Usually a mother dog's able to sufficiently feed and nuture her newborns; but in some instances, she's unable to care for one or more of her puppies, meaning an owner must look after the unattended ones herself. While taking a puppy away from his mother as early as the first day of life is a terrible idea except under critical circumstances, it's sometimes necessary to ensure newborn pups' well-being.
Looking for Warning Signs
Before taking a puppy from his mother, it's crucial to determine whether doing so is necessary. A mother dog provides warmth and nutrition to her litter, and her care is inimitable. But a mother dog can become frightened or confused during or after birthing her puppies and subsequently abandon or fail to recognize her litter. In other cases, a mother might birth too large of a litter and be unable to care for or feed all of the puppies. Sometimes, a mother is physically unable to do the job, battling issues like mastitis, eclampsia or poor milk supply. Sometimes, the mother dies in whelping. In these situations, one or all of her puppies may suffer and intervention is necessary. If the mother dog seems to be fine but one of her puppies looks thin, cries often, is rejected by the mother or appears too frail to nurse, that puppy will likely need your help to thrive.
Isolating the Puppy
Separating the puppy from mom is touchy. To start, the mother dog may become agitated. Mothers who have just given birth tend to be very protective over their litters, even if they cannot care for one of the puppies. In this case, step away and return later to try again. You don't want to spook the mother or disrupt the rest of the puppies, especially if they are doing just fine with their mother. Have another box for the puppy ready and plenty of soft blankets and a heating pad on hand. Carefully pick up the puppy and immediately move it to its new box. Handle newborn puppies as little as possible.
Keeping the Puppy Warm
Once you've moved the puppy to his own box, regulate the box's temperature to ensure the pup's survival. Put a heating pad set on low underneath a heap of soft blankets, then lay the puppy on the pile. Carefully wrap the puppy if necessary. You want to maintain the box's temperature in the first four days of life at 85 to 90 degrees. Monitoring the puppy's rectal temperature will let you know whether it's too warm or too cold; rectal temperatures for a normal newborn puppy range from 95 to 99 degrees for the first week, 97 to 100 degrees for the second and third weeks and 100 to 102 degrees -- the normal temperature for an adult dog -- by the fourth week. By the seventh to tenth day, you'll decrease the box's temperature gradually to 80 degrees, then decreased to 72 degrees by the end of the fourth week.
Feeding the Puppy
Because the newborn puppy won't have access to mother's milk, supplying it with regular and consistent nutrition immediately after birth is crucial. Cow or goat's milk is not a suitable alternative for a mother dog's milk. Instead, visit a pet supply store and purchase puppy milk replacer. You'll need to feed this product, which comes in either ready-to-serve or powder form, to the newborn puppy with a baby bottle immediately after birth and every two hours for the next three to four weeks. Prepare the puppy milk replacer according to the manufacturer's instructions and pour it into a baby bottle. Gently give the puppy the tip of the bottle nip and wiggle the nipple around to release a few drops of milk. The puppy will latch on and suck the bottle. Keep the puppy in a horizontal position while feeding it; this is a natural position for a feeding newborn puppy that prevents choking.
Monitoring the Puppy
Once you've isolated the puppy, warmed him and and fed him, your next step is monitoring his weight gain, growth and temperature. Using a soft measuring tape and scale, measure the puppy every few days to ensure proper growth, starting with the first night. If you notice the puppy has stopped gaining weight or is losing weight, visit the veterinarian. Take the puppy's rectal temperature often to ensure he is being warmed properly. Observe the puppy's general demeanor and development, too. Look for signs of illness -- like fever, lethargy or loss of appetite -- as well as milestones such as opening his eyes, walking or becoming more adventurous.
Jennifer Kimrey earned her bachelor's degree in English writing and rhetoric from St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. She's a regular contributor to the "Houston Chronicle" and her work has appeared on Opposing Views Cultures, The Austin American-Statesman, The Red Vault, The Western Vault and various other websites and publications.