A mama dog's milk bar won't always be open for the pups to enjoy on the whim of the moment. Yet, don't expect milk production to stop out of the blue just as you would turn off a faucet. As the puppies grow, they will nurse less and less and the milk supply will reduce gradually. The process can be made smoother though if you help the pups in the weaning process and make changes to mama dog's diet.
Times of Operation
In the wild, mother canines gave birth in spring and continued to nurse the pups until close to fall, but in a modern, domestic setting, mother dogs stop their milk production much earlier. Puppies are completely dependent on mama's milk for the first four weeks of life. Then, the pups must be weaned off the milk supply so their tummies get used to solid foods. This helps get them ready to be placed in new homes by the time they are 8 weeks old.
Supply and Demand
What keeps the milk bar in business is the secretion of milk and the continual removal of milk by the suckling pups. When the puppies keep on coming back for their meals, they empty the milk reservoir, which signals the mama dog's brain that she needs more milk. The pup's repeated suckling action is, therefore, what mainly keeps the operation in business. When the puppies stop coming back as often -- when you start supplementing their diets with puppy food -- the milk production slows, ultimately closing down the business.
Interestingly, the puppy teething process plays a significant role in mama dog's hours of operation. Puppies develop their needle-sharp teeth at around 3 to 4 weeks of age. At this time, upon suckling, the little piranha pups will start irritating mama's teats, making her more reluctant to nurse. This causes the pups to grow more interested in other food sources. Take advantage or her annoyance to introduce the puppies to a blended mush made of the same puppy food fed to mom along with puppy milk replacer and hot water.
Nursing is the most nutritionally demanding period in a dog's life. When mama dog gives birth and milk production is at its peak, her nutritional needs can be three times her normal maintenance requirement. By gradually weaning mama dog off of the rich, nutrient-dense puppy food and putting her back onto adult food once her pups start transitioning to solid food, she should produce less milk. This should be discussed with your vet to ensure both pups and mom are receiving the most adequate and appropriate nutrition.
Drying up the milk supply is a gradual, natural process that shouldn't be rushed to prevent discomfort. Don't worry; mama dogs knows best when it's time to close down the milk bar -- under normal circumstances, she won't let her pups starve. However, consult with your vet should mama dog's milk production continue once the weaning process has completed; mammary glands that won’t dry up can become painful, and if no steps are taken, a mastitis infection can quickly set in.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.