Can You Touch Newborn Puppies? [How to Do it Safely]

You can touch newborn puppies as long as you do it safely. Always wash your hands before handling and, if possible, wear a mask. Puppies under two weeks of age are fragile, so be sure to handle them gently.

If your dog just had puppies, it can be tempting to pet and cuddle them right away. While touching newborn puppies won’t necessarily harm them, there is the possibility of causing illness or injury.

Here are a few things to consider before handling your new whelps, reasons it might be necessary, and how to do so safely.

The Dangers of Touching Newborn Puppies

It’s usually not a great idea to handle newborn puppies unnecessarily. Doing so can raise the chances of something going wrong. Here are some reasons why it’s best to avoid handling whelps unless there’s a good reason to do so.

Protective Mother

Usually, if the puppies belong to your pet or another dog who knows you well, the mother will allow you to handle the puppies.

However, it’s not unheard of for a normally mild-mannered dog to become overly protective of her newborns, causing aggression. This is especially likely if you’re not already super well bonded with the mother.

Weak Immune System

Just like with newborn human babies, newborn puppies haven’t developed a strong immune system yet, making them super vulnerable to infections and illness.

The more often they’re handled, the more chances they have to come in contact with germs that their bodies just aren’t ready to defend against yet.

This is also why it’s essential to keep the whelping area clean and sanitized before the birth happens, and minimize contamination once the puppies have arrived.

Body Temperature

Newborn puppies aren’t able to regulate their own body temperature, which is one of the reasons they’re so often huddled up next to Mom and all their siblings.

Picking a puppy up when it’s buried into its family for warmth is going to cause its body temperature to fall, potentially to a dangerously low level. If you need to pick it up, make sure to keep it warm.

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They’re Fragile

It’s obvious that creatures as small as newborn puppies are fragile and easy to accidentally hurt, but what many people don’t realize is that newborn whelps have bones that aren’t even fused together yet.

This makes it unbelievably easy to cause accidental injury when picking up a newborn puppy, and why it’s better to hold off until they’re older.

There’s No Need

The number one thing to keep in mind when you’re thinking about playing with your newborn puppies is, is it necessary?

If you’re just eager to give them some love and attention, it’s better to wait for at least 3 weeks, once they start moving and exploring on their own. By this time, they’re a little hardier, and the dangers of handling them are much lower.

If there’s no genuine need to handle them before this time, it’s better to wait.

Reasons to Handle Newborn Puppies

Every now and then, it might be necessary to handle newborn whelps for their own good. Some general reasons are:

  • Illness
  • Abandoned, neglected, or orphaned
  • Difficulty in the birthing process

We’ll get more into detail about those circumstances below.


If a newborn puppy shows signs of illness, call your vet right away or take the puppy to an emergency clinic.

Signs of a sick puppy include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Refusal to eat
  • Constant crying
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing

This list is not exhaustive by any means. If the whelp is displaying symptoms not on this list that are causing you concern, be sure to get it checked out.

Abandoned or Orphaned

If a newborn puppy or litter of puppies has been abandoned or orphaned, of course it’s necessary to touch them. They won’t survive long without the care of a good samaritan or professional if the mother is unable or unwilling to take care of them.

If you find an abandoned or orphaned newborn puppy, use the guidelines in the next section to properly pick it up and get it to the nearest clinic for a checkup.

The vet will advise you from there about care options, as well as detailed instructions for providing care from home if appropriate.

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Sometimes a mother will reject a puppy or entire litter, in which case they’ll need the same care that an abandoned or orphaned puppy will.

Common reasons that a mother will neglect or reject her puppies are:

  • The puppy is sick
  • The puppy has a congenital defect
  • The mother is sick
  • Inexperienced mother (which isn’t really due to inexperience, but to a lack of oxytocin, the “love hormone” which causes the mothering instinct to kick in)

Contrary to what many people believe, a mother is not likely to reject a newborn simply because you’ve handled it, especially if it’s a dog you know.

If a mother rejects a puppy for any reason, though, it’s essential to separate the puppy from the mother in case she becomes aggressive with it.

Remember, this is instinctual, so it can be a danger even with dogs that are otherwise friendly and gentle. Separate the puppies and keep them safe.

Trouble in the Birthing Process

If there is difficulty in the birthing process, it might be necessary to help make sure that the puppies make it through.

This can include helping to break the birthing sac if the mother is unable to do so, so the puppy can breathe.

This can also include performing CPR on a newborn puppy who isn’t breathing by clearing the nose and mouth of mucus, putting the nose and mouth into your mouth, and blowing gently a few times.

If CPR is necessary on your puppy, call the vet’s emergency number once you get the puppy breathing, or ideally, have someone else make the call while you perform the CPR.

How to Handle a Newborn Puppy

If you need to handle a newborn whelp for any of the reasons described above, there are a couple things you can do to minimize the risks.

Wash Your Hands and Wear a Mask

Make sure never to touch a newborn unless your hands are completely clean and free of germs.

It sounds silly, but make sure to completely dry your hands after washing them. Because newborn pups are so susceptible to illness, it’s best not to get their fur wet if there’s no reason to.

Many people are surprised to learn that dogs can catch many illnesses from humans, including the flu. That’s why it’s a good idea to wear a mask if you’re handling a newborn, especially if you’re feeling under the weather.

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Be Gentle

It’s important to be super gentle with newborns because, as discussed earlier, they’re incredibly delicate.

All movements involving picking up, holding, or otherwise handling newborn puppies need to be slow and careful.

To pick a newborn puppy up, you can use two hands in a gentle scooping motion, one on each side of the body. You can also use one hand to wrap around the torso, with the thumb on one side of the body and the fingers on the other.

To hold the puppy, many people find it convenient to cradle it in the palm of the hand, belly down with the head towards the fingers. Carefully support the sternum with a couple fingers in between the front legs.

This is an especially useful position for feeding the puppy.

If Possible, Wait Before Handling

Although there are certain circumstances that warrant touching newborn puppies, it’s best to wait until they’re about 3 weeks old before handling them unnecessarily.

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