When puppies are born, they turn to their mothers for nourishment. In the wild, puppies might nurse on their mothers for months as they slowly transition to eating alternate foods.
In the home, however, the process is a bit different.
Typically, puppies are weaned and then placed with new families, away from their mom. Since puppies can be taken home as early as 8 weeks of age, they need to be weaned from their mother before then. Because of that, breeders typically start the process within 3–4 weeks of birth.
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The Basics of Weaning
Weaning is the process of transitioning from nursing on a mother dog’s milk to eating solid sources of food, like kibble. Weaning should happen gradually; from start to finish, around 1 month of transition time should be sufficient.
During the weaning process, puppies also spend time learning behaviors from both their mother and siblings, making it a crucial time in a dog’s life. Not only that, it’s also when a mother’s milk starts to dry up. It’s important for this to happen gradually to keep the mother from overproducing milk, which can lead to painful mammary glands.
First Steps to Weaning
When your puppies reach 3–4 weeks of age, it’s safe to start the weaning process. Remember, this is a gradual process, so the transition will be slow and incremental.
A good rule of thumb is to start by switching 10% of a puppy’s nutrient consumption with solid food instead of milk. The other 90% should continue to come from the mother.
Set scheduled feedings several times daily, during which, the mother and puppies should be in separate rooms to encourage the pups to eat their new food source. You might notice whining or a strong dependency at first, but the puppies will eventually adapt and be perfectly happy with their new food.
Over the next 4 weeks, gradually increase the amount of solid food the puppy eats compared to milk. By the time weaning has taken place for a full month, they should only be eating solid food. At this point, there likely won’t be any hesitation on the puppy’s part to eat the new food.
Continue to stick to your feeding schedule, and keep the mother and puppies separate while eating to establish a new, firm routine.
What to Feed the Puppies
It’s important to choose the correct food when you’re weaning puppies off their mother’s milk. They need the right nutrients during this time of their lives, so you’ll need to put a little extra effort into preparing their meals.
Since puppies can’t switch from milk to hard food, they’ll need a “mushy” alternative until they can handle regular food. In addition, pick up a container of replacement puppy milk from the pet store, along with dry puppy food.
To get the consistency right, try combining 12.5 ounces of puppy milk replacement with 2 cups of dry puppy food in a blender. Add warm water to fill the rest of the blender, and bring it to a consistency similar to baby food (this can feed up to 8 puppies, depending on the breed).
As the weaning process goes on, start adding more dry food and less milk replacement. You can also start blending to a thicker, chunkier consistency rather than to a puree. Once the puppies are 7–8 weeks old, the blender and milk replacement should no longer be necessary.
Caring for the Mom
The mother also needs to be looked after and cared for during this time. Most breeders will start feeding mothers their chosen puppy food once they find out she’s pregnant. Doing so helps the mother gain the right amount of weight for her pregnancy.
After the puppies are born and the weaning process starts, the mother needs to be switched back to her regular dog food. This should also happen gradually to prevent any stomach upset.
Try replacing 1/4 cup of her puppy food with adult food from the start, and increase for several weeks to a month. By the time the puppies are fully weaned, the mom should be eating her regular adult food.
No one ever said weaning puppies wasn’t messy:
What to Expect
Weaning is a slow process, so it’s important to be patient, especially if not all the puppies catch on quickly. Continue with the steps above and keep to a schedule, and each puppy should come out on the other end just fine.
What’s more, don’t be surprised to find that weaning puppies isn’t always the most glamorous process. Mixing curious and unsure pups with pulverized food is just begging for a mess, but that’s all part of it.
Fortunately, the puppies’ mother will help with cleanup by licking the remaining food. Take care of as much of the cleaning as you can on your own. Then let her in to help, too.
If this is your first time weaning puppies, the best thing you can do is schedule regular visits with your vet throughout the pregnancy, birth and after. They’ll not only outline exactly how to care for the pregnant mother but also guide you toward the right foods, formulas and supplies.
Taking part in weaning puppies is a rare opportunity to see a natural process in action. Read through the steps above, make sure you consult with your vet and enjoy the experience.