Puppy resting on human’s lap while their head is petted

Key takeaway

Weaning puppies away from their mother’s milk and care and onto soft food is crucial for their development. Generally, puppies start weaning around 4 weeks and need plenty of food and water to stay hydrated while weaning.


 

Weaning puppies involves the gradual change in a puppy's diet from milk to solid food and lessening the need for their mother’s care. After puppies are born, they're usually cared for by their mother, and after a few weeks, they should learn to eat solid food and begin to separate from them. Puppies typically start weaning at around 3 weeks old and can continue until their 7th or 8th week. 

In this post, we'll explore everything you need to know about the canine weaning process, such as when you should start and how to wean puppies. Continue reading for our comprehensive step-by-step guide or use the links below to navigate the article.

When Should Puppies Be Weaned?

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), puppies can start weaning at 3 or 4 weeks old. It's important for them to begin to rely on their own instincts and abilities to find their food at this age. This is when a puppy’s teeth will start to emerge through their gums, so when they feed on their mother, she may experience discomfort and pull away. This means hungry puppies are more motivated to try new sources of food.

In the wild, mothers wean their puppies by regurgitating their food and letting them learn to consume the vomit. Some domesticated dogs may do this, and it's nothing to worry about. In other cases, domesticated puppies may need further assistance. 

Weaning Puppies: Step-by-Step Guide

It's essential to keep in mind that the weaning process for puppies should happen gradually. Some anxious dog breeds require more maintenance in this regard. While the process may seem tedious, patience and encouragement will lead to the best results. Generally, puppies will be separated from their mother for small increments of time until they get used to the separation. Because puppies are very attached to their mother, weaning should start small, with puppies spending only a few hours away from them. 

In order to pick the right time to begin weaning and progress the process, you have to monitor the puppies’ food intake. Weaning is also often instigated by the mother at around a month after birth. Don't forget that removing puppies too quickly from their mother can cause them stress and behavioral issues later in life. However, as puppies reach their 4th week, you can introduce softer foods instead of milk, including gruel or mush. 

To make a suitable soft food, simply mix milk or formula and dry puppy kibble with water and leave it to cool until it's mushy. Other pet owners prefer to grind meat, like chicken or turkey, into mush for their puppies. You can serve the soft food in flat, shallow bowls or plates and can also keep dry puppy food available. 

Puppies should be fed four times a day if each meal includes enough nutrition through its ingredients.2 It's very important to get young puppies a balanced diet as they wean that includes complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. These types of ingredients will support their body and brain development. Make sure not to overfeed the puppies at this stage. A lot of food packaging will include instructions for feeding puppies and making gruel. Timing when your puppies are hungry and when you feed them is a crucial component of how well they transition away from their mother and eat new foods. 

Puppy eating food from bowl

At the start, the puppies might need a little bit of encouragement in order to eat the new soft food. Have the mother eat some of the food so that the puppies can watch her and emulate the behavior. Then, you can slowly add more gruel and have the mother leave for a longer period during the day.  It's also important to get your puppies to drink plenty of water, especially as they start weaning because most of their hydration has been coming from their mother's milk. If there are puppies in the litter that aren’t doing well away from their mother, you can allow them to stay with her for another week or so.

Puppies are born with their eyes closed and will open them after about one or two weeks, but if you notice that their eyes haven’t opened after a couple of weeks or notice any abnormal swelling, bulging, or discharge, then you should contact your vet immediately. These types of symptoms can be a sign of a health condition that requires treatment. For some symptoms, such as bulging eyes, you might be able to massage them and release some of the tension or pressure. 

Puppies then usually start standing after a couple of weeks, and by 3 weeks they might be yelping or wandering off on their own more often. If you noticed that one of your puppies isn't developing as fast as the others, or is having trouble standing at 3 weeks, then you can contact your vet so that they can help you set up a treatment plan to help your puppy grow strong. Once your puppies begin barking and making more noise, you can look at different tips to help you figure out how to train your dogs to stop barking.

Cleaning Weaning Puppies

In the first weeks after the puppies are born, their mother will care for them, clean them by licking them, and keep them neat. As the puppies wean away from their mother’s care, you can give them baths in a small bin or tub and block off an area in their enclosure so they learn to keep their bed clean.

