Taking care of orphaned puppies

Taking care of orphaned puppies requires round the clock dedication and a lot of patience. It can however be easy and smooth when you stick to the set guidelines.

Newborn puppies depend solely on their mother to survive the first few weeks of life. This is because they are born blind with poorly developed senses thus are incapable of protecting themselves. Additionally they have weak immune systems. They therefore have special nutritional requirements that need to be met.

Situations that can lead to orphaned puppies

There are many situations that can lead to puppies being orphaned including;

  1. The puppies may be too weak or sick to nurse from the mother
  2. When the mother dies during birth or due to disease
  3. Sometimes the mother may reject the puppies
  4. Some mothers may not produce enough milk due to agalactia, mastitis, infected uterus or toxic milk syndrome
  5. If the mother is a stray dog, she may killed in a motor accident or be attacked by other animals

In any of the above situations, you may find yourself having to take care of an orphaned puppy or puppies.

We have written this article to provide you with a guide that you can use to care for orphaned puppies.

Taking care of orphaned puppies

Taking care of orphaned puppies is tasking. This is because orphaned puppies have special needs.

You will need to stick to a strict regular schedule in order to be successful. Here are six easy step you can use to guide you.

1.      First Aid and immediate action

If the puppies were not born within your house, you will need to determine their age. This is because knowing the age of the puppy is important since puppies have different needs at different ages.

Examine the puppy to evaluate if they have injuries or any underlying condition that needs to be addressed. Book an appointment with your veterinarian if you suspect the puppy is sick.

If you have never taken care of an orphaned puppy, I recommend that you take the puppy to a veterinarian for a checkup. At the veterinarians office the puppy will be evaluated for health problems. You will also be given tips on what you need to know about puppy care and the supplies you need to purchase.

Prepare your supplies.

2.      Housing orphaned puppies

During the first few days of life, puppies are unable to effectively control their body temperatures. They can therefore easily become chilled or hypothermic. When raised by their mother, she keeps the puppies warm. Additionally, when the mother is away the puppies huddle together to keep warm.

Taking care of orphaned puppies
Puppies huddle together to keep warm

When taking care of orphaned puppies, it is therefore important to keep them warm for the first few weeks of life. You can do this by providing a heat source.

There are several heat sources that you can choose from including;

  • Heating pads
  • Hot water bottles
  • Heating lamps.

Make sure that the puppy does not become overheated or burnt by the heat source that you choose.

To avoid draft, place the puppy box in a warm corner of the house away from windows, doorways or air conditioner vents.

During the first few days, maintain the temperature between 85° to 90°F. Gradually decrease the temperature by day as the puppy grows to 80°F.

Puppies are highly susceptible to viral conditions of dogs such as canine herpes virus. Therefore keep the puppy box away from older dogs or other animals.

3.      Feeding orphaned puppies

If possible, newborn puppies should nurse from their mother within the first 12 hours after birth. This ensures that they consume colostrum.

Colostrum is the first milk that a mother produces after giving birth. It is rich in antibodies. Puppies are only able to absorb the antibodies from the colostrum within the first 24 hours of life.

In the absence of the mother, you can try to find another nursing bitch to foster the puppies. However, in the absence of a suitable foster mother, you will need to feed the puppy using milk replacement formulas.

What can I feed orphaned puppies?

Commercial replacement foods

There are several specially formulated milk replacement formulas that you can choose from including;

  1. Goat milk ESBILAC for puppies by PetAG
  2. Puppy Bac Milk Replacer by DOGYZYMES
  3. Powdered puppy milk replacer by Hartz
  4. Milk replacer enriched with colostrum by Essential Pet

Alternatively, you can easily make your own milk replacement formula at home.

We recommend using homemade recipes only in emergency situations or when commercial formulas are unavailable.

Homemade puppy formula

There are a number of homemade puppy formulas you can easily prepare at home. Below is an example of a formula I use in emergency situations.

Read our separate article on emergency puppy formulas to see other recipes that you can use.


  • 1 cup whole cows or goat milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon corn oil
  • 1 drop /pinch of multivitamin


  • Pour 1 cup of whole goat or cow milk in a bowl
  • Add 3 egg yolks and mix thoroughly
  • Add a 1 tablespoon of corn oil and 1 drop of multivitamin to the mixture and stir until mixed
  • Refrigerate for use later

How much and how often should I feed milk replacement formula to orphaned puppies?

To feed the puppies, mix the commercial milk replacer as instructed by the manufacturer. Mix only a day’s formula and store in the fridge.

Warm the mixture in a hot water bath to about 100°F. Be careful not to overheat the formula.

Feed using a pet nursing bottle. In the absence of a nursing bottle you can use an eye dropper or a syringe.

When feeding, place the teat of the bottle inside the mouth of the puppy and pull the bottle up. This ensures that the puppy’s head is elevated. As such, it encourages suckling.

