Tips For Caring for Newborn Animals

I was 13 when I bottle fed my first kittens. These little ones were abandoned and my mother found them while camping.
I was 13 when I bottle fed my first kittens. These little ones were abandoned and my mother found them while camping.

Many people do not seem to realize how hard it is for mom dogs to have babies. Tiny dogs and ones with flat faces (Frenchies, English Bulldogs, etc.) oftentimes require C-sections to safely deliver puppies.  If you have a large breed dog that only delivers a few puppies, there is a good chance that there are many still in there (which will cause her to go septic and die).  Chances for infection is increased in dogs in heat or those who have delivered and pyometra is fatal if not treated. This is a concern especially if they are not kept in a clean area. Lastly, many mom dogs will suffer a prolapsed uterus (where the uterus actually comes out of the dog’s vagina).  Without medical intervention these dogs will die, and needless to say, I have cared for puppies whose moms have died from all of these conditions. Usually with kittens, people find them and then take them (not realizing that their moms almost always come back for them) which puts the babies in grave danger.

So we take in lot of orphaned and abandoned animals and they are not easy to care for. Many people might take kittens from a mom, not knowing how to take care of them, or think whelping puppies are easy.  Needless to say, most of the people who attempt to do this on their own, often end up unintentionally killing the animals.  Some try to care for them while looking for rescues and still do more harm than good.  So here are some tips for you if you ever come across abandoned kittens or puppies.

And always, if you are in the Sacramento area and find animals such as these, please call us at (916) 668-0364 and leave a message. We may be able to help talk you through it, or take the animals in.

This is Layla, her mom died  about a week after giving birth (infected uterus and bled out in the backyard) and her owner would not relinquish all of the puppies. She kept 5 to sell and then later called again when one was dying and Layla here was having seizures. Instead of bottle feeding, which is extremely time consuming, she just put down a plate of formula. The babies were starving and wet. Layla here got better and then died 7 weeks later when her heart gave out. Her liver and other organs did not properly form because of her malnutrition and not being kept warm. They were the same size at 1 month as when we got the littermates at 16 days.  Luckily, out of the 13 babies, we were able to save 6 of them. Layla was one of my favorite babies and her quick death was a huge blow to me. This is why people need to be aware of the work that is needed to properly care for these animals.

When newborns get cold, their organs begin to shut down.  If they are too cold for too long there is damage done that cannot be undone.  So put the babies on a heating pad on low, or close to your skin. The trick is they cannot get too hot either. If they are too warm it can cause dehydration and constipation and too hot can cause heat stroke, so be aware of them. If they seem like they are too hot, put another layer of blanket between the pad and them (I usually have at least a washable bed pad and oftentimes that and a blanket). Also they go to the bathroom a lot, so I would suggest keeping them in a cardboard box, or I have a storage container I keep them in and then I can clean it out.

All tucked into their storage bin with a heating pad, washable puppy pad, and fleece blankets.










And no it is not because they will multiply (unless you have baby gremlins). This one I see all the time! Even human babies are not dunked in a bathtub, and I promise you have never seen a cat or dog submerse their baby in water either.  This mainly goes back to the first part, a cold baby is a dead baby.  If you really need to bathe them (infested in fleas which can be deadly), please contact us and ask us how.

Pasteurized cow milk isn’t good enough for human babies and it is not good enough for dogs or cats either.  The better formulas can be found at pet and feed stores, however, even Walmart sells a cheap formula (which I avoid).  Goat milk is always a good replacement, especially if you can get it raw (we know a place in Galt to get it), but you can get it in cartons at most health food stores (co-op, whole foods etc.) or canned goat’s milk can be found in most grocery stores (including the baking dept at Walmart).  Goat’s milk has a higher level of colostrum which babies needs. Here is the recipe that I used when feeding my first 2 litters of puppies and it worked well.

