No pet owner ever expects to have to hand-raise a litter of puppies, but it may become necessary if the mother gets sick or abandons her litter. Store-bought puppy milk replacers are acceptable for keeping your pups alive, but homemade formula can be just as effective.
Why Bottle Feed?
Most female dogs whelp and feed their puppies without the need for intervention, but even experienced mothers may need a little boost. First-time dams may be uncomfortable when confronted with a little of squealing puppies and may not lie still long enough for them to eat. Older females, or those who were in poor condition prior to whelping, may not produce enough milk to keep her puppies full. Unfortunate orphaned litters can be placed with another female who is currently raising a litter, but if no wet nurse is available, bottle-feeding is the litter’s only hope for survival.
Mix the Milk
Evaporated milk is an excellent base for your homemade puppy milk replacer. It is thick enough to mimic the dam’s natural milk, and has a high enough fat content to be nutritious. Some owners opt for more exotic bases such as goat’s milk, but evaporated milk is more readily available and easy to keep on hand. Add 3 ounces of boiled or distilled water to an empty plastic bottle, and pour in 10 ounces of evaporated milk. Add 1 cup whole fat plain yogurt, 1 raw egg yolk and 1/2 teaspoon corn syrup to the bottle and shake vigorously to combine. Refrigerate the milk replacer between uses, and discard unused milk after seven days.
Feeding the Litter
Feed your puppies every two to three hours until the age of 5 weeks, when you can start incorporating solid food into their diet. Feeding requirements vary according to age and weight of each pup, but a general rule of thumb is 1 cc of formula per ounce of body weight at every feeding. Pour the proper dose of milk into a small puppy nursing bottle, and hold the bottle in a pan of simmering water to bring the milk up to body temperature. Place a towel across your lap, and lay the puppy on his belly on the towel. Hold the nipple near his nose and allow him to root around for the nipple. If he has trouble finding it, push the nipple gently against his lips until he latches on and starts to nurse.
Puppy milk replacer spoils quickly, so never leave it out on the counter. Read labels carefully when purchasing evaporated milk; the packaging looks very similar to sweetened condensed milk, which can make your puppies very sick. If your puppies have difficulty getting milk out of the bottle, use a sterilized needle to poke a few more holes in the nipple. Healthy puppies should gain a little weight every day, so weigh each puppy daily to monitor their growth.
Louise Lawson has been a published author and editor for more than 10 years. Lawson specializes in pet and food-related articles, utilizing her 15 years as a sous chef and as a dog breeder, handler and trainer to produce pieces for online and print publications.