Neonatal puppies are so fragile; they can quickly take a bad turn. Keep a close eye on him and call your vet immediately when you first notice trouble.
Hold a weigh-in each morning. His weight should increase a little each day. It should never decrease.
Take proactive steps to keep your puppy (and your own pets) healthy. Puppies are have no immunity and are extremely vulnerable to communicable diseases like parvo and distemper. Don’t let him come in contact with your other pets unless they’re vaccinated and healthy. And always wash your hands before and after handling him.
When the puppy reaches three weeks, take him to the vet and discuss vaccinations and worming. Because he no longer benefits from his mother’s immunity, it’s vital he receive his shots as soon as possible. It’s recommended that orphan puppies receive their first core vaccinations (for distemper, adenovirus-2 (hepatitis), parvovirus, and parainfluenza) at four to six weeks of age. He should get a booster every two weeks until he reaches 18 weeks.
Signs that your puppy could be in trouble:
- Body temperature over 103°F or under 99°F
- Constant crying
- Decreased appetite
- Repeated vomiting
- Continuous diarrhea
- Losing weight or failing to gain weight
- Pale gums
Some of the most common health problems your puppy faces include:
Diarrhea is catchall name for runny or watery poop. It can be caused by parasites, bacteria (or lack of beneficial bacteria), viruses (among them parvo or distemper), change in food (changed formula, formula too concentrated), stress, or overfeeding. If he’s experiencing a mild case of diarrhea but acts happy and alert, try adding more water to the formula or cut back on the amount you feed him. For repeated bouts of diarrhea, or poo containing blood or parasites, contact your vet. Don’t put off making that call.
Vomiting could be caused by eating too fast. If the puppy throws up more than two or three times in a couple of hours, contact your vet. This can lead to dehydration. It could also be a symptom of a number of serious issues.
Watery stools, repeated vomiting or a too-warm environment can dehydrate a puppy, which can quickly turn fatal. You can tell if a puppy is dehydrated by pulling up his skin over the back of his neck. If the skin springs back into place, he’s well hydrated.
Signs that he is dehydrated:
- His skin that stays tented or returns slowly
- His pee appears dark yellow, orange or brown (rather than light yellow)
- His pee feels thick
- His mouth and gums feel sticky or gummy, not moist
If he’s mildly dehydrated, you can give him hourly doses of an unflavored commercial electrolyte drink (Pedialyte) or add more water to his formula. For more severe cases, your vet may give him fluids under the skin, and address the underlying cause. As with so many other health issues among orphan puppies, don’t put this off. Dehydration is another killer.
Occasionally puppies who appear healthy at birth will fail to thrive after a week or two. For no apparent reason, they not only stop growing, but stop nursing, and start to lose weight. He becomes weak and chilled. The mother may nudge him away from the nest. He soon fades and dies. Like the multiple causes for diarrhea, there are any number of causes for fading puppy: birth defects, diseases, or stress in the environment. Sometimes with veterinary intervention (tube feeding, fluids and/or antibiotics), these puppies can survive. Sadly, most of these little guys can’t be saved.
If you found him outside or his mother lives in the yard, the puppy may be sporting a healthy crop of fleas. While fleas only measure 2mm, and individually only consume a small drop of blood, collectively an infestation in a young puppy can cause potentially fatal anemia. Fleas will also give your puppy tapeworms. So your puppy is attacked from outside and from within.
Only use flea treatments labeled safe for the age and size of your puppy. You can safely remove fleas from puppies younger than eight weeks by combing them thoroughly with a very fine-tooth flea comb.
It can be difficult to see the little crawlies if the pup has a dark coat, but just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not feasting on his blood. Give your puppy a bath with a puppy shampoo. Once you’ve eyeballed the fleas against the suds, pull them out using the flea comb.
Dusty Rainbolt is the award-winning author of Cat Wrangling Made Easy: Maintaining Peace and Sanity in Your Multicat Home, Kittens For Dummies and Ghost Cats: Human Encounters with Feline Spirits. Dusty writes the award-winning monthly feline advice columns, "Dear Hobbes" for City + Country Pets and “Ask Einstein” at www.stickypaws.com. In her real job, Dusty is the product editor and reviewer for Catnip published by Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. She also freelances for Cat Fancy and other print and online publications Over her cat writing career she has won 11 Muse Medallions for Excellence from the Cat Writers' Association, as well as 23 special awards. Dusty’s been involved in cat rescue for longer than she cares to remember, rescuing, fostering and rehoming over 600 cats and kittens including over 350 bottle babies. She’s a feline cat behavior consultant and member of International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
Visit her website: www.dustyrainbolt.com.