Guide to Caring for Your Newborn Foster Puppy

Two newborn puppies being bottle-fed by hand

If you’ve ever considered fostering newborn puppies, this guide will give you details about how to care for newborn puppies during the most formative weeks of their life. A puppy’s growth and development are exponential at this young age, and their care at this stage is very involved. You might be wondering about nutrition topics, such as what to feed newborn puppies without a mother or how to provide basic medical care. It’s no doubt a very taxing but rewarding exercise to help orphan puppies. If you decide to raise your hand and foster newborn puppies, these tips will help ensure they’re in good, capable hands.

Problems Associated With Orphaned Puppies

A litter of orphaned puppies could come into your care for any number of reasons associated with the mother. The mother may be deceased or unable to produce milk. Some mothers may be in a situation where they refuse or are unable to provide adequate care for their pups. Without a mother to provide this critical care, a newborn puppy foster parent will assume many of their duties, such as developing a newborn puppy’s feeding schedule.

It's important to bear in mind that puppies need warmth, and ideally, a nesting box/area. Puppies (especially the young ones) need social contact and will spend a lot of their time physically touching siblings in the absence of their mother. If you’re only fostering a single puppy, provide a soft blanket or stuffed animal for warmth. Another option for a single puppy is to pair them with a social surrogate – another pet that can assist with socializing in the absence of the mother or siblings. This social surrogate should always be supervised while in the puppy’s presence for safety reasons.

Oftentimes, orphaned puppies can develop health symptoms, including, but not limited to:

  • Excessive crying
  • Poor appetite
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle twitching
  • Convulsions

Any of these symptoms can be attributed to larger health concerns or issues with husbandry and care. The shelter or rescue you’ve partnered with for fostering should give you plenty of guidance on how to get the puppies back on track. Much of it depends on the environment and habits you create to help them recover at this critical stage.

At this young age, monitoring how much to feed a puppy by weight is important, too. Puppies need to double their weight within the first 8 to 10 days of life. They should neither lose weight nor fail to gain weight for more than one day. If a puppy isn’t meeting this weight increase, consult the shelter or rescue. Their on-staff veterinary team should be able to assist.

What to Feed Your Newborn Foster Puppy Without a Mother

When feeding orphaned puppies, a puppy milk replacer may provide sufficient water with the recommended dilution. A milk replacer for puppies is also recommended because it provides the nutrients that would normally be found in mother’s milk. Check the label to ensure the nutrients include crude protein, fat and lactose. 

You may also be wondering, “Can puppies drink regular milk?” No, it’s best to feed a puppy milk replacer. They should not be fed cow’s or goat’s milk or a homemade mix. A commercial milk replacer is a better guarantee that the puppies will get the nutrients their bodies need.

How Often Should You Feed Your Foster Puppy?

If you’re wondering, “How often do newborn puppies eat?”, milk for a puppy less than two weeks of age should be fed every two to three hours. If the puppy is older than two weeks, they should be fed four to five meals per day.

Newborn Puppy Feeding Schedule

Caring for puppies from birth to eight weeks involves close monitoring of how much they’re eating. To learn just how often you should feed a newborn puppy, the feeding chart below will help you identify when and how often to adjust the feeding schedule as the puppy ages.



0-2 weeksEvery 2-3 hours
2-4 weeks4-5 meals per day
~4 weeks (postweaning)3-4 meals per day

How Much Should You Feed Your Foster Puppy by Weight?

Refer to the feeding guidelines on the commercial milk replacers. They should detail the total daily volume to be fed per day.

The milk replacer can be administered with a pet nursing bottle, but note that the milk should be sucked from the bottle – not squeezed. Be mindful of any signs of overfeeding a newborn puppy. In most cases, the puppy will know to reject the bottle when they feel full, so you’ll know when to take the bottle away.

Temperature is also an important consideration when feeding a newborn puppy. Warm the milk replacer if you can, and feed it through the pet nursing bottle. The temperature of the milk should be warm, not hot. A temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius is appropriate.

Newborn Puppy Care Week by Week

Your commitment to orphaned puppy care during their first eight weeks of life is vital to their survival. Beyond their feeding schedule, you’ll also want to ensure you’re paying attention to other aspects of growth and development, such as weight and socialization. Below is another helpful guide to monitor the puppies’ health and well-being week by week.


Forms of Care

1 week
  • Focus on feeding and hydrating
  • Give them a thorough look-over to ensure each puppy has formed facial features, a clean and straight spine, etc.
  • Monitor body weight daily
  • Keep them warm
  • Keep environment clean and sanitary
  • Stimulate to urinate and defecate with a warm cloth after feeding
2 weeks
  • Continue to focus on feeding and keeping hydrated
  • Continue keeping the environment clean and sanitary
  • Start turning the heat down as puppies are starting to regulate their own body temperature
  • Continue weighing daily
  • Continue to stimulate to urinate and defecate after feeding
3-4 weeks
  • Continue weighing
  • Lower the heat
  • Start offering water in a shallow dish
  • Puppies will start to urinate and defecate on their own during week 3
  • You may start to introduce soft puppy foods to begin the weaning process
  • Monitor behavior and socialization with siblings
5-8 weeks
  • Puppies can be weaned from bottle feeding by week 5. You can provide a specific puppy formula (dry or canned). Puppies 6 weeks of age are able to eat dry food. 
  • Typically, puppies do not require external heat, as they are able to regulate their body temperature
  • Monitor socialization


Basic Medical Care for Newborn Puppies

Always keep a watchful eye on the litter to ensure they’re not developing health concerns. Once the puppies get to three weeks of age and can be handled regularly, look them over for signs of lethargy or lack of appetite. Note that if the puppies are orphaned, then they are ready to be handled regularly. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, puppy medical care is best handled by a professional. Consult a veterinarian or the shelter or rescue that’s sponsoring your foster care.

It's also important to know that around four weeks of age, puppies should be taken to a veterinarian for an exam and evaluation. At this age, they should also receive their first deworming. The veterinarian can also discuss nutrition and make recommendations on when to come back for further deworming and vaccination. Orphaned puppies can be examined earlier to review their care, body weight, and general health.

Socializing Orphaned Puppies

At three weeks of age, you’ll want to begin handling the puppies. Orphaned puppies should already be handled for basic care at this point. Not only does this help them get used to being picked up, it also helps with socializing puppies, allowing them to develop a comfort level with human interaction. In the coming weeks, you’ll want to introduce new textures, such as flooring. Experiment on soft textures, like the carpet, or hard surfaces, like wood or tile floors, but be sure to only experiment in environments where you can create safe and positive experiences.

As they progress, and once they’ve received their vaccinations, take them outside to the grass. Let them interact with other people – children, adults and seniors. Any interaction with children should be supervised. If they are exposed to other dogs, ensure the other dogs are fully vaccinated. Provide opportunities for them to encounter all different types of people of varying ages and ethnicities. This kind of exposure will help socialize them into the world which will soon be their playground. Each of these experiences should be a positive social interaction. 

Taking care of orphaned puppies is no easy task, but once you’ve learned how to foster puppies and see them thrive when they reach the six-to-eight week mark, it is pure joy and delight. Remember to take some pride in the fact that you helped them survive from the time they were newly born puppies so that they can one day bring as much joy to a family as they have for you.

Learn more about fostering puppies and kittens with Petfinder.