Saving a Newborn Puppy That Won’t Nurse

Our dogs Thor and Snow had puppies last week!

It was a very exciting and wonderful experience for us here in the Freeman household. Snow went into labor late at night, and I stayed up with her, feeling all too sympathetic having just given birth myself only three months earlier. I held her head and rubbed her tummy as she had each contraction, and she snuggled into me as she delivered each tiny puppy. It was precious and inspiring and really gross!

After Snow delivered her last puppy (5 in all!) I went to bed around 2:30am. At 7:30am I let Snow out to go potty by herself while I snuggled 5 wiggly newborns. I had to run some errands and meet some wedding clients at 10am, so I brought Snow back inside and headed out around 8am. When I got home around noon, I let Snow out to go potty again, and was chatting on the phone with my mom… when I saw Snow at the back door, with a motionless puppy in her mouth, covered in mud.

Yup. She had delivered a puppy at 7:30am and it was left alone, in the cold, starving for 5+ hours.

The puppy – a little girl – was so coated in mud that it didn’t even look like a puppy. It’s mouth was locked open, and mud was caked inside it’s mouth and throat. It’s tongue was so dry it felt like leather. It’s legs were so stiff I would think it was rigor mortis if the puppy wasn’t screaming. It wouldn’t / couldn’t move, but it’s little rib cage was shaking and swelling as it kept shrieking a continuous high pitched wail that sounded like a dying cat.

I didn’t know what to do. Seriously. I freaked out just a bit. (Well, a lot.)

I was torn between cleaning it up, warming it up, and trying to get it to nurse all at once. I ended up slowly submerging her in lukewarm water to clean her and try to bring her body temperature up. I whipped up a homemade batch of sugar water and swabbed the mud out of her mouth and throat as much as I could. And then I tried to get it her nurse… but she was too far gone. She had zero energy, zero nursing reflex and after awhile, she just stopped making noises. It was clear the puppy was not going to make it.

But we didn’t give up! (I’m stubborn like that!) I went to work researching what – if anything – we could do at this point. It was a weekend, so we couldn’t afford the emergency vet bills to take the puppy in – especially since it most likely wouldn’t make it. So we were stuck in the DIY realm.

I had read that newborn puppies will die around the 18 to 24 hour mark after not having milk from their mothers when they are first born. So we were racing the clock. We ran to a pet store, a feed store, and a pharmacy to get our supplies – puppy formula, a puppy bottle, hummingbird nectar and a small syringe for injections and saline water. (More on HOW we used those items in a bit!) After hours, and hours, and hours of fighting to save this puppy, something magical happened at the 18 hour mark.

At 18 hours, the puppy was not breathing regularly, had no body heat, was panting ragged shallow breaths with it’s mouth wide open, and was slipping into a coma unable to move. It was getting late while administering treatment every 15 minutes. I was emotionally and physically exhausted, so I headed to bed while my husband stayed up with the dying puppy tucked up against his bare chest to keep her comfortable as she slipped away. At around the 18 hour mark, Jonathan was startled when the puppy perked up, got hungry, and immediately actually latched onto it’s momma!

From comatose to perky, the puppy revived enough to stand a fighting chance that abruptly! That was one week ago, and I am SO HAPPY to say that Lucky (tiny puppy #6!) is alive and well and healthy!

Here’s what I learned through HOURS of researching how to save Lucky. It was surprisingly hard to find all of this information all in one place and in a condensed form so, hey! I’m gonna blog it all up for you. <3

More About Low Blood Pressure In Newborn Puppies and Saving Puppies That Won’t Nurse

In the race to save Lucky, we learned that the killer of newborn puppies that won’t nurse isn’t hunger, or thirst or cold… it is the low blood sugar that sets all those bad things into motion! Low blood sugar (the technical term is hypoglycemia) will attack any newborn pup that hasn’t had access to mother milk, but it can also affect newborn puppies even when the puppy is born healthy and has full access to it’s mom. So it’s important to learn about low blood sugar symptoms and what to do.

Here’s the deal… Very small puppies – and all new newborn pups – have very few fat stores. Fat is body fuel, and when there’s not enough, and the pup doesn’t have access to the necessary fats in its mother milk, then the blood sugar levels fall rapidly. Adult dogs and older puppies can make up the difference of a skipped meal when their liver churns out the necessary sugar. But a newborn puppies immature liver can’t manufacture enough necessary sugar and as a result, these tiny pups develop hypoglycemia.

Without enough sugar, the puppy’s heartbeat rate and breathing slow down, they lose the ability to nurse, along with the ability digest food and to maintain their body temperature, then they fall into a coma, and eventually their breathing and heartbeat stop altogether.

