Tube Feeding Puppies

Over twenty years ago a I co-bred a litter with good friend of mine who handled the whelping of our eight Gordon Setter puppies . Everything went smoothly at the birth and they were all plugging along, doing great and gaining weight when out of the blue, four days after giving birth, the dam became critically ill. An emergency call and wild ride to the vet revealed that Eclampsia had struck, and in addition to being life threatening for our bitch it created the need to completely take over the feeding of those eight newborn puppies, the dam could no longer nurse due to this condition. Without tube feeding, this litter’s chances of surviving and thriving would have been fairly slim. Bottle feeding eight puppies around the clock and all by oneself was not an option. Tube feeding only means by which my dear friend could save those babies.

And that brings us to to thanking Barbara Manson for sharing this excerpt on tube feeding and for bringing this topic to my attention, it’s something I hadn’t thought of in awhile, but it certainly should be given space here, so here we go!

Tube Feeding Puppies

The following is an excerpt from the book, Feeding Dogs and Cats by Mark L. Morris Jr. DVM, Ph D and Lon D. Lewis, DVM, Ph D.  Copyright 1984, Mark Morris Associates, Topeka, Kansas.

Tube feeding, for most people, is the easiest, cleanest, fastest, safest and most preferred way to feed orphans,  An infant feeding tube (available from many hospitals, pharmacies or pediatricians), number 8-10 French, or a small male urethral catheter can be used.  Once weekly, mark the tube 75% of the distance from the nose to the last rib.  This is the length necessary to just reach the stomach.  If more is inserted, when withdrawn it will frequently come back doubled, possibly damaging the esophagus.  Attach the tube to a syringe, aspirated the amount of formula needed and expel any air aspirated.  Open the mouth slightly, and with the head held in the normal position (not flexed upward or downward) gently pass the tube to the mark.  If an obstruction is felt before you reach the mark the tube is in the trachea.  If this is not the case, slowly administer the formula over a two minute period to allow for gastric dilation.  If resistance is felt, stop.  It probably indicates the stomach is full.  With these precautions, regurgitation rarely occurs.  If it does, withdraw the tube and do not feed any more until the next scheduled feeding.  For the first few weeks of life after each feeding, burp the animal (just like an infant) and swab the genital area with moistened cotton to stimulate deification and urination.

Below you’ll find more resources, including websites with photos to help guide you, simply click the colored links to go to there.  This is also where I ask other breeders if they have techniques or advice about tube feeding that can be shared with others to help round out this information? Please use the comment section to add your thoughts or if you’ve got more detail to add than can be shared in comments feel free to send me your notes or an article at and I’ll get it published on here.

Many thanks to talented photographer Susan Roy Nelson for the peek-a-boo photo!

2 thoughts on “Tube Feeding Puppies”

  1. I once had to tube feed a litter – Mama was a very small bitch (field lines) and had 14 puppies ranging from 9 oz DOWN to 3 oz. She had milk, but not enough, and too few feeding stations. I did not feel confident, so the vet was happy to mark tubes for me. Most people supplement the weak/small puppies and allow the stronger ones to nurse. I felt that the weaker ones most needed mother’s milk, so I devised this plan: I weighed every puppy morning and night. I calculated the % of gain for each puppy. Not the AMOUNT gained, but the % of gain (because a small puppy might have a better % of gain with a smaller amount than a large puppy). At each feeding I would take the smaller/weaker puppies first and supplement them slightly less than the recommended feeding amount, and then put them on mom. While they were nursing I would supplement the larger puppies, and then put them on mom as the smaller ones stopped nursing. The larger ones were better able to work at getting mom’s decreasing milk supply. Pneumonia took 5 of the pups, and then Parvo took a 6th. I was left with 7 girls and 1 boy – (1 show ch, 1 fld ch, [not the same dog, unfortunately] several show and/or field pointed, and all but one with at least a JH). I never would have have been blessed with those 8 G’s if it had not been for tube feeding, and I would have been exhausted from trying.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience! While it’s one of those tales we all hope we will never have to deal with, as a breeder the odds are that someday this may be something to face. Hearing the stories from others who’ve been there and done that gives us the strength and the courage we need to move on. Thank you again for jumping in to share!


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