Weaning Puppies: When to Wean a Puppy

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    Alina Andreeva
    Alina Andreeva

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    Dr. Joanna De Klerk
    Dr. Joanna De Klerk

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  • Updated on: 01/18/2021

When to start weaning puppies from a mother dog is a conversational question in the pet world. First of all, let’s figure out what weaning is. Weaning means you are slowly lowering a puppy’s dependency on his mother’s natural milk and care and introducing him to solid food. 

This process can be complicated because you don’t want to wean pups too early, and you want to make the process of accustoming little bundles of fur to puppy food as smooth and stress-free as possible. Here’s a simple guide on when and how to wean your pups in order to make this process easier for you and your furry friends.

when to wean puppiesImage by @mariiaboiko from FreePik

Best Age to Wean a Litter of Puppies

The reality is that the mother dog’s milk bar will not always be open for business. So the hardest part of weaning a litter of puppies is to know when. Veterinarians and dog breeders recommend to begin weaning pups between three and four weeks of age, and this process will likely take up until seven-eight weeks or so. Note that puppies are not weaned all at once. The weaning process should be gradual so that they could still learn important behaviors from littermates and the mother dog. It also helps her to slowly dry up the milk supply. 

“Colostrum, mother dog’s first milk, contains vital antibodies that protect pups from various diseases, while their immune system begins to develop. As they continue to grow, natural milk gradually changes inconsistency, and mother’s production increases to satisfy their appetite”,

says Kelly Roper, a dog breeder.[1]

Keep in mind that until the third week, your pups should not drink or eat anything other than the mom’s milk, including water.

“Weaning is often a somewhat stressful time for both the mother and the puppy. The gradual and supervised process can significantly reduce the stress associated with weaning”,

claims Amber Johnson, an animal behaviorist.

It is crucial to start weaning puppies between three and four weeks of age because that is when they begin to grow deciduous (baby) teeth. They are quite sharp and can hurt the sensitive nipples of their mother dog. And now that they have teeth, they can begin to eat puppy food.

best age to wean a litter of puppiesImage by @aleksandarlittlewolf from FreePik

READ MORE: Best Low-Fat Dog Food

How to Wean a Litter of Puppies?

Now you know when to wean a litter of puppies, the big question is “how”? You should start weaning by separating the mother dog from her litter for several hours at a time. While separated, introduce the pups to puppy milk in a large pan. They will begin exploring it, and learning to lap instead of suck. Once they’ve mastered that, you can introduce puppy food, either a puppy mousse or kibble soaked to the consistency of a slop. This time apart from their mother will allow them to gradually lower their dependency on their mother’s milk and her presence.

As time goes on, you can increase the frequency and length of separation time and the amount of food in small increments until the puppies are completely weaned. You can also gradually decrease how much you soak the puppy food, so the texture is a little thicker. As your little four-legged friends eat puppy food, praise and reward them with your attention, so they know they are doing everything right. As the puppies spend more and more time away from their mother, they become more self-confident and independent.[2]

The mother dog needs time to recover from feeding and let her milk supply dry up. She may also begin to deny her pups the ability to feed in order to encourage them to start finding food on their own. You can pull up your sleeves and give a helping hand by watching for signs that she is ready to wean and help her meet a good schedule. Keep in mind that you are working with the mother dog to help her “furry kids” gain independence. Note that weaning from mother’s milk is a two-way process the pups gradually wean from the mother’s milk and the mother dog gradually moves away from milk production and her litter of puppies, explains Beth J. Finder Harris in the book Breeding a Litter.[3]

By the age of seven to eight weeks, your puppies should be completely weaned. At this time, it is crucial to keep a close eye on your puppies. Make sure they are gaining weight and growing normally. They should not have any vomiting or diarrhea, which may be a sign that they are digesting food poorly. If your puppies have any problems during this period, contact your veterinarian immediately.

READ MORE: Raising a Puppy Tips

How to Dry up a Mother’s Milk Supply?

Let’s imagine your mother dog’s milk production as a factory, and “furry kids” as little customers. Your dog’s ability to keep producing milk depends on many factors. Adrienne Farricelli, a former veterinary assistant and a certified dog trainer, suggests following these tips.[4] [5]

Reduce Demand

Production of milk depends on demand. If the pups continue suckling their mother’s milk, they empty the milk tank, forcing the mother to produce more milk, which allows the milk production to thrive and stay in business. Your aim is to reduce puppies’ interest in milk and the milk supply by making some changes in the diet of the puppies and the mother dog. The lower the demand for milk, the higher the chances that the mother’s factory will eventually close down.

Reduce High Energy Food

When the mother dog is feeding the puppies full time, her nutritional requirements are very high to ensure a constant supply of milk for her puppies. While weaning, begin moving the mother back to normal food from high energy puppy food. It may help her gradually taper off from milk production. Consult your veterinarian to ensure that the mother and her puppies have the adequate nutrition during weaning, and monitor her weight very closely, as if she loses weight too fast, she is not ready for the change.

what to feed weaning pupsPhoto by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

What to Feed Weaning Pups?

During the weaning process, you should feed the pups the same high-quality puppy food you plan to feed them throughout their growth period. Moisten the food with warm water to create a soupy slop. Make sure a batch of puppies always has access to fresh water.

The Bottom Line

Weaning from mother’s milk can be a challenge for first-time pup owners. The best approach to this process is to take your time, stick to the schedule, and make sure your puppies are adjusting to new food. Weaning is a two-way process, so make sure that you are working with the mother dog at every stage. Thus, with a little planning and patience, you can be sure that the offspring will grow up healthy and happy. 

Article Sources:

  1. Roper, Kelly. “Weaning Puppies | LoveToKnow.” LoveToKnow, dogs.lovetoknow.com/weaning-puppies.
  2. Greer, Marthina L. “Canine Reproduction and Neonatology”, 1st Edition, Kindle. Amazon, amazon.com/gp/product/B00S9OM9D0/.
  3. Finder Harris, Beth J. “Breeding a Litter: The Complete Book of Prenatal and Postnatal Care (Howell Reference Books) Kindle Edition.” Amazon, https://www.amazon.com/Breeding-Litter-Complete-Postnatal-Reference-ebook/dp/B00DNL38TS
  4. Farricelli, Adrienne. “How to Dry up a Dog’s Milk and Help Mom Stop Producing.” PetHelpful – By Fellow Animal Lovers and Experts, 1 May 2013, pethelpful.com/dogs/How-to-Dry-up-a-Dogs-Milk.
  5. Farricelli, Adrienne. “When Should You Start Weaning Puppies From Their Mother?” PetHelpful – By Fellow Animal Lovers and Experts, 25 Dec. 2012, pethelpful.com/dogs/When-Should-you-Start-Weaning-Puppies-from-Mother-Dog.

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