Weaning Puppies

Kelly Roper
Litter of Irish Setters

You'll need to learn about weaning puppies if your bitch is expecting a litter. Learn when and how to begin the weaning process.

Best Age to Begin Weaning Puppies

Puppies survive solely on their mother's milk for the first three weeks of their lives. The first milk, known as colostrum, contains important antibodies that will protect the puppies from a number of common diseases while their own immune systems begin to develop. As the puppies continue to nurse and grow, the milk gradually changes in consistency, and mom's production grows to meet the demand.

The best time to begin weaning puppies is generally around four weeks when the pups can walk, but the puppies are not weaned all at once. There is a process that should be followed to make weaning easier on both the pups and their mother.

Teaching Puppies to Lap

Before the pups can be fully weaned, they must first learn to lap. This is usually accompanied by adding about one inch of water to a low-sided bowl. It's often best to work with one puppy at a time to make sure each one learns to drink from the bowl on its own.

Begin by dipping a clean finger into the water and pressing it gently against the puppy's lips. Naturally curious, the pup should automatically lick your finger and taste the water. Once the puppy willingly licks your finger, you can coax it to lick from your finger placed just on the water's surface. Eventually, you can refrain from using your finger at all once each puppy laps willingly from the bowl by itself.

Hold lapping sessions two to three times a day for two days to make sure the pups can drink well. Once they do, you're ready for the next step in weaning them. However, the pups will continue to depend on mom for all of their regular meals.

Moving from Water to Baby Cereal

The next step in weaning puppies is to slightly thicken the water so they learn to lap a slightly more solid food than they've previously experienced. High protein baby cereal mix, sold in any grocery store, makes an ideal first weaning food.

The amount of baby cereal mix you make depends on how large a litter you have, and you may have to experiment a bit to find the right amount to make sure each pup gets its fill. Typically, you'll begin by mixing about one cup of dry baby cereal with enough warm water to create a slurry, which basically has the consistency of loose oatmeal. The pups usually like this mix quite well because it has more flavor than the water. Allow them to lap the mix until they finish it or become full and quit eating on their own. Once they're finished, you can let their mom clean up the bowl.

Along the course of about a week, you can gradually add a little more baby cereal to the mix to thicken it. If you thicken it too quickly, the pups could become constipated, so make sure it's just a little thicker each day until it has the consistency of pudding.

For the first three days of feeding the baby cereal mix, just feed the puppies once a day in the morning, and let them nurse from mom the rest of the day. On day four, add a second feeding later in the afternoon. You'll continue feeding the pups this way for approximately another week.

Moving from Baby Cereal to Puppy Kibble Paste

Once the puppies are routinely eating the baby cereal at pudding consistency, it's time to begin adding a little ground up puppy kibble to the mix. To grind the kibble, simply add one cup of whole puppy kibble to your food processor or blender, and grind it down to a rough powder. Just add about one tablespoon of ground kibble to the baby cereal mix for the first two meals, and then add two tablespoons of kibble for each of the next two meals. This will thicken the mix even more and accustom the pups to an even more solid meal. At this point, begin gradually replacing a little of the dry cereal in the mix with a little more of the ground kibble. Eventually, the mix will be all ground kibble with just enough warm water added to make a thick paste.

During this period, you'll likely notice that the pups are nursing from mom far less, but they will still nurse a couple of times a day. As you go through the weaning process, you can begin giving mom longer breaks away from her litter. This allows her milk production to slow down gradually, which is healthier for her.

Graduating from Kibble Paste to Solid Kibble

So far, the weaning plan has taken the pups through approximately weeks three through five of their lives. At this point the pups are eating the pasty kibble mix, and you should also keep fresh water available for them.

Once the pups' first teeth are fully cut through their gums, it's time to begin soaking whole puppy kibble in warm water to soften it. Serve it to the pups in place of the paste mix, and watch to make certain each puppy gives it a try. As the puppies become accustomed to eating the soaked kibble, you can begin letting them only stay with mom overnight.

Over the next couple of weeks, gradually soak the kibble for shorter periods of time until you get to the point where the pups are crunching dry kibble and drinking water on their own. Once they are, you can completely wean them from nursing their mother.

Time to Let Go

The litter should continue to live together until the pups are at least eight weeks old to ensure proper socialization. If you've done a thorough job of weaning puppies, each pup can then go to its new home as long as it is eating well and gaining weight.

Weaning Puppies