At around three to four weeks of age, a mother dog will stop feeding her puppies as much as she used to. The dam will gradually decrease the amount of milk given, and encourage her puppies to try out some easy-to-chew moist foods.
The weaning of the puppies should not be forced to start too early because puppies would not yet be able to chew and digest solid foods on their own. If a dog stops feeding her puppies too early, you will need to intervene and assist in the care of the entire litter. The nursing period lasts about 3 to 5 weeks, and so does the weaning process.
How Long Do Mother Dogs Feed Their Puppies?
In general, puppies will depend on their mother’s nursing during the first 3 to 5 weeks. After this nursing period, other factors start to weigh to influence their capacities for eating independently. The progression during these 3 to 5 weeks is gradual. It’s always recommended that this process follow its natural course to obtain the best results and to avoid stress on the puppies by allowing the mom to begin weaning her puppies on her own.
The lives of newborn puppies are marked by an unwavering and consistent contact with their mother for they are completely dependent on their mum for survival. During this time, it is crucial that the puppies obtain all the necessary nutrients needed to grow and sustain their health from their mother. Puppies derive their nutrition from their mother’s milk. Additionally, this milk helps fight off harmful bacteria and infections in the babies and provides adequate antibodies during the first weeks of maturation. Puppies who begin weaning too soon, whether it is by environmental factors or in the absence of the mother, are exposed to possible health dangers and behavior problems.
Ultimately, nursing not only starts the puppies off on a healthy track, but it’s also beneficial to their social lives. During nursing, puppies learn to understand social communication like biting when they should or shouldn’t, and learning to behave appropriately with other animals and humans.
How Do Mother Dogs Wean Puppies Off?
After a few weeks of nursing, the mother starts to gradually distance herself from the pups, causing the babies to begin depending on other means for feeding and attention. This is the process commonly referred to as weaning. One sign to look for that will let you know the puppies are weaning is that she will often get up during nursing or may even push her pups away from her teats. This is prime time for you to establish a routine of separating the babies from their mother to begin feeding. Remind yourself that what the mother is doing is normal and part of the natural development. In fact, it actually takes some of the work off your hands.
There are several reasons for why this happens. First, there’s a natural biological phenomenon that occurs during the nursing stage. As time passes, the mother’s mammary glands begin to produce less milk. As milk flow reduces, fewer nutrients are able to pass to the puppies, and therefore the pups are not able to receive the adequate supply necessary for their growth and they will soon cry of hunger more frequently. It’s also crucial to avoid over-production of milk in the mother’s mammary glands as this can be very painful for her. Generally, the more the pups nurse, the more her mammary glands will produce milk. Likewise, the less they nurse, the less milk is produced. This can easily be accomplished by using replacement meals, or a homemade milk replacement.
Another reason why the mother initiates weaning from her pups is due to the growth of the pup’s teeth. A puppy’s teeth can become sharp enough to add considerable discomfort in the mother, as well as pain. Puppies, without meaning to, tend to bite down on the teats while invigoratingly trying to nurse. This is commonly referred to as milk teeth.
In this weaning phase, breeders and dog owners can slowly start introducing mashed foods to the puppies so that they can start alternatively seeking other meal replacements. This also serves as a distraction so that the mother can have some rest from all the nursing, as nursing can become quite exhausting. This is usually done by alternating meals, such as a few feedings from the mother and then switching to soft foods that are provided by the breeder. This will let the puppies become familiar with other forms of eating and help in the process of letting go of their inclusive dependency on mom.
It is important to note that during this stage of development while the mother is weaning from her babies, as a responsible breeder and pet owner, you can help assist in this process. You can separate the puppies from their mother from time to time to allow them to grow in confidence in the absence of mom. You can gradually increase the times apart as time goes on until it no longer poses any stress.
