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How To Increase Chances Of Saving A Runt Puppy



      I have a Great Pyrenees female birth 9 puppies.   One of the puppies on day 2 was seen to not be suckling, somewhat away from the litter, and smaller than her brothers and sisters.  It was obvious she was in distress.   My wife and I began to intervene to try to save this puppy hoping Nature had not already made a decision.   The next day I posted to the Facebook group "Livestock Guardian Dogs" - https://www.facebook.com/groups/LivestockGuardDogs/699079166859192/?comment_id=699384370162005&notif_t=like   to find information from others who regularly encounter this situation.   I was inundated with some outstanding information on what has worked for others in similar situations, and many were successful continually in saving the runt.   The occurrence in the puppy world, no matter the breed, or non breed, seems to be universal.  The "How To" steps appear to not be.   So this is just the tip of the iceberg to help others who find themselves wanting to help but not knowing how.   In my particular the puppy did die, not unexpected, however learned a lot for the next time.    At the bottom of this is the thread of many of the wonderful pieces of advice shared by the members of this group.   Hopefully you will find better success than I did this time with earlier intervention with some of the recommendations below.

   My personal summary below  as I digested advice.  I have no problem at all with disagreeing with this collective wisdom, as this is not "the definitive answers" but the shared wisdom of others with purpose to help others so disagreement is not bad, nor taken personally.
  1. Warmth is important so use an electric heating pad on low setting underneath the puppy.  One of differences with puppies is the total exposure of the small body, mostly without hair, to the environment.    With fur which has it's purpose of saving heat, thus reducing the need for more energy by burning calories, an older puppy with fur can spend the proteins to grow, not stay warm.   Staying warm is an energy consumption process so provide external heat.   Only caution is there are differences in "dry" heat versus "moist heat" but at this time not sure distinction needs to be made.
  2. Try to suckle the runt to the Mom's teat.   Colustrum is important for facilitating chemical responses that the mother's milk provides.  This is not to say the only way is if there was colustrum introduced but it has the mainstay of life building processes.
  3. If have access to fresh goat's milk then probably a better milk than formula alone.   Seems to be to use both is best as there is good amount of science behind the formulas.   Did not see this but possibly mix the two.
  4. Rub puppy's belly with warm water, preferably on soft item like cotton/rayon ball.   Two things going on here, warmth to aid digestion and also physical touch.
  5. Put puppy on Mom's teat even if have to remove a nursing puppy.   Try to get some Mom's milk in the puppy assuming the pup can nurse and assuming upon visual inspection you dont' see physical defect like hole in roof of mouth.
  6. Put puppy in front of Mom and hope Mom will lick the puppy.   The licking is another form of physical contact and probably there are some other benefits here is the Mom will lick.   Also in the wild a Mom has to expend her efforts to save as many puppies as she can but she will not sacrifice the remainder of her litter for one puppy.   If the Mom will not lick then I think this is a sign to absolutely intervene now, dont' wait as Mom may be sending a signal. If Mom is not licking then consider putting small amount of peanut butter on runt's skin to encourage Mom to lick.
  7.  If the puppy is not sucking then consider small amount of Karo syrup and pepper on tongue prior to trying to get puppy to suckle.  Now on the pepper there is contradictory opinions.   In humans if the mouth gets a "spicy" stimulus the body reacts by more fluids being introduced and often a desire to swallow.  The spice is the catalyst for this in humans however do not know if that is true with dogs but it is advice that seems to have a rational reason for doing.   You want the puppy to suckle whether from teat, eye dropper or puppy bottle.
  8. If the puppy will suckle from the Mom then consider taking away all the other puppies couple times a day and have the runt suckle only.
  9. If feeding externally general rule for feeding appears to be every 3-4 hours however I'm sure that depends on how much is consumed each time.   The puppy needs protein for cells to grow and get puppy out of danger zone.  The puppy is small though with limited capacity and also needs to sleep quite a bit.   Balancing act required and probably experiences will dictate over time.
  10. Put something like cuddly animal with the runt to provide the sensory input of cuddling to the Mom.   Replicate actuality of being healthy.
  11. Temperature on formula or goat's milk is simply do "wrist heat" as do with human baby.  Temperature just does not have to be hot as the mouth is still developing and the cells are probably somewhat more sensitive.
  12.  Use hair dryer on low for heat or immerse puppy into warm water maybe putting pup in bag, head out, if the temperature is very low.   I think the average temp of a puppy rectally is about 101.5, however can take temp. of healthy pups and use that as your guide to what the runt's temperature should be.
  13. It's one thing to heat up but then you have to keep temperature up so pup is not having to waste energy to stay warm so be sure to use blankets, towels whatever to maintain temperature.
  14. If large litter then might want to segregate into bundles of 3-4 and bottle feed one group while other groups are suckling.  This way get natural milk and supplemental feedings.
  15. Can increase the protein content of milk by adding Karo syrup, egg yolk to bottle so maybe less food but more protein.  Also can add vitamins and other supplements to the formula or goat's milk.
  16. If find yourself over your head then consult a vet to find out how to tube feed and other ideas your vet may have.  In the world of LGD's, rather than the pet industry, often not a practical option but always could be the best option.

