Guide to Raising Orphan Puppies

Dedicated to the memory of our beloved Tasy
August 16, 1989 - July 26, 1996
By Pat & Chet Larsen 

 Although this is an attempt to help anyone who is unfortunate enough to have to go through an experience raising orphan puppies, it would be unfair if I didn't pay a small tribute to our beloved Tasy (Waltraut's Fantasy of Berlynn).  Tasy was an extraordinary companion.  Although her successes in the breed ring were small, she excelled in the whelping box and was the best mom pup could ask for.  She consistently produced better than herself, which is what a breeder strives to achieve.  As she approached her seventh birthday, we kept saying "just one more litter".  Well, that proved to be our biggest mistake.  She was bred and went through a normal pregnancy.  When her time approached, she went into labor with her usual calm behavior. You had to keep a close eye on her, as she was never too obvious about her discomfort.  Given the fact of her age, after about an hour and a half of unonproductive labor, we took her to our vet for a check-up.  It was decided that something wasn't quite right and we would proceed with a C-section to be followed by spaying her.  There was a dead puppy in the birth canal, which was the cause of the delay.  She had nine live puppies.  After some recovery time and monitoring, we brought her and the babies home.  After an hour or so, we felt she was not coming out of the anesthetic normally and there was trouble.  She collapsed as we attempted to get her into the car for a return visit to the vet.  When we got her into the clinic every test imaginable was run and all came back normal.  So as she rested, we brought a puppy or two at a time to nurse on her.  Within an hour, her heart stopped and after three successful attempts to revive her she died in my arms.  An autopsy was inconclusive, but showed no genetic defects.

     Now the nightmare began.  Where do you find information on how to raise these babies?  Not much is in the books.  Of course, then can be tube fed, but I am inexperienced at that and wouldn't attempt it.  I also wanted these babies raised with a sense of love and human touch.  The ideal situation would be to find a surrogate who would take them, but we learned from more than one vet who helped us that this is not always the ideal situation.  As a bitch's  puppy's grow older, her milk does not carry the nutrients that are so important for newborns.  No colostrum.  We attempted to use a homemade formula, but that proved unsuccessful.  We switched within the first 24 hours to Esbilac.  It has a better balance and is closer to that of the mother.  The nutrients of these newborns is of vital importance, especially if they don't receive that all important colostrum. 

     The first two weeks of raising orphan puppies is totally exhausting.  If you lost your bitch, you are mourning that loss which can be a total drain physically and emotionally.  Sleep is only a dream!  If you can import responsible help, by all means do it.  You will be feeding puppies around the clock.  Fortunately, my husband was able to take two weeks off.  These puppies were fed six times each 24 hours for the first seven days.  Then they were fed five times in a 24 hour period for the next five days.  By day 12 they were on four feedings a day and slept through the night.  And just like human babies, don't forget to burp them after each 1/2 ounce or so to begin with.

     Although at the time these puppies were born, California was in the middle of a tremendous heat wave, the nursery MUST be kept warm, no matter what the outside temperature may be.  The room must be kept at a minimum of 90 degrees.  Remember these little ones don't have mom to snuggle up to and they may not snuggle up to each other at all times.  DO NOT put the puppies on a heating pad.  They need a lamp as a source of heat.  A heating pad only keeps one side warm.  If a puppy begins to fade, heat is of the utmost importance.  This happened to us.  We then did put this puppy on a heating pad in a separate box and placed the box directly under the lamp.  We used a 150 watt bulb.  Our vet made regular visits to the house to hydrate this puppy also and to check the others.  And she's alive, kicking (we kept her) and would love to tell you her story if she could.

     Newborn puppies do not have the ability to eliminate body waste on their own.  So after each feeding, use a warm damp cotton ball to stimulate both the urinary and rectal tracts.  Normally this is done by mom and they are clean, so you don't really notice.  We used a crock pot turned on low to keep water in the nursery and warm at all times.  And here is where you have to keep the washer and dryer going full speed.   Bedding needs to be changed quite frequently.  Within a few days, the mess becomes tremendous.  We used old towels over soft whelping pads, so they could get some traction as they started to scoot around more.