How to Help a Mother Dog Wean Her Puppies
In addition to assisting the separation to ensure independence, there are also other ways in which you can help assure that the weaning is more feasible. Just as the nursing period lasts about 3 to 5 weeks, the weaning process itself also lasts another 3 to 4 weeks. During this process, after the mother has instinctively reduced her nursing time with her pups, you can start by giving regular meals of soft foods. About the fourth week is an ideal time to start introducing nutritious soft foods that are easily digestible without forcing them to eat. In time, they will be able to eat on their own when they want to.
You can start by mixing half milk-replacement formula and half water to dilute it and let them drink from a bowl so they get used to not sucking. Some of the recommended foods at this stage are ground meat, soaked premium kibble (also good for the teeth), and any other high-quality and fresh meats. It’s best to give them foods that are fresh and that don’t contain any small, sharp bones. For instance, you can start with some chicken or even some fish. Do not give your puppy raw chicken, as some vets warn that it can cause salmonellosis or other dangerous bacterial infections. So, if you wish to give your puppy chicken, only offer cooked chicken, and in small amounts.
Similarly, large meaty bones can be used to help puppies with their teething. The bones must be large enough to prevent your puppy from swallowing them. However, you must avoid large marrow bones, “chop” bones, and knucklebones as your puppy may crack their teeth on them. Similarly, you must not give your puppy chicken bones or any other small bones. Cooked bones are also off the menu, as these may splinter and cause injury to your little one. Before giving your puppy any meaty bones, it is best to ask your vet if it is in your puppy’s best interest to do so. Some puppies, such as those with dental problems or misaligned jaws, may risk damaging their teeth further whilst chewing on a large bone.
Also, keep in mind certain foods that should not be fed to the puppies at this stage. Cow milk and wheat are not to be introduced. This is because dogs are lactose intolerant, and puppies are especially sensitive to digestive upsets. Diarrhea and vomiting in a puppy can quickly lead to dehydration and hypoglycemia which can be life-threatening. Treats from the pet stores and dry food contain too many added ingredients and processed chemicals that can keep them from growing at an optimum level. It’s vitally important to monitor their weight during this time to make sure they’re getting adequate nutrition and growing at a normal rate. Feel free to download our free record-keeping charts for dog breeders!
As you take on the responsibility of caring for puppies, it can often time be a stressful experience for someone who is not fully prepared. The best thing you can do to assist in the process of weaning is to remain patient. Weaning can be a messy business because the puppies will inevitably get dirty from the feeding so clean them often just like the mother would. Furthermore, dealing with a litter as opposed to one or two pups, you can face the issue of not all the puppies progressing at the same rate, so you need to plan accordingly and perhaps have another person to help you. Learn how to bottle feed puppies, or how to tube feed small puppies. Always consult your vet for further instructions or to receive advice on what foods to eat.
By around 7 to 8 weeks of age, a puppy may already be eating solid food on their own. Only then, you can start introducing dry food to get them used to the act of chewing, and water for hydration.
When Do Dogs Stop Feeding Their Puppies
Until the animal is four to five weeks old, bottle feeding is necessary. There are formulas made especially for puppies. Human milk or formulas made for human babies are not suitable for baby animals. Baby animals should be fed every three to four hours. To mix the dry formula, mix one-part formula to three parts water.
Microwave the water and then mix. Stir and check the temperature. The formula should be lukewarm to warm. Hold the newborn in one hand supporting the animal’s chest and abdomen. Do not feed the animal like a human baby (lying on its back). It should be as if the animal was nursing from the mom dog.
You may notice that the animal will try to place its front paws on the palm of the hand holding the bottle. It may even “knead” as it feeds. Most animals will pull off the bottle when full or when needing to burp. Burp the animal. It may or may not take more formulas. If the formula has cooled, warm it again and offer it to the animal. I most like it when it is warm versus cool.
If at any time there is too much formula being delivered, the animal will begin to choke. Stop feeding, and wipe away excess formula from the mouth/nose. Lower the angle of the bottle when feeding so less formula will be delivered. If there is too much air being sucked in, increase the angle of the bottle so more formula can be delivered. Most nipples are not pre-holed.