        Hope this summary helps you if you find yourself trying to save underweight puppies going forward.  Don't worry about failing as the bigger failure is not to try so no matter what pat yourself on the back for the effort.

Facebook Thread:


Carolee Penner Bob Johnson can you keep her with mom and litter?
Like · Reply · 23 hrs
Bob Johnson
Bob Johnson Carolee Penner I just took her home and put her beside the Mom who was nursing the others. Unfortunately she did not even lick her so I put warm water on her belly, massaged, fed her, have warm air on her and

continue to rub, massage her now.

Barb Ream I did the wet cotton ball on the bum before for kittens. That stimulates their digestion and mimics what the mom would do.

Carolee Penner Keep trying. The best option for the pup long term is to have it with the litter and with mom.

Melissa Schalk Has mom rejected her? I tend to think there is a reason for the rejection..(yet I still try my damndest to keep them alive because I hate to give up on any living baby) I say your are doing all you can.

Bob Johnson Thanks Melissa Schalk. Answer is I dont' think so. She was always lying away from Mom yet when my wife would put her close to teats the Mom was OK but the puppy would not suckle. Assume over time ( 2 days) she had

weakened. My goal is to get her "stronger" and back to Mom.

Melissa Schalk weak sucking reflex? Have you checked the roof of its mouth for a hole?

Bob Johnson Yes weak now but improved from 6 hours ago. No have not checked but don't know how to or what to exactly look for. She is in her 3rd day of life so apparently first 2 days went semingly OK, or at least first day.


Melissa Schalk Thats my thoughts as I have dealt with this in litters in the past. Its sad and we do give our all to keep them alive good luck hopefully your pup beats the odds.

Summer N Billy Shaddix I got mine at 5 days old along with other friends as mom had mastitis. Keep her warm. Continue with the dropper. I used a homemade formula which had more calories and nutrition than the powered formula.

Make sure your wiping her for her to use the bath...See More
Unlike · Reply · 1 · 23 hours ago

Tabitha LaPointe Any chance you can take a few of the other pups away from mom a couple times a day to let this one have her milk? It would be a bit time consuming, but if she will let it suck, I would try and see if it had

less competition (and some supervision) if it could get some from her as well.

Wild Bill K Put a stuffed animal in with it, cuddle it a lot like it's momma would, call local vets to see if another momma will nurse it IF its real momma won't

Amy Compton I had one the mom tried to reject for the first 24 hours. She was tiny! I just kept putting her back with the other pups and making sure she got in to nurse. The mom ended up accepting her and she grew up big and

strong! On the other hand, I got in 4 o...See More

Bob Johnson Thanks Amy Compton on the "need to feed" as did not know that which means rather than hourly will go closer to every 4. That is a good piece of advice to know. OK which spurs another question if you or anyone

knows. "Every 4 hours".....is that specific to larger dogs say GP's or is it even smaller breeds like beagles etc.? Opportunity to learn.

Darla Liimatainen Put a heating pad under her on low only. Only feed every 3 hours. After feeding her take a warm cotton balls rub them on her bottom make sure she go to the bathroom. The cotton balls help with that. If

something is wrong with her she will die about 3 to 4 days old. Good Luck

Danielle Londrigan If you can get the baby sucking at mom at all, and then get mom to lick (coating pup with small dabs of peanut butter can help!) makes a world of difference. We have used raw goat milk between nursings to

add calories, boost strength, and because the .

Bob Johnson Danielle Londrigan do you have experience with the temperature of the milk? With basic dog temp being 101.5 is my understanding I would assume close to that. So far can't tell a difference in her on "cooler" mile

or when "warm" although I'm not measuring temp put just "wrist testing" for warmth.

Danielle Londrigan Don't stress about the warmth--it doesn't have to be "perfect." The idea is not burn them nor chill them. The wrist test works fine, although keep in mind if you have to walk from the house to the barn, it

will cool a few degrees. I tend to overheat a bit, then do the wrist test just before I feed.

Jeffrey Ludlow Bob I am going to link you in a post. Think it will help. As bottle feeding new borns is hit or miss.

Nichol Moore Pull the other pups every tw hours and put this little one on, in addition to what your doing. I always tube fed newborns so I knew exactly what they were getting. Weigh twice a day and adjust feeds accordingly.

