Whole Dog Journal's Blog September 20, 2018

Fostering Puppies Who Are Just Too Young

Posted at 11:03AM - Comments: (19)

Have you ever tried to ignore the cries of an upset baby while you performed another task that HAD to get done? If so, perhaps you will be patient with this post, as it is being written even as I try to tune out some whining puppies, while simultaneously listening for sounds of serious distress.

pit bull german shepherd mix puppies

Yes, puppies again. My local shelter called yesterday to ask if I could foster a litter of 10 pit/German Shepherd/who-knows-what-mix puppies. Well, sure, of course; I will always say yes if I am not on my way out of town or something. But this group is seriously challenging. Why?

  1. They are too young to be separated from their mom. Whomever brought them to the shelter said they are four weeks old and eating soaked dry dog food and that the mother would no longer feed them. In fact, they are sort of eating soaked dry food (and canned food); they are also wading through it and wearing it all over their bodies, even as they cry for their mom.
  2. They are too young to be separated from their mom! They are just developing the lapping reflex. When I offer them formula in a dish, only two (so far) have figured out how to lap it up. I am giving the rest formula from a puppy bottle. They are also too old to fall for suckling the bottle like a tiny infant – neither the nipple nor the formula is fooling them that this is mom – so I have cut the end off the baby bottle nipple and are basically dribbling formula into their mouths. 

I had spent only a few hours with these babies when I came to the conclusion that it would be WAY better for everyone concerned (the pups, sure, but also ME) if we could convince the owner to let me foster the mother dog, too, even just for another week. These guys are just not having fun without mom. Upon hearing my difficulty, the shelter director agreed, and tried to contact the person who had brought the pups to the shelter. But guess what! That person gave the shelter all bogus contact information. Great! No way to track down mom. So I will do my best and hope for the best.

It’s been a little while since I fostered a litter of puppies without the help of their mama. I honestly had sort of forgotten how incredibly MESSY it is! The babies are just covered in food, and they don’t know how to walk out of or away from their bed to go potty yet – they just stand up and pee in the bed, and poop JUST outside of the bed or JUST inches away from their food bowl, and then walk right through the poop! ARGH! It’s a serious challenge to keep both them and their environment clean.

After their first meal of some slightly watered-down canned food, I asked my young dog Woody to enter the pen, hoping that he might take pity on the tiny pups and lick a few of them clean for me. He was drawn to the smell of canned food but declined to lick anybody. He’s not really into puppies until they get old enough to play with him - darn it.

Anyway, until they mature just a little more, and start reliably pooping and peeing outside their bedding, and eating better, things are going to be a little rough around here. (Although, as I write this, it is quiet, at last, at this precise minute. I think I am going to take a quick nap. I learned this lesson when I was a mother of an infant, 26 years ago. I’m not going to pass up the chance, as it might not last long. Wish us luck!)

More on Puppy Fostering

Raised Right

Raising A Well-Adjusted Puppy

Dog Fostering Programs

Comments (19)

I can only say - and I think you very well know what you're doing! - GOD BLESS YOU! :-) I bet, at this point and under your care, the babies are doing very well.

Posted by: banana.davisca@gmail.com | October 10, 2018 3:30 AM    Report this comment

I’ve only had experience with kitties who lost their mom. They weren’t old enough to poo without stimulation so I can appreciate your mess. That is more than I could take on, I’m afraid, so kudos to you once again. And, oh reddog I laughed until there were tears. Yep, a couple of seagulls should fill them right up. You may not have appreciated the typo, but you made my day.

Posted by: MJC | September 22, 2018 6:02 PM    Report this comment

An update: One of my friends took half of the pups so they could all get more individualized attention for a few days. ALL the pups are happily lapping up puppy formula now -- Hurray! We will be introducing other foods as appropriate as they continue to progress, and reunite the whole litter Sunday night/Monday morning (as my friend has to go back to work then). I feel like the crisis is over; no more distressed whining between meals, just when they are ready for more!

Posted by: WDJ Editor Nancy Kerns | September 21, 2018 5:38 PM    Report this comment

Please, please do not force feed young puppies. Per ASPCA recommendations, "If you are caring for an orphan or the mother is out of the picture, consult with a veterinarian for guidance on the proper way to bottle-feed newborns, as it is easy to cause harm by doing it incorrectly. The babies will need to be fed a commercial canine milk replacer. Be sure to use one specifically formulated for puppies, as cow’s milk and other milk replacer can cause diarrhea."
If you have ever had the misfortune of being tube fed with bolus feedings, it is nothing short of torture. Once the "formula" hits your stomach all at once in this unnatural way, it's not only painful, with severe cramping, but then you experience overwhelming nausea, as if you just at multiple holiday meals. And this is a hospital administered feeding I'm describing. Fortunately, as a human, I was able to demand that they discontinue the tube feeds and find an alternative. I can't imaging what a puppy could suffer from people stuffing rubber tubes down their throats, trying to reach their intestines. You don't even know where the tube is going! Please seek professional veterinary assistance, and don't subject helpless puppies to this danger.

