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When a newborn puppy won’t eat

Updated: Sep 15

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Here’s a quick summary of what to do with a neonate that won’t latch on and eat right away. I’ll try to go more into detail in a later post. This assumes no cleft palate or other glaring issues. When in doubt or if something here is beyond your skill or comfort level, call your vet immediately.


1. He needs to be warm. Newborn puppies cannot regulate their own temperature. The are born wet and chill quickly and easily, even after they dry off. You don’t want to feed a cold baby. And by warm I mean really warm, he should feel as warm as a heating pad on low. Do not try to feed him until he warms up. Take care not to burn him when warming him or to overheat him. Normal neonate temperature is 95-99 degrees.


2. Take a drop of Karo syrup on your finger and the swipe on his tongue. This will give him a little blood sugar boost. Do NOT use honey with babies: honey can contain botulism spores that are dangerous to neonates. The spores don't harm adults with healthy immune systems, but can be devastating to a baby (dog or human).


3. Put your finger in his mouth and see if he will suckle. If he doesn’t you may be dealing with a fading puppy and need more help than can be given in a FB post, but if you know how to tube feed, then you can tube feed. If he does suckle, then spend some time trying to help him latch onto mom. It’s not always immediate. I’ve spent well over half an hour with puppies helping them latch on. They MUST be warm to do this. If it takes time and they get cold, warm them again then try again.


4. If he won’t latch on after an hour or so of trying you may want to consider bottle feeding. We preferIf bottle feeding doesn't work, you may need to tube feed. Myra Savant Harris has a good tube feeding video.


A note on supplementing: All puppies should get as much mother's milk as possible int he first 48 hours of life, with the first 12-24 being the most critical. Nursing is important for puppies for bonding and probably a hundred other things we don't even know about yet. However, after the first 48 hours, it's not necessary for antibodies. Unlike humans, a puppy's GI epithelial lining is only open to antibody absorption for the first 48 hour max, with the best absorption in the first 12 hours of life. So if you can't get a puppy to latch on to mom, get some food in the puppy, whether a commercial or homemade formula. As soon as the puppy is stable, try to get it to latch on. Sometimes it just takes warming and a first nutritional boost. If the puppy still won't latch on after supplementing and warming, then I would recommend a colostrum supplement to get some antibodies in him. Some breeders freeze plasma, which will work well (you can ask your vet about this) or you can use a commercial product like Nursemate or Nurture Mate.


We are advocates of products as natural as possible, but for tube feeding unless you are able to pump mom's colostrum, we recommend a commercial puppy supplement like Esbilac over plain goats milk (the Esbilac goat's milk formula is fine—it has been balanced to avoid nutritional deficiencies). We like the powder, we can make only what we need and the powder lasts 6 months if stored in your freezer. Goats milk is great for goats but is lacking in several nutrients needed for puppies. It's fine for very short term but not suitable for more than a day or two. Long-term use of goat's milk as a main food can cause amino acid deficiency for eye development that can cause nutritionally mediated cataracts.


Bottles can be a huge issue for many species, including dogs. We have found the Maam Anti-Colic bottles to be the best received bottles—we have not had a hungry puppy refuse that nipple yet.


When bottle feeding, feed your puppy in a prone position—try to create a position that mimicked eating from mom. So on his tummy—this will also help prevent aspiration. Puppies “knead” or push with their front feed when nursing, so use one of your hands to provide a surface for your puppy to push against, as if he were pushing on his mother’s tummy. Never force food from a bottle into a puppy, always allow the puppy to suckle on his own. Aspiration is always a risk.


If you would like to use a homemade supplement, this is Myra's formula. She uses it for puppies of all ages and also for adult dogs that need extra nutrition. It helps stabilize puppies and gain weight, helpful for the GI system, diarrhea and constipation.


Myra's Homemade Puppy Formula

  • 1/3 cup liver water (boil liver in small amt of water until well done)

  • 1 can evaporated goat milk undiluted or fresh goat milk

  • 1 cup full fat plain yogurt

  • 1T Karo syrup (NO honey)

  • 2 raw egg yolks

  • 1 dropper liquid infant vitamins (no iron)

Blend the ingredients and strain. Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze, then store frozen in a baggie. This recipe has about 10-12 calories per cc.


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