The processes of lactation and weaning are natural and usually require little intervention on your part. Lactation -- milk production -- begins with the birth of the first puppy, when the newborn’s nose passes the cervix during delivery and stimulates hormone production. As long as the mother dog remains in good health and receives an adequate diet, lactation can continue for several weeks after the puppies are weaned.
Lactation and Its Demands
Milk production depends on several hormones as well as the puppies’ suckling. The process of milk production and its removal through the mother’s teats is called lactation. For the first several weeks of puppies' lives, they are completely dependent on nursing from their mother, whose nutritional demands often reach 300 percent of her non-lactating needs. A lactating dog should eat several times daily and should have fresh water on demand to ensure she is receiving enough fluid to produce the milk her puppies need.
Normal Weaning Process
The momma dog produces the most milk during the third or fourth week after delivery. It is at this time that puppies can eat some soft food to supplement their mother’s milk. However, puppies should be allowed to continue nursing on their mother until at least 6 weeks of age for larger puppies and until 8 weeks for smaller or toy-sized breeds. As puppies begin to eat more solid food, they will begin to remove less milk through the mother’s teats, slowing milk production.
Milk Production Ends
Momma dog’s milk glands and teats become swollen with milk as nursing becomes less frequent. This engorgement causes her body to slow milk production. When nursing ceases entirely, engorgement causes milk production to stop. It may be beneficial to withhold the mother dog’s food from her on the day that her puppies are removed from her to ensure that milk production stops. A dog who continues to produce milk after her puppies have been weaned is at risk of mastitis. Although milk production ceases rapidly after weaning, the mammary glands and tissues continue to be present for about 45 days after the puppies are weaned, after which they atrophy.
Delayed Milk, Aglactia and Mastitis
A dog who delivers via cesarean section may experience delayed milk production. This delay occurs because of the lack of cervical stimulation by the puppies’ births. Milk production may occur after puppies begin to root and suck at her teats; however, sometimes milk production does not occur.
Total lack of milk production is called aglactia. This failed production can occur at any time while the puppies are nursing. The environment in which the mother and her puppies are kept factors into her ability to care for them. Too much stress from excessive activity, noise or heat can reduce milk production. Aglactia can also occur because the dog is taking certain drugs or from insufficient food or water during nursing.
Mastitis is an infection of the milk gland or mammary tissue that also causes milk production to slow or to cease. It can be caused by bacteria in the environment or from bacteria on the puppies’ paws. Mastitis may be limited to one teat or it can spread to others. Puppies who nurse from infected tissue can become ill or die. Mastitis also puts the mother dog’s life at risk.