Socializing Young Puppies

Another part of the weaning process involves the social aspect of growing up with their mother and litter until they transition into life with other dogs and animals. It's important to give your young puppy opportunities to socialize in environments like puppy classes or spaces where they can learn about how other dogs behave. This will help prevent them from developing behavioral issues, such as aggressive or fearful behavior when they're around other animals, dogs, and people.

Quick Tips for Weaning Puppies

There are a few aspects of weaning puppies that can make the process challenging, such as getting the timing right and ensuring they get the correct amount of food in the first weeks. Here are some other quick tips to help with the process:

  1. Prepare for mess
  2. Use heavier, shallow bowls for feeding
  3. Take care not to overfeed
  4. Ensure all puppies are getting the appropriate amount of food
  5. Blend puppy kibble to make softer, smooth gruel at the beginning
  6. Track your puppies’ weights: Check with your vet to learn appropriate weight milestones for the breed

Puppy playing tug with human

At around 6 weeks, puppies generally become more playful and rambunctious and can also cause more of a mess. Getting some sort of enclosure or playpen to provide the puppies with a space to release their pent-up energy can go a long way in protecting your furniture and preventing destructive habits. Just like introducing your puppies to other animals early on can help them socialize better, it also helps to bring other people around so that your puppies become used to socializing with adults and kids.

It's also helpful to know the puppy's growth in the early weeks. Puppies grow very quickly, and their birth weight usually doubles within the first week or so. You can record your puppies’ weights to pick up on any drastic changes in weight since this can be a sign of a health condition. Having these notes detailed can also help provide your veterinarian with the information they need to learn about their body and health and provide better care. 

In the first few weeks after your puppies are born, it's essential to check their stool samples because intestinal parasites can be passed from the mother to the puppies through the mother's milk. One of the most common parasites passed on to puppies through the milk are roundworms, and you may be able to spot them in fecal samples.3 If you suspect any signs of a parasitic infection, it's very important to get veterinary treatment early. 

Puppies can be treated with anti-parasitic medication when they are a couple weeks of age in most cases, but it's more common to receive treatment when they are a bit older at around 4 to 6 weeks. Not only is it important to monitor a puppy’s fecal samples, but it's also critical that you watch out for any dog diarrhea or vomiting and seek veterinary care if you notice these symptoms.

Other signals you can watch for are abnormal behavior issues, such as dog chewing paws or fearful behavior. Weaning puppies too early can cause them stress and anxiety, leading to long-term anxiety behaviors. Separating the puppies from their mother can also lead to puppy separation anxiety, so gradually introducing these situations is paramount to maintaining their mental and emotional health.

How to Take Care of Your Mother Dog While Weaning Puppies

During the puppy weaning process, you should monitor the mother for the following signs:

  • Check she has no discharge from her vulva
  • Check that her mammary glands are shrinking up to her body (her nipples may remain prominent)
    • The less the puppies suckle, the sooner her milk will dry up
    • If her mammary glands are still hanging down after a few days, you may need to help her milk dry up with a lower calorie diet for a few days 

The mother dog should begin to eat puppy food after a few weeks into the pregnancy and while she starts to nurse her puppies and wean them. You can transition her back to regular dog food at around month 4, when the puppies begin to wean off of their mother.

It's very important to monitor the mother's health during pregnancy and ensure she has a proper diet and nutrition, so she can stay healthy. The puppies are relying on her health, and with the support of a veterinary expert, you can ensure that she and the puppies stay healthy throughout the pregnancy and delivery. This can be a stressful time for both the mother and the puppies, so encouraging the mother and being patient throughout the process can also help ease the transition. It's also crucial not to adjust the mother dog's diet too quickly.

Pregnant dog laying on floor

Many veterinary experts and pet nutritionists suggest that the mother dog should have good levels of omega-3 fatty acids and a nutrient-rich diet that will help support the development of her puppies. Throughout what is usually a 62-day pregnancy, you should make sure that your mother dog is well-fed, consuming 29% protein and 17% fat.4 If your mother dog does not get enough food during pregnancy, this could result in development issues for the puppies or other concerning risk factors during pregnancy and birth. If you feed the mother dog too much, this can also increase stress during labor and lead to other health issues.

