Care of Newborn Puppies and Kittens
During the first 4 weeks of life, puppies and kittens depend on their mother completely for warmth, nutrition, waste elimination, and hygiene. During this critical time, the owner must observe the puppies or kittens carefully to detect problems. Immediate veterinary care is critical for any sick puppy or kitten or they are likely to die. They are very fragile.
Here are some general guidelines:
Warmth: During the first few weeks of life, puppies and kittens may easily become chilled. A room temperature of 70 F is recommended. If the bitch or queen is ill or absent, then the temperature in the infant's immediate environment should be
80 to 85 F.
The normal body temperature (rectal) of the newborn is 96 to 97 F, and reaches 100 F by 4 weeks of age. Indirect heat such as that provided by a heat lamp or warm water bottles may be used if needed. But you have to be careful not to burn or overheat the neonates.
You don't notice the burn until after the deed is done...kind of like sunburn. Don't put the heat lamp too close.
Puppies and Kittens should sleep contentedly after nursing and have full (not bloated) bellies. Excessive crying or restlessness, especially after nursing, mans they're either not getting enough milk or they have "belly aches" or "colic" from "bad" milk or some other problem such as inflammation of the intestinal wall due to worms.
If needed, supplemental feeding of a puppy or kitten formula can be prescribed. There are lots of recipes for making milk replacer for kittens and puppies, but the commercial brands are much less likely to cause diarrhea.
Sometimes it helps to give young kittens and puppies high calorie supplements such as Nutrical.
Raising puppies and kittens (and most other animal infants) is an art. Each individual fragile life is a little different and a little too much or too little of heat, supplemental support and feeding, or interference with the momma could possibly end up causing death.
And you never really know if it was your fault since there could be so many different underlying genetic, development, immune system, or parasitic problems going on at the same time.
If your kitten or pup won't nurse, your vet or vet tech will gladly (I assume) teach you how to tube feed.
Stool and Urine: During the first 3 to 4 weeks, the momma stimulates elimination by licking her puppy's or kitten's genital - anal area. If the mother is ill or absent, you have to do this for the infants or they'll probably die. Good News! You don't have to use your tongue if you don't want to. Just use a wet finger, a warm paper towel, rag, cotton ball etc. It's just a little baby poop ... it won't kill you. You need to do this after feeding or about every 3-5 hours until they start "going" on their own.
Eyes and Ears: Both the eyes and ears usually open sometime between 6 and 14 days Old. Both their sight and hearing slowly improve or develop over the next 4 plus weeks.
In other words, just because their eyes are open at 7 days old doesn't mean they can see all that great or that their little brains can process what they do see. It takes a little time in the predator species. (Prey animals are likely to be able to see (and run) shortly after birth)
Worms: Internal parasites are very common in kittens and puppies. Some vets like to do fecal checks as early as 2 weeks of age. I simply recommend deworming both kittens and puppies with Pyrantel at about 2 weeks of age whether they need it or not.
This needs to be repeated 3-5 weeks later ... usually along with the first vaccines.
Vaccines: Each vet has a slightly different vaccine schedule, but in general, for both kittens and puppies we should start the first vaccines soon after weaning or at 6-8 weeks of age ... which ever comes first. Boosters should be given at about 10 and 14 weeks of age. Rabies vaccine can be given anytime soon after 12 weeks of age ... I usually combine it with the 14 week old boosters. Vaccines have been greatly improved and in the near future these recommendations may be modified, but please don't neglect these puppy and kitten vaccines ... we vets have to watch several young pets die each month in near helplessness because high quality vaccines weren't given for one reason or another. On the other hand, we rarely see significant problems caused by the vaccinations which is what so many lay pet articles are implying.
Weaning: Introduction of a liquid or gruel diet may be done at 3 to 4 weeks of age. Puppy or kitten milk replacer is a good starter, followed by gruel made of puppy or kitten food soaked in warm water. I often add a little "Gerber's" rice cereal to this mixture, but it's probably not needed. (But I've done it all my life) Over the next couple of weeks, simply use less and less liquid until they are eating dry food. Weaning should be completed between 5 and 8 weeks of age.
New Homes: Both puppies and kittens are physically and psychologically ready (in most cases) to bond to new humans and leave "home" anytime after weaning. The ideal age seems to be between 6 ad 9 weeks old.
Don't forget those vaccines