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

Gabrielle LaFrank
Gabrielle LaFrank has written for sites such as Psych2Go, Elite Daily, and, currently, PawTracks. When she's not writing, you…
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

Read more
Expert tips for taking your puppy on their first walk
Is it time for puppy's first walk? Prepare with this expert advice
A brown puppy wearing a neon orange harness looks up

Bringing home a new puppy can be one of the most exciting times in a person's life, but that doesn't mean you'll have picture-perfect moments every time. In fact, helping your four-legged bundle of joy reach their milestones can be downright frustrating at times! It happens to the best of us, but we're happy to tell you that some of those milestones -- like walking your puppy for the first time -- can be reached with a shortcut or two. And that's where Lorna Winter comes in.

Winter is a veteran dog trainer and the co-founder of Zigzag, which is a puppyhood training app that you can customize to help you and your dog succeed. Since she's such an expert when it comes to all of a puppy's "firsts," we asked her for her best advice when taking a puppy on their first walk. As you might have guessed, it's a lot more complicated than simply putting on a leash and going for a stroll!

Read more
Ranked: These pet apps actually work (and pet parents love them)
Do you agree with this ranking of best pet apps?
ranking of best pet apps woman with dog and phone

There’s an app for that may be a phrase that’s turned trite and overused but, well, no matter what you’re looking for, there probably is an app for that. Now, whether there’s a good app for that is another story.

We’ve all been there. Whether you’re looking for a pet app, one to help you design the interior of your home, or just a game of solitaire to play, you can’t seem to find one with decent reviews or that works the way you want it to. Luckily the team at RentCafe, a nationwide apartment search website, combed through Android and iOS apps to find the best of the best (after all, we all know how tough being a pet parent who lives in an apartment can be).

Read more