It’s the stuff of gripping novels. You’re walking along a quiet street, minding your own business, when you look down and see a box poking out of a back alley. Upon further inspection, you see that it’s a box of puppies. Orphaned puppies. Adorable ones, at that. You might be tempted to put them all in your coat and take them home with you, but that might not be the best course of action. Not immediately, anyway.
Caring for puppies is a full time job for the first several weeks, at least, and should not be entered into lightly. Of course, in a situation like this, where planning is impossible, it might be a good idea to enlist the help of a local vet or a pet rescue organization. If you choose to take on the responsibility, there are a few things you should know.
First of all, try to assess their age. If their eyes aren’t open, they’re probably less than two weeks old. If this is the case, they’ll need to be kept warm. If possible, take them home in the box you found them in. They’re familiar with it, and it may provide a sense of comfort. Place a heating pad set on “low” on the floor of the box. Place a towel over the pad. Only allow the heating pad to take up a portion of the box, so the puppies can move away from the heat if necessary. It’s important to keep the puppies in a warm box, in a warm room. You’ll also find that the younger they are, the more they’ll sleep. Newborn puppies may sleep up to 90% of the time. They may even sleep on top of each other for warmth.
In the beginning, they’ll need to be fed every two to three hours. If they’re very tiny, you may need to bottle feed them. You can find puppy formula, along with small bottles and nipples, at your local pet store. Try to feed the puppies in the position that best matches the ones they’d be in if they were nursing from their mother. Don’t bottle feed a puppy while it’s on its back. The formula can get into its lungs. After feeding, you’ll need to stimulate each dog to help them urinate or defecate. This is done by taking a wetting a paper towel or cotton ball with warm water, squeezing it out, and gently stroking the dog’s genitals and anal area in a manner that simulates how their mother would groom them with her tongue. This relaxes them and makes them produce waste.
They’ll open their eyes at around two weeks, and begin to stand and play with their littermates at week three. It’s around this time that you can increase interaction with them, to help socialize them, and get them used to human contact. Be very careful with them, as they can easily wriggle out of your grasp. For this reason, children should be supervised very closely while handling puppies.
As they grow, they’ll need to be fed formula less often. By weeks two and three, they may be eating every three to four hours, and by week four, every four hours. At this point, you can slowly introduce solid food into their diet. Without a mom to show them, you’ll be responsible for teaching the orphaned puppies how to eat. Take a small amount of canned food, and mix it with a little warm water, to form a “puppy mush.” Place it on a saucer and put a dog in front of it. If it eats, it’s likely that the other puppies will follow. If it doesn’t, put a little food on your finger and encourage the puppy to lick it off. It may take the dog time to get used to this new concept, but be patient and be consistent, and soon the dogs will be eating on their own.
By this time, you can also start potty training them. Use newspapers to help them identify where the “safe” areas are, and praise them lavishly when they do go potty in the proper location. Be sure to bring them to the area after feeding and naps. These are the times that they’re most likely to need to eliminate. They’ll catch on before long. If you put the newspapers in a small area with the puppies, and there is not a lot of room for them to move around, they’ll be more likely to learn the rules, as they won’t want to lie in their own waste.
By week five, their “mush” can be thickened as you prepare to wean them off this food and onto dry food or other puppy food. At this time, they’re also exploring more. By now, one puppy has probably found his way out of the box. As soon as one does, the rest will too. A small enclosed area is ideal for them to roam, yet not go too far.
Weeks six and seven bring more exploring, more eating and more growing. At week eight, the puppies can leave the nest and move into loving homes.
Caring for orphaned puppies can seem overwhelming at times, but it’s also extremely rewarding. They’d have certainly not made it if it weren’t for your quick intervention. And seeing those wriggling little bodies and sweet faces somehow makes up for all the trouble. As much work as it’s been, it’s bittersweet when the time comes to find them loving homes. You might realize you’d do it all over again.