    • 10 oz. of canned evaporated milk OR whole goat’s milk
    • 3 oz. sterilized water (baby water OR boiled water that is then cooled). This is NOT needed if using whole goat’s milk.
    • 1 raw egg yolk.
    • 1 cup of full fat yogurt (you can even find goat yogurt).
    • 1/2 Tsp Karo Syrup or Corn Syrup

You CANNOT feed a baby animal on it’s back like a human baby.  They feed on their stomachs naturally and need to do the same with the bottle. If you feed them on the back they will often breathe milk into their lungs and get aspiration pneumonia.

For kittens, you can get bottles even at Walmart that are small.  For puppies, I prefer the human bottles. I use Playtex Drop-ins as they are easier to fill and the nipple is more shaped like a dog nipple.  The playtex bottles have different nipples (slow/medium/fast) and I usually get the fast or else I have to cut them.  The small animal bottles require you to cut the nipples, always start smaller and you can add to it. Basically if you hold it over and it slowly drips that is right.

You want to make sure the nipple is cut correctly or else they will drink too fast, oftentimes shooting it out their nose. Again this is dangerous as it can lead to aspiration pneumonia.

How much to feed? I let the babies eat as often and much as they want.  Newborns eat every 2 hours (so the process never stops) and after about a week it is about every 3 hours.  When ever little puppies wake up and start making noise (fussing) you should feed them.  Kittens are more active than puppies, so they crawl around and meow at an early age, but they will tell you when they are hungry.  At about 4 weeks the kittens can start to be weaned, but I would still be bottle feeding puppies. By 5 weeks the puppies usually can go about 6 hours between feedings.

Just like human bottle babies, if you bottle feed animals, they will get air in them.  They should be burped (best to do it half way through the feeding and then again afterwards. Not doing this can lead to the puppies having colic (just like human babies) and they will stop eating (which again is deadly).

Many people do not realize that newborn animals do not go to the bathroom on their own.  The mom licks them to stimulate them. In absence of a mom, you must lick them… ok, or you could just use a warm cloth and rub their genitals to anus. I would do this before and after each meal for the first 3 weeks. Sometimes I do it much longer because it is easier than cleaning the poop off of them and their bed and everything else when they go on their own.

You should weigh the babies everyday and make sure they continue to gain weight. I use a food scale for them, which is the most accurate way to keep track of such small gains. I also keep a notebook where I log their weight.  If there isn’t a gain in one day, it is not a huge problem; however, you definitely do not want them to lose weight ever. If they are losing weight,and they are eating, I might supplement with karo syrup.





Urine Scalding– If you do not change the bedding often enough, or if there is a puppy that tends to be on the bottom of the pile, they may get what looks like burns from the urine. Try to chance the bedding often and keep them clean.  Usually at about 3 weeks they start to get over and move to another place to go to the bathroom and it is less of a concern. If their skin begins to peel and crack, I would suggest using medicine (I love vetricyn) and you may even want to consider antibiotic injections.

Not Eating– If the babies stop eating and you are unable to get the to eat you must at least use corn syrup or something like Nutrical or Fortical and put it on their tongues. They do not have the body fat to hold them and will die if they do not eat within a day.  If they do not eat within 8 hours, I would see a vet as they may need subcutaneous fluids as newborns dehydrate pretty easily.  I have been able to save many with subcutaneous fluid, syringe feeding and karo syrup, but many do not have the skills for this.


Orphan Bo enjoying his first taste of puppy gruel

I tend to bottle feed until 5-6 weeks, as mom would do it for much longer than that.  Weaning requires softened food, I would recommend taking whatever solid puppy or kitten food you will be feeding and blend it to smooth.  Oftentimes I will put a little of this in the formula and bottle feed it and then move to a dish and make it thicker (still mixing it with formula) and thicker until they are able to eat solid food.  You should provide animals access to solid food and water at about 3 weeks, they will likely just play in it, but it helps them learn.  And that is also how you know when you can stop with the soft food as well, when they easily eat hard food.


If you have questions contact your vet or for basic help email

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