When to start weaning puppies and what to feed them

As adorable as they are, puppies aren’t going to stay tiny and fragile forever. They will soon reach a point where they are ready for growth, known as the weaning phase, to continue their journey towards adulthood.

dr Carling Matejka, veterinarian and spokesman for Solid Gold, a pet food company, said News Week: “The weaning process refers to the puppies slowly transitioning to puppy food and reducing their need for mother’s milk.”

This transition can be a delicate process that requires care and attention. Here, dog experts explain when and how to start weaning puppies.

When should puppies be weaned?

Weaning is a process that can take several weeks. Matejka said that puppies need their mother’s milk for the right nutrients and for their immune system for the first three to four weeks of their lives.

As they develop, they can be slowly weaned and introduced to puppy-specific foods around three to four weeks of age. This process can take around three to four weeks, meaning puppies shouldn’t just stick to solid puppy food until they’re past seven to eight weeks old.

Below are some important tips for weaning puppies as detailed by Matejka:

  • Slow down. The weaning process must be gradual over weeks.
  • Start with short periods of separation. Begin the weaning process by leaving the entire litter of puppies away from their mother for no more than an hour or two. This allows the puppies to begin to develop some independence while still getting milk and reassurance from their mother.
  • Do not separate the puppies individually. Instead, keep the junk together.
  • Slowly increase the time apart over weeks as they adjust to being away from Mom.
  • When separated from their mother, they can be introduced to food from a shallow bowl.

Zazie Todd, the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy said news week that timing the weaning process is important, as some research shows that puppies that are weaned early are more likely to have behavioral problems, as suggested in a study published in August 2011 The Veterinary Protocol.

The study, conducted by Italian researchers, found that “compared to dogs that stayed in their social group for 60 days, dogs that were separated from the litter earlier were more likely to exhibit potentially problematic behaviors, particularly if they were from a pet store.” “

Todd said, “So puppies shouldn’t go into their new homes before eight weeks of age,” noting that it may also be illegal to sell puppies under that age in some areas.

According to a 2020 release from Michigan State University College of Law’s Animal Legal & Historical Center, about 27 states and Washington, DC have laws prohibiting the sale of puppies under a certain age (usually eight weeks).

A bitch nursing her puppies. Begin the weaning process by leaving the entire litter of puppies away from their mother for no more than an hour or two.
iStock/Getty ImagesPlus

What should I feed puppies?

Todd said puppies need to be fed “high quality food” specifically formulated for puppies to “ensure they’re getting all the nutrients they need.”

According to Matejka, puppy nutrition requires a precise balance of minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, protein and fat for the puppy to develop into a healthy adult dog.

Below are the recommended serving ranges for protein, digestible carbohydrates, fat, calcium and treats for dry food-based puppies as outlined by VCA, one of North America’s largest veterinary hospital chains:

  • Protein: 22 to 32 percent. The protein requirement of growing puppies is highest immediately after weaning, but decreases steadily thereafter.
  • Fat: 10 to 25 percent
  • Digestible carbohydrates: 20 percent
  • Calcium: 0.7 to 1.7 percent
  • Treats: Less than 10 percent
Two puppies are weaned on solid food.
Two puppies that tried a solid mix feed during a weaning process.
iStock/Getty ImagesPlus

Matejka said, “Nutritional deficiencies can have lifelong and sometimes fatal effects, so it’s best to stick to a nutritionally balanced, commercial diet.”

A diet based on store-bought foods offers several advantages, including being nutritionally balanced for growth, tasty and easy to prepare, and inexpensive, she said.

Matejka said at around three to four weeks of age, “puppies can begin to enjoy a small amount of moistened puppy food in their diet.” They get the rest of their calories and nutrients from their mother when they breastfeed.

  • First, mix a small amount of water or dog milk substitute into the puppy food.
  • Offer this to the puppies in a shallow bowl when they are separated from their mother.
  • Sometimes puppies need a little encouragement to try new foods. You can entice her to taste the food by putting a small amount on your finger and letting her lick it.
  • Don’t forget to offer the puppies clean drinking water.
Three puppies eating from metal bowls.
Three puppies eat from metal bowls on the floor of a house.
iStock/Getty ImagesPlus

When is a puppy ready to only eat solid food?

By eight weeks of age, puppies no longer need mother’s milk and can easily digest and absorb the nutrients they need from a puppy diet, Matejka said.

Puppies should be fed primarily puppy-specific food (over 90 percent of their calories per day) until they are fully grown. The age at which a dog is considered mature depends on the breed (typically six to 18 months). Talk to your vet about what age you should start switching your puppy to adult food, Matejka said.

Other key elements of puppy feeding

Below are some other important aspects to consider when feeding puppies, as detailed by Matejka.

  • Puppy food should be reviewed by the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). Check the label on store-bought puppy food to make sure it’s high quality. Look for a claim on the label that says it “meets the nutritional requirements of puppies or all life stages as established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials,” the vet said.
  • Watch the portions. Each type of food has a different number of calories per cup. Check the package for the recommended amount based on your pup’s weight and age. Puppies need adequate nutrition to grow, but too much can be dangerous. As puppies get older, the amount of food they need to grow changes. Strictly follow the recommendations on the food bag or container and adjust as needed.
  • Stick to small meals four times a day. As the puppy gets older (older than four to six months), it can be fed twice a day. It is recommended to stick to “meal feeding” and measure the exact amount of food they need per day per meal.
  • Don’t overfeed. You don’t want puppies to grow too slow or too fast. They can “always act like they’re starving,” but it’s important not to overfeed, as this can predispose them to obesity. Contact your veterinarian if you are concerned about your pup’s weight.
  • Protect your teeth. Puppies’ teeth are not very strong. They should be kept away from bones and hard chew toys as these can damage their baby teeth and developing adult teeth.
A woman feeding a puppy in the kitchen.
A woman feeds a puppy in a home kitchen. Puppies should be fed small meals four times a day.
iStock/Getty ImagesPlus

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