After several weeks, puppies will begin to depend less on their mother, and they will not need to nurse as much. This is time to begin the weaning process. Weaning involves the cessation of nursing and starts at the same time puppies begin the switch to dry dog food.
Weaning starts at about three weeks of age. Some breeders of small dogs prefer to wait until the puppies are five weeks old. It is not something that should be done rapidly. It is a process that should take two weeks or so to complete. This is because the puppies can get diarrhea and have esophagus problems if the process is done too quickly. Weaning is also an educational experience for puppies. During this time, the puppies learn vital behaviors and skills, such as dominance, submission, self-confidence and independence. A gradual weaning process is also important for the mother because forcing her to stop nursing suddenly can bring on engorgement, which causes painful breasts.
What to feed them
There are several different schools of thought as to what to feed the puppies. Some breeders start out with puppy formula, while others soak dry dog food in warm water and then mash it up. Others use baby rice cereal. It is preferred that you use Puppy Chow or other type of dog food that the puppies will eat until they become adults.
How to wean them
At three weeks of age, start separating the mother and the puppies for a few hours at a time. During this time, place the soaked dog food, rice cereal or puppy milk in several large pans. The pups may not know what to do, so you will have to introduce it to them. Stick some on your finger and have them lick it off. You can also put the pups next to the pans to see whether they will eat the contents. It may take a few tries to get the pups to eat, but they should get the hang of it quickly.
While the pups are eating, the mother should be fed as well. Her food intake should be reduced so she produces less milk. She will still nurse the puppies while they are weaning, but not as often.
The pups should be fed three times a day. After the puppies get used to the food, slowly increase the amount of food and decrease the amount of water or milk. By six or seven weeks of age, the puppies should be fully weaned and eating dry dog food independently.
What to be aware of
Puppies also need clean water readily accessible at all times. Although some dog owners like to keep their dogs on canned dog food, dry dog food is preferred, as it helps clean the dogs’ teeth. Once the puppies are weaning, the mother will stop cleaning up after them, so you will need to be more vigilant about it.
The puppies should be kept dry and warm at all times. Weaning can be messy, so be sure to clean the puppies with a soft towel after eating. Once the puppies are weaned, it is OK to leave dry dog food readily available for smaller dogs, but it should be put away for larger dogs. Larger dogs are prone to eating too much, which can cause joint diseases.