Spring is near! Which means baby season to veterinary professionals. At least 3 of us will wind up with a bottle baby to care for and re-home. In light of this, I thought we could talk about how to bottle feed puppies or kittens!
First step is supplies. You will need…
- Wash Cloth
- Milk (Liquid cans or Powder you mix yourself. Ensure it includes colostrum and is for the appropriate species.)
- Small scissors or cuticle trimmers
Your local veterinarian or pet store should have milk and bottles. For kittens and small breed puppies I recommend using a 4 oz bottle and for large breed puppies I would use an 8 oz bottle. Once I have selected a bottle that is the appropriate size, I cut a very small X into the nipple. This helps the milk come out easier and with less pressure.
With regards too preparing the milk, I tend to prefer using the canned milk. It needs to be refrigerated after opening and only lasts 24 hours after opening. However, it is less mess and less time consuming. The powder form needs to be mixed according to the ounce size bottle you selected. Again, once mixed, this should be stored in the refrigerator and is only good for 24 hours after mixing. Colostrum is essential for newborn puppies and kittens. Colostrum contains antibodies from the mother and builds the immune system. This prevents puppies and kittens from becoming ill with viruses in their first few weeks of life.
Now you can begin the feeding process. Typically this takes place every 2 hours for the first two weeks of life and then you can wean to less frequent feedings weekly (Example- 3 weeks old feed, every 3 hours & 4 weeks old, feed every 4 hours.)
Warm the milk by placing the bottle in warm water until it is lukewarm. Test the temperature by placing a small amount on your wrist. It should feel slightly warmer or the same temperature as your skin. If it burns your skin, don’t feed yet. This is too hot and can burn the mucosal linings of the body.
Wrap the baby in a towel with the front feet tucked in. Keep a wash cloth nearby to wipe up spills and drool. Place the nipple into the baby’s mouth and tilt the bottle at a 45 degree angle. Now squeeze the bottle slightly so that a small amount comes out into the mouth. This may stimulate baby to suckle. If not, give the baby time and continue dispensing small amounts into the mouth. Eventually the baby will realize it’s time to eat. A lot of times they will kneed or want to press the paws into your hand while they feed, this is a natural reaction for them and is a self soothing type behavior. Monitor how much the baby drinks and keep a log of how much they are eating. This amount will vary from baby to baby and should increase as they age and feedings become less frequent. Use your best judgment and consult your veterinarian if you are concerned. Rotate the bottle slowly every so often to prevent air bubbles from blowing up into the mouth. Air bubbles are caused by the suction of the baby during nursing.
Keep in mind, at such a young age, kittens and puppies will need to be stimulated in order to urinate and defecate. This entails gently rubbing the hind end of the baby with a warm, wet washcloth or tissue until the baby uses the bathroom. Generally this is done before and or after feedings. At around age 5-6 weeks they should be able to do this on their own. I recommend logging their bowel movements until they are able to use the restroom on their own.
You are making a commitment by bottle feeding a baby through the first few weeks of life. Generally we recommend bottle feeding until 5-6 weeks of age. At which time I begin offering canned puppy/kitten food mixed with warm (Puppy/Kitten) milk. Slowly cut milk out of the diet and begin offering hard food with it. Bottle feeding is safe so long as there isn’t too much milk coming from the bottle cap and the bottle is held at a 45 degree angle. Aspiration pneumonia is a concern if any of the above occur, so just use your best judgment and practice caution. Bottle feeding is easy to do but is time consuming. This is necessary for infant puppies and kittens to survive and thrive.
Thank you for reading!
Your Friendly Neighborhood Vet Tech, RVT, CVJ