What Are Low Blood Sugar Symptoms in Puppies?

If you have a puppy that won’t nurse or is not acting well, or even if you have a healthy liter of pups, it is important to be alert for any one or a combination of the following signs:

  • The puppy acts weak.
  • The puppy is constantly sleeping and isn’t doing normal puppy growth twitches while sleeping.
  • The puppy seems disoriented.
  • His eyes look ‘glassy’ and unfocused. (This is for older puppies, NEVER force open a newborn puppies eyes when they are fused shut!)
  • The puppy starts to abnormally twitch, shake or tremble/shiver.
  • The puppy has no sucking or nursing reflex, is unable to nurse, keeps falling off the nipple, or sucks a few sucks and then lets go.
  • The puppy falls unconscious and can’t be awakened.

Without prompt attention and first aid, your puppy could die from low blood sugar. But fortunately, when you recognize the warning signs early in the process, low blood sugar is possible to treat and reverse at home.

In almost all cases the puppy will respond very quickly to treatment, within five or ten minutes. If treatment doesn’t reverse the symptoms within this time frame, take your puppy to the veterinarian immediately. If that is not an option for whatever reason, it’s time to move into aggressive treatments.

First Aid for Hypoglycemia / Saving a Puppy That Won’t Nurse


When blood sugar drops, puppies can’t regulate their body temperature. It’s important to keep them warm until the glucose level rises enough to maintain its own heat. Wrap your puppy in a blanket, and snuggle him with a hot water bottle or heating pad. Give the puppy some skin to skin time if possible, it works on puppies in the same way it works for newborn humans! This can also slow down the effects of shock.


Getting sugar into your puppy is the real life-saver here. Newborn puppies that won’t nurse or are showing advanced signs of hypoglycemia need to be given a dropper full of `sugar water´ every 15 to 20 minutes until the puppy is acting 100% normal and nursing on it’s own.

You can make your own sugar water by boiling 3 tablespoons of water to 1 tablespoon of sugar, but be aware that if you have a dying puppy that is pretty far gone, it is better to give uncolored hummingbird nectar to the puppy (found in lawn and garden sections of most stores). The reason for this, is that the hummingbird nectar is mostly dextrose which blends instantly and is closer in makeup to glucose than sucrose (which is table sugar).  Glucose is the sugar the body uses directly for energy, and it absorbs through the puppies mucous membranes in it’s mouth, meaning you don’t have to force feed a non-responsive puppy and risk aspirating it.. you just need to get the nectar in it’s mouth! He doesn’t need to swallow. It will be absorbed directly through the mucous membranes in the puppy’s mouth and transferred into the bloodstream.

If you have a puppy that is able to swallow some pulls of formula, you can add the sugar solution to it’s formula as well. But it is important to get the sugar into the puppy FIRST. A puppy cannot digest formula when it is in the process of checking out from hypoglycemia because the digestive system is completely stopped.


If you have a non-responsive puppy, or if you worry the puppy is getting worse and not better with the above two treatments, it’s time to get aggressive with subcutaneous fluid injections.

In order to administer subcutaneous fluid, you will need an injectable fluid and a needle. Needles small enough for a newborn puppy can be found at most feed stores, or purchased from a vet. Injectable fluids come in various forms – lactated ringers, 0.9% saline, Normosol-R, and Plasmalyte are most commonly used. The easiest to get your hands on should be the 0.9% saline – also known as over the counter eye drops.

Some fluids may contain additives such as potassium chloride. Fluids are usually given in the area between the shoulder blades. Clean the area of the skin you have chosen with alcohol. Pinch the skin and insert the needle into the skin fold. When fluids have been administered, remove the needle and hold gentle pressure on the site for one or two minutes. You may see some of the fluid leaking out of the needle hole, but this is normal and won’t cause any problems The Lactate Ringer’s must be warmed and NOT injected cold. You want to inject about 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the head of the puppy of fluid under the skin. The bubble of fluid will slowly disburse into his body.

If the puppy begins to show signs hunger and regains it’s suck reflex, offer it’s mothers nipple. If it is not latching enough to stay attached and is not get any food, then offer a puppy formula. NO NOT force formula into it’s mouth if it isn’t swallowing – it could inhale the formula, which can drown / choke the puppy, or it could develop pneumonia! If the pup isn’t sucking, you need to focus on getting it’s blood sugar up to a level where it has the energy to swallow formula. If she IS swallowing sugar water or formula, be sure to rub her genitals with a warm wash rag to stimulate pee and poop every hour.


