Caring for an Orphaned Puppy or Kitten

Caring for an orphaned kitten or puppy can be very rewarding however it requires a lot of work and the realization that in spite of our best efforts we may not be successful.

The neonatal puppy or kitten development can be divided into 4 time periods. 

The neonatal period (birth – 2 weeks)

The transitional period (2-4 weeks)

The socialization period (4 -12 weeks)

The juvenile period (12 weeks – puberty)

The first 2 – 4 weeks of life are the most difficult and perilous for the orphaned puppy or kitten.  During this time the physiological needs of the puppy or kitten are quite high and may be difficult to meet. 

Neonatal puppies and kittens are unable to adequately thermoregulate (control their body temperature). They lack insulating body fat and their shiver response has not developed. Most neonates rely on the warmth of their littermates and mother to stay warm. For people that are caring for an orphaned puppy or kitten a warm nesting box will be of the utmost importance.  Below is  a chart that will aid in warming the neonate:

Age and normal body temperature      |   Ideal nesting box temperatures

week 1: 96°- 98°………………………………………………………85-90°

week 2: 99°………………………………………………………………..80°

week 3: 100.5°………………………………………………………….80°

week 4: normal stable temperature………………….80°

week 5: normal stable temperature………………….70°

Monitoring weight gain is a good way to monitor a neonate’s health status of the neonate. A nursing puppy or kitten should double their body weight  in 10 days. It should be noted that formula fed kittens grow slower than nursing neonates, they should double their body weight in 14 days.  Commercially available formulas are best to meet the requirements of orphaned puppies and kittens. Homemade formulations lack the necessary amino acid needs in growing neonates.  The formula should be species specific and not a variety that is labeled for use in multiple species. These are available in powdered and liquid forms.  For people that are going to be feeding multiple animals for several weeks the powdered form is likely going to be more economical. The canned formulation can be kept in the freezer for long term use (up to 6 months), the liquid formulation is only good for 72 hours after opening. It is very important that the instructions for mixing the formula are followed exactly. Only mix up a 48 hour supply and keep it in the refrigerator to ensure that the formula you are feeding has not spoiled.

Below are rules of thumb feeding volume guidelines

Week 1 60 mls of formula / pound of body weight (divided into 5 equal feedings)

Week 2 70 mls of formula / pound of body weight (divided into 4 equal feedings)

Week 3 85 mls of formula / pound of body weight (divided into 4 equal feedings)

Week 4 100 mls of formula / pound of body weight (divided into 4 equal feedings)

The safest way to feed a neonate is with a nipple bottle. The nipple needs to be of the correct size and shape for the puppy or kitten. The hole in the nipple tip should be of a size that when the bottle is turned upside down a drop of milk readily forms on the tip of the nipple. Warm the formula to no warmer than 100° F using warm water. Do not microwave the formula as this will create hot spots in the formula that can burn the mouth esophagus and stomach. 

Puppies and kittens should be placed on their stomachs when feeding with the bottle at an angle that resembles the placement of the mother’s nipple relative to the baby.  Using a rolled up towel to simulate the mother’s body may be helpful. This will not only create a natural nursing position for the puppy or kitten but it keeps air at the top of the bottle. After each feeding the puppy or kitten  should be stimulated to urinate and defecate. This can be done by gently rubbing the anal and genetial areas with a warm moist cottom ballor soft wash cloth. This stimulation is required for the first 3 weeks of life. 

Weaning of most breeds of dog can begin at 3 weeks with the exception being toy breed puppies, they should begin weaning at 4 weeks. Likewise kittens should begin weaning at 4 weeks. Weaning should consist of a gruel consisting of puppy or kitten food with water or formula in a 1:3 ratio. Canned puppy or kitten food can also be used in a 1:2 ratio with water or formula.  By 6 weeks of age puppies should be getting about 50% of their nutrition from unmixed food and completely weaned to dry or canned food by 8 weeks. Kittens should be completely weaned by 6 weeks, a similar protocol as outlined for puppies can be followed. 

Once weaned puppies can be fed 3- 4 times a day for 6 months in toy breeds and 9 months for large breeds with kittens being either free fed or offered food three times a day for 6 months.