A dam may be incapable of raising a litter because of a uterine or mammary gland infection, eclampsia, or insufficient milk supply. In addition, an immature or sick puppy may need to be hand fed for survival. If the dam cannot raise the litter, you should inquire at your veterinarian’s clinic about other recently born litters. If a litter is very close in age to yours and the healthy dam has only a few puppies, she might be convinced to foster a couple of extra pups. The dam must be of solid temperament and she must be observed closely while attempting this. The puppies to be fostered should be gently rubbed with blankets from the dam’s whelping box to put the scent of that litter on them.
If no foster mother is found, you need to start supplementing. The decision to supplement a single pup (or an entire litter) is based on the puppy’s general appearance and vitality, his weight at birth, and his progress in comparison to his littermates. It is far better to intervene early and start hand feeding a borderline case than to wait until a puppy is in obvious distress.
In some cases it may be possible to supplement two or three times a day and let the pup remain in the nest and continue to nurse. Other pups must be raised entirely by their breeder.
Whenever possible, puppies should nurse from the mother for the first 24 to 36 hours of life. During this period they receive antibodies in the colostrum that provide temporary immunity to the common canine infectious diseases. If the puppies do not get colostrum for whatever reason, you can use clear serum from the dam or order fresh frozen plasma to help provide immunity. Such puppies may need to be actively immunized starting at a young age.
When hand raising puppies, it is critically important to:
- Prevent chilling
- Prepare and feed the right formula
- Provide the right management