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Raising Puppies or Kittens: Everything You Need to Know

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Most female dogs and cats are very good mothers, and raising puppies or kittens can be an extremely rewarding experience. Knowing what to expect can help you and your pet enjoy the process.

A cardboard box that is placed in a safe, secluded place can work well as a nesting box.  The box should be enclosed, or the top of the box partially covered to keep the light subdued.  If the mother senses danger or too much light, she may become anxious and attempt to hide her young or move them elsewhere.

At first, the mother should spend most of her time with the young.  If she doesn’t, the puppies or kittens may need an additional heat source even though they huddle together to provide warmth.  Puppies and kittens should be eating or sleeping 90 percent of the time during the first two weeks of life.  If they are crying during or after eating, the mother and entire litter should be promptly examined by a veterinarian.

The puppies or kittens should be checked every few hours to make certain that they are warm and well fed.  The mother should be checked to make certain that she is producing adequate milk.  Supplemental feeding will be necessary if the litter is large, if the mother does not produce enough milk, or if she gets a mammary infection.  A commercial puppy or kitten milk replacer or canned goat’s milk warmed to the touch can be used; your vet can provide you with specific instructions for feeding.

Weaning should begin when puppies or kittens are 3-4 weeks old.

Kittens:  Place diluted milk in a saucer and encourage the kittens to lap by gently dipping their noses in the milk.  This may take a few days.  Once the kittens are lapping up the milk, mix in a small amount of canned cat food, gradually increasing the amount until it replaces the milk completely.  By 4-6 weeks, the kittens should be eating only solid food.  A food that is specially formulated for kittens is recommended for the first year.  Many young kittens eat as often as 12 times a day, so free feeding that allows nibbling all day is a good option.

Puppies:  Soak puppy food in water and mix it in a saucer with milk replacer to make a gruel.  Encourage the puppies to lap by gently dipping their noses in the milk.  This may take a few days.  Next, mix dry or canned puppy food with the milk replacer, gradually increasing the amount of puppy food until it replaces the milk completely.  By 4-6 weeks, the puppies should be eating only solid food.  A food that is specially formulated for puppies is recommended for the first 12-18 months.

Check with your vet if a puppy or kitten is not progressing well.  Puppies and kittens should double their birth weight the first week, open their eyes at 7-14 days, become alert and try to stand at 2 weeks, usually try to climb out of the box at 3 weeks, and walk, run and play at 4 weeks.

Puppies and kittens should receive their first vaccination at 6-8 weeks of age, earlier if they were unable to nurse for any reason.

Q&A

How should I prepare a nesting area for the new mother?

A partially covered cardboard box in a safe, secluded place can work well as a nesting box. 

How should I care for the newborns?

The new mother will provide most of their initial care, but you may have to supply an additional heat source if she leaves the box for a prolonged period.  The puppies and kittens should be contentedly eating or sleeping 90% of the time during the first two weeks. 

How can I tell if they are getting enough to eat?

Check on the young every few hours to make certain that they are warm and well fed, but don’t unnecessarily disturb the mother.  Check promptly with your veterinarian if you hear much crying during or after eating, because this may mean that the mother is not able to feed all the young adequately.

Will I need to feed the young?

Supplemental feeding with a commercial puppy or kitten milk replacer will be necessary if the litter is large, if the mother does not produce enough milk, or if she gets a mammary infection.  Weaning onto solid food can begin gradually at 3-4 weeks; your vet can provide you with detailed feeding instructions.

How can I tell if the young are progressing normally?

Puppies and kittens should double their birth weight the first week, open their eyes at 7-14 days, become alert and try to stand at 2 weeks, usually try to climb out of the box at 3 weeks, and walk, run and play at 4 weeks.  Check with your vet if a puppy or kitten is not progressing well. 

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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