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There are several possible reasons for hand-raising puppies and kittens: death or illness of the mother, inadequate milk supply, or rejection of the puppy or kitten. Hand-raising puppies and kittens can be very rewarding. However, the age and health of the puppy or kitten determines the increased or decreased chance of survival.

Environment

Puppies and kittens need a warm, draft-free environment during the early weeks of life. Room temperature should be maintained at a minimum of 72F. Remember that it’s about 10 degrees colder on the floor (since heat rises) than at eye level. Air temperature in the immediate vicinity of the pups/kits should be 85-90F for the first week of life, 80F for the next 3-4 weeks, then 75F at six weeks. Young pups/kits cannot regulate their own body temperature like adults can. Dampness and chilling can be fatal to young puppies and kittens. Temperatures can be maintained with heating pads, light bulbs, or heat lamps. Great care must be taken not to overheat or burn the babies when they are too young to move away from the heat source. They should never be in direct contact with the heating pad and the heating temperature level should always be set on Low. The heating pad should be under only ½ to 1/3 of the nesting box, allowing puppies/kittens to move away from the heat if they want to. Clean newspaper is good bedding because it is easily disposed of. Cloth material is suitable and offers good footing; however, it should be washed daily. A tall-sided cardboard box makes a safe nest and keeps the puppies/kittens inside until they are several weeks old.

Feeding

A properly nourished puppy/kitten sleeps most of the time, stays quiet, and has a full stomach. Puppies and kittens can be fed by bottle or stomach tube. Stomach tube feeding is much faster and especially handy with large litters. Many people, however, prefer to bottle-feed because of the prolonged puppy/kitten contact. Your veterinarian or hospital staff are able to instruct you in either method of feeding. Use Puppy/Kitten formula only—milk or human baby formula can cause diarrhea.

Newborns should be fed 6 to 8 times daily (about 2-3 hours apart). The frequency can be gradually reduced to 3-4 times daily by 2-3 weeks of age. Puppies and kittens must be helped to defecate and urinate by gently stroking the genital area with a tissue or cottonball moistened with warm water after each feeding. Be persistent until they urinate or defecate.

Make the milk replacement formula fresh each day and discard after 24 hours. Keep in the refrigerator and heat up as needed. Be sure to check the temperature of the formula on the back of your hand to make sure that it will not scald the puppies/kittens. Also test the bottle for proper flow rate. Many times the opening in the nipple will need to be enlarged, because the pups/kits cannot exert enough sucking pressure to obtain the milk.

Frequent crying or failure to gain weight indicates a problem. Call the doctor. In general, the pup/kit should double its weight in 8-10 days. Overfeeding can be worse than slight underfeeding. Any time that diarrhea should develop, dilute the food 50% with water and call the hospital for instructions.

How Much Should You Feed?

You can determine how much to give an orphan puppy/kitten by considering its daily caloric requirements.

Puppies

  • 1st week 3.75 calories/ounce of body weight daily
  • 2nd week 4.50 calories/ounce of body weight daily
  • 3rd week 5.00 calories/ounce of body weight daily
  • 4th week 5.50 calories/ounce of body weight daily

Kittens

  • 1st and 2nd week 6 calories/ounce of body weight daily
  • 3rd and 4th week 8 calories/ounce of body weight daily

In general, milk substitutes contains about 1 calorie/ml. Be sure to use Puppy Milk Replacer for puppies and Kitten Milk Replacer for kittens.

Example: You plan to feed a 1 week old, 2 ounce kitten 6 times daily. The kitten requires 6 calories/ounce body weight x 2 ounce kitten = 12 total calories needed for 1 day. You plan to feed 6 times daily. Therefore, 12/6 = 2 calories required each feeding. Your milk substitute contains 1 calorie/ml. Therefore, you should feed 2mls each feeding.

Weaning

In general, puppies and kittens can be introduced to food at 3-4 weeks of age. Pan-feed a thin gruel by mixing high quality puppy/kitten food with warm water and milk replacer. Over the next few weeks, when the puppies/kittens are eating well, the gruel can be gradually thickened, reaching normal, solid consistency when the puppies/kittens are 6-8 weeks of age. At this time, they can be offered good quality food 3-4 times daily.

Note: You must continue to supplement the puppies/kittens with bottle feedings until they are eating the gruel well. Watch for these danger signs: pup/kit that loses or does not gain weight, inactive pups/kits that feel cooler than their litter-mates, and pups/kits with poor muscle tone as compared to the rest of the litter.

General Information

  1. Both puppies and kittens need to be brought to the hospital at 3 weeks of age for general deworming of intestinal parasites.
  2. Tail docking and dewclaw removal on puppies is routinely done at 3-5 days of age in our hospital.
  3. Eyes usually open at 10-14 days of age. Swollen eyes or discharge should be reported to us when observed.
  4. Immunizations (vaccinations) start at 6-8 weeks of age. This is also when puppies are started on heartworm preventive.
  5. Monitor pups and kits for the presence of fleas. On very small animals, even 5-6 fleas can cause serious blood loss. Contact our office for instructions on bathing and flea treatment.
  6. Be sure that the nesting area is cleaned daily to help prevent infection.
  7. Do not disturb except for feeding and cleaning.
  8. Twitching is normal during sleep—this exercises the muscles to aid growth.