It's important to help your mother dog maintain her weight in the first couple of trimesters. The key is that she doesn't lose weight as the pregnancy progresses. You may notice your mother dog has less energy, especially at around 6 or 8 weeks because the demands on her body and the rapid growth the puppies are experiencing take a lot out of her. 

As the puppies grow, this can put pressure and cause stress on the mother's GI tract making digestion difficult. This is why having the help of a vet expert to plan the mother dog's diet and nutrition can greatly impact their health.

Weaning a Puppy: Frequently Asked Questions

When can you start weaning a puppy?

Most breeders and pet owners usually start weaning their puppies at around 3 or 4 weeks but some puppies will start a week or so later, depending on their environment and how well-timed feedings are as they make the transition. 

How do you wean puppies off their mother?

The weaning process for puppies should begin gradually at around a month of age. Simply add dry puppy food to water and let it sit until it's soft enough for them to eat. You should slowly increase the amount of time puppies are away from their mother , and those that have trouble at first can stay behind for another week.

There are a variety of methods that can help make the transition process for puppies successful. It's not uncommon to give the mother dog more food while she is nursing puppies, so in order to transition the puppies off of their mother's milk, you can consider returning the mother's food supply back to normal rates. In turn, it will cause her milk supply to run dry.

To start the weaning process, you can place your saucer with formula close to the puppies. With some encouragement from both you and their mother, they’ll begin to drink the formula independently after around one to four days. You can also take your finger, dip it in the formula or food, and wipe a bit on the puppy's nose to pique their interest. This can help puppies that don't show interest in their new diet immediately.

When should puppies stop feeding off mum?

Mother dogs have a natural instinct to start weaning their puppies off of their milk supply at around a month. Sometimes, puppies are weaned off their mother's care and milk after a month, while others don't until 6 weeks. Your puppies will usually eat small amounts often when they're transitioning to more solid food. They can eat as often as 6 times a day and are generally completely weaned by around 10 weeks of age. At 10 weeks, you can feed your puppy around four times a day. This will depend on the plan you’ve set up with your vet and your dog’s nutritional requirements.

What should I feed weaning puppies?

Making soft food for weaning puppies is fairly simple. All you need is dry dog food and water. You can also use other ingredients, such as milk or yogurt. The best diet for your puppies may also partly depend on their breed. You can grind up dry kibble in a coffee grinder until it's fine, combine it with water or milk, and leave it to cool. Before giving your weaning puppies any supplements or nutritional vitamins outside of their regular diet, you should consult your veterinarian since having too much of a certain nutrient or vitamin can cause health complications.

Final Notes

Weaning puppies is a critical part of their development. Getting the timing right and ensuring puppies get all the necessary nutrition in the early weeks are key elements of a successful transition away from their mother's milk. Mother dogs will also start the weaning process naturally, especially as a puppy’s teeth begin to come in and it becomes painful for her to feed.

Pregnancy takes a big toll on the mother dog's body and energy levels, so it's important to help her maintain her weight by providing adequate food and nutrition without overfeeding her. With the help of a veterinarian, you can create a customized treatment plan for your mother dog to ensure she’s strong and healthy. 

Knowing exactly how much to feed your weaning puppies and making sure they get a balanced diet as they grow isn't always straightforward, but our team at Dutch is here to help you through the process and ensure your puppy lives a happy and healthy life. With Dutch, you’ll have access to qualified veterinarians that can assist with allergies, fleas, and behavioral problems.  

References

  1. “The Important Role of Breeders in Getting Puppies Off to a Healthy Start.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 25 June 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeding/important-role-breeders-getting-puppies-off-healthy-start/. 

  2. “Caring for Orphaned Newborn Puppies: Basic Care, Feeding and Disease Prevention.” Best Friends Animal Society, https://resources.bestfriends.org/article/caring-orphaned-newborn-puppies-basic-care-feeding-and-disease-prevention. 

  3. “Dog Parasites.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 23 Jan. 2018, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/parasites/.

  4. “The Care and Feeding of the Breeding Bitch – Part One.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 27 May 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeding/the-care-and-feeding-of-the-breeding-bitch-part-one/.