If you are caring for a new litter of puppies, you’re likely very busy. Your job is to make the mother comfortable until the puppies can be weaned. Weaning is a crucial step in a dog’s development, but how do you wean puppies? Take a look below to learn more about caring for these young pups.
How to Wean Puppies
Weaning is a very important step in a dog’s development. At about four weeks of age, a mother will have a hard time producing enough milk for her growing litter. The puppies need to develop the ability to eat gruel or solid foods. If introduced to solids too quickly, dogs can start to lose weight or have other digestive issues. To help lower the chance of issues, weaning is done slowly. You won’t want to separate mom from her pups right away, but simply try transitioning solid foods into your puppies’ diet.
When Should I Wean Puppies?
At three weeks for giant breeds or four weeks for other breeds you can start introducing solid foods. Even some tiny breeds may get by with an additional week of nutrition from mom. So, when to wean depends on the breed of dog you have.
Generally, you can expect dogs to wean between weeks three and five of life. The suggested food for a dog is gruel.
What Should Weaning Puppies Eat?
Unless you’ve taken care of puppies before, you might not know what gruel is. Basically, it’s a puppy food that is loosened up with water or a milk replacer. There are many different brands and types of puppy gruel you can purchase at a pet store, but homemade gruel will be more than enough for any puppy.
Homemade gruel should have a consistency like loose oatmeal. If you find it’s a little too firm for your puppies, just add some more water and let it sit to absorb the moisture. Start weaning by removing mom from the puppy area and give them all a single plate of puppy gruel. Obviously, the puppies will make a big mess of the plate. You want this though. Once the puppies give the food a try and get it all over them, send in mom to clean up.
She’ll take the time to lick the puppies clean. The puppies won’t know that she’s just cleaning. They’ll think she is simply showering them with affection. Do this once a day at first. Then after about a week you can increase it to two times a day. Eventually, you’ll want to limit your puppies contact with their mother and only allow nursing once per day.
This will help the mother’s milk dry up too. If the puppies are only nursing once per day, mom won’t have to create as much milk and her mammary glands will shrink. Eventually, the puppies will have to eat solid foods to get their nutrition.
What if a Puppy Loses Weight?
The biggest concern when weaning puppies is if they are getting enough nutrition. Most of the litter should be perfectly fine, but there might be one or two that begin to lose weight. If any of your puppies begin losing weight, weaning is not going well and you need to slow down. Losing weight means that your puppy is not getting enough nutrition and you’ll have to help them more than the others.
You should continue to give all the puppies their gruel while transitioning to solid food. For the one or two who are not gaining weight, feel free to give them more time with mother to nurse. It’s a much better idea to make sure all your pups are in good health rather than rushing weaning.
How to Care for Mom During Weaning?
While most attention during weaning is on puppies, you still need to help take care of mom. While the puppies are weaning, a mother should have no discharge from their vulva and their mammary glands should begin to recede. If you notice some mammary glands still hanging, you may consider cutting back on her food. If her glands are very prominent, you might even consider cutting food for a 24-hour period to help receive the back pressure she may feel from not nursing.
But what do dogs in the wild do? The VCA explains how natural weaning works, “In the wild, weaning begins naturally as soon as the puppies start to develop their teeth, typically at three to four weeks of age. Suckling then irritates or hurts the mother who will move away and leave her puppies for longer and longer periods.”
Weaning should be relatively smooth, but here are some tips if you are having trouble.
- Start slowly – Just like with training a dog to do any command, you need to be patient. Each dog will have their own schedule. You just have to remember to keep at it and each pup should wean without problem.
- Keep your pups clean – Weaning is naturally a messy process. Be sure to wipe them down after mealtimes and make sure they are away from any drafts.
- Large dogs need more nutrition – A large breed dog is going to need much more to eat than a smaller dog. Because they will be eating more quantity, it can be harder for them to wean. Just keep at it though, and you’ll likely have no problems.
- Always monitor your pups – Weaning is a slow process and the biggest marker of success is if your pups still maintain healthy weight while doing it. Try to keep an eye on their weight each day to make sure they keep gaining. And always look to your vet as a resource when weaning.
It can be frustrating if your puppies do not immediately take to weaning. Just take your time and try to have fun with them. They will be eating solid food in no time!