If your puppies have started frisking about with each other, it's time to get them on the road to feeding themselves. Whether they're orphans or Mom's on the case, the weaning process for puppies is the same. At three weeks, puppies should start on replacement formula as the first step to eating on their own.
Weaning is a puppy's gradual transition from mother's milk to puppy food. It comes at a point in his development when he's beginning to explore and play as his eyesight and hearing improve. In the wild, Mom begins the weaning process when her puppies develop their teeth, around 3 or 4 weeks of age. Nursing becomes a painful proposition for Mom, so she'll begin distancing herself from her litter for longer periods of time. If on her own, she'll help the weaning process along by regurgitating her food for her puppies to eat. It's not unusual for the family dog to do this, so don't be alarmed; it's a natural maternal function.
The Weaning Process
It takes up to three weeks to complete the weaning process, and a puppy milk replacement helps puppies move from mother's milk to puppy food. Avoid cow's milk, goat's milk and condensed milk, which can cause stomach upset and diarrhea. As well, puppy milk replacement provides appropriate nutrition growing pups require. A mix of half milk replacement formula and half water in a dish works well as the first step away from mother's milk.
If it's time to wean your puppies, read the directions of your weaning formula to determine how much to feed them. For example, Esbilac 2nd Step advises starting with a mix of three parts water to one part powder for puppies when they start the weaning process. Puppies averaging a pound are instructed to eat 1 tablespoon of powder to 3 tablespoons of water three times a day; 3-pound puppies should start with 4 tablespoons of powder to 12 tablespoons of water three times a day; puppies averaging 5 pounds should have a mixture based on 5 tablespoons of formula.
Puppies are used to nursing for their nutrition and don't understand drinking or eating from a dish right away. You may have to do a little teaching on this part. After mixing the weaning mixture, pour it into a saucer or a shallow pan. Gently dip the puppies' chins in the mix, or put it on your finger and wet their noses and mouths. Go through the process two or three times a day until they learn to drink the mixture on their own. Be patient, as it will take up to several days for the pups to catch on. After a week, begin mixing canned or ground dry puppy food into the mixture, in small amounts.
Formula to Food
Over the next two weeks, gradually increase the amount of puppy food and decrease the amount of weaning formula the puppies eat. As you transition the pups to puppy food, their food will change consistency, becoming less watery and resembling gruel. By 6 or 7 weeks of age, puppies should be eating puppy food, with no moisture added, out of a bowl. There's no rule about proportions of formula and puppy food; instead, it depends on how receptive your pups are to their new food. It's a good idea to acquaint all puppies with canned and dry food so they don't become finicky eaters.
Weaning should take about three or four weeks. Taking your time gives your pups opportunity to learn important social skills from Mom and their littermates and allows Mom's milk to dry up gradually. It can be a messy process, as puppies are frisky little fellows and may end up covered in formula or food. Feeding a good quality puppy food ensures your pups have a balanced diet and won't need additional vitamins or supplements.