Puppies begin their lives drinking mom's milk, and following that up with a proper and nutritionally balanced diet might seem like quite the tall order, particularly if you've never done so before. During and after the weaning process, the diet planning ball is in your court.
Newborn puppies are meant to only consume their mother dog's milk. At this point, as a caretaker there is absolutely no need for you to feed puppies anything, whether soft or dry foods. The mother dog's milk offers puppies everything they need in order to be healthy and hardy. The sole exception is when a mother dog is absent or unable to nurse. In those situations, consult your vet. You can bottle-feed puppies using a commercial milk replacer and puppy formula.
A mother doggie generally begins to dissuade her young ones from exclusive nursing when they reach around 3 to 4 weeks of age. Although the mother will not stop nursing cold turkey at this point, she'll usually do so much less frequently. The entire process usually takes a little over a month or so, with many puppies not being completely weaned until they're about 8 weeks old. However, puppies can begin eating soft-textured foods as soon as weaning begins -- think 3 weeks old, for instance.
When puppies just start the weaning process, the texture and chewing requirement of hard kibble may be quite a shock at first. Remember, the fluff balls have experience consuming only mama's milk at this point. The ASPCA recommends feeding the youngsters dry puppy food that is spoon-mixed into warm water. Instead of water, puppy milk replacer in liquid form works just fine. If you mix water or puppy formula with dry food, the meal will take on a soft, smooth, thick and gruel-like feel -- a lot easier for puppies to manage. As soon as you notice the puppies adapting well to the soft gruel, slowly introduce canned food and dry food that isn't mixed in with anything else. Once puppies are near the end of weaning, they should be fully ready to eat foods that aren't soft.
When you begin feeding puppies solid foods in earnest, whether soft or hard, remember that the little ones have very specific nutritional requirements that are totally different than those of adult doggies. The ASPCA notes that puppies need roughly two times as much energy intake as full-grown dogs. It's crucial to allow puppies to eat only foods that are labeled as being solely for puppy consumption, whether wet or dry. Puppy foods have the correct levels of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins for wee pooches.