My Newborn Puppy Won't Bottle Feed

By Rob Harris

Newborn puppies rely solely on their mother to sustain their lives through her body heat and milk. But if you're raising an orphaned or rejected pup, it's up to you to feed and care for them. Bottle-feeding a newborn puppy is the most common method, but if your pup can't or won't nurse from a bottle, a feeding syringe might help you save his life.

What to Use

When your puppy refuses a bottle or has trouble nursing from one, manually feed him by squirting food into his mouth with a hand-feeding syringe—one without a needle of course, just a narrow opening at the end. Pick syringes clearly marked with milliliter lines along the side. Disposable syringes are best; use one per day, washing it thoroughly between feedings, then throw it away after 24 hours and grab a new one for the next day. Newborn puppies need special formula called a canine milk replacer, so ask your vet for the right formulation.

How Much to Feed

The amount of food your puppy needs at each feeding depends mostly on his weight, but ask your vet for the ideal amount. It's better to underfeed slightly rather than overfeed: too much milk replacer can cause a puppy to aspirate the fluid into her lungs. According to the website of Texas veterinarian Dr. Ron Hines, average newborn puppies need about 15 to 20 milliliters of food each day for every 3 1/2 ounces of body weight. If your puppy weighs 14 ounces, he'll need about 60 to 80 milliliters of milk replacer per day. Break the total into equal amounts for each feeding.

How to Feed

It might feel natural to turn a puppy onto his back and cuddle him like a newborn baby during feeding time, but this is an unnatural position for a dog. Puppies lie on their bellies to nurse from their mother, so they need a similar position when you're feeding them. Wrap the puppy you're about to feed in a warm towel; he can't maintain his body temperature yet, so you must keep him warm at all times. Place him on his stomach on a table—under constant supervision so he doesn't crawl off—or hold him in one arm with his stomach facing down. Press the syringe in the corner of his mouth and squirt in a small amount. Don't squirt it directly down his throat; this can cause him to aspirate some into his lungs. Squirting it in his mouth allows him to swallow naturally, and saves him the trouble of having to suck the liquid out of a bottle. Continue squirting small amounts, waiting a few seconds in between so the puppy has time to swallow. At first he'll need to eat about every two hours, even during the night, but the time between feedings increases as he gets older. By the time he's 3 weeks old, he's likely to need only four feedings per day, and he might accept a bottle by then. By 4 weeks, start giving him small amounts of solid food to help him transition from nursing to eating.

Puppy Potty Breaks

When the mom isn't caring for a newborn puppy, part of feeding time must be helping the puppy eliminate. Mother dogs lick the crotches of their puppies to stimulate urination and defecation immediately after the puppies nurse, then lick again to clean the areas. When you're feeding your puppy with a syringe, he can't relieve himself without your help. Use a warm, damp washcloth or cotton ball and rub the puppy where he eliminates until you see urine and feces appear. Then clean him up with the same damp washcloth or cotton ball. The puppy might not need to poop after every feeding, but he should always urinate.

By Rob Harris


About the Author
While studying journalism in the Army and at the University of Missouri, Rob Harris developed a lifelong love of physical fitness and nutrition, contributing often to a dairy industry newsletter. He has also worked with and created blogs for several family businesses including a professional dog kennel and a flower shop, where he used his experience as an avid gardener to grow plants for sale.