Posted by: BJG | September 21, 2018 3:24 PM    Report this comment

I would strongly recommend tube feeding for at least a week. It's quick, less stressful to the puppies and much cleaner. Here is how you do it:

Tube Feeding

Use 10 cc syringe with tube feeder

Measure rubber tube by holding the feeder end at the tip of the mouth, run it along the jaw, down the neck and to the end of the last rib. Mark that spot with a piece of tape.

Mix a small amount of fresh goat's milk to body temperature and also a small amount of pedialight to body temperature with the microwave. Measure approximately 5 or so cc of each into a sterile container and mix then put 6 cc into the syringe and add the rubber feeder to the end of the syringe.

Place a hand towel on the table and roll up the end so that it makes a “pillow” shape for the puppy's head. Place the puppy on the towel, tummy down and hold the puppy carefully and slide the end of the feeder tube into the puppy's mouth, slowly feeding it down his throat. The tube should slide easily down his throat until it reaches the tape marker. If the puppy gags or chokes, you have accidentally placed it down his lung. Pull it up and start over. You should be able to slide it down the appropriate stomach tube without trouble. Hold the feeder tube in place and push the plunger of the syringe until all of the liquid is in the puppy's stomach. If the milk mixture should come up slightly on his lips, you have not placed the feeder tube in deeply enough. Next time, move the tape so that it slides deeper into the stomach. Check the tube feeder each few days to make sure the measurement keeps up with the puppy's growth.

Tube feeding should be done from 2 to 4 times a day – 50% pedialite / 50% goat's milk. If the puppy is very dehydrated, ask for Lactated Ringer's injections with butterfly needles and inject the puppy with approximately 5 -6 cc of Ringers with each tube feeding. This is very difficult to do by yourself and it is painful to the puppy so they squirm. It should be administered between the shoulder blades subcutaneously.

A puppy is dehydrated if the skin is lifted by your thumbs and it does not quickly return in place. You can also tell how hydrated they are by the lines in their fur. A hydrated puppy has very smooth fur, but it is not a real worry unless you do the skin pulling test.

You can offer puppy cereal in between tube feeding.


Puppies could be crying if they are too cold or too hot.

Whelping Box Temperatures:

1-5 days: 85 – 90 degrees
6-10 days: 80 – 85 degrees
11-23 days: 75 - 80 degrees
End of 4th week- 75 degrees

Feeding food:

Do not attempt to feed until the puppies have a little bit of balance.

When puppies first start eating solids they always experience (some) intestinal cramping until their bowels become used to the change but it does not last for very long.

Start them on goat's milk, a little water, Karo syrup, and baby barley dry cereal. (very light on the cereal) warmed in the microwave. You can increase the dry cereal in the mix to make a paste as they get older. Make sure all of the utensils used have been sterilized. I would not feed hamburger because there is too much of a chance for bacterial poisoning. The reason why they are more susceptible to infections is that they do not have enough protection provided by the mother's milk. I would stick with the cereal mix. After they are eating the cereal with a heavier paste well, start mixing in ground dry puppy food, gradually increasing the concentration of puppy food vs. baby cereal.

Make sure that you clean them with a washcloth after each feeding, just as the mother would, except do not let them get very wet. They can chill easy when their fur is wet.

If any of the puppies seem to have constipation, take a wet cotton ball and rub it around their anus in a circle. Sometimes constipation can cause a puppy to cry. The whelping box bedding should not be lumped up but flattened and tacked down by bricks. Place a little box (filled with alfalfa pellets) in a corner of the box. It should have low level sides so they can climb into it

Posted by: Dakotahes | September 21, 2018 10:13 AM    Report this comment

So many wonderful folks had great ideas! Wishing you the best of luck Nancy!! Those pups are very lucky, too bad the organization can’t take DL information but if they did there’s no telling where pups or kittens would end up😳

Posted by: SlyBrandy | September 20, 2018 7:12 PM    Report this comment

Check out this YouTube video. Awesome tip for feeding nursing puppies: well, external links not allowed so guess I can't help you. Really sorry. I have been there and done that, and know these two things really work.
Also, someone sent me an email about an awesome invention they have for feeding nursing puppies or kittens: Here are some recent Surro-Kitty® videos shared on social media by a Texas animal shelter and a California veterinarian:

You can find the Surro-Kitty® at WholefulPet.com.
External link for this is not allowed either. Guess you are on your own

Hope you can get some rest. Nothing worst than crying babies who are hungry, constipated, and lonesome. Breaks your heart

Posted by: Pennyannie2 | September 20, 2018 6:25 PM    Report this comment

I have worked some with a local rescue and a shelter. It never fails to amaze me of the dedication of the people involved in saving these innocent creatures. Having fostered one adolesent dog that was taken too soon from mom, I have only a hint of what the pups and you are going through. The thought of someone separating them so early disgusts me but you confirm my confidence that there are good people in the world.

