ANIMAL BYTES: Taking Care of Puppies and Kittens




(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on June 9, 2010)


A few months ago, we inherited a litter of puppies. They were just a day old when a box was placed on our doorstep. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence. Fortunately, we had the time and resources available to help. Here is a brief overview.

Dr. Oba holding one of the five orphaned puppies.

First, here is my two cents worth. I do not advocate breeding pets—they should be spayed and neutered. This not only prevents unwanted litters, but also keeps pets healthier. Due to space limitations, I will not go into further detail, but this is something for you to think about.

Have you ever wondered how to take care of and feed an orphaned animal?

For the first three weeks, puppies and kittens don’t have teeth. During this time, we bottle fed the puppies with store bought formula. It is more convenient and safer for us to do this than to make formula. As baby teeth erupt, we start making them eat from a bowl. The danger in continuing to bottle feed is when they bite the nipple’s end with their razor sharp teeth. Sometimes a piece gets sheared off and then swallowed. If a large piece goes down, we have to remove it surgically.
At about four weeks, it’s weaning time. To do this successfully, puppy or kitten food is mixed with hot water and formula to a soupy consistency. Puppies and kittens will eat the slop like they did when it was just the formula. Water gradually replaces formula over the next one to two weeks. The consistency of the gruel should be gradually thickened until they are eating kibble. Continue until they are about six weeks old. Some breeds of dogs and most kittens are ready to go to their new homes by six weeks, so they should be on kibble by this time.

How often do they need to be fed?

Xelda and Xavier.

Puppies and kittens require frequent feeding. Newborns are fed every two hours. Back off to every three hours after the first two weeks. At about three weeks, feed them every four hours, although some may still need more frequent feedings. At four weeks, change to every six to eight hours, depending on how they’re doing At six weeks and beyond, feed every eight hours.

We did a lot of playing it by ear. If they were sleeping, we let them sleep. If they acted hungry, we fed them earlier. I tried to keep it within the guidelines, give or take an hour.

What kind of environment do they need?

Puppies and kittens cannot regulate their body temperature as newborns. They need to be in a warm environment, usually accomplished with heating lamps and heating pads. Place them in a safe “whelping box.” We used plastic bins, milk crates and carriers.

After a few weeks, they can regulate their temperatures better and don’t require external heat sources as long as their environment is warm. A clean and dry area must be maintained. That’s easier said than done. They urinate and defecate constantly. Invest in newspapers, paper towels, a good cleaner, laundry detergent and towels. You will use more than you think.

What else do they need?
Newborn puppies and kittens cannot defecate and urinate on their own. Their mom will lick the genitals and anus to stimulate urination and defecation. Since orphans rely on us, we have to mimic this. Use warm, wet cotton balls and wipe these areas mimicking a dog’s tongue until you get the desired output. Do this frequently, usually after feeding. If this is not accomplished, constipation and urinary retention result, leading to a sick orphan. They usually start urinating and defecating on their own in a few weeks.

Luckily for us, all five of our orphans survived. Thanks to the dedication of our staff and rescuer, they’ve been placed in excellent homes. Our core team of six veterinary employees and five staffers kept these guys healthy, happy and socialized.  Now, we’ve received a litter of kittens, followed by a second litter of puppies. It’s a neverending saga in our line of work. See our rescuer’s website at

Stephanie Oba is a contributing writer and physician for animals in  Alhambra. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.


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