When Should You Start Weaning Puppies From Their Mother?
Wondering when puppies can start the weaning process? Your batch of puppies may be nursing like there's no tomorrow, but the reality is that mama dog's milk bar won't always be open for business. While pups and mama dog start the weaning process on their own, you can roll up your sleeves and lend a helping paw.
The topic of weaning puppies may be a bit of a controversy. Some prefer to immediately “jump-start” the weaning process once the pups hit three weeks by offering new foods. Others prefer to wait until the mom starts giving signs. I personally prefer the more natural approach where you wait for mama dog and pups to tell you when it’s time, as you stand by with lots of napkins, food bowls, and the puppy's first mush. The following are some signs suggesting that it's time you can help pups and mom through the weaning process.
Signs the Weaning Process Is About to Begin
Don't assume the puppies will stop nursing one day out of the blue; the weaning process is rather gradual, and in all but vet-consultation-worthy cases, it is normally started by the pups and mom. At around three to four weeks of age, expect the puppy's first milk teeth to start erupting. At this point, the pups are like little piranha pups. When the pups nurse, these needle-sharp teeth start hurting the mother dog, who understandably becomes more and more reluctant to nurse. As she moves away to escape, ultimately leaving her puppies for extended periods of time, the puppies grow less dependent and become naturally drawn to other sources of food.
In the wild, the weaning process starts early in canids, often rights after the puppies open their eyes. A nursing mom would leave the den to eat; upon coming back, the puppies would greet her and avidly lick the corners of her mouth. In response, she would regurgitate her last meal and provide the pups with their first ration of easy-to-digest "puppy food." In a modern-day, domestic setting, owners may become concerned when mama dog regurgitates while nursing or weaning; in reality, it's a natural behavior. Always consult your vet if you think your dog or puppies are ill.
Because dogs are kept in a domestic setting, it's now your job to ensure the puppies start the weaning process on time. When the pups are three to four weeks old, you can start creating a slurry that mimics a mother dog's regurgitated food. To obtain this slurry, you can blend together in a blender the same food you have been feeding mom along with some puppy milk replacer and hot water, according to the Vet Info website. Feed this mush three or four times a day. Expect the first feedings to be quite a messy affair; pups will walk right into the food and get it all over their fur. Be prepared with lightly damp paper towels.
As the puppies start eating the slurry, you can gradually start reducing the amount of milk and water so that the meal is more and more solid. While puppies are weaned off milk, mother dogs needs help to "dry up" her milk supply. You can start helping mother dog produce less and less milk by gradually introducing her regular adult food and cutting back the puppy food over several weeks. Remember, weaning is a bilateral process where puppies are weaned from mother's milk and the mother is gradually tapered off from milk production and the company of her pups, explains Beth J. Finder Harris in the book Breeding a Litter.
Generally, puppies are completely weaned by the age of six to seven weeks. At this point, their diet consists of mainly puppy food. While this may sound like a good time to place the puppies in a new home, it's wise to wait a little longer, as the next week or two spent with mom and litter mates are important for a pup's social development. To learn more about this please read "Why Removing Puppies too Early from the Litter is a Risk." Depending on your pups' breed, the best time to place them in a new home can be anywhere between the ages of 8 to 12 weeks.
Poor Mama Dog Doesn't Want Anything to do with Nursing!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2012 Adrienne Farricelli