Weaning is a critical stage in young puppies' lives. When the fur balls begin weaning, they shift slowly and surely from consuming only liquids to eating solids all the time. Mother dogs generally initiate weaning in their pups, making it pretty easy on human caretakers. If you're caring for an orphaned litter, however, the task is in your hands.
The point of weaning is to transition puppies from nursing or consuming puppy formula to eating regular solid dog foods, whether moist or dry. Puppies typically undergo the change when they're 3 to 4 weeks in age, and they're typically fully weaned when they're between 7 and 8 weeks old. Weaning doesn't involve stopping nursing on a dime, but instead slowly over the course of several weeks.
Once the puppies get to suitable weaning age, you might notice their mother dog beginning to phase out nursing, occasionally pushing the little ones away when they attempt to feed. You can encourage the process by taking the puppies away from the mother for blocks of several hours. While the puppies are away from Mommy, acquaint them to the idea of eating solid canned puppy food in a shallow pan. Thoroughly stir one part solid food and three parts formula until it forms a soft gruel. You can even encourage the puppies to lick small bits of softened solid foods straight off your fingers. Whenever you take the pups away from Mom, increase the amount of time they're away from her. Slowly increase the portions of solid foods you provide for them, too.
If your puppies don't have a mother, you can start weaning them during the same general time frame -- ages 3 to 4 weeks. Begin weaning them by putting some of their puppy formula inside of a shallow plan. Allow them to look at the formula and even get their tongues on it. Bottle-feed them right after that, as normal. Then take it to the next level by mixing moist puppy food into the formula in the pan. Once the puppies are between 4 and 5 weeks in age and are getting increasingly comfortable with the canned food in the formula, give them dry puppy food mixed in with formula, instead. Make sure the dry food is soggy and soft enough for the pups to easily eat. Keep lessening the amount of formula you mix into the dry food. When the litter is between 7 and 8 weeks old, they should finally be ready to eat the dry food as is -- sans formula.
When puppies learn how to eat like big boys and girls, they're generally pretty disorderly about it, frequently getting formula and bits of moist and dry foods all over their coats. Never leave your puppies in a gooey state after feeding sessions. Always carefully tidy them up after mealtime. Damp, warm and soft cloths typically work like a charm for these purposes. Remember, mother dogs work hard to keep their pups clean, and you're a substitute parent for them.
- ASPCA: Weaning
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Breeding for Dog Owners - Caring from Birth to Weaning
- PetEducation: Weaning Puppies
- Brightwood Animal Hospital: Canine Raising Orphan Puppies
- UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program: Canine - Guide to Raising Orphan Puppies
- Lien Animal Clinic: Raising Orphan Puppies
- The Pug Handbook; Brenda Belmonte
- The Book of the Bitch; J.M. Evans and Kay White
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images