Caring for a Newborn Puppy

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on September 04, 2023
5 min read

Raising a puppy from newborn to adulthood is as rewarding for some people as raising a child. You'll know every little quirk or mischievous look long before they can run into the bathroom and shred the toilet paper. As fun and adorable as puppies are, they still take as much care as a newborn human.

It's essential to know how a puppy eats, how to care for a puppy, and how much a puppy sleeps so that you can be prepared for their first few months of life and raise a healthy, happy dog. 

Brand-new puppies receive important protection from germs through antibodies in their mother’s milk during the first few days of nursing. Dog moms produce a milky-textured substance called colostrum that gives puppies' bodies the ability to fight off infections. 

It is essential to let your puppy nurse as long as possible from their mother to receive this substance. If their mother dies or rejects them, you’ll need to call your veterinarian to make sure you get the supplements that puppies need to survive.

After the first few weeks, puppies that can’t nurse can be fed by you. If you’re unsure how to do it, ask your veterinarian for some tips on getting the puppy to nurse from a bottle or tube. If a puppy is having a problem taking the bottle, you should see your veterinarian immediately — they may need to be fed with a stomach tube.

You’ll need to make sure that you purchase formula made for canines. Work with the pups to ensure that they can nurse from the bottle. 

Puppies should be fed while lying on their stomach. Other positions may cause them to choke. Similar to human babies, you should warm the milk to about 100 degrees or body temperature. 

However, don’t use your microwave to heat the formula — place the bottle in a cup of warm water. If you can touch the warmed milk to your skin and feel a slight warmth, the milk is warm enough. After feeding, gently pat your puppy on their back to help them burp up any air that they may have swallowed.

Newborn pups generally eat every 2 to 3 hours. You’ll be as busy with them as you would with a human baby. If you’re mixing formula, the packaging should tell you how much to give them. How much they need to eat may also depend on their weight. You might find that your puppy will need more or less than the packaging tells you. Be sure to make a note of how much you’re making per feeding.

Puppies require a warm environment to sleep and to eat. They are not able to regulate their own body temperature for the first few weeks of life. If they are cold, they cannot eat or digest their food properly.

This means that you’ll need to have a source of heat underneath a towel or a blanket in their nesting box. Place it next to a non-heated area so that they can move away if they become too hot.

Around 3 to 4 weeks of age, you might notice that your puppy is biting or chewing their bottle. This means they may be ready to begin eating soft or semi-solid food. You might need to mix formula with canned dog food occasionally when they first start eating. Talk to your veterinarian for guidance when you notice your puppy chewing on the bottle.

If your puppy is between 4 and 6 weeks old, they should be eating solid food on their own from a bowl. Follow the recommendations on their food bag for amounts. The normal feeding schedule for 6 to 12-week-old puppies is four times per day.

Your newborn puppies’ ideal weight varies by breed. They can weigh anywhere from around 2.5 ounces up to 2.25 pounds. 

However, the percentage of weight that they gain is generally the same. You should weigh them every day for their first 2 weeks, and then at least every 3 days during their first year. When you weigh them, take note of their weight. They should gain around 10% of their body weight each day, depending on their breed.

Puppies should gain weight quickly over their first year of life. If you notice unusual weight loss, call your veterinarian. Studies have shown that within their first week of life puppies should lose some of their birth weight and then double it. Depending on the breed of dog and its size, your puppy can gain close to six times its birth weight within 3 weeks.

Newborn puppies can’t go to the bathroom on their own. Their mother licks their genital and anal areas, which stimulates the muscles and nerves and causes the pups to eliminate to urinate and defecate. Not being able to do so can be harmful and life-threatening. 

If your puppy is orphaned or their mother hasn't been present, you can use a washcloth or cotton ball soaked in warm water and gently stroke these areas, which simulates their mother’s licks. 

Most veterinarians suggest bringing in your newborn puppy at around 6 weeks of age. This time-frame results from the mother’s antibodies wearing off. Puppies become more at risk of infection and disease. During their first physical examination your veterinarian will give your puppy their initial immunizations and deworming medication.

Your puppy should get their first vaccinations at around 6 weeks. Vaccinations for new pups include:

  • Distemper virus
  • Adenovirus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Parvovirus

At around 8 to 12 weeks, you'll need to make sure your pup receives these follow-up shots:

  • Bordetella
  • Canine Influenza H3N2 and H3N8
  • Rabies first year
  • Leptospirosis

The physical exam lets your veterinarian know if there are any conditions that need to be addressed. They’ll ask you about feeding, the care you’ve provided, and give you some suggestions for further care.

If you plan to purchase your puppy from a breeder or a store, you should find one that does not take a puppy away from their mother too early. Opinions differ on when this time is. In general, anywhere between 7 and 8 weeks is considered long enough for them to be trained by their mother to urinate and have bowel movements.

You'll need to have designated places to take your puppy for potty training and have your house puppy-proofed. This means securing anything they can get into that might harm them. Have a plan for how you're going to train them and keep them healthy. 

Soft, warm blankets over a warming pad (also called a whelping pad) in a nesting box with a non-heated zone is essential. If you know that they are still nursing, you'll also need to have puppy formula and bottles to feed them with. Puppy specific food based on your pup's size and breed should be ready, as well as food and water bowls. 

If you have questions or concerns, be sure to call your veterinarian for new puppy guidance.