The first few days of a puppy’s life are critical for a healthy dog. Newborns can’t regulate their own body temperatures so they need help from the dam or a human – sometimes both. The wrong temperature can impact feeding and digestion and it’s a delicate balancing act. Read different tips to Keep a Newborn Puppy Warm.
Why Do Newborn Puppies Need Heat?
The newborn puppies don’t develop the ability to shiver until about 2 1/2 weeks into their precious lives and can’t regulate their temperature at all until 4 weeks of age. They are completely vulnerable to temperatures outside of the ideal range. We’re not just talking about cold weather here. If a puppy’s rectal temperature falls under 94°(F), hypothermia can set in and that’s a whole different health issue with challenges we’ll address.
Modern technology and veterinary science have discovered the perfect rectal temperatures for puppies in the first weeks of life before they are weaned.
- WEEK 0-1: 95°–99°F (35°–37.2°C)
- WEEK 2-3: 97°–100°F (36.1°–37.8°C)
- WEEK 4+: 99°–101°F (37.2°–38.3°C)
As much as you don’t want it to get too cold, you don’t want it too hot either. Check that temperature table for the high end of the spectrum to avoid heat-related illnesses in puppies.
The Dam’s Body Heat
You might be wondering, “Dogs have been making puppies for centuries, long before heat lamps existed. Why would I need one?” A valid question. Humans also lived without Penicillin for centuries, but it didn’t mean they always survived.
The dam (mother) provides a certain amount of body heat to her puppies. (Keep in mind the Sire is nowhere to be found. He’s not even aware those are his puppies.) In a perfect world, the dam’s body heat is enough. It’s not a perfect world. There are critical benefits to having a heat lamp handy.
- If the mother rejects the puppy, a heat lamp will be required.
- The dam will need to go outside, get exercise, and rest, leaving puppies unattended briefly.
- The heat lamp controls the temperature of the whole whelping box, not just near the dam.
- Puppies will wander away and they can’t see for the first two weeks of their lives.
Heat lamps can also help dry out the moisture in the box, which is important if you live in a humid area.
Supplemental Heat Sources
The AKC says heat lamps or heating pads are just fine to use for keeping puppies warm. The Merck Veterinary Manual is more strict, saying only a heat lamp should be used due to the dangers of the heating pads burning the puppies. In their earliest days, puppies are not able to move away from extreme heat.
There are heated whelping boxes, which is a safe and secure area where the dam tends to her pups. The novelty of the heated floors is not only can you set the temperature to the ideal setting for the breed of puppies, but the floors also focus the heat in the center, keeping curious puppies from wandering to cold spaces. The more a puppy wanders from the safety of the pack, the more chance it has of the dam to accidentally lay down on top of the puppy.
Mortality rates in newborns can be as high as 26%, so you want to take every step possible to keep the dam and puppies safe.
What Is the Ideal Temperature?
The American Kennel Club (AKC) says the whelping box should be 85°F (29°C) – 90°F(32°C) for the first five days, and over the next four weeks, the temperature can incrementally come down to 75°(24°C).
There is not a one-size-fits-all heat lamp. The choice you make is dependent on the space of the whelping box, the size of the room, and the season of birth. You should look for heat lamps that come with options of wattage. This will better control the temperature in the room. For example, a 100-watt light will heat up to a 5-foot area. Remember, you are just heating up the whelping box, not the whole room.
Look for safety features on the lamp like an automatic shutoff when the ideal temperature is reached, and plan carefully so the cord never comes anywhere near a puppy. You can also opt for a cordless heat lamp.
Why is Temperature So Important?
If a newborn puppy is too cold, it can’t eat or digest food properly. If they can’t eat, they don’t get the nutrition to grow. Puppies should double their birth weight in the first week, something the breeder needs to keep a close eye on.
The first few days, the puppies feed off their mother’s production of colostrum, which is a milky substance that is loaded with antibodies pups need to grow healthy and fight off infections.
“Excessively high temperatures and high humidity can cause respiratory difficulties and dehydration in puppies. Dams that are overly warm may spend less time with their puppies and produce less milk,” warns Dr. Fran Smith, a veterinary reproduction specialist.
When it comes to temperature control vs feeding, temperature control is the top priority due to those digestive issues involving temperature.
What is Puppy Hypothermia and How Do You Heal It?
When a puppy’s temperature drops below the threshold, this puts it at risk of hypothermia. Puppies should not be fed while hypothermic and you need to warm them up gradually during 30-minute increments. Don’t just put a lot of heat on them as this can cause dehydration and/or heat stroke.
How Long Do You Need Heat To Keep A Newborn Puppy Warm?
Puppies should reach their full adult temperature by week four. This is also when the puppies have open eyes and a curious mind and will start venturing off the warmth of the whelping box. The rectal temperatures of each puppy will tell you when it’s okay to turn off the lamp.
While recommendations vary, you’ll need to have the heat lamp option for at least three weeks and up to seven weeks.
Do Newborn Puppies Have a Natural Instinct to Find Heat?
A newborn puppy is blind and deaf to the world around them, but they do know heat is a good thing. They instinctively know heat means comfort and food. This is why heat should be focused toward the dam’s belly for nursing.
If a puppy isn’t moving toward a nipple, the human needs to encourage the puppy to eat by placing its mouth near the food source.
A quick visual cue for puppy temperatures is in how they are grouped together. Puppies will generally snuggle up to each other for warmth. If it gets too hot they might scatter around the box a bit more, and we’ve talked about how dangerous that can be. If they are all piled up in a big lump, it might be too cold.
Doesn’t the Dam Get Too Hot in the Whelping Box?
This is another thing a keen breeder needs to watch. If the dam is panting excessively or drinking large amounts of water, she might be too hot. A hot dam can’t attend properly to her puppies. She might even try to leave the whelping box.
It’s important to attend to the breed specifications at this time. A thick-coated dam is going to get hotter faster than her puppies who still have a lot of hair to grow. Make sure there is room for the dam to move around in the whelping box if she needs a break from the heat lamp.
While too hot is bad, too cold is worse and can result in a higher mortality rate.
Think of the Three Little Pigs
While we’ve shown you the complex ways to get the temperature just right, it really boils down to the three little pigs. You don’t want it too hot, you don’t want it too cold you need it just right.