Follow the directions on the nipple box. If it becomes necessary to increase the size of the hole, either use small scissors to create a larger hole or use a hot large diameter needle to increase the hole size. Sometimes, the newborn will not readily take to a bottle. Try to offer the bottle at each feeding. If unsuccessful, use an eyedropper or syringe to give the formula. Slowly give the formula. If too forceful, the formula may be pushed into the lungs. Most baby animals will learn to bottle-feed.
Once the animal is approximately four weeks old, teeth begin to erupt. Once the teeth are present, and it is taking a full bottle at each feeding, or if it is chewing on the nipple rather than sucking, it is usually ready to begin taking solid food.
Feeding: Once the teeth have erupted at about four weeks of age, puppies may begin to eat solid foods. At age four to five weeks offer either canned puppy food mixed with formula or human baby food (chicken or beef) mixed with formula. Serve warm. Feed four to five times a day if not taking a bottle. If still bottle-feeding, offer this at first 2 times a day and continue to bottle-feed at the other feedings. Slowly progress to feeding solid mixture more often, less bottle-feeding. At this age, the animal needs to have its face cleaned with a warm moistened cloth after feedings.
At age five to six weeks, the animal should begin to lap. Offer either canned puppy food or moistened puppy chow. Feed four times a day. Have dry puppy chow and a bowl of shallow water available at all times.
By six weeks of age, most puppies are able to eat dry food.
The first month
For the first four weeks or so, puppies depend on their mothers for everything. The mother’s first milk, called colostrum, is rich in nutrients and antibodies that help protect the puppies from illness while their immune systems are still developing. This milk provides all the nutrition the puppies need for the first few weeks after birth.
Weaning to solid foods
Puppies start to experiment with solid food as early as 3-weeks-old. They still nurse, and mothers continue to produce milk for up to 10 weeks. Some nursing is for nutrition, but it is also a comforting, bonding activity for the puppies. Most puppies are fully weaned to solid food between 7 and 10 weeks of age, although the transition can occur earlier.
At 3 to 4 weeks, the mother naturally initiates the weaning process and can usually complete this transition without intervention. She starts by standing up and walking away from a puppy that is nursing. When the puppy tries to nurse again, the mother will push the puppy away with her nose or discourage the act with a little growl. The hungry pup is forced to look for food elsewhere, thus leading her to eat the same thing the mother eats — or in your pup’s case, a high-quality puppy food your vet condones.
Weaning a Puppy From Her Mother
There are circumstances when you may need to intervene in the weaning process — for example, if you plan on letting someone adopt the puppy and she needs to be ready to eat dry food before adoption.
Create a special area to put the pup for a few hours every day away from her mother. This area should be closed off, warm, draft-free and lined with newspaper. This helps protect the area from potty accidents and from the messy business of learning how to eat puppy food. This time away from her mother will give her time to explore on her own, become self-confident and find her independence. Over time, she should be allowed to be away from her mother for longer periods of time.
You should offer a small amount of high-quality puppy food during this time away. In a shallow pie pan, add a bit of water to the puppy’s food to create a soft texture. This will make it easier for your little one to eat. She may get more food on her body than into her belly at first, but she’ll figure it out. Have a pie pan with a bit of water nearby to drink, although that attempt to drink may turn into an overturned pie pan and an unexpected bath. Before you put her back with her mother, gently wipe her clean with a damp washcloth.
Weaning an Orphaned Puppy
If you are taking care of an orphaned puppy, the weaning process is just a bit different. For the first 3 to 4 weeks of her life, feed the puppy milk replacement formula with a bottle, dropper, or syringe. When you start the weaning process, place some milk replacement formula in a shallow pie dish and let the puppy try to lap the milk. Continue to offer bottle feedings until the puppy is consistently lapping milk from the dish. At 4 to 5 weeks, don’t offer bottle feedings anymore. Instead, start to offer kibble that’s been soaked in water to make a gruel consistency. Offer dry food around 5 weeks when the puppy starts to act hungry. This will encourage her to try the dry food. You can still feed her softened food until 7 to 8 weeks. After 8 weeks, she should get only dry food.