How to Take Care of a 3-Week-Old Puppy

Having a new litter of puppies in your home is an exciting event. Not only are puppies plenty entertaining to watch, but they also grow up and develop their own personalities incredibly quickly. In most cases, their mother instinctively cares for them, but sometimes you may need to step in if the puppies are orphaned or rejected by their mother. When it comes to caring for 3-week-old puppies, you'll no doubt have your hands full, but it's also a job that an attentive dog owner can absolutely handle.

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Head to the vet

Your vet should be your ally when you're caring for young puppies, so if you haven't done so already, take the puppies to the vet for a checkup. Your vet can provide you with recommendations for a customized feeding schedule based on the puppies' needs and can also make sure that the puppies are healthy and don't have any underlying issues.

Because puppies often have intestinal parasites or worms, your vet may decide to test a stool sample when the puppies are 2 or 3 weeks old. Some vets decide to deworm puppies without running a stool sample, because it's possible to get a false negative from the test. Treating your puppies for worms can help to ensure their health and give them a good start.

Provide warmth

Without their mother to help keep them warm, the puppies will rely on you to furnish them with a warm, safe space. You can keep them in a whelping box with some soft blankets, but you'll need to provide supplemental heat to help them regulate their body temperature. When the puppies are 10 days old, they should be in an environment that's kept at 80 degrees Fahrenheit. You can gradually decrease the temperature to 72 degrees Fahrenheit when the puppies reach 4 weeks old.

When you keep the puppies in a large box, you have the ability to drape a blanket over the box to help the puppies feel secure. Situating the box in one room means that you can heat and monitor just that room, rather than your whole house. It's a good idea to put a thermometer in the room, rather than just relying on the accuracy of your home's thermostat. Check on the puppies regularly and always verify that the room is at the correct temperature.

Follow feeding schedules

Perhaps the most demanding aspect of caring for 3-week-old puppies? It's keeping up with their frequent feeding schedule. Your puppies will still need commercial milk replacer when they turn 3 weeks old. Only feed puppies a milk replacer that's formulated for dogs, since other products, such as cow's milk, can upset their stomachs. You can feed the puppies with a bottle or a needleless syringe, and your vet can provide you with specific details regarding feeding frequency and amount based on your puppies' breed, size, and age.

As the puppies get closer to the 4-week mark, you can start to transition them to solid food. Plan on providing the puppies with small amounts of solid food four times per day. Ask your vet for a recommendation for quality puppy food and gradually introduce the solid food. Soften the food with a mixture of milk replacer and warm water; then blend or mash it till it resembles thin oatmeal. Spoon some additional milk replacer over the food if needed to get the puppies interested and monitor them closely to make sure they don't eat too quickly or choke. Don't force the matter if the puppies don't eat the solid food right away. Instead, offer the food again in a few days.

You can also introduce the puppies to drinking water at this point. Offer water in a shallow bowl. You may need to put some water on your hand to catch the puppies' interest at first.

Monitor elimination

What goes in must come out, but young puppies aren't able to urinate or defecate on their own. Their mother typically stimulates them with her tongue, helping them to relieve themselves. Without the mother present, you'll need to assume these duties. But you can use a washcloth instead of your tongue!

After you've fed the puppies, dip a washcloth in some warm water. Then gently massage the anal and urinary areas of each puppy. If you've never done this before, have your vet show you how. Puppies start to gain control of their own elimination when they're about 3 or 4 weeks old. So don't worry — you won't have to do this task for too long.

Ask for help

If you suspect that your puppies aren't doing well, take them to the vet right away. Young puppies can get seriously ill very quickly, so if you notice symptoms like lack of weight gain, vomiting, diarrhea, constant crying, or anything else that concerns you, play it safe and go to the vet.