Newborn Care

Caring for newborn puppies and kittens can be time-consuming and, at times, difficult work. It is quite a rewarding experience to see them progress from being defenseless babies to more independent, healthy animals.

Care of Newborn Puppies and Kittens

Determining Age
Newborn to 1 week: Umbilical cord may still be attached, eyes closed, ears flat.
2 weeks: Eyes closed, begin to open day 10-17 usually, scoots on belly, ears begin to open.
3 weeks: Eyes open, tooth buds forming, teeth may begin to erupt this week, begins to creep.
4 weeks: Teeth erupting, begins to show interest in canned food, suck reflex progresses to lapping, walks.
5 weeks: Able to eat canned food. May begin to try dry food, able to lap. Walks well and starts to run.
6 weeks: Should be able to eat dry food, playful, runs, and jumps.

Care of Newborn to 4 weeks

Keeping newborns warm: From birth until approximately three weeks of age, puppies and kittens cannot regulate their own body temperatures. Chilling is extremely harmful. They need a constant supply of artificial heat (heating pad) if mom is not available to keep them warm.

Keep the animal(s) indoors in a draft-free room. If outside, they are subject to extreme temperatures, flea/tick/fire ant infestation and other animals that could harm them. For their bed, use an animal transport carrier. Line the inside of the kennel with towels. Place a heating pad under half of the kennel (not inside of the kennel). Turn the heating pad to medium. After 10 minutes half the towels should feel comfortably warm, not too warm or too cool. This allows the animal to move to an area which is most comfortable. For the first two weeks of life, place another towel over the top of the kennel to avoid any drafts. When the animal is four weeks of age, a heating pad is no longer necessary unless the room is chilly or drafty. If the animal has no littermates, place a stuffed animal and/or a ticking clock inside the kennel.

Keeping newborns clean: Mom dogs and cats not only keep their litters warm and fed, but also keep them clean. As they clean, this stimulates the newborn to urinate/defecate. Neonates under two to three weeks of age usually do not spontaneously eliminate on their own. (Some do, but this is not enough to prevent possible stasis which can lead to infection). To help your newborn, use either a cotton ball or Kleenex moistened with warm water. Gently stroke the genital/anal area before and after feedings. If the animal does not go at this time, try again within an hour. Keep bedding clean and dry at all times to prevent chilling. If the animal does need to be bathed, we recommend a mild tear free baby or puppy shampoo. Bathe in warm water, dry with a towel and dry further with an electric hair dryer on low setting. Make sure the animal is completely dry before putting back into the kennel. If fleas are present, bathe as previously described. Do not use flea or tick shampoo as it can be toxic to neonates. If fleas are still present, consult your veterinarian. Anemia caused by fleas can be fatal if left untreated.

Feeding your newborn: Until the animal is four to five weeks old, bottle-feeding is necessary. There are formulas made especially for puppies and kittens. Human milk or formulas made for human babies are not suitable for baby animals. We recommend Esbilac for puppies and KMR for kittens. Baby animals should be fed every three to four hours. To mix dry formula, mix one part formula to three parts water. Microwave the water and then mix. Stir and check temperature. The formula should be lukewarm to warm. Hold the newborn in one hand supporting the animal’s chest and abdomen. Do not feed the animal like a human baby (lying on it’s back). It should be as if the animal was nursing from the mom dog/cat. You may notice that the animal will try to place its front paws on the palm of the hand holding the bottle. It may even “knead” as it feeds. Most animals will pull off the bottle when full or when needing to burp. Burp the animal. It may or may not take more formula. If the formula has cooled, warm it again and offer it to the animal. Most like it when it is warm versus cool.

If at any time there is too much formula being delivered, the animal will begin to choke. Stop feeding, wipe away excess formula from the mouth/nose. Lower the angle of the bottle when feeding so less formula will be delivered. If there is too much air being sucked in, increase the angle of the bottle so more formula can be delivered. Most nipples are not pre-holed. Follow the directions on the nipple box. If it becomes necessary to increase the size of the hole, either use small scissors to create a larger hole or use a hot large diameter needle to increase the hole size. Sometimes, the newborn will not readily take to a bottle. Try to offer the bottle at each feeding. If unsuccessful, use an eyedropper or syringe to give the formula. Slowly give the formula. If too forceful, the formula may be pushed into the lungs. Most baby animals will learn to bottle-feed.

Once the animal is approximately four weeks old, teeth begin to erupt. Once the teeth are present, and it is taking a full bottle at each feeding, or if it is chewing on the nipple rather than sucking, it is usually ready to begin taking solid food.

4 to 6 weeks of age

Bedding: Refer to “Keeping Newborns Warm”. By age 4 weeks, the puppies and kittens are able to regulate their own body temperatures. Therefore, a heating pad is no longer needed. Continue to use the kennel for their beds. If space permits, place the kennel in an area where they may get out of their bed to play and exercise. (Usually a utility room, bathroom, kitchen). Beginning about this age, baby kittens will begin to use a litter box. Most cat litters are acceptable to use except for the scoopable brands which can be too easily inhaled or ingested. For puppies, place newspaper on the floor outside of their kennel. Puppies do not like to soil in their bed.

Feeding: Once the teeth have erupted at about four weeks of age, puppies and kittens may begin to eat solid foods. At age four to five weeks, offer either canned puppy/kitten food mixed with formula or human baby food (chicken or beef) mixed with formula. Serve warm. Feed four to five times a day if not taking a bottle. If still bottle-feeding, offer this at first 2 times a day and continue to bottle-feed at the other feedings. Slowly progress to feeding solid mixture more often, less bottle-feeding. At this age, the animal needs to have its face cleaned with a warm moistened cloth after feedings. Kittens usually begin to clean themselves after feedings when they are 5 weeks old.

At age five to six weeks, the animal should begin to lap. Offer either canned kitten/puppy food or moistened kitten/puppy chow. Feed four times a day. Have dry kitten/puppy chow and a bowl of shallow water available at all times.

By six weeks of age, most puppies are able to eat dry food.

When to seek medical attention

  • Bowel movement-loose, watery, bloody.
  • Urination-bloody, straining, frequent.
  • Skin-hair loss, scratching, oily, odorous, scabs.
  • Eyes-half-closed, drainage for more than 1 day duration.
  • Ears-shaking, black color inside of ear, scratching, odor.
  • Cold-like symptoms-sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing.
  • Appetite-lack of, decreasing, vomiting.
  • Bony Appearance-able to easily feel the backbone, emaciated appearance.
  • Behavior-listless, inactive.
  • If you see fleas or ticks, do not use over the counter flea/tick shampoo/products unless approved for under 8 weeks of age.
  • Able to see any worms on rectal area or in stool, or any portion of the body.
  • Limping/lameness.
  • Open wounds or sores.
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