[BLOG] Neonatology: why I don’t see breast-feeding puppies and kittens as an option Part I


If you browsed Internet lately, pretty sure you’ve read this story of a woman in Colorado who breast-fed her puppy “to save its life” (in case you missed it, here is the link). Long story short: the pup was refusing to drink milk from a bottle, the owner thought it wouldn’t make it, she was breast-feeding her kid so she decided to breast-feed the puppy as well. I watched her interview: “I didn’t know what else to do.”, she said.  Glad everything turned out well for the puppy in the end. But well. If I was in her shoes (I know, always easier to say afterwards), not necessarily familiar with pets, I guess I would have first called the local vet. And for sure, breast-feeding would not have come to me as a first option…

Why then? Well, first reason: “human” milk is not really adapted for puppies. Less energy-dense, less nutritious for this species, simply less adapted to the physiology of a newborn pet. Again everything went well in this case and that’s great, but there was a real – high – risk to see diarrhea developing in this pup. And a newborn puppy with diarrhea gets dehydrated very quickly. Dehydration is a common cause of neonatal mortality in kittens and puppies…

Second: because other alternatives are available. In this case, ok, she did not know, she did not call her vet so she had no way to find out on her own. But for canine/feline professionals, it’s important, I think, to know which alternative to turn to if these situations ever happen.  In fact, anytime you encounter something similar, there’s a 5-step process to put in place.

#1 Check the internal temperature of the newborn

Yes, that should ALWAYS be the first step whenever dealing with this kind of situation. Normal internal temperature in a newborn puppy/kitten should be around 36ºC. If it drops below 34 ºC, digestion no more occurs. If it drops below 32 ºC, the newborn will lose its suckling reflex. There are several alternatives to warm up a puppy (UV lamp, heating pads, incubator,…) and if it is cold, this should definitely be the first step BEFORE even trying to bottle-feed. If you don’t already have one, I would definitely recommend buying a thermometer.

#2 Try bottle-feeding with a dedicated canine/feline milk replacer.

Do as shown on this picture (it’s important to use a similar position). When bottle-feeding, there are two important things, there are two important things to keep in mind:

–          The number of meals per day: at least 8 meals/day on the 1st week of life, 6 on the 2nd week and 4 on the 3rd.

–          The amount fed: generally it is recommended to feed approximately around 1-5mL/100g of puppy/kitten. Watch out the newborn’s intake: in case of overfeeding (which can happen with greedy puppies and kittens), diarrhea can occur.

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