Taking care of orphaned puppies
Hold the nursing bottle up to encourage suckling

Ensure that the flow of the replacer is not too fast. If too fast, excess milk replacer may come out through the nose. This can lead to aspiration pneumonia.

Keep the feeding equipment clean at all times. Wash the nursing bottle after every meal.

Caloric need of puppies by age
  • 1 week – 12kcal/100g/day
  • 2 weeks – 14kcal/100g/day
  • 3 weeks – 16kcal/100g/day
  • 4 weeks to weaning – 18 – 24kcal/100g/day

Most commercial milk replacers are labeled to guide you how much to feed per day. Most replacers provide between 1 and 1.24 kcal/ml of formula. Calculate the amount of formula to feed based on the age and weight of the puppy.

Orphaned puppies should be fed on a strict schedule. Preferably every 2 to 4 hours. Newborn puppies to puppies 2 weeks of age can consume their daily portion in 4 or 5 meals per day. Gradually increase the feeding intervals as the puppies grow older.

Be careful not to overfeed the puppy. Overfeeding can lead to diarrhea, regurgitation, aspiration or bloating. If the puppy develops diarrhea reduce the amount of formula until the problem resolves. If it persists consult your veterinarian for further assistance.

At about 3 to 4 weeks encourage the puppies to lap milk replacer from your finger then a shallow bowl. Gradually add solid food to the milk replacer. This marks the beginning of the weaning process. The puppies should be fully weaned by 6 weeks.

4.      Waste management and cleaning

Newborn puppies are unable to urinate or have a bowel movement on their own. When raised by their mother, she licks their genital area after each nursing to stimulate elimination.

When raising orphaned puppies, the role of waste management is transferred to you as the new puppy mum. It is important to simulate the tongue stimulation when hand raising puppies.

Fortunately this is easy. You can stimulate the puppy to eliminate by gently massaging their genital area after each meal. Use either a piece of cloth or cotton wool moistened using warm water. The puppy will urinate and / or defecate within 1 or 2 minutes of massaging.

Most puppies will be able to eliminate without stimulation when they reach 3 or 4 weeks.

It is important to keep a record of each urination and defecation. As such, you will identify any constipation or diarrhea and manage as necessary.

Clean the puppy gently using a damp cloth after each meal and elimination. Concentrate more on areas that need cleaning such as the face to remove excess formula and the genital area to remove urine or feces that may be stuck on the fur.

If you have to give a full body wash, use warm water and dry the puppy using a blow dryer set on low then wrap the puppy in a warm dry towel.

5.      Disease control

Puppy vaccinations

Puppies are born with a poorly developed immune system. They need to consume colostrum within the first 24hrs to absorb antibodies from their mother.

Puppies are highly susceptible to canine diseases. As such veterinarians recommend a number of vaccinations to protect puppies from these diseases. Consult your veterinarian to confirm what vaccines you need to give your puppy.

Generally, puppies should receive their first vaccinations between 5 – 6 weeks of age. If the puppy did not consume colostrum they may need to be vaccinated earlier at between 2 – 4 weeks.

What about internal parasites

Internal parasites commonly affect most puppies.

Generally, internal parasites are transmitted from the mother or other dogs to the puppies. Others are transmitted by fleas and flies.

Internal parasites have devastating effects on puppies and can even be fatal if in large numbers. As such it is important to have a regular deworming regime.

You can know if your puppy has internal parasites if;

  • They are developing slowly
  • Their stool has blood spots
  • They have a bloated stomach

Collect a blood sample and take it to your veterinarian if you observe the above signs. Your veterinarian will recommend the most appropriate dewormer and deworming regime to use.

Avoid over the counter dewormers as they may be ineffective or have devastating effects if inappropriately used.

6.      Socialization

Newborn puppies rely on their mother and litter mates for socialization. Puppies when raised by their mother copy her behavior towards humans.

It is important to cuddle and play with your puppy when taking care of orphaned puppies. This encourages them to develop their social skills.

If raising a litter of orphaned puppies, they rely on their litter mates for socialization. Encourage them to play together so as to develop social skills. Provide them with toys and ensure to regularly play with them. Human contact is important for social skills.

Single orphaned puppies should be introduced to other dogs so as to learn how to be a dog.


Taking care of orphaned puppies is a rewarding hobby. It is a full time job that needs a lot of dedication and patience. However, you can make it easy using the following simple guide;

  1. Take the puppy to a veterinarian for examination
  2. House the puppy in a warm corner of your house away from draft and other animals
  3. Maintain the recommended room temperature during the first few weeks of life
  4. Feed the puppy on commercial milk replacers then gradually introduce solid food at 3 weeks of life
  5. Adapt a strict feeding schedule to avoid overfeeding or underfeeding
  6. Assist the puppy to urinate and defecate during the first few weeks of life and regularly clean the puppy as needed.
  7. Adapt a deworming regime
  8. Consult your veterinarian on puppy vaccinations
  9. Socialize your puppy for them to grow into well socialized adult dogs

Read next: Taking care for kittens without the mother.

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