During the weaning stage you’ll moisten your puppy’s food while he learns to transition from nursing to eating from a dish. His baby teeth are just poking through, so his gums may be a little too tender for hard pieces of kibble. Softening his food with liquid is important between 4 and 7 weeks of age, but you have to use something other than cow’s milk.
Problems With Dairy
Canines seem like they can handle just about anything you throw in front of them. After all, Maxine hid out under the table collecting dinner scraps the entire time she was pregnant and she didn’t have any issues. The problem with dairy is that dogs don’t have the enzymes to break down lactose in milk. This type of milk sugar travels through their gut, relatively intact, causing abdominal pain, gas and even diarrhea. While cow’s milk isn’t necessarily severely harmful to your puppy’s health, he’ll most likely have unpleasant side effects and make a big potty mess in his playpen.
What to Use
Instead of opening up your refrigerator and reaching for human-friendly milk, head to the local pet store and pick up milk replacer specifically designed for puppies. This commercial product closely mimics milk produced by a lactating dog. It is lactose-free and provides all of the essential nutrients puppies need to get them through their growth spurt. Because milk replacer is high in calories, you might want to mix it with water – 1 part milk replacer and 1 part water. You’ll still be able to soften his food, but you won’t be giving him too many calories, which can lead to early weight gain.
How to Use It
Soak your puppy’s high-quality kibble in milk replacer for several minutes, allowing each piece to completely soften. The mixture should have the consistency of gruel when baby Fido first starts weaning. After a couple days, cut out a small amount of the milk replacer. Every few days continue to gradually cut back on the amount of liquid until your pint-size pooch is about 7 or 8 weeks old, suggests the ASPCA. At that point, he’ll be ready to eat his puppy kibble dry. Always check with your veterinarian – as a precaution – before making any new changes to your four-legged pal’s diet.
Puppies nurse every few hours, so when you’re transitioning to big-boy food, you’ll need to put out gruel several times a day. Don’t let him free-feed, however. Put the bowl down, let him pig out for 10 or 15 minutes, and pick up the dish. Save whatever he doesn’t eat until the next meal. If he clears his dish quickly, you may need to feed him a little more the next time. He’ll probably need several small meals early on, but eventually you’ll be able to feed him just three times per day until he reaches 6 months of age. After that you’ll be able to cut back to two feedings per day.
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.