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Breeding, Facility Management, Nutrition, Puppy and Kitten Care

When Puppies and Kittens Need Milk Replacer

August 11, 2022

When Puppies and Kittens Need Milk Replacer

Last updated: June 13, 2022 by Dr. Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and the Revival Education Team

In a perfect world, we can manage female dogs and cats to produce milk and eliminate the need for milk replacer. However, this is not always possible, especially when other challenges cause disruptions:

  • Moms may not be able to keep up with the demand of a large litter
  • Mom’s milk may not have come in due to C-sections complications
  • Mastitis and the treatments can render the milk supply as not useable
  • Orphan newborns pose an even bigger challenge to provide complete nutrition during the important growth and mental development stages

Some people try using raw goat’s milk rather than puppy formula. However, raw goat’s milk does not provide the protein or fat content puppies and kittens need to grow. Also, raw goat’s milk can carry the risk of bacterial disease, which can lead to a catastrophic infection if introduced to a neonate who lacks a competent immune system. Commercial milk replacers like Breeder’s Edge® Foster Care GM™ and Breeder’s Edge® Foster Care™ provide complete nutrition to growing newborns without causing nutritional diarrhea.

Puppy and Kitten Bottle Feeding

Bottle-feeding the litter one or more times a day until mom comes into her milk is another management tool. By doing this, the puppies or kittens do not have to contend with the flush of milk at two weeks, which gives them a loose stool. When once-a-day feeding is used, their system is processing maximum calories from birth, and they achieve a more even growth curve. This also helps in decreasing losses. Losses at 48 hours to one week are usually caused by malnutrition and do not have to happen.

How to Make Sure All Puppies are Nursing

The chance of having malnourished puppies are reduced when proper puppy rotation techniques are used. Some larger puppies linger even when they are not nursing. Removing the larger newborns from the whelping box will give your smaller babies their choice of nipples and gives them some extra nursing time when catching up is needed. People often hand-feed the small puppy but the small puppy needs mom’s milk. Mom’s milk is the perfect food for a puppy.

When removing larger newborns from the birthing area ensure that they are kept warm. Place them in a box on a heating pad or with a hot water bottle. They will be content with the warmth and the smaller newborns will benefit from getting their nutrition from mom. This works well in kittens too. You can consider dividing the litter into two or three groups, marking them by color. Put the little pups on to nurse first, then the mid-sized pups, leaving the larger or fastest gaining pups to be in the third group. By doing this, the pups who are growing the slowest have a better chance to gain.

You may have to take the tiny newborn and gently rub their face sideways on the nipple to get them to attach. If the puppy is slow, we recommend giving a few drops of Doc Roy’s® Forti Cal and get them on a nipple. The sugar surge gets them drinking and the liquid is easy to swallow. Be sure the small puppy is getting milk and his tummy is full before returning the larger litter mates to mom. In a few days, you will notice the difference in how quickly everyone is getting to be the same size. No need to supplement the larger newborns if mom has plenty of milk, just pull them to let the smaller newborns nurse.

Feeding Orphaned Puppies and Kittens

Orphans need a colostrum substitute like Breeder’s Edge® Nurture Mate in the first few hours to replace the colostrum protection mom would give. Puppies are born with a sterile gut. Mom seeds the puppy’s gut with good bacteria while cleaning them. After 48 hours of life, an orphan pup needs good bacteria. The solution is to feed a probiotic. Breeder’s Edge®Foster Care™ milk replacers have Biomos™ a prebiotic and probiotics to support healthy digestion. It also contains IgY to support the maternal immunity that they don’t get as an orphan.

A Foster Dog Mom Can Help

If necessary, you can help orphans survive by fostering them on a nursing mom. Most foster dog and cat moms are amazing in their ability to know when a baby needs to be mothered and will take them without incident. Be sure to monitor the situation when allowing a foster dog mom to take over care of orphans to ensure that no harm will come to the newborns.

How to Stimulate a Puppy to Poop

In the first weeks mom has a big job, feeding and cleaning are her biggest responsibilities. With orphan puppies that responsibility lays with you to make sure newborns are urinating and defecating. Dampening a cotton ball with baby oil or using a baby wipe will keep the area from getting sore and rashy making the newborn more comfortable during this time. Sore bottoms are common in bottle-raised kittens or puppies.

I hope you never need to bottle-feed orphans, but if you do, a little precaution can make your effort successful!

If you have more questions on puppy formula, call us at 800.786.4751.

-Dr. Bramlage
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health

Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.