Newborn Puppy Not Nursing: Causes, Signs of Trouble & What to Do

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After waiting for a few weeks for the birth of your puppies, they are finally here. The excitement and joy cannot be explained. However, your celebration is cut short when you realize that one of the puppies is not nursing as she should. What a setback! What is going on? What should you do about it? We will answer all your questions about newborn puppy nursing challenges in this guide.

Potential Causes

As soon as they are out of the womb, puppies should begin breastfeeding. They survive solely on their mother’s milk until they are about three weeks old. Like human babies, they enjoy suckling more than anything at that stage. So, a puppy that doesn’t nurse shows signs of trouble. Here are a few reasons for the behavior.

  • Cold: Cold is the number one cause of death in newborn puppies. When the temperatures dip, their metabolic rate slows down, meaning they cannot digest milk.  Unfortunately, puppies cannot regulate their body temperature. They depend on their mother to give them round-the-clock warmth. A cold puppy may be too weak to nurse.
  • Illness: If a puppy has an underlying health problem that she was born with or one she caught outside the womb, she may be unable to eat. Things like vomiting and diarrhea can affect puppy feeding in so many ways. Puppies can also suffer from problems in their kidneys, liver, hormonal system, and any other organ in the body. These issues can be caused by an infection they picked up, an injury, or as a result of a condition they were born with.
  • Birth Defects: Malformed, premature and puppies with a cleft palate may have a hard time nursing alongside their littermates.
  • Pain: Just like humans, any form of pain can cause your newborn to turn away from feeding. The pain could be caused by an injury considering that newborns are quite prone to accidents. A newborn puppy could also experience pain from her developing bones or inflammation of her internal organs like the pancreas.
  • Mother’s Rejection: While most dogs gladly accept the role of motherhood in stride, some reject one or two puppies from the litter. Stress, birth via a C-section, illness, injury, and zero instinct can cause the mother to reject her puppies. It can happen immediately or a few days/weeks after birth.
  • Hypoglycemia: This is the condition where the puppy’s body has insufficient sugar in its bloodstream. It can come about due to less calorific intake or the presence of intestinal parasites.  A pup of 2-6 weeks should maintain blood glucose of not less than 40mg/dl. If it goes under, the puppy will have tremors and convulsions.
  • Gas: Sometimes your puppy refuses to nurse simply because she has gases in her tummy that cause a great deal of discomfort. If she acts fine and has a swollen tummy, you need to help her get rid of the gases.
  • No Hunger: It can be hard to tell whether a newborn puppy is full or not. On average, the little doggies feed after every 2-4 hours. In between feeds, the puppy will be disinterested in feeding because she has a full stomach.
  • Mother Dog Is Not Producing Enough Milk: Newborn puppies may also refuse to nurse because their mother isn’t producing enough milk, making it a bit difficult for the puppies to satisfy their needs. A mother dog may not produce enough milk for a variety of reasons, including stress, malnutrition, dehydration, infected glands, and failure to release nursing hormones among others.

Signs of Trouble

To know whether your newborn puppy is nursing or not, you need to watch the mom and puppies in action round the clock. These are the signs to look out for.

  • Constant crying from one or all the puppies from the litter.
  • Signs of struggle to get to nurse
  • Failure to latch on the tit even without disruption by littermates
  • Not gaining weight/losing weight
  • Persistent bloating
  • Outright rejection by the mother. Puppy is pushed away by the mom rather than being drawn closer.
  • Look out for weak and small puppies
  • Cold puppies with cold mouths
  • Weak nursing reflex when a fingertip is placed in the mouth
  • Complete inability to nurse
  • Feces in the rear because of runny stools
  • Discharge oozing from the umbilical stump

How Long Can Newborn Puppies Go Without Nursing?

Within the first four weeks of their life, puppies do two things – sleeping and nursing. According to Austin Texas Animal Services, the tiny doggies spend about 90% of their time napping and the remaining 10% feeding. They typically nurse once every two hours and may suckle for up to 40 minutes per session. They will then go to sleep for another two hours or so and the process will be repeated.

A puppy that won’t nurse in approximately two hours after birth is a whole new ballgame—you need to call a vet immediately for more professional insights and care. See, the initial milk that the mother dog feeds the puppies (colostrums) is rich in antibodies that help defend the puppies against a wide range of illnesses. It is important for puppies to consume the colostrums as fast as possible post-birth because their bodies are not capable of processing or absorbing it after 24 hours or so.

How Do I Get My Newborn Puppy To Nurse?

Nursing is extremely important to a newborn puppy. If yours won’t nurse, try the following strategies.

1. Warm Up The Puppy

If you notice that the puppy is too cold to touch, isolate her from the litter and put her close to your skin. Meanwhile, get someone to add warm water into a shoebox or a cardboard box. Place a towel over it and put the puppy on the towel.

