As experienced dog breeders, you know puppies have specific dietary needs—and getting them started on a proper feeding regimen is an important part of ensuring healthy growth and development.
Sometimes, tube or bottle feeding may be necessary. But when should supplemental feeding be used? Read on to learn more about the benefits and limitations of tube and bottle feeding puppies so you can make informed decisions.
Although it can seem intimidating at first, tube and bottle feeding your pup need not be complicated—there are simple steps you can take to make sure your puppy grows up happy and healthy. In this blog post, we'll explore everything you need to know about tube and bottle feeding your puppy so you can provide the best care possible as they continue to grow.
This guide discusses reasons and techniques for tube or bottle feeding, and help you decide for these precious bundles of joy. It also includes a handy downloadable formula chart and feeding calculator so you know how much to feed.
Reasons to Tube or Bottle Feed a Puppy
Nurturing newborn puppies can be a joyful and overwhelming responsibility. While their mother should ideally nurse them, certain situations may call for tube or bottle feeding help.
Reasons to consider tube or bottle feeding include weak or sick puppies, a mother with inadequate milk supply or mastitis, a litter too large for the mother to manage, or the unfortunate circumstance of a mother's death. Being prepared for these possibilities not only benefits the puppies' health and development but also ensures their survival.
While human babies can get colostrum from mothers’ milk throughout nursing, dams only produce colostrum for about 24 hours.
Puppies’ gut junctions close within 4 hour and once you hit the 12 hour mark, you’re pretty much at the end of the colostrum rainbow.
So if your puppies haven’t gotten colostrum from mom, be sure to give them a colostrum supplement before feeding your formula.
Make Sure Your Puppies Are Warm
Puppies MUST be warm for feeding. A cold puppy typically won’t nurse or eat. If you tube feed, the puppy has no option to refuse the formula. If you feed a cold puppy they can’t digest the formula and that can cause significant gastric upset, aspiration, or worse.
The formula must also be warmed to puppy body temperature, about 100 degrees is good. If you have experience bottle feeding human babies, you can check the temperature on your wrist like you would for a human baby.
I try to keep my dogs and puppies away from junk and overprocessed food. But this is one area where I break that rule.
Puppies have very delicate systems and the slightest imbalance can cause problems. For example, goats milk is great for baby goats, but it’s lacking in the amino acid arginine. If you feed a puppy goats milk regularly, the lack of arginine can lead to puppy cataracts.
So even though commercial formulas don’t have the most wholistic ingredients, I feel it’s a safer choice. And we also, hopefully, aren’t supplementing them with formula for too long. I use Esbilac. Both the regular formula and the goat milk formula are good. A goat milk-based formula is fine if it’s labeled for puppies, as they will balance the amino acids to avoid arginine deficiency.
Consult your veterinarian for further guidance on feeding schedules and quantities.
How Much to Feed
It’s important to find the “goldilocks zone” when supplementing a puppy with formula. Too little, and you risk not getting them the calories and nutrients they need. Too much and you risk overfeeding, which includes aspiration and other risks.
To complicate things, different formulas have different calorie counts.
To make things easier for you, I’ve created a chart and a formula feeding calculator you can download for free. All you need to do is enter the weight of your puppy and the calories in the formula and it will tell you how much to feed.
Be sure not to exceed the capacity of your puppy’s stomach. Overfeeding, whether by tube or bottle, can cause the feeding to exceed stomach capacity and this can cause GI disturbances, aspiration, diarrhea, vomiting, and possibly death of the puppy. The free downloadable chart and calculator includes stomach capacity calculation so you don’t have to guess at this.
As the puppy begins nursing or eating solid food, take those amounts into consideration when supplementing with formula and adjust accordingly
Bottle Feeding: The Basics
A strong option for puppies at least one week old, bottle feeding reduces the risk of dehydration due to insufficient intake. Nursing bottles and puppy-specific milk replacers are readily available at most pet stores. Not all puppies will take all nipples, so you may need to try a few. We have had the best luck with the MAM anti-colic bottles.
Before feeding the puppies, mix the milk replacer according to the instructions on the package, and make sure it is warmed to body temperature. Hold the puppies in a near-prone position, with their heads slightly elevated to promote a natural nursing stance. Puppies can aspirate from bottle feeding, so be sure their heads are elevated a little over their bodies.
Insert your finger into the puppy’s mouth until you feel her sucking vigorously.
Then, Using a slow and steady motion, introduce the nipple to the puppy's mouth and encourage them to suckle.
Feedings should occur every two to three hours for newborns, and it is essential to ensure the appropriate frequency for their age and size.
Tube Feeding: A Lifesaving Alternative
For neonatal puppies unable to nurse or those too weak to bottle-feed, tube feeding can be an essential intervention.
Also, even though it can be a little intimidating the first time you try, when done right tube feeding is safer that bottle feeding as there’s a lower risk for aspiration.
Using thin, flexible tubing and a syringe, this method delivers nutrients directly from the milk replacer into the puppy's stomach. The tube also allows for accurate measurement of consumption, making sure the puppy receives enough nourishment.
Myra Harris has a great tube feeding video that makes it easy to safely tube feed. Be sure you watch this video or get veterinary assistance, as you want to be sure the tube goes into the GI tract and not the lungs or you can kill your puppy. Myra shows you how to be sure you put the tube in the right place by marking the tube.
You can also double check that by pinching the puppy’s toe until it makes a noise. Puppies can’t vocalize if the tube is in their lungs. While none of us ever like to do something like that, if there’s a choice between ensuring a puppy’s safety and a momentary discomfort, I know what my choice is. We do similarly when we give puppies vaccines or microchips or other care.
Important Considerations and Warnings
Though both tube and bottle feeding save lives, be cautious when employing either technique. Tube feeding poses a risk of introducing air into the puppy's stomach or inserting the tube into the trachea, causing aspiration pneumonia. If you are unsure or inexperienced with tube feeding, consult a veterinarian or experienced breeder for guidance. Bottle feeding also comes with risks, such as overfeeding or aspirating the formula, leading to similar complications. Always monitor the puppies during and after feeding for warning signs of these or any other issues.
Timing, Monitoring, and Transition
Newborn puppies can require supplementary feeding for at least 3 to 4 weeks. As they grow stronger, they can consume more each time, meaning gradually increasing the intervals between feedings.
Eventually, they will transition to nursing or eating a gruel made from puppy food.
Routinely weigh the puppies to monitor their growth and make sure they are receiving adequate nourishment.
While I make every effort to give accurate and complete information in this blog, I can’t cover all situations and circumstances. Consult your veterinarian throughout the process to guide you in gradually adjusting feeding habits and introducing solid foods.
Newborn puppies are a true testament to the miracle of life, and tending to their well-being can be both a challenging and rewarding experience. While tube and bottle feeding are vital tools for breeders in nurturing these tiny creatures, it is essential to understand when and why to use these techniques. By being well-informed, prepared, and attentive, you can ensure your vulnerable puppies have the best chance of growing into strong, healthy dogs.