Skip to main content

4 tips for being an awesome foster parent for orphaned puppies

As newborns, it’s essential for puppies to stay warm, hydrated, and fed, but some fare better than others. Orphaned pups are often found by good samaritans and pet lovers like you, who otherwise wouldn’t know much about 4-week-old puppy care. Dogs are considered newborns until around 12 weeks, so this early stage of maturity is oh-so-important in their lives.

Three-week-old puppy care can seem daunting, but with trusted guidance and a lot of time, anyone is capable of helping newborn pups thrive. That being said, when newborns are away from their mothers and without care, they’re at high risk — no one should blame themselves if things don’t go as planned. Thankfully, you can give orphaned pups the best chance at growing up happy and healthy by learning about their needs and being prepared. Here’s what you need to know.

Newborn puppies should stay with their mother, if possible

Apart from making newborn pups feel secure, their mother keeps them comfortable, stimulated, and fed. Her body provides warmth that babies need, and her guidance teaches pups how to use their senses, relieve themselves, and play nice with their littermates.

Being separated from their mother may even negatively affect their behavior. Many dogs who weren’t properly weaned from their mother’s milk seek comfort in objects or repetitive actions, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC).

As puppies reach 3 to 6 weeks, they enter an essential socialization period in their development. When with their family, pups learn what constitutes appropriate behavior through the reactions of their mother and littermates, though this becomes more difficult to learn when orphaned. This can lead to long-term behavioral issues, including high reactivity and even aggression.

four newborn puppies of assorted colors sleep in a pile on a white blanket
sergio souza/Pexels

Medical needs of orphaned puppies

Many physical factors play into a puppy’s overall health, but being without their mother adds even more concerns to the list. One of the most obvious issues is the lack of helpful proteins and nutrients from mother’s milk, which helps build healthy immune systems in pups. Thankfully, this can be solved with puppy-specific milk replacements. It’s always a good idea to weigh newborns regularly to make sure they’re growing; a tracking book helps keep health and mealtime info organized. Consult your vet if a puppy is not gaining weight.

Other concerns for orphaned pups include dehydration and lack of elimination. Without proper nursing, newborns can become dehydrated rather easily. Luckily, a bottle or eyedropper can be used to administer extra milk, or you can take your pup to the vet for more intense hydration. You’ll know your puppy is dehydrated if you can gently pinch the skin at his neck without it returning to its normal position quickly. Puppies cannot urinate or defecate by themselves until about a month of age, so they need help doing so from their mother or caretaker. To do this, VCA recommends “gently stroking the area between the anus and vulva or penis with a warm, moistened cotton ball or soft cloth.”

The ideal temperature for newborn puppies

Because their mother isn’t around to keep them warm, orphaned pups often fall victim to hypothermia or low body temperature. You can use one of several heating methods to keep your fur babies warm instead, including heat lamps and incubators. Their environment should have a temperature of around 80 degrees for a 10-day-old pup. Ideally, according to VCA, a pup’s internal body temperature should be anywhere from 95 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on their age.

  • 95 to 99 degrees for week-old pups
  • 97 to 100 degrees for 2- or 3-week-old pups
  • 100 to 102 degrees for pups older than 3 weeks

A small enclosure, such as a box covered in blankets, will keep your pup safe and warm. As he gets older, you can increase the size and slowly decrease the temperature of his space.

a newborn black and white puppy with a ribbon around its neck is held by a person
Andrew Kota/Pexels

Feeding orphaned puppies

Feeding orphaned puppies is time-consuming but so, so cute. Once you have commercial milk replacement to feed your pups, you’ll need to decide how you’ll feed them. Tube-feeding puppies is the most precise and easy method, but your vet will need to show you the ropes. When done incorrectly, there’s a high chance your puppy will choke or inhale the milk instead of drinking it.

Bottle feeding is a popular choice for newborn pups, but it’s important to make sure the hole in the nipple allows the puppy to suckle freely like they would on their mother. Without a large enough hole, the pup won’t be able to get milk. Too big a hole, and the milk can easily get into their lungs. The milk replacer shouldn’t drip from the bottle when held upside down but should come out with gentle squeezing. Check out the VCA’s resources for a more detailed guide on how to feed a newborn puppy.

Feel like a new parent yet? Caring for orphaned pups can certainly be a handful, even for experienced pet owners, so don’t worry if you find yourself overwhelmed. It’s never a bad idea to ask your local vet for any tips and tutorials, and there are plenty of other resources available online and in books for just this situation. Good luck, and remember: You’ve got this!