     For feeding, we tried several different types of bottles made especially for supplementing puppies, but found the Playtex baby nurser with the disposable liners to be the best for a German Shepherd puppy.  You may have to open the nipple some in order for them to get enough.  But keep an eye out that you don't open it too much.  This is of great importance:  if a puppy refuses to nurse, DO NOT force it.  The first thing to do is to check the puppy's temperature.  We used a digital whelping thermometer.  Well worth the investment.  If the temperature is low (below 100 degrees), it will usually refuse to eat.  Again do not force it; this will cause the puppy to bloat and die.  Call your vet or get the puppy into an emergency clinic as soon as possible.

     Occasionally puppies that are hand raised may become constipated.  If this occurs you can dilute the formula with 1 to 2 ounces of water per 8 ounces of formula.  If the problem persists, try 1/2 tsp. Canola oil to 8 ounces of formula.


     By day 15 the puppies should be eliminating pretty much on their own and hopefully you will be out of the woods.  On day 17 we began mixing our own formula in with the Esbilac and gradually were able to reduce the Esbilac.  At approximately 2 1/2 weeks frustration begins to set in as their little teeth erupt and they want to grab the nipple and chomp down!  Now was the time to begin the weaning process.  By now we had the puppies on our own formula and began mixing in some Gerber's baby rice cereal.  I put this mixture in a shallow pyrex pie pan, set it on a towel and fed each one individually after introduction by placing the puppy in a 2 x 2 exercise pen.  We attempted to hand feed them by placing them on the floor between our legs and gently putting their faces in the pan!  No way!!  These puppies thought I was their mom and they would immediately turn to me and want to climb in my lap.  Hence they had to be "fenced in".  They made a huge mess and each one had to be wiped off thoroughly after each feeding, but they quickly learned.  We were soon able to begin feeding them a couple at a time.  By three weeks of age the puppies were on three meals a day, drinking water and well on their way.  It was also soon after this (within a day or two) that I began adding ground up kibble in small amounts to the cereal.  I also began diluting the formula with warm water and reducing it.  By four weeks of age, they were all eating out of the "flying saucer" bowl together at last!  By six weeks of age they were eating regular kibble with rice cereal and plain non-fat yogurt mixed in.

     Since these puppies received no natural immunity to disease from their mother, this was always a huge concern.  They were kept in a very sterile environment, with NO VISITORS until they received their first parvo shot at 5 weeks of age.  This subject was discussed by my vet and his colleagues and we decided that it was the best course to follow.  They were then started on their regular 7 in 1 shots at 6 weeks.  Another shot was given at 8 weeks, one at 10 weeks, another at 13-14 weeks and the last one at 18-20 weeks.


     I also want to mention that during the early days several of the puppies developed a pyoderma on their bellies.  We kept a close watch on this for infection and washed them with a diluted solution of betadine (50/50) and water.  The condition cleared up with a few days.  I think this was brought on because they didn't have a mother to continually lick them and keep them as clean as mom's do.

     It is my hope that this information will assist anyone who has to go through this experience not matter what the reason.  If I can ever be of assistance to any of you, please call me or e-mail me.  It was a long road and writing this has helped to deal with the healing process.  We will never get over the devastation of our loss, but time makes it easier.  We did keep two of these puppies and co-own a third one.  We have stayed I close contact with the people who own the remainder and all are doing very well I am happy to  report.  It has been an interesting study in human/animal bonding.  These puppies seem to think they are the same species as us and are extremely people oriented.  But maybe that's what a German Shepherd is really all about anyway.

     What lessons do we learn from such an experience?   I think with each litter we have, new lessons are learned and may the learning process never end.  For if it does, the future of the glorious breed will be in serious jeopardy.  Tasy had had three previous healthy litters, never been sick a day in her life and we had no reason to think she could not successfully give birth to another litter.  If I decide to breed again (and the jury is still out on that), I would probably use the age of 6 as my cut off.  Although I know of several bitches that have produced at an older age with no problems.  But for me, the risk is too great.  In a letter of condolence received by a dear friend after our loss, she told me that there would be one "special" puppy in the litter that would steal my heart and would give me back a piece of her mother.  How true this was.  The little bitch we almost lost is a living tribute to Tasy.  Whether these puppies make it in the show ring or not my priorities are now such that they are here, alive and have become loving companions to the people who share their lives.


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