Neonatal pups spend a few weeks post-birth exclusively nursing with mom, with no need for any nourishment other than her milk. One of the biggest early steps in the development of puppies is weaning, which is the slow, measured and careful transfer from nursing to eating "big kid" solid foods.
Mother Dog's Instinct in Starting Weaning
Mother dogs often instinctively determine when to start weaning their youngsters off of nursing so much. This often happens when the puppies are around 3 to 4 weeks in age. Puppies without mothers can also start weaning around this same time period. The aim in starting weaning is to change from full-time to part-time nursing.
Finishing weaning is no race, and the goal is to make the transition as smooth and pleasant as possible, for the hard-working mama dog and hungry puppies alike. Weaning often works well when the dam has the opportunity to finish off all of the milk her body has to offer her offspring at her own pace. In many cases, litters of puppies are entirely weaned once they are 7 to 8 weeks in age. By the closing of weaning, puppies eat solely solid foods, and nursing is no longer a part of their meal plan.
Getting Their Little Paws Wet
If you want to acclimate a litter of puppies to feeding away from mama, at first give them commercial puppy milk replacer inside of a pan of little depth. This introduces them to the concept of eating away from mom. If you have any questions at all regarding initiating weaning in puppies, speak to your veterinarian before you start.
Outside of puppy milk replacer in a pan, gruel can be another helpful way to get wee puppies familiar with eating independently. Since their tiny mouths are in no way acquainted with eating solid foods yet, you can make things easy on them by making their meals into soft, smooth gruel. Simply blend the milk replacer in with dry food that is either moistened or crushed up into a powder-like substance. Apart from milk replacer, warm water also can work. Only give them commercial puppy foods, wet or dry. Adult dog food doesn't meet the nutritional demands of young puppies, and therefore isn't suitable for them.
Upping the Solid Food and Minimizing the Formula
As weaning continues and the little guys get more and more familiar with eating solids, consistently up their solid food portions while at the same time minimizing the formula you mix in. This way the puppies can get to the point of eating puppy food alone -- sans any formula -- in an easy, comfortable and pressure-free manner. No shockers there. During weaning, make a point to provide your veterinarian with routine updates on how the puppies are doing, both to inform her of their growth and progress and also to get some valuable feedback.