Weaning is the crucial process of introducing your fur baby to what will eventually be their regular diet throughout their adult life. This is accompanied by withdrawing the puppies from their mother’s milk until they stop nursing on her altogether.
For the first few weeks of their life, puppies depend on their mother’s milk for a rich source of nutrition and antibodies. However, the hungry tots will soon have to become independent feeders and give dear old mum a break.
Weaning is a biological, instinctive, bound-to-happen phase that happens naturally, anyway. Without the help of human intervention, the mother dog will start scavenging food for her pups and discourage them from nursing on her. However, this process takes a little longer in the wild, inevitably taking a larger toll on the mother’s body.
However, weaning at home starts a little earlier to give the nursing mother a helping hand. With the help of milk replacers and the best puppy food for weaning, the little tykes will be eating solid food in no time!
The good news is that weaning really isn’t that difficult. You, the pups, and mama dog will fall into a rhythm within the first few days. The key is getting off to a good start, and here’s how.
What Age Should You Start Weaning a Puppy?
You should start to wean your puppies by week 3-4, as soon as their baby teeth begin to sprout. Additionally, you’ll start noticing other signs that it’s time to start weaning, such as:
- The mother dog reduces the frequency of nursing. Some will start keeping their distance from their pups, visiting them once or twice a day for feeding and grooming.
- The mother dog growls at her pups when they try to nurse on her. This is her way of saying, “the bar’s closed, kids!”
- Some of the puppies seem a little underweight or smaller compared to the rest. This happens when there are too many puppies in a litter, and dinner is on a first-come, first-serve basis.
- The mother is trying to bring food to her puppies.
- The puppies are seeking other sources of food. Usually, in over-competitive litters, some puppies will start to suckle on each other or on the corner of a blanket.
All of these things are indicative of the fact that your puppies have reached weaning age. Once they start, it will take a further few weeks to fully come off mum’s milk, typically up until week 7-8.
Side note: this is called the “immunity gap,” where puppies require their mother’s milk for vital immunity. This is also why it’s so important to not separate puppies from their mothers until at least two months of age because their own immune system hasn’t fully developed.
What to Feed Puppies During the Weaning Phase
Your pup’s diet plan throughout the weaning period will include soft, diluted foods. The go-to meals for weaning puppies typically include milk replacer, porridge, Cerelac, grain-free puppy food, and canned or wet puppy food. You can even mix in some dry puppy food, as long as you grind it up first.
If you eventually want to go down the raw diet path, that’s fine. However, don’t introduce your immuno-compromised pups to raw food during the weaning stage.
Can You Feed Cow’s Milk to Puppies?
Feeding cow milk to dogs, in general, is a contested topic. Many dog parents hold the view that dogs can’t digest milk too well, and it leads to diarrhea, vomiting, and loose stools. Indeed, many canines do suffer from lactose intolerance.
However, many village folk all over the world regularly feed their dogs a diet of milk and bread, and these dogs seem to be the epitome of health.
In either case, though, puppies really can’t handle the high fat and sugar content of cow’s milk. Puppy replacer milk is a far safer option, although you can also get away with diluting cow’s milk and water in a 20:80 ratio.
5 Steps To Wean Your Puppy
Here is a step-by-step guide for how to wean your puppies successfully.
Step1: Prepare the Food
As mentioned before, there are a few foods you can use for weaning, all gruel-like. The ratio of solids to liquids should be approximately 10:90 during the first few days. Here are some of the best puppy food meals you can whip up:
- Prepare Cerelac with water and combine it with puppy replacer milk (but remember that Cerelac already has milk, so you don’t need to add too much). Add more liquid than what the instructions on the box suggest; the consistency should be watery.
- You can prepare porridge the same way as Cerelac, but just add more milk replacer than you would for Cerelac.
- Combine ground-up dry puppy kibble or canned food with a milk replacer.
Step 2: Prepare the Food Bowls
Scoop out the food in equal portions in separate food bowls.
Make sure the bowl is shallow and non-obstructive for the puppies. A shallow bowl will also help them learn to pick up their food better. Otherwise, they would just dunk their entire heads into a deep enough bowl.
Moreover, you should also get a food bowl that is weighty enough to resist being tipped over by the little wrigglers.
There’s no way around it, though: puppies are messy eaters, especially when they’re just learning to eat. Keep a few towels handy to clean up any spilled food and grub from their paws, ears, and snoot after they’re done.
Step 3: Check Food Temperature
The food should ideally be at body temperature, roughly 97 F to 99 F. Room temperature food is also fine. However, food at body temperature will remind the pups of their mother’s milk, which is typically warmer.
You can check their food’s temperature using a temperature gun or food thermometer.
Step 4: Remove Mom From the Feeding Area
Removing the mother dog achieves a few purposes. First, it stops her from potentially gobbling up her puppy’s food before they have a crack at it.
Second, it prevents the puppies from running up to mama and drinking her milk through force of habit. By extension, the puppies stop associating their mom with food and warm up to other sources of food.
However, always make sure to reunite the momma dog with her pups after each meal. She will instinctively lick her pups clean, and the pups will pick up on this desirable grooming habit.
Step 5: Feed Your Puppies 4 Meals a Day
If you’re wondering, “how much to feed a puppy during weaning,” the answer is a lot. While adult dogs go by on two meals a day with a few snacks in between, puppies need four to six meals in a 24-hour period.
Hence, you need to feed your pups smaller meals distributed throughout the day.
If they feed on their mom’s milk during the waiting period between meals, and mom is okay with it, let them.
Step 6: Slowly Increase the Proportion of Solid Food
You can start to increase the proportion of solid food after every four to five days. If you started out at 10% solid food, you could gradually increase it to 30%, 40%, 50%, and so on, until they’re on a fully-solid-food diet.
Step 7: Don’t Forget About the Water
Just like human babies, puppies get all their hydration from their mother’s milk. Hence, they don’t need to drink water separately.
While weaning, however, it is important to fill up their water bowls and encourage them to drink water since they’re not getting any from their mother anymore.
Use Weaning as a Behavioral Training Opportunity
The weaning period is the perfect time to start instilling good behavior in your pups, especially for preventing food aggression down the line.
Food aggression develops when a puppy has always been insecure about his food source. This could be due to large litters and increased competition, or it could develop instinctively even if the feeding environment is perfect.
To prevent the development of food aggression, try the following tips:
- Show your puppy that there’s plenty of food to go around for everyone. Don’t overcrowd a single bowl.
- Stay in the same vicinity as the puppies during feeding time, so they learn that having you around while eating isn’t such a bad thing.
- Try hand-feeding the pups to teach them the old dog proverb: do not bite the hand that feeds.
- If you can manage the chaos, feed them in increments. When they see you refilling their bowl over and over again as they eat, they’ll start to love having you around their food bowls.
Weaning a puppy isn’t complicated, just very hands-on. It can shave hours off your day, what with preparing the best puppy food for weaning, waiting for it to cool down, supervising the feeding session, cleaning up, and repeating at least four times a day.
But it’s all worth it; not only do the pups need more diverse nutrition as they grow up, but the mama dog will also be thankful for it.
Before you know it, your pups will be ready to play in the big leagues and switch to adult dog food. So, cherish this time and make the most out of the weaning process by bonding with your pups and teaching them good behavior.