A puppy incubator, or puppy box, is useful to help puppies get off to a good start in the first few hours of their lives. Puppies are unable to regulate their own body temperatures in the first few days after birth and need a source of heat. Puppies need to suckle milk from the mother as soon as possible after birth, so leave them with their mother as long as you can. The milk produced by the mother during the first 36 hours after giving birth includes antibodies that help prevent disease.
Newborn puppies need to be kept in a moist environment with a steady temperature close to 95 degrees. In normal situations, the body warmth of the mother provides these needs. In situations where keeping the puppy close to the mother's body is not possible, such as the first puppy in a litter or an orphaned puppy, a puppy incubator may be useful.
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The incubator can be used to maintain the early puppies in a litter while the mother dog continues with the birthing process. The puppy incubator should be kept in the whelping pen so the mother can watch over the puppies in the incubator. In this situation, one side of the incubator should be removed.
Step 1: Decide size of puppy incubator
Line a wooden or cardboard box with Styrofoam insulation. You can build an incubator for dogs out of plywood and nails or glue. The size of the puppies anticipated will determine the size of the puppy incubator. A dog owner whelping Pomeranians, for example, might need a 12-inch by 12-inch by 6- or 8-inch deep box.
Someone whelping Great Danes could use a box twice that size. The box needs to have the capacity to contain the entire litter under the worst conditions. The top of the box and one side should be removable to allow access to the puppies for both the owner and the mother dog.
Step 2: Place heating source in puppy incubator
Next, keep puppies warm with an overhead heat lamp or a controllable heating pad. The Merck Veterinary Manual says that the temperature must be at least 97 degrees F as puppies can't regulate their temperature until four weeks old. Newborn puppy temperatures range from 95 degrees F to 100 degrees F and temperatures below 94 degrees F can be life-threatening, according to the VCA Hospitals.
The Merck Manual recommends using an overhead heat lamp to warm the puppies, which works as long as you position the lamp high enough to not burn them. However, you can also place a controllable heating pad in the box wrapped in a towel. You also need to provide a section of the puppy incubator that's not covered by the heating lamp or pad so that puppies can move away if they're feeling excessively warm.
Monitor a thermometer placed in the box to maintain the proper temperatures. Don't place carpet in your puppy incubator, as it is hard to remove, clean, and disinfect for future uses.
Step 3: Maintain humidity in puppy incubator
Place a warm, wet washcloth in the box. The humidity created by the wet washcloth inside the box is important. Because the skin of newborn puppies is not fully developed, their skin can dehydrate quickly. The ideal relative humidity for the incubator is 65 percent, though a relative humidity of 85 to 90 percent is best for small and weak puppies.
Remove the wet washcloth when it cools. Alternatively, you can use a humidifier to maintain proper humidity. Place a humidity gauge in the box and monitor it closely while the puppies are in the box.