Check hydration status and do warm SQ fluids if necc. Make sure mama cleans the bottom hourly too or you need to do that part as well

Amy Compton I really think if you can get the pup to nurse off momma, and then the pup smells like her and like the others, it might be ok.

Phyllis Grossman Bo Johnson has some preemie pups. They took a cosmetic sponge and made the tip a bit smaller and are dropping milk for the pups on it to suckle since they are having problems latching on to mom.

PK Scott a syringe is good for feeding when they are so tiny they aren't sucking. It gives you control and a measurement of what you are getting into them. Good luck and god bless.

Marlene Jehnsen take rectal temp and make sure it's the same as the other pups. If it's not warm, put in plastic bag and immerse the bag with the pup in warm water, keep head out of course.

Deborah Peterson Or, I warm cold lambs by laying on a towel and folding towel over them, then placing a hair dryer just under the towel several inches from the belly and letting it run on low/warm. Also, a heating pad under

the towel set on the lowest setting. Unless adequately warm, the lamb (or puppy) will not be able to digest the milk.

Tabitha LaPointe I put near dead lambs in the bathtub in warm water. I keep warming the water up as the lamb warms up. Works every time. smile emoticon

Della Jastrzab Did it get colostrum?

Wild Bill K
Wild Bill K How about heated hog mats with a blanket over them?

Karen Brill Take baby out and put in box or basket with hearing pad out back with mom at feeding times don't feed every hour. You can rub Karo syrup with some cayenne pepper tiny dab mixed in syrup under the tongue just about

10 min before feeds will give her a little pick me up and energy to nurse.

Marlene Jehnsen please no cayenne pepper



Bob Johnson Hmm interesting Karen, "cayenne" as I guess a stimulate which is akin to the herbal world lore and legend stuff, http://www.herbfest.net . What goes around comes around. I've got several posts on our herbal lore ee More

Karen Brill Not myth or legend fact the cayenne helps bring blood to the area and improve circulation. The sugar is basically a sugar rush of energy a puppy that is not getting decent meals needs more energy. I have raised

dogs and various animals for 20 years and I use it on all. Additionally coffee for punky goats and vit b all depends on the baby and what it needs feel free to skip it then good luck!

Morgan Cagle Yes keep warm, but unplug a pup an plug her in a few times a day it will help.

Susan Logan The main thing is she gets the colostrum that first 24 hours, from mama not formula. It's vital. Can you pull off the others to allow her to nurse each time? She needs mama milk if at all possible.

Jane Finneran I agree, I'd help her hang on to Mom for a few feedings. I'm sure there is a fat one that can miss a meal.



Susan Logan You can also syringe milk onto a make up sponge and let her suck on that. More like mama wink emoticon

Wild Bill K A hot water bottle in a stuffed animal or a towel will feel like momma, kinda

Kay Kelly Our Anatolian female had 12 pups in July. To begin with she separated them into 2 "piles" of 6. In a few days she had 3 piles of 4. We took the 4 smallest in the house for a few days and bottle fed them with goat

milk. We took them back out during the ...See More

Carol Werner I had a super tiny pug baby in a litter of five, mama kept bringing me the little baby and leaving her. I kept the litter and mom next to the bed, and holding the runt up to nurse, about 6 times a night. After a

week it seemed that she was strong enoug...See More



Bonnie Dawn We supplement large litters with raw goat milk, eggs and karo syrup. We actually supplement them all, not just the runt so they aren't all trying get every last drop from mom. (Is she weak because she is a

preemie?) I have one runt, but she is strong a...See More

Lauren Puma Someone on another site (or was it this one?) showed a method of using a cosmetic sponge to feed milk, adding it drop by drop to the sponge, that way they didn't over feed the preemie pups.

Diana Ramsey I always mix goat milk with the formula, 1/2 and 1/2, gives a little kick to the formula and a great start for the puppy with the added fat and vitamins, canned goat milk is good but fresh would be better.

Diana Ramsey I raised my boxer pup from one hour old using this and a regular baby bottle. This is him when we got him.




Bob Johnson Hi everyone and thank you so much for all the advice gained from your experiences. It was great. I'm going to literally copy every single response and put on our website this tremendous amount of information you

gave. This so others may have some info. to help them along when they encounter this constant recurring issue. Also will credit this FB group and link back when do the summary. Now for you Wild Bill K and the others, the

puppy passed away yesterday afternoon about 2:30 EST. Honestly I really did not expect her to live, and I could have done more and much better but at least she had a "fighting chance". So going forward due to your help we can

help others and maybe intervene earlier and have different results. Back to you later and the other 7 puppies are doing great!!! As is the mother...


Bob Johnson P.S. all, when I get this summary done and posted please comment negatively and positively on whatever I end up with. This about just helping other folks and collectively sharing the wisdom of the process.
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