Puppies can be fed using a baby nursing bottle, special puppy bottles, or a stomach tube. An eyedropper can be used in an emergency. Use it as described for the baby bottle. Always be sure to feed formula at room temperature.
Keep in mind that all hand-fed puppies must have their anal and genital areas massaged with a wad of cotton soaked in warm water after each feeding to prevent constipation and stimulate the elimination reflexes.
Baby or Puppy Bottles
Using a bottle has the advantage of satisfying the suckling urge, but it requires a puppy who is strong enough to suck. When using a small baby bottle or a commercial puppy nurser with a soft nipple, you may need to enlarge the hole in the nipple so that the milk drips out slowly when the bottle is turned over. Otherwise, the puppy may tire after a few minutes and stop nursing. However, if the hole is too large, the milk will run out too fast and make the puppy choke.
The correct position for bottle feeding is to place the puppy in an upright position as if he is standing on a flat surface, holding him under the stomach and chest. Do not cradle him like a human baby, because the formula will run into his trachea. Open the puppy’s mouth with the tip of your finger, insert the nipple, and hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle to prevent the puppy from swallowing air. Keep a slight pull on the bottle to encourage vigorous sucking.
The feeding usually takes five minutes or longer. Afterward, burp the puppy by resting him on your shoulder and gently rubbing or patting the back. Then swab the anal and genital areas with a piece of cotton soaked in warm water to stimulate voiding and defecation.
The advantages of tube feeding are that it takes about two minutes to complete each feeding and little air is swallowed. Tube feeding also ensures that a proper amount of formula is administered to each puppy. And it is the only satisfactory way to feed immature or sick puppies who are too weak to nurse. Puppies fed by tube must be kept in separate incubator compartments to avoid the suckling damage caused by littermates.
Tube feeding is not difficult to do. It requires a soft rubber catheter tube, size 5 to 10 French, depending on the size of the puppy. A puppy weighing less than 10 ounces (283 g) requires a size 5. You’ll also need a 10- or 20-ml plastic or glass syringe (minus the needle). These items can be bought at a drug store or from your veterinarian.
A puppy’s stomach is even with his last rib. Measure the tube by holding it along the puppy’s body, from the mouth to the last rib, and mark it with a piece of tape. Draw the formula into the syringe, taking care to expel all air, and warm it to body temperature by immersing the syringe in hot water.
Arouse the puppy and place him on his chest in a horizontal position. Moisten the tip of the tube with formula and allow the puppy to suckle it briefly.
Then pass the tube slowly over the puppy’s tongue and into the throat. With steady pressure, the puppy will swallow the tube. Pass it down the esophagus and into the stomach, to the level of the mark you made on the tube with tape.
Slowly inject a small amount of water (1 to 2 ml) into the tube. If the puppy coughs or gasps, the tube went into the trachea by mistake and the tip of the tube is in his lungs. This is not as serious a problem as if formula were injected, because water is more easily absorbed. (Putting formula into the lungs, though, can kill a puppy.) Withdraw and reposition the tube.
When the tube is in the correct position, attach the syringe to the tube and slowly inject the formula into the puppy’s stomach over a two-minute period. All feedings should be injected gradually so as not to distend the stomach. If the formula is injected too rapidly, it will be regurgitated and may cause aspiration pneumonia. This is most likely to happen during the first tube feeding. The first feeding or two with a feeding tube should be at slightly less than the calculated amount, to help the puppy’s stomach adjust to the volume.
When all the formula has been injected, remove the tube and raise the puppy into a vertical position to burp him. Swab the anal and genital areas with a piece of cotton soaked in warm water after each feeding to stimulate voiding and defecation.
At about 14 days of age, the trachea of many puppies becomes large enough that the feeding tube may accidentally be passed into it instead of into the esophagus. Change to a larger tube. Or by now, the puppy may be strong enough to suck from a bottle.