Tell your puppy what a good doggy she is, hold her, pet her, love on her, pray over her, let her hear your voice and heartbeat and feel your skin. She will either begin to recover.. or she won’t. Either way, keep her comfortable and show her lots of love.

Lucky (red collar) and her siblings at one week old!

Gingi Freeman

Gingi is a photographer, cosplayer, amateur chef, crazy cat lady, anime otaku, bookworm, generic geek, world traveler, conservative Christian, homeschooler, devoted military wife and stay at home new mother of two little girls. Gingi blogs about anything and everything that is relevant to being a supermom, stay at home wife, homeschooler and geek girl! You can contact her at or via the contact form on her website at

43 thoughts on “Saving a Newborn Puppy That Won’t Nurse

  • 21 February, 2018 at 10:39 pm

    WOW! I am so glad this story had a happy ending. You’re amazing! I would have been like Prissy from “Gone With the Wind”.

  • 22 February, 2018 at 2:15 am

    OMG…your a total hero!! This was so amazing to read, and how wonderful the puppy is doing well!!
    Good thing you’re stubborn or persistant—whatever you want to call it!

    • 22 February, 2018 at 2:43 am

      Hehe… Gingi the Puppy Hero… I can live with that! haha…

  • 22 February, 2018 at 4:24 am

    This is an incredible story! I’m so glad the puppy is doing well and you managed to help her…

  • 22 February, 2018 at 4:38 am

    That’s amazing that you were able to save the poor little puppy.

  • 22 February, 2018 at 11:28 am

    Awesome that the pup made it. Goes to show what being stubborn err umm determined can do. Great to know what to do too. Info is always better found in one spot.

    • 24 February, 2018 at 2:26 am

      Yeah, most major websites just leave it at “take the puppy to the vet”… it’s like they think they’re helping by withholding information or something?!

  • 22 February, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    what precious, striking, moving pictures, Gingi …



  • 22 February, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    OH MY WORD- this story! I am tearing up! I am so glad you guys saved Lucky- poor, sweet girl! She is lucky to have you guys as her family!


    • 24 February, 2018 at 2:28 am

      We are so Lucky to have her!! It’s been an emotional week!

  • 22 February, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    This is incredibly informative and helpful. I’m so glad everything worked out and congratulations!

  • 22 February, 2018 at 5:34 pm

    OMG, I was tearing up through this saga. I was at the edge of my seat crossing my fingers she would not die at the end. Thank goodness she turned out all right thanks to your fast thinking and hard work.

    • 24 February, 2018 at 2:33 am

      I am amazed that she went from nearly dead to nursing so quickly.. its a real testament to how using sugar water works!!

  • 22 February, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    This post was such a tearjerker with a beautiful ending. I’m so glad Lucky made it. My dog’s name was Lucky too, but he was a boy. We got him fairly early when he was around 5 weeks old. He was healthy, but newborn puppy care is so important ! Thanks for sharing Gingi!

    • 24 February, 2018 at 2:35 am

      I always think of Lucky as a boys name too, but my kiddos named this little gal!! I have learned I don’t get to name pets now that I have kids lol…

  • 22 February, 2018 at 10:28 pm

    That is good news. I think you did great and what a happy ending. Thanks for putting all the info in one place for others to find.

  • 23 February, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    I love this post from start to finish and I’m bookmarking it. We always seem to be on the saving side of animals here too and I gotta feeling I’ll need this advice soon. And yes, this is the cutest post you have ever done……so don’t try and top yourself =)

    • 24 February, 2018 at 2:37 am

      hahaha, baby animals ALWAYS win the internet! 😉

  • 24 February, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    Aw, I’m so glad that Lucky made it! Not everyone would do as much as you did, so you’re kind of amazing. Thanks for sharing all the information you learned.


    • 26 February, 2018 at 3:42 am

      Awww, thanks! I think anyone would go the distance once the pressure is on!

  • 24 February, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    Wow, what an adventure! That puppy sure was lucky 🙂 I’m glad this story had a happy ending.

    • 26 February, 2018 at 3:43 am

      Me too!! Especially since my kids were so aware of everything that was going on!

  • 25 February, 2018 at 10:59 am

    nothing gets to me quite like animals, so i won’t lie–i looked ahead and made sure puppy made it! thank goodness you were there and willing to help! you’re my hero of the day. 🙂

  • 25 February, 2018 at 11:43 pm

    Such a sweet and amazing post with adorable pics!

  • 1 March, 2018 at 9:31 pm

    My goodness, what a blessing you were there and knew what to do. I know you had to have been so scared. You’ve shared some wonderful tips and ideas to save a life. HUGE Hugs…RO

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