During the first two weeks of a pup's life all its needs are met by feeding from its mother. If however the litter is large or if the mother is not producing enough milk herself, or if the pup is orphaned, then it may need to be hand reared. If the pup is orphaned it may be worth contacting a local breed club to see if there are any suitable foster mothers available to feed the pup.
Puppies grow very quickly and can double their birth weight in just a few days. Because of this rapid growth they need large volumes of their mum's milk or something similar. Thankfully substitute formulas are now available commercially, and this can be fed either by bottle or syringe.
These dried milk substitutes should be made up fresh each day and heated to 38 degrees Centigrade. Feed your puppy slowly, and don't force things as your pup may end up with pneumonia from inhaling milk. Sometimes the teat hole may need to be enlarged to improve milk flow so that the puppy doesn't just suck in air.
One thing to remember if you are nursing an orphan pup is to rub a small piece of moistened cotton wool at it's bottom after it has been feeding. This action copies the action it's mother would have taken with her tongue to encourage the pup to pass urine and faeces. You can stop doing this from about 3 weeks old when the pups should be old enough to no longer require this action.
When your pups are about 3-4 weeks old they will start to explore their environment. This is a good time to bring in a good high quality puppy food. This can be fed mixed in with some milk substitute initially, and then fed on its own. Mum's milk will still however form the bulk of their diet at this stage. You could soften dried food with gravy or water, or even a small amount of milk, but milky foods are not essential.
Puppies should be fed together under supervision to make sure that they all get a good share of the food, and that one doesn't gain weight at the expense of a smaller, weaker sibling. Concentrated, highly palatable puppy foods are best for weaning. Most pups can be successfully weaned onto this type of diet by about 6-8 weeks of age, when they are almost ready to leave their mum. I would also tend to feed them about 4 times per day at this age rather than allowing them to feed ad lib. I would continue with this regime until about 10 weeks old when I would then drop to 3 meals a day. By 5-6 months old I will have dropped the feeding to twice daily. I continue to feed this growth diet until the puppy approaches its adult weight, then drop the feeding to once a day, and also change onto a maintenance diet. If I'm feeding a large breed dog I may continue to feed a growth diet for a lot longer, as they take longer to mature and develop.
Assessing the needs of a growing pup can be difficult as lots of things can mean differing nutritional requirements. Different foods have differing energy values and even the pups themselves depending on body type, breed and activity level will affect their needs. Nothing I feel can beat just casting a good eye over the general condition of your pup, and feeling him generally to see that his dietary needs are being met to the full.
Leonard Mutch is a dog owner and trainer with over 25 years experience working with dogs. Learn the 7 essential components of good dog feeding on his website :
puppy food information