need regular physical and mental stimulation to help them burn off the extra energy in their bodies. During their early days of growth and development, physical activity helps to strengthen their bones and muscles. When you explore the outdoors with your little furry friend, you help them become more confident around people and other dogs. However, you should be careful not to over-exercise your pups, especially when dealing with greyhound puppies.

Watch for signs of illness

Protecting your pups from injury and ill health is an integral part of pet care. In addition to providing a well-balanced diet and adequate physical activity, you should keep an eye on health concerns. After spending time outdoors, you should check the puppy’s skin for ticks and fleas. You may also want to watch out for symptoms like vomiting, lack of appetite, difficulty breathing, nasal discharge, diarrhea, and lethargy.

Proper dental hygiene

Taking care of a pups’ teeth is an aspect of pet care that is usually overlooked. When your puppies are worn out following intense physical activity, they are likely to be calmer. When they are calmer, it is the best time to use a specially formulated dog toothbrush and toothpaste to clean their teeth. Observing proper dental hygiene will ensure that the dogs become comfortable with the process, a factor that will get them started on a healthy path.

Understand how to deal with puppy teething

Puppies, almost without exception, are born without teeth. The young dogs will grow deciduous teeth at about three weeks of age; teeth will start shedding to make room for adult teeth. Puppy teething is typically associated with discomfort, leading puppies to gnaw and chew on objects. You should remove dangerous objects that the pup can chew and provide him with age-appropriate teething devices and toys. Remember to keep an eye on the teething incident to ensure it does not grow into something serious.

Spend quality time with the pups

Orphaned puppies will look to you for affection and protection. You will also want to make them feel loved and comfortable. I recommend spending quality time with pups to build a great relationship and bond with the dogs. Apart from engaging in exercise and play together, I made my puppies part of my lifestyle from an early age. However, I carefully chose the type and intensity of activities to involve them in based on their stamina.

FAQs about orphaned puppies

What problems am I likely to face when raising an orphaned puppy?

Orphaned puppies that have been exposed to the elements can develop three potentially life-threatening problems: chilling, dehydration, and hypoglycemia. When raising such a puppy, you should pay close attention to him and provide the necessary care.

Do orphaned puppies need help defecating?

For the first few weeks, a mother will lick or nuzzle her puppies’ genitals to stimulate the young ones to pee and poop. In the absence of the mother dog, pet parents should mimic this action using a cotton ball or soft cloth moistened with warm water. This process helps to prevent constipation in the orphaned puppy.

Does my orphaned puppy need to be treated for worms?

Worms affect puppies more than adult dogs. The parasites can either be transmitted from the mother to her pups or passed on from fleas. It is crucial to consult your veterinarian for information on an appropriate deworming program for your little furry companion.

What do I feed an orphaned puppy?

For newborn puppies, you can consider feeding them puppy milk replacement formula. The right formula will supply them with the nutrients they need at this stage. You can then wean them using slurry before gradually introducing them to solid foods.

When should I start weaning my puppy?

By the time your puppy is four to five weeks old, he will be ready to start eating solid food. You should find a suitable way of weaning him to ensure that the adjusted feeding schedule is gentle on his digestive system.

Is the temperature of a milk replacer important?

Newborn puppies are not in a position to generate sufficient heat to maintain their body temperature. Ensuring that the milk replacement formula’s temperature is around 95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit will aid in digestion.

When can my puppy start eating from a bowl?

As soon as the puppy opens his eyes at 14 to 16 days, you can start introducing the weaning process. Begin by placing the milk formula in a flat dish and reduce the amount of milk gradually as the pup grows.

Successfully raising orphaned puppies can be a challenging undertaking. The young dogs have special needs that demand a thorough nursing care program for the pups to survive. The good news is that learning more about caring for orphaned puppies and remaining committed to the cause will make the entire process worthwhile.

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