Care of Newborn puppies and kittens

Wyndham Veterinary Clinic  >  Care of Newborn puppies and kittens

Care for New Born Puppies and Kittens

Guidelines on rearing orphans


On some occasions puppies and kittens may require hand rearing. This term is referred to as orphan rearing. The newborns may have been orphaned due to the mother being unable to cope with feeding, death, or rejection by the mother. Orphan rearing is not an easy task – it is very time consuming but by the same token, extremely rewarding for the person rearing the puppies/kittens.

Environment – The environment must be kept at a warm constant temperature of about 30 – 32°C for the first week of life, this can be done with an electric heating pad covered with towels or hot water bottles and insulation. After the first week of life, 24°C is a suitable temperature, as the puppies/kittens can regulate their temperature more adequately at this stage of life. The environment should also be kept clean and dry to avoid heat loss due to moisture on the skin.


Bedding – Bedding should be well insulated with hay, blankets, shredded paper or a doona. A newspaper quarter is also advisable when the puppies begin to roam away from the nest, this can help with toilet training. A short litter tray is suitable for kittens.

Toiletting – This should be done after each feed and means that the person rearing the orphans needs to stimulate them to urinate and defaecate. By wiping the backside and genital area with a moist cotton ball gently on and around the area urination and defaecation is instigated, it simulates the just as the mother would by licking the area to clean the puppies or kittens.

Handling – Moderate amounts of handling should be instigated after feeding, this promotes good circulation and muscular development.

Feeding – If possible allow the mother to feed as much as she can in the first 3 days of life, as during this period a naturally reared puppy/kitten receives important antibodies from the mother.

Feeding can be via a syringe, dolls bottle, pet nurser bottle or intra-gastric tube (our nurses can demonstrate how to use one of these).
An appropriate commercially formulated milk supplementation like Divetalac, Animalac or Wombaroo should be made fresh daily, according to directions and fed at 4-6 hourly intervals (2-4 hourly in neonates less than 1 week old). The amount to feed will depend on the animal’s weight, so kitchen scales are needed to calculate their required intake of supplementation.
Formula guidelines: (But please follow formula recommendations) Feed: 1ml per 7.5 grams of body weight for the first week. 1ml per 6.0 grams of body weight for the second week. 1ml per 5.0 grams of body weight for the third week. 1ml per 4.5 grams of body weight for the fourth week.

Underfeed slightly for the first few days to avoid digestive problems and then gradually increase concentration of formula to the recommended amount.

Bottle feeding


    • NEVER feed a cold puppy/kitten – they MUST be warm to take a feed
    • Preferable to use a bottle and teat made especially for puppies/kittens
    • Enlarge hole so milk slowly oozes out when the bottle is inverted
    • When feeding, hold bottle so puppy/kitten does not ingest air while nursing
    • When starting to feed, squeeze a little milk onto the teat and then place the teat inthe puppy/kitten’s mouth
    • NEVER squeeze bottle while pup/kitten is nursing because it may result in inhalation of milk which could cause pneumonia and death
    • NEVER feed a neonate laying upside down, they need to be in an upright position


Tube feeding

  • Seek professional advice before instigating this method of feeding
  • Preferred method of feeding due to ease and cleanliness
  • Use a 6 or 8 French gauge feeding tube and a syringe
  • Measure and mark tube to appropriate length, measure from the last rib to the tipof the nose, this should be re-measured each week
  • Fill syringe with desired amount of formula, attach the tube and squeeze formulato fill tube, pass the tube as directed to the measures mark
  • Inject milk slowly over about 2 minutes to allow the stomach time to stretch andaccommodate the meal
  • If regurgitation occurs stop the feeding and wait until the next meal to try againNever force a pup/kitten to eat with a bottle or syringe as the milk can enter the lungs and have disastrous effects.As the orphans grow, at around 3 weeks, a flat shallow container can be used to hold milk in. This introduces the animal to self feeding, as when they browse around they invariably come across it in their travels.

At three weeks of age a good quality dry puppy/kitten food can gradually be introduced to their diet ( Advance Puppy Rehydratable or Advance Kitten are suitable). Mix the milk formula with the diet and create a sloppy porridge. Eventually, milk quantity should be decreased and solid food increased. At this stage food should be given as-libitum and hand feeding is usually only required 1-2 times daily. It takes about 2 weeks to wean the pups/kittens onto just dry food and water. Always remember to supply fresh water as you decrease the milk quantity to provide enough fluid intake.
Weaning can be complete by, as young as 4 weeks, but normally 5-6 weeks is required.


At birth 


  • Virtually helpless
  • Toothless
  • Almost deaf
  • Mostly blind
  • The brain responds to smells, touch and pain
2-3 days after birth 


The umbilical cord drops off

8-10 days after birth 


  • Birth weight should double
  • Crawling usually begins


10-14 days after birth 


  • Eyes open but vision is poor
  • Righting reflex is present (this means when put in a position not comfortable the pup will right itself into a more comfortable position
14-17 days after birth 


  • Ears open
  • React to sound
  • Due for 1st worming dose then every 2 weeks up until the age of 12 weeks.
  • Hand reared puppies/kittens can begin a mixture of solid food and milk formula
21 days after birth 


  • Puppies/kittens have bladder control and are able to urinate without assistance
  • Milk teeth begin to erupt
5-8 weeks after birth 


  • Weaning occurs during this period
  • Increased head and eye co-ordination
  • Visionary depth (the animal can notice things outside it’s immediate area)
  • Increased muscle control
  • Walks, plays, leaps, rolls, tumbles
  • Investigates smells and noises
  • This period initiates the pup/kitten’s level of socialisation and is vitally important in making up the adult animal’s personality
  • Handling is very important
  • Try to subject the animal to unusual stimuli, such as other animals (vaccinatedonly), children, vacuum cleaners, squeaky toys and any other stimuli available
  • At 6-8 weeks an immunisation regimen should be initiated (see vaccinations)



Happy Parenting!