The care and feeding of orphaned puppies and kittens (Proceedings)


The care and feeding of orphaned puppies and kittens (Proceedings)

May 01, 2011

The goal of orphan puppy and kitten care is to maximize their health, well being, and socialization until they can be placed on a foster mother or adopted. The needs of the healthy young are very simple, water, nutrition and the proper environment. Obviously these husbandry issues are more critical in the newborn and the sick than the healthy 8 week old.

Thermoregulation is problematic especially in the neonate. Until about 8 weeks old, chilling is always a major threat to the survival of the puppy or kitten. In the neonate, the shivering reflex and peripheral vasoconstriction response are not fully developed until at least 1 week. Their relatively large surface area, plus the lack of insulating fat, promotes rapid heat loss by conduction, convection, radiation, and evaporation. The vulnerable young must rely on warmth of the dam and litter and environment to maintain an adequate body temperature. Hypothermia is a common cause of death in the newborn and is part of a viscous down spiraling cascade of events. As the rectal temperature reaches below 94° F the neonate suckling becomes weak and ineffectual. The intestines become hypomotile and the heart rate increases. Below 85° F there is gastrointestinal stasis with bacterium, a decrease in heart rate and hypoglycemia. Once below 70° F, the neonate is motionless and appears appear dead. An occasional chest wall movement may be seen, but the heart rate is 40-60 b/min and is non-palpable. Environmental temperature can be critical as a healthy newborn can only maintain a body temperature 12°F > than that of the surrounding environment. Therefore the "nesting box" temperature must be maintained at a specific minimum temperature based on the age of the youngster.

Weight gain is a good indicator of puppy or kittens health status, but requires a small accurate digital scale. Reported adequate weight gain during the neonatal period include; nursing puppies should double their weight in 10 days; the puppies should gain 5-10% / day; and puppies should gain 2 Gms/Kg of the expected adult weight/day. Nursing kittens should also double their weight in 10 days; normal kittens should gain 10 - 15 Gms / day; and the kittens should weigh 1 pound/month for the first 4 months. Formula fed neonates grow at significantly slower rate despite the identical caloric intake doubling their weight only in 14 days.

Successful hand-feeding of orphans requires knowledge and skill of the feeding process. Formula feeding neonates requires several critical decision such as selection of the milk replacement; selection of the feeding method; calculations of the volume per feeding; plus dedication/stamina. To assure the adequate growth and health of pups and kittens, a commercial replacement formula should be used to best meets their nutritional requirements. Some "home-made" formulas are "amino acid deficient" and can result in cataract formation. Fortunately this change is usually reversible, but not always. The selected formula should be species specific not the "uni-species" variety. While most formulas are available in both a canned and powder forms, I prefer the powdered formula for both economy and shelf-life. A can of powdered formula even if opened will keep long term (3-4 months) in the freezer. Opened canned formula must be refrigerated and should be kept longer than 72. Storing canned formula in a glass container will decrease the "gummy" formations that often plug the nipple hole. The volume of milk fed should be calculated exactly based on the labeled instructions to avoid potential problems. For very short-term applications, the following "emergency" formula will be adequate for both species;
4 oz. whole cow's milk, 4 oz. water, 2 egg yolks, 1 tsp. vegetable oil, and 2 Tums©.

Both the emergency and most commercial puppy or kitten replacement formulas contain approximately 1.2 kcal/ml, which is the same caloric density as most commercial formulas. Using this figure, the following are "rules of thumb" feeding volume calculations:
  • Week 1     60 mls of formula / pound of body weight
  • Week 2     70 mls of formula / pound of body weight
  • Week 3     85 mls of formula / pound of body weight
  • Week 4     100 mls of formula / pound of body weight

This daily volume is divided into 5 equal feedings for the first week, then 3-4 feedings for weeks 2 through weaning. The premature pups, weak pups, immature, or most toy breeds will require more frequent feedings. It is very important that you recommend diluting the formula by adding

25 – 50% more water for the first 2 days. This adjustment will minimize the diarrhea commonly associated with dietary changes or the client's temptation to overfeed. Symptoms of overfeeding include bloating, colic and/or green to yellow watery stools. If nutritional diarrhea does occur, dilute the formula by adding 25% more water for a few more of days.


When feeding formula always follow the manufacturer's label directions, mix up each time or no more than a 48 hour supply, keep it refrigerated in a covered glass container, and keep all feeding equipment scrupulously clean and disinfected.

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