Another trick is to use a heating pad. However, this method is too risky as you can overheat the puppy. Exercise great caution when using it. If you notice the puppy open panting her mouth, it means you need to stop as the puppy is too hot. After the puppy is warm, place her back and see if she’ll nurse.

Pro Tip: When isolating the puppy, carefully remove her from the mother and litter, ensuring that you don’t upset the mother or disrupt her littermates. In fact, if the mother becomes agitated, postpone the exercise and try again later. A newborn baby should also be touched as a little as possible, so the transfer or isolation process should be done fast.

2. Check Out For External Injuries

As aforementioned, a newborn puppy may refuse to nurse due to pain. So, another step to take when your newborn puppy is not nursing is to check for any form of injury or external source of pain. If you can’t see any, take her to a local vet for a quick checkup.

3. Increase Blood Sugar

A hypoglycemic puppy will show signs such as weakness, lethargy, twitches, tremors, and convulsions. In such a case, you want to administer 2-3 drops of corn syrup to the puppy’s tongue.

4. Burp The Puppy

Like human babies, puppies ingest a lot of air leading to great discomfort and bloating. To help them, burp as you would a small baby.

5. Tube Feed The Puppy

Despite your best efforts, sometimes a puppy needs to be assisted to feed. This is especially true if they are premature, have cleft palate, or have been rejected by their mommy. You can feed using a bottle or tube feed them until they can nurse or eat on their own.

Here is an excellent guide, especially if you are a new dog owner: Tube Feeding Puppies: A Quick Guide for New Dog Owners

6. Help the Puppy to Eliminate

A newborn puppy may also refuse to nurse because she is gassy or constipated. If that’s the case, consider helping her eliminate. Generally, puppies cannot urinate or defecate on their own until they are about 3 weeks of age. They often rely on the mother to stimulate their elimination reflexes. If your puppy is orphaned or rejected by the mother, you have the responsibility of helping them eliminate. You can do this by gently stroking the area between the vulva/penis and anus with a warm soft cloth or cotton ball.

7. Supplement the Mother Dog’s Milk

If your puppies can’t nurse well because their mother isn’t producing enough milk or something has happened to her, supplement the mother dog’s milk with a puppy milk replacer. Don’t use cow’s or goat’s milk because their fat, protein, and lactose levels are not recommended for puppies (milk from a puppy’s mother, for instance, has more than twice as much protein as a cow’s milk).

 Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of commercial puppy milk replacers:

  • If you are a first-time dog owner, opt for liquid milk replacers instead of powdered options as the latter requires extra preparation procedures. If you have to use powdered milk replacers, ensure that you follow the reconstitution instructions on the labels carefully.
  • Only make feedings that your puppy can complete within 24 hours as milk replacers tend to get spoiled fast.
  • If it is your first time purchasing a puppy milk replacer, consult with your vet to help you choose the best.
  • A good milk replacer should meet the recommended nutritional thresholds for puppies. According to VCA Hospital, every 100g of a puppy milk replacer should contain 42g fat, 33g crude protein, and 14.g lactose (if fed on a dry matter basis).
  • Since newborn puppies have troubles generating enough heat to maintain their body temperatures, consider warming the replacer formula to approximately 35-37.80C to aid digestion. You can feed the milk replacer at room temperature as the puppies grow older.

5. Go To The Vet

If the puppy doesn’t respond to any effort whatsoever, it’s time to get help from professionals. Things like diarrhea, extreme cold, convulsions, can be fatal and fast. Timely treatment may save the life of the puppy.

Newborn Puppy Not Nursing: Parting Thoughts

A newborn puppy that won’t nurse needs plenty of help. If mommy is not in a position to get her puppy to nurse, you have to step up and save the day. Don’t wait for too long—the fragile pup might not have too much time left.

At 3-6 weeks of age, you may notice the puppies starting to sample the mother food or biting or chewing their feeding bottles. This simply means that it is time to transition them to soft or semi-solid food. To ensure that you are feeding your puppies the right amount of food and at the right schedule, follow the recommendations given by the respective manufacturers of the formulas. We also have a few posts that you can read for more insights, including:

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Sable M. is a canine chef, professional pet blogger, and proud owner of two male dogs. I have been an animal lover all my life, with dogs holding a special place in my heart. Initially, I created this blog to share recipes, tips, and any relevant information on healthy homemade dog treats. But because of my unrelenting passion to make a difference in the world of dogs, I have expanded the blog’s scope to include the best information and recommendations about everything dog lovers need to know about their canine friends’ health and wellbeing. My mission now is to find the most helpful content on anything related to dogs and share it with fellow hardworking hound lovers. While everything I share is in line with the latest evidence-based veterinarian health guidelines, nothing should be construed as veterinary advice. Please contact your vet in all matters regarding your Fido’s health.