Posted by: Jesse14 | September 20, 2018 4:44 PM    Report this comment

tube feed until they are older. Goes faster, less messy, and puppies get full tummies with no air. Otherwise agree wholeheartedly with the beef nipples method. We use extra lean ground beef and they eat it right up! - get it from a butcher shop, though. Supermarket beef will make them sick. supplement with Esbilac as well. In another week or so (when they learn to lap), make a slurry of the meat and Esbilac - they'll eat that right up, too. Best to use a puppy saucer to feed them. If you don't have one, a round cake pan with a bowl turned upside down in the center (to keep them more or less out of it) works well.

Posted by: sararunfast | September 20, 2018 4:12 PM    Report this comment

I was going to ask the same question, if maybe the shelter has a surrogate mommy that recently had pups and might mother these pups. I'm soooooo impressed with everything you do Nancy. You really are giving them the best chance possible at life, thank you for taking the time to care for them.

Posted by: doglover2135 | September 20, 2018 2:53 PM    Report this comment

Please excuse my spelling errors. This darn spell check combined with fat fingers can have disastrously funny results. Forced

Posted by: reddog102723 | September 20, 2018 2:35 PM    Report this comment

I've no experience with this, but wouldn't a surrogate mom dog be able to nurse them?

Posted by: Annimal | September 20, 2018 2:29 PM    Report this comment

Just passing on a trick I learned when hand raising two kittens whose eyes had just opened. The kitty bottle was just useless. With the pups, a drinking straw should work as a hollow force stirred is too small. Put your finger over the top, put the straw in the formula, take your fin get off. The straw will self full as deep as the formula is high. Put your finger back on the straw and insert in the pup 's mouth last it's tongue and release your finger. The formula should go down easily with no mess. A few seagulls and a puppy should be full. It sure beats trying to get them cleaned back up.

Posted by: reddog102723 | September 20, 2018 2:21 PM    Report this comment

Just passing on a trick I learned when hand raising two kittens whose eyes had just opened. The kitty bottle was just useless. With the pups, a drinking straw should work as a hollow force stirred is too small. Put your finger over the top, put the straw in the formula, take your fin get off. The straw will self full as deep as the formula is high. Put your finger back on the straw and insert in the pup 's mouth last it's tongue and release your finger. The formula should go down easily with no mess. A few seagulls and a puppy should be full. It sure beats trying to get them cleaned back up.

Posted by: reddog102723 | September 20, 2018 2:21 PM    Report this comment

You've a very big heart, Nancy. Good luck with the pups who will face a lot of challenges as they mature.

Posted by: TrainedK9 | September 20, 2018 2:10 PM    Report this comment

What a difficult but truly rewarding experience. These babies will have their best chance with a dedicated dog lover like you.
Good luck and remember it won't be like this for long!
And thank you for caring for them.

Posted by: Girlinoregon | September 20, 2018 2:10 PM    Report this comment

Find a surrogate

Posted by: Mommabear | September 20, 2018 1:55 PM    Report this comment

Puppies are more geared to protein rather than all the grains etc in kibble, even soaked. When weaning puppies years ago a long time breeder of bull terriers told me to use ground chuck put through the grinder three times. A butcher can do this easily. Each pup got a walnut sized, about a teaspoon round, of the meat shaped into a 3//8 diameter log. They suck it right in and it stays with them. Bitches milk supplement goes with this. In a couple days they should be sucking that out of the dish. I never had any problem with this. Started them at 3 weeks with a little of the meat. Grew puppies that were strong, healthy and show winners. :) At a couple more days you can go back to soaked puppy kibble.

Posted by: LadyofDoune | September 20, 2018 1:33 PM    Report this comment

Wow! You continue to impress me with your patience and good sense. I fostered puppies once with mom on site and cannot imagine doing it without the mother. In fact, today I share my home with mother and one of her puppies (who is now 12-years-old). Good luck!

Posted by: Peggie | September 20, 2018 1:28 PM    Report this comment

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