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Weaning is a formative stage of a puppy's life. During the weaning process, a puppy grows from depending on their mother's milk for nourishment to eating soft and eventually solid foods. For pet parents who are caring for young dogs, it is important to know when to wean puppies. As with many aspects of puppy care, weaning happens in stages. Most mothers will instinctively know when to help their puppies suckle and when to push them to look for food. However, it is important for pet parents to know the basic stages of weaning, so they can help their pups along in the process.
Standard puppy advice typically suggests that puppies stay with their mother and siblings for the first 8 weeks of life. During the first few weeks after birth, puppies will only need to consume their mother's milk. In most cases, the puppies will instinctively find their way to their mother's teats and will suckle naturally. The puppies' mother will keep her babies warm, clean them, and guide them when necessary. Pet parents should start introducing human contact when the mother is comfortable with her puppies being handled. When caring for orphaned puppies, pet parents should bottle feed them with puppy milk formula.
The weaning process should begin once the pups have reached about 4 weeks of age. Weaning is a gradual process, which typically starts when the puppies start to investigate their surroundings. Puppies adjust at their own pace, and some will need encouragement from both mom and their pet parents. Tips for encouraging puppies to try soft food include:
Offer soft puppy food that is slightly warmed.
Soften the food by mixing it with warm water and letting it cool to around body temperature.
Place the food in a shallow, puppy-safe bowl near the mother and babies.
Provide a water dish – the puppies will need hydration in addition to their mother's milk.
The puppies will create a mess as they learn how to eat solid food. Always follow mealtimes with a clean-up routine for the pups and their space.
As the puppies grow, they will gradually be able to move from soft food to dry kibble. As with dogs at any life stage, dry kibble that is offered should be breed and size appropriate, especially for small breed puppies. Steps for adjusting pups to dry food include:
Start by mixing wet food with dry puppy kibble that has been soaked in water for at least 30 minutes.
Gradually include less wet food until only dry kibble remains – continue to soak the kibble.
As the puppies gain more confidence eating solid food, soak the kibble for less time until it is simply mixed with warm water and served.
By the end of the weaning period, the puppies should no longer suckle from their mother, they should be able to go to the bathroom on their own. They should also be beginning their vaccination process. Pet parents can gradually move to serving kibble dry if they wish. Continue monitoring pups during mealtimes – they are prone to overeating!
Dog care is a lifelong process, and it can be helpful to have a direct line to puppy health advice. Fortunately, Fuzzy Members can enjoy 24/7 access to online live Vet Chat and get their dog health questions answered.