Puppy milk replacer is a carefully designed formula to replicate the mother’s milk. It typically comes in powder form, but if you’re short on time, you can also buy it pre-mixed. Ideally, the puppy would feed off their mother, but this isn’t always possible. Puppy milk replacer is the next best option.
Nothing is more important to a litter of brand new puppies than their nutrition. Right when they are born they instinctively nurse. This sucking reflex helps them gain the proper nutrition so they can grow bigger and stronger by the day.
Ideally, this would all happen naturally as the lactating dam provides the nourishment to her newborn pups. Sometimes, however, there are unforeseen obstacles that force you as the breeder to intervene to make sure the litter survives. This usually includes feeding the puppies puppy milk replacer.
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What is Puppy Milk Replacer & When Should I Use it?
New breeders or anyone whelping and raising a litter should be prepared for many things to go wrong. Not all dams can produce enough milk for their whole litter of puppies. This is more common when the dam has an unusually large litter.
It’s very common for some breeds such as labs and standard poodles to have litters that are larger than the dam can keep feed on her own. When the mother has a litter of 12-14 puppies, it is crucial for the breeder to supplement the dam’s milk with a puppy milk replacer.
When puppies are first born, they need colostrum if they are going to survive. So it is of vital importance that the breeder does not give the puppies milk replacer until the puppies are a couple days old. The breeder can make sure that all the puppies are getting colostrum by separating the litter and putting the dam in with half the litter at a time.
This method works best when the breeder puts the smallest and weakest puppies together and puts the dam in with those puppies first. This way, the weaker puppies get the easier milk, and the stronger puppies have to work a bit harder to get the milk. This method will sometimes increase the dam’s milk supply to where the breeder will not have to use a milk replacer. But this is not always the case.
The dam’s milk should always be the first choice for the puppies, as it is best for them. However, if the dam is not producing enough milk, and if all the puppies have received sufficient colostrum, then it might be time to introduce puppy milk replacer.
If the dam is not producing colostrum, the best hope for the litter’s survival is to find a surrogate mother quickly. A dam can serve as a surrogate when she has lost her litter or when she has a litter that is small enough that she can take on more puppies. The litter of the surrogate dam needs to be young enough that the dam is still producing colostrum.
When the puppies have had a sufficient amount of colostrum from their mother or a surrogate, it is safe to supplement them with puppy milk replacer.
How Will I Know When to Give Milk Replacer?
It’s challenging to know if the litter receives enough milk from their mom because the exact amount of milk is not measurable. There are a few indicators, however, that a litter of puppies is not getting enough milk.
The first sign is incessant whining. While it is normal for a litter of puppies to whine when they are hungry, they should quiet down when eating, and then they should sleep soundly for a brief time until they wake up and are ready to eat again.
If the puppies continue to whine throughout feeding and continue to whine after feeding, it is likely that they are not getting enough food from their mom, and supplementing with puppy milk replacer might be necessary.
Another sign that puppies need supplemental milk replacer is if they are not gaining weight. Fading puppy syndrome is all too common in newborn puppies, and it can be prevented. Fading puppy syndrome happens when a newborn puppy does not get enough colostrum in the first couple of days or does not get enough nutrients from the dam’s milk in the first week or two.
When this happens, the puppy becomes weaker, sometimes becoming too weak to eat. This triggers an often fatal cycle. The puppy is too weak to eat, so it cannot consume enough nutrients, making the puppy even weaker and able to eat even less. If this is not caught and corrected in time, the puppy will die.
How Should I Administer Puppy Milk Replacer?
If one or more of the puppies in a litter is not getting enough nutrients, puppy milk replacer must be given. A breeder should never feed a puppy on its back. This will cause the puppy to asphyxiate on the milk.
The lungs will often fill with fluid, and sometimes the damage is irreparable. A puppy should always be fed in the natural position in which they eat from their mothers. The stomach should face down so that the puppy is looking slightly upward to eat from the bottle.
In cases of fading puppy syndrome, however, feeding in this way will not suffice unless the intervention was done early enough that the puppy is strong enough to eat a sufficient amount to continue to grow stronger each day. If this is not the case, the puppy will need to be tube fed. This should only be done by a vet or experienced breeder.
A tube with the appropriate size for the puppy is placed through the mouth and into the puppy’s stomach. Milk replacer is slowly trickled into the puppy’s stomach at appropriate doses and intervals until the puppy regains enough strength to eat on his own.
At this point, the breeder can switch the puppy to a bottle or put him with the mother and watch closely to ensure that the puppy continues to gain weight and strength.
What Kind of Puppy Milk Replacer is Best?
There are several name brands of puppy milk replacer, all claiming to be the best on the market. But what is the best brand of puppy formula to feed your litter? The most important thing to pay attention to when deciding on a formula is the ingredients.
Most puppy milk replacer is made from cow’s milk, and while many puppies will do well with that type of formula, some will not. Cow’s milk is harder to digest than milk from goats. If you are worried about your litter’s ability to digest the formula, start them on a brand of formula that is made from goat’s milk rather than cow’s milk.
Because the cost of goat’s milk is usually higher than cow’s milk, some breeders will want to try puppy milk replacer made from cow’s milk first and watch their puppies’ poop consistency to determine whether they are digesting it well. If the feces look hard, or if there does not seem to be enough feces, that is a good sign that switching to a formula made from goat’s milk is a good idea.
What if The Puppies Are Not Doing Well on Milk Replacer?
Sometimes puppies will not grow stronger and bigger on milk replacer. If you have made sure that the puppies received colostrum, and then moved them to a puppy milk replacer, but you notice that the puppies are not growing stronger and bigger at the desired rate, then it might be time to look into a surrogate mother.
Surrogate mothers were mentioned earlier for cases where the dam who whelped the litter does not produce colostrum. However, surrogate dams can also be used in later stages when the puppies appear not to be doing well on milk replacer.
A dam can serve as a surrogate in these situations when she has recently weaned her own litter but is still producing milk, or when her litter is small enough that she can also nurse puppies from another dam.
However, not all lactating dams will accept another dam’s litter. If she is not willing, then putting the puppies with her can put the litter in danger. These risks, along with the difficulty of locating a local lactating dam, are among some of the reasons that many breeders will first try to use a puppy milk replacer.
Most litters of puppies who have had a sufficient supply of colostrum early on will do well on a puppy milk replacer. The development and availability of puppy formula has been a vital lifeline for many breeders as they attempt to keep their litter of puppies thriving through unforeseen obstacles. In an ideal world, every dam would be able to sufficiently feed her litter. In reality, however, puppy milk replacer can become vital for a litter’s survival.
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