Editors' Recommendations

Topics
Gabrielle LaFrank
Gabrielle LaFrank has written for sites such as Psych2Go, Elite Daily, and, currently, PawTracks. When she's not writing, you…
This is the ultimate week-by-week puppy training schedule every new pet parent needs
A puppy training schedule to follow
Woman feeds a puppy as the pup gives her his paw

When you first bring home a new puppy, you’ll have so many firsts to look forward to. Some milestones — the first accident, for example — aren’t quite as cute as the others, so that’s why you’ll want to start training with your pup as soon as possible. Understanding puppy training stages will help you break down all your goals into realistic steps, making you and your new best friend more likely to succeed.
Remember, training your pup is just one important aspect of their well-being. Ensure you’re taking care of their diet, health, and happiness, too. Good luck and keep reading to learn about a puppy training schedule.

Here's your ideal puppy training schedule for puppies 8 weeks of age and younger
It’s important to establish a routine as soon as you bring your puppy home. Not only will this ensure that you and your pup have every need met, but it also will let your new dog become more familiar with their environment. As dog trainer Ken McCann said in his YouTube video guide for puppy training, “You’ll be setting them up for success,” especially in potty training. Make sure to supervise while they're outside, too.
Here's another idea: Luring your new pup to you with a delicious treat is a great first step toward bonding and training. At this point, they're working purely on instinct, but they're learning the reward value of treats as well as a praise word — something like “yes” or “good” to let them know they're doing well. Make sure to use this word as you continue training!
This also gets your pup used to working for a treat, which builds motivation and confidence. Negative reinforcement won’t teach anything but a feeling of unease at this age, so it’s a good idea to focus on rewards instead (and always). Now that they know that following you gets that reward, they'll soon be ready to move on to the next stage.

Read more
Why is my puppy not eating? Find out why and how to help them thrive
Common reasons why your puppy isn't eating and things you can do to help
a Dalmation puppy sitting on the floor

You bought your puppy the cutest food dish money can buy, and you thoroughly researched proper diet and nutrition. You confirmed with your vet that you were doing everything right to give your puppy the best, most nutritious start to life. Then, suddenly, your puppy's not eating.
It can cause new puppy parents to panic — you love your fur baby, and appetite is often a sign of good health. Plus, your puppy needs food to grow and to have energy for walking and playing with you.
If your puppy is not eating much (or at all), there may be several causes. Here are the most common and what you can do to get your little one’s mealtimes back on track.

Does my puppy's lack of appetite mean they are sick?
A lack of appetite or refusal to eat can be a sign of many canine illnesses, but a lack of appetite doesn't always mean that your dog is sick. This is why it's important to take a look at the big picture (or at your dog's other symptoms) to figure out whether the cause of appetite changes is something to be concerned about. Sometimes, this will be obvious, but other times it might require the expertise of your trusted veterinarian.

Read more
4 reasons why your dog might need a diaper (and which kind you should get)
When considering dog diapers, you need to think first about their purpose
Dog gets a green reusable diaper

Most dog owners luckily never need to reach for the diaper bag — we potty train our puppies and often enjoy the results for their whole lives. However, there are a few reasons why you might need to invest in dog diapers. Some of these are passing conditions, but as your pet ages, you may find that dog diapers become a part of your routine. It sounds a bit unpleasant, but with a little help, you can tackle it.
Why might my pet need them?
While most dogs will hopefully never have to wear any, they could wind up in doggie depends, temporarily or for life. Some pet parents use diapers when they know they won't be able to let their animal out to potty -- on a long plane ride for example. That's a good time for a one-off. Here are a few reasons you might need to stock your drawers with dog diapers.
They've gotten older
As pets age, sometimes incontinence sets in (and it could happen to you, too). This comes from the muscles of the bladder getting weaker and not performing as well, meaning a little bit of pee leaks through. It's much more common in female dogs, but can happen to any pooch.
She's in heat
Not totally unlike when a human has monthly bleeding, you might spot a bit of bloody discharge from a female dog in heat (fortunately, it doesn't happen as often, only a couple times per year). She also may urinate more frequently or even scent mark during this time.
He needs to be fixed
Before neutering, male dogs often mark, sometimes almost constantly, particularly if they can smell a female dog in heat nearby. If you're choosing not to neuter, you'll have to use a belly band a lot, though sometimes dogs can be trained out of this behavior with time and dedication.
They have a health condition
If your animal suddenly starts losing control of their wee, it's likely something simple, such as a urinary tract infection. Some long-term conditions like Cushing's disease, diabetes, and kidney problems could also be the issue. Work with your pet care team to ensure that a diaper won't interfere with topical medication or spread bacteria.

What kind of diaper should I get?
There are a few different kinds out there, depending on exactly what issue you're working on with your pet. Many male dogs, especially if they are really just scent marking, will require a . Female dogs in heat likely require a , but don't worry, there's a little hole for the tail. Do a bit of research including buying one kind and seeing if it works. Try to be as sustainable as possible and purchase cloth options that can go straight into the wash when possible.

Read more