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Weaning Puppies
Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.
Race Foster, DVM
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Click here for a pdf version of this article. 
Many people with a new litter of puppies are unsure of how to start the weaning process. In fact, some do not even really understand what weaning means or implies. Weaning refers to the process of the puppies beginning to eat food other than mothers' milk or milk formula. There is no magic trick in weaning puppies; most do this naturally.

A female dog is capable of supplying milk to her offspring for several months. In the wild, pups will be born in the spring and may (in some situations) still be nursing from their mother as the fall season arrives. They will definitely be taking food from other sources, but the mother will still be producing milk. The signal for the mammary glands to continue to produce milk is nursing or manipulation of the glands. Following whelping, if someone massages the mammary glands, they will continue to produce milk, even if the pups are taken away.

In today's world, weaning is not done to aid the mother. Rather, it is done because puppies generally make their way to their new home at about seven weeks of age, and since their mother is not going with them, the pups need to have their gastrointestinal tracts accustomed to eating commercially prepared foods. In most kennels, puppies get the first taste of food other than Mom's milk at about 3½ weeks of age. This may seem early to you, but after working with numerous breeders and seeing many litters raised in our own homes, we can guarantee that the puppies of any breed can take food on their own at this age. To make a puppy mush, we stay with the same brand of food the mother is fed, selecting the company's dry puppy food. It might be Iams, Purina, Science Diet, Nature's Recipe, etc.

Chesapeake puppies eating out of a dish of gruel
Photo by Ronald W. Glaman
Prepare the puppy mush by placing 2 cups of high quality dry puppy food in a blender with 12.5 oz liquid puppy milk replacer and fill the rest of the blender with hot water. This should be blenderized until the consistency of human infant cereal. (This feeds 6-8 puppies of a medium-sized breed.) The puppies should receive 3-4 meals a day of this to start. Once the puppies have checked it out, walked in it, and have eaten some, the dam can be allowed to finish it and clean the puppies off. Each week, increase the amount of food, decrease the amount of the milk replacer and water that is added, and the time of blenderizing, so by 7 weeks, the puppies are eating dry food.

Puppies eating dry foodOnce they are on dry food, it may be left in with the puppies (when the dam is out of the box) or the meal times can continue. As the puppies eat more solid food, the bitch may be let away from the puppies for an even longer period of time. By the time they are 6½-7 weeks, they should be fully weaned from the dam's milk, eating dry food, and drinking water.

If the weaning is not rushed, the bitch will naturally start decreasing milk production as the puppies increase their intake of solid food. As the puppies begin eating the puppy mush at 4 weeks of age, start changing the bitch's diet back to adult food to also help her decrease milk production. Start by replacing 1/4 of her puppy food with adult food. Keep increasing the adult food and decreasing the puppy food until by the 8th week postpartum, she is eating only adult food. During the last week of weaning, the dam's food consumption should be less than 50% above the maintenance levels and declining toward maintenance levels.


References and Further Reading

Holst, P. Canine Reproduction: A Breeder's Guide. Alpine Publications. Loveland, CO; 1985.

Evans, J.M; White, K. Book of the Bitch. Howell Book House. New York; 1997.

Lee, M. Whelping and Rearing of Puppies. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. Neptune City, NJ.

Fogle, B. The Dog's Mind-Understanding Your Dog's Behavior. Howell Book House. New York; 1990.

Wilson, S; Kilcommons, B. P.A.W.S. to Consider. 1999.

Rutherford, C; Neil, D. How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With, 3rd ed. Alpine Publications. 1999.

The Monks of New Skete. The Art of Raising a Puppy. Little, Brown, and Company. Boston; 1991.

Feldman, E; Nelson, R. Canine and Feline Endocrinology and Reproduction. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 1987.

Cain, J; Lawler, D. Small Animal Reproduction and Pediatrics. Pro-Visions Pet Specialty Enterprises. St. Louis, MO; 1991.

Finder Harris, B. Breeding a Litter: The Complete Book of Prenatal and Postnatal Care. Howell Book House. New York; 1993.

Fleig, D. The Technique of Breeding Better Dogs. Howell Book House. New York; 1992.

Padgett, G.A. Control of Canine Genetic Diseases. Howell Book House. New York; 1998. 

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