Puppies are born with the instinctive need to seek out their dam, to find a nipple and nurse. This instinct ensures that they remain warm and that they drink colostrum. Puppies who fail to nurse shortly after birth may need assistance nursing so that they receive the benefits of this early breast milk. Puppies should nurse approximately every two hours for their first two weeks of life.
Instinct at Work
The puppies' dam will help them out of their placentas and clean them for their first several minutes of life. Immediately after their mother is done cleaning them, most puppies instinctively will seek out a nipple from which to nurse. Some puppies will be slow to seek out a nipple and can be guided gently toward one if necessary; as long as they are not vocalizing loudly and appear hydrated it is all right to let these puppies find the nipples on their own. Puppies should nurse every two hours after birth. If they do not do so, bring them and their dam to the veterinarian to determine what might be wrong.
Colostrum and Passive Immunity
Newborn puppies do not have immunity to any diseases. The first breast milk that their mother produces is called colostrum, a thin, translucent liquid full of whatever antibodies she possesses. Drinking this colostrum will provide the puppies with passive immunity; that is, temporary immunity to the diseases the dam has been vaccinated against or for which she has developed natural immunity through recovery from them. However, puppies must consume this colostrum during their first 12 to 24 hours of life. After this period, puppies' bodies can no longer absorb their dam's antibodies through the colostrum and it loses its beneficial effect.