One of the reasons that puppies are amongst the cutest things in the world is because they are so vulnerable.
And the trouble with anything that is vulnerable is that we worry about them more.
I have already written an article answering the question, can puppies go all night without water?
Another worry can be around how often a puppy is eating.
When puppies are born, they are totally blind.
Within a few minutes of being born, all being well, a puppy would have found one of their mother’s nipples using their sense of smell alone.
And let’s not forget that they cannot walk or stand- they just get to where they need to be by crawling and sheer determination.
But what happens if things don’t go according to plan?
Or if in the first few weeks of life a puppy misses a meal or two or just doesn’t seem as healthy as some of its litter mates?
Let me start by looking at just how vulnerable these newborn puppies are.
How long can a newborn puppy go without eating?
In a perfect world, a newborn puppy is fed from their mother within minutes of being born and will spend the first two to three weeks doing nothing other than sleeping or feeding.
A newborn puppy can survive for a few hours without food after being born, which is a real surprise but they will still have nutrients from the uterus.
But, a newborn pup needs to be kept warm and immediately after being born this is more important because newborns can’t control the temperature of their own bodies- and they normally get the warmth from lying on their Mum, sucking on her nipple.
The longer that a newborn pup doesn’t eat, the greater the risks are of infection.
And so, a puppy needs to feed every couple of hours for the first three weeks of life.
How long can a 7 week old puppy go without eating?
A seven week old puppy is a completely different animal (if you pardon the pun) to a newborn pup.
Although a few will try and still feed from their mother, any self respecting Mum will be telling them “no” because by this age they can get everything they need from a wet or dry puppy food.
They should be fed three to four times a day and the exact amount depends on their breed.
For our 7 week old puppies we use a very good quality dry kibble, to which we add a little warm water to make it nice and soft.
Feeding time with a litter of 7 week old puppies is like a circus, it is absolute chaos.
The food is put on a few plates to make sure that every puppy gets to feed and whilst you are getting it ready the puppies are so excited with their high pitched yelping.
And when you put it down they all race to one plate and so you need to move the puppies around.
And then the mess that they make!
Other key differences in a 7 week old puppy are they are able to maintain their own body temperature and they are spending far less time sleeping and much more time charging around exploring their world.
Of course, they still sleep a lot and they will suddenly just stop and fall asleep wherever they are, which is hilarious to watch.
How long can a 12 week old puppy go without eating?
A 12 week old puppy should still be fed three or four times a day, if possible.
Of course, the volume of food would have increased dramatically from when they were seven weeks old…
The purpose of feeding them multiple times a day is because they have a tiny or developing stomach and digestive system and so you are trying not to overload it.
The more times you can feed a puppy during the day, the more manageable their toileting will be.
The less they are fed in one sitting, the less “waste” they will be defecating at any one time.
And by 12 weeks old you want to be giving your puppy the best chance of going through the night without pooping as well.
Now this is an aim and most puppies will not be 100% continent for a few months yet but in order for this to work you want to have feed them their last meal of the day at the latest 6pm.
That way they have enough time to digest all their food ready for a trip out in the garden just before bed time.
Can a puppy go without eating at night?
For the first three weeks of their lives, the puppies will need to feed during the night because as has been explained, they are feeding every couple of hours.
Even after the puppies transition from feeding from their mum to eating solid dog food, they will still try to feed from their Mum.
And a lot of this happens at night because night time is so much calmer than day time.
It is normally in week three that you start to wean the puppies- which is the process of stopping the puppies feeding from their mum- from milk to solid food.
But, puppies will not completely stop feeding from their Mum until they are six or seven weeks old.
Of course, at this stage they are feeding for very brief periods and a lot of this will depend on how tolerant mum is for this to happen.
A six or seven week old puppy can go through the night without needing to feed as long as they have had enough food during the day.
And the same is true for older puppies.
How to wean a puppy
From about the age of three weeks, puppies should be ready to eat something else apart from milk.
This is a key transition to make and there are a few things that can be done in order to make it as easy and successful as possible.
Puppies, from this point on, will still need to feed from their Mum but it should happen less and less.
At the age of seven weeks, there is no need for a puppy to still be feeding from their mum.
Get their mum out of the way- otherwise she might be tempted to eat it all!
Make sure that you feed them puppy food, not adult dog food.
It is as good a quality as you can afford
If it is a dry kibble, add warm water to it in order to make it soft and smell more attractive.
Use flat plates to put the food on so that the puppies can easily reach the food.
Use multiple plates- this ensures that all puppies can get access to the food.
Keep calm, this will take days to complete successfully- it will be chaotic and very,very messy.
Some puppies will take to it immediately and need no support or encouragement.
Other puppies will need a few days and lots of encouragement to begin to eat something other than milk.
What does a mother’s milk contain?
It is difficult to answer this question completely accurately.
I guess all that can be said with any certainty is that it (should) contain everything a newborn puppy needs to survive for the first 4 weeks of life.
A 1984 study looking at the composition of milk from 5 beagle bitches found that the milk contained:
- 23% dry matter
- 9.5% fat
- 7.5% protein
- 3.8% sugar
- 146 kcal per 100g
It must have enough nutrition for a puppy to have doubled in weight by day 9.
And for the first couple of days, the composition of the milk is very, very special as the puppies are given a real boost.
This milk is called colostrum and it contains a huge dose of protein as well elements to help kick start a puppy’s immune system.
Why won’t a newborn puppy eat?
Common issues with puppies can include;
- Physically not being able to because of a poorly formed jaw or nose.
- Being needing to eat because they are full already
- Being full of gas and not being able to eat.
- Being too cold because they have strayed away from their mother who keeps their body warm.
Signs that newborns not eating enough
When you have a litter of newborn puppies, it can be very hard to identify individuals because they all look so similar and they are so small.
Part of being a good puppy parent is that you should be keeping a close eye on your newborn puppies which might help you to solve a problem before it blows up into a crisis.
It is not that you need to identify every puppy in the litter, but you do need to be able to identify the smaller and weaker members of the litter and you will make sure that they get a proper feed from their mum.
If that means physically placing them on the nipple, then do it- as long as it will not totally freak out the mother.
And of course, in the first few weeks the puppies grow so much that it is very normal for their size and weights to change relative to the rest of the litter.
But there are some more serious signs that placing the odd puppy directly onto a nipple will not sort out.
These signs will all require an urgent appointment with your local vet.
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Puppy is cold with a dry nose
- Sleeping (even more than it should)
- Making heart wrenching crying sounds
How to help a puppy that is not eating
I think that I have mentioned these in passing and the first action that you should take is to place the newborn that doesn’t seem capable of eating directly on the nipple.
Hopefully that should be enough and the puppy will be able to feed from the nipple on its own.
Place more vulnerable puppies on the nipples closer to the back legs because
You can check that each puppy has fed and is full by looking at their tummies. They should be nice and round and “full”.
Difference puppy food and adult food
What should mum eat?
Replacement mother’s milk?
In certain circumstances a puppy might not be able to feed from its mum or the mum might not be able to produce any milk themselves