Newborn Puppy Care Week by Week
If you're raising puppies, it doesn't get more exciting than the moments after delivery when you finally get a chance to meet the new litter. How many puppies are there? What colors are they? How many males or females? It's a heartwarming time as the mother dog forms a bond with her new puppies.
Even if you have a healthy mother dog that loves her litter, you'll still be involved with newborn puppy care week by week. Here's a rundown of some things you want to keep in mind.
1-week-old puppy care
- You're a partner. Raising puppies is hard work, but thankfully you don't have to do it alone! The mother dog is your partner in this task, and your role this week will be an "overseer" and someone to contribute in areas the mother can't manage, like weighing the puppies and deworming them.
- Are the puppies nursing? Newborn puppies receive all of their nutrition from their mother's milk, so it's very important to make sure each puppy is nursing properly. Another key factor is the colostrum the puppies receive from the milk, which contains important antibodies to protect the puppies during these early stages of life. In this instance, the mother dog will take care of deciding when to feed the puppies. In the event of a serious problem, you'll need to take over bottle feeding the puppies with the aid of a newborn puppy feeding chart.
- Weigh the puppies. Keep an eye on your puppies' weight gain by weighing them every day. You should see a steady increase each day and you can expect each puppy to double its birth weight by the time they are seven to 10 days old.
- Keep the puppies warm! Newborn puppies are still developing and aren't able to regulate their body temperatures effectively. They receive some protection from their mother's body heat, but it's possible your new mother dog doesn't spend all her time with the puppies in the whelping box. After all, she's used to life with her family, and she may not want to have her daily routine entirely disrupted by her puppies. This is fine, except the puppies may need a heat source when she isn't around. Once the puppies are older (after their eyes are open and they can move around easily) you can fill that need by providing the puppies with a puppy-safe heated pad designed to provide warmth without getting too hot. You could also give them a Mother's Heartbeat Heated Puppy Bed with Bone Pillow to keep them warm and cozy. Heat lamps are also sometimes used to heat the general puppy area, but talk to your veterinarian first.
- Keep the whelping box clean. You want to regularly change the bedding and absorbent pads and frequently clean the whelping box over the next several weeks.
- Get a vet check. You may wish to have your veterinarian evaluate your puppies and their mother shortly after birth to ensure everyone is doing well.
2-week-old puppy care
- Turn down the thermostat. It's still vitally important to keep the puppies warm at this stage, but you can start to ease it up a bit, working down towards about 80°F.
- Keep an eye on their eyes. Puppies generally start to open their eyes at about this time. If they don't, you probably should have a veterinarian take a look and possibly help assist the puppies by manually opening their eyes. At all times, be on the lookout for any kind of eye discharge or other signs of infection.
- Watch their weight. Continue to weigh the puppies each day during week two to ensure everyone is steadily gaining weight.
- Start deworming. Under your veterinarian's guidance, the puppies should receive their first deworming treatment at about two weeks of age.
3-week-old puppy care
- Start handling the puppies. By about three weeks of age, you can—and should!—begin gently handling the puppies1 for short periods for reasons other than basic health care. Once the puppies have their eyes open, you can try carefully picking them up, holding them for a bit, and placing them back in the box. It's just a tiny, early step towards socializing them with people.
- Watch them grow strong. Always keep an eye on the puppies' health and physical growth progression. By three weeks, they might try to explore more of their environment.2
- Keep weighing the puppies! Continue to monitor their weight by weighing the puppies every three to seven days.
- Lower the heat again. The puppies' ability to regulate their body temperature is improving. You can probably bring the whelping box temperature down to 75°F.
- Offer water. Your three-week-old puppies might begin to show an interest in a water dish. Place a shallow, puppy-safe bowl in the whelping box and see if they experiment with it. Some experts recommend trying a mixture of water and puppy formula in the water bowl.
4-week-old puppy care
- Check for proper development. Always keep a close eye on your litter's physical growth and behavior. Are they advancing properly? Are they starting to walk?3
- Room temperature. The puppies are growing up fast; you can lower the whelping box temperature down to a normal room temperature.
- Bring on the solid food. Well, not too solid at first, but more substantial than their mother's milk. Introduce soft foods slowly, then transition to solid foods.
5-week-old puppy care
- Socialize! Pups are really starting to be on the move now. They might start to venture a little further away from their littermates and think they're pretty independent. It's important for your puppy to begin to develop “people skills" so they don't show signs of fear later.
- Introduce more solid foods. The puppies will gradually eat more solid food as the mother dog naturally slows the frequency of nursing.
6-, 7- and 8-week-old puppy care
- Don't wait; vaccinate! When your puppies are six to eight weeks old, it's time for their first vaccinations. The specific vaccines given at each visit may vary slightly depending on your region and the specifics of your puppies' lifestyle. Additional vaccinations will be needed after ten weeks and in the coming months.
- Register the puppies. If your puppies are purebred, now's the time to register them. They'll be so impressed with their papers! (Not those papers!)
- Wean the puppies. By this time, the weaning process that began around week four will be completed.
- Have a heart! You can help ease the transition away from the mother and littermates by offering each puppy a pillow that mimics the sounds of their mother's heartbeat. It's a reassuring sound that will help them feel relaxed in their new home. You can also mimic the warmth of their mother's body heat with a heated heartbeat puppy bed or give them that same warm coziness with a heated heartbeat crate pad.
- Say goodbye. After eight weeks, members of the litter often leave home to join their new families.
The week-by-week care of newborn puppies is a lot of work, but there is a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment in the process as well.
1. Aaron, Marc. DoggySaurus. “When Can You Handle Puppies? (Touching & Holding Newborns)," https://doggysaurus.com/when-can-you-handle-puppies/
2. Williams, Krista. VCA Hospitals. “Raising Puppies," https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/puppy-raising
3. Jamieson, Amy. Care.com “Puppy stages: A week-by-week guide to caring for a newborn puppy," 20 March 2019. https://www.care.com/c/stories/6259/puppy-care-stages-newborn-to-48-weeks/