It is very common to find puppies and kittens without their mothers here in Spain and it is very hard for the person who will become the “adopting mother” to act correctly, especially if the animal is only hours or days old.
The puppy’s mother does some basic functions that are very important in the first days of life, like giving food, balancing the environmental factors and making eliminations easier, as well as socializing and educating labours that are very important in the third or fourth weeks onwards.
Undoubtedly, food is the most important thing. Nursing is divided into two periods: the first one that lasts one or two days, and the obligatory nursing that lasts about 30 days. The first milk produced by dogs and cats is denser and more yellow than the usual milk and is segregated during the first two or three days. It contains a great amount of anti-bodies which will give passive immunity to the baby and will protect it against many infections for the first two or three months of its life. After this time, the puppy or kitten will be able to develop actively its own defences against infections. In cats, this first milk can be substituted for any other in lactation. Cat’s milk has a good number of anti-bodies during all the lactation, however dogs need this first milk, and this is not always possible in Spain, because it is not sold here, although it is in other countries. However, this first milk may be substituted for serum obtained from the blood of a healthy dog.
The period of obligatory nursery lasts 30 days, until the puppy is able to eat solid food. A new-born dog or cat can take milk about 20/25 times per day. It is recommended they take some every 3 hours for the first two or three days, and then, every 4 or 6 hours, depending on how it is growing and until it is able to eat solid food alone from a dish. This usually happens between 15 and 20 days of life. If feeding the puppy or kitten manually, it is recommended to use bottles with the size of the teat adapted to the size of the animal and with very small holes. Generally, it is better to give commercial milk to dogs. We have to bear in mind that dog and cat’s milk has more protein, grass, calcium, phosphor and iron than cow’s milk, so if we choose a formula made at home, we must give cow’s milk plus one yoke of egg per each quarter of litre, and add some vitamins.
It is essential to keep the conditions of temperature and humidity for the puppy as close as possible to what the mother does with her own body, especially during the first days, keeping to 25-27º and 50-60% humidity. We also should put the puppy face up and pass a wet cloth 3-5 times per day over the anal and genital area in order to make urination and defaecation easier, in the same way as their mother would clean it.
Finally, if the puppy or kitten does not have any brothers or sisters around it, and has a lack of social contact, it should be touched and cuddled by different people as much as possible in order to help its socialization. Many baby animals can be reared quite successfully in this way, but it is a lot of satisfyingly hard work.