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When Are Puppies Weaned? A Quick Guide to Understanding Weaning Process - PawSafe

When Are Puppies Weaned? A Quick Guide to Understanding Weaning Process

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

when are puppies weaned

Puppies are one of the most adorable creatures on the planet. Their playful antics and innocent expressions can melt even the toughest of hearts. However, as cute as they may be, there comes a time when they must be weaned from their mother’s milk and onto solid food. So, when precisely are puppies weaned?

According to a study published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice, puppies are typically weaned between three and six weeks. During this time, they transition from their mother’s milk to solid food. This process is crucial for their growth and development, providing them with the necessary nutrients to thrive.

It’s important to note that the weaning process can be stressful for the puppies and their mother. However, with proper care and attention, it can be a smooth and successful transition. With the help of sources like puppy neonatal care expert, Dr. Lawler, DVM., we will explore the weaning process in more detail and provide tips for ensuring a healthy and happy outcome for all involved.

During this time, the breeder will gradually thicken the gruel until the puppies eat solids. By the time they are eight weeks old, they should be able to eat small pellets formulated for puppies that aren’t softened with water.

What is Weaning?

Weaning is transitioning a puppy from their mother to solid puppy food. The process usually starts after the puppies’ teeth erupt by introducing softened puppy food and gradually reducing the frequency of nursing sessions. 

At this stage, their teeth start to come in, and the mother becomes less comfortable with them nursing. The breeder will introduce a thin gruel to help the puppies learn to eat independently. 

The exact timing for weaning can vary depending on the breed, individual puppy development, and the mother’s preferences. Breeders need to be careful about introducing whole food or kibble abruptly or too early, as greedy puppies who eat too fast are at risk of choking.

A good breeder will monitor the puppies’ development closely and adjust their diet as necessary to ensure they are getting the nutrients they need to grow and develop properly.

How Weaning Puppies Works

A brindle female dog looking uncomfortable feeding her puppies who are teething, which is when the weaning process begins

Weaning usually begins around three to four weeks of age, when the puppies’ teeth begin to erupt, and they start to show interest in their mother’s food. At this point, the mother will begin to discourage her puppies from nursing by standing up or moving away when they try to nurse.

At this stage it is the breeders job to turn quality puppy food into a thin, watery gruel and allow the puppies to experiment and learn to lap it up. Many puppies are resistant to eating from a bowl at first and it can take a day or two before they learn to eat food rather than nurse.

The breeder will still need to offer food every three to four hours. It’s best to feed the puppies separately (in separate bowls) to prevent the bigger pups from forcing the little ones away. The puppies may lose a little weight if their mother does not want to nurse them and they are struggling to learn to eat during this time.

Keep in mind, this initial phase of learning to eat from a bowl can be stressful, and the puppies are very prone to digestive issues like diarrhea. Ideally, you need to feed the puppies the same food that their mother gets (only softened with water and turned into a mushy gruel) and add probiotics to help their tummy adjust to the new food.

As the puppies become more curious about solid food, the mother may also start to regurgitate food for them to eat.  According to research by Science Direct, among the 263 Swedish dog breeders questioned about regurgitation, 60% had observed regurgitation among their dogs. This is a natural way for the mother to teach her puppies about different textures and tastes.

Once the puppies are eating solid food regularly, the mother will gradually decrease her milk production and allow them less and less time to nurse. This process can take up to seven to eight weeks, and it’s essential to monitor the puppies’ weight and health.

Ideal Weaning Age for Puppies

four week old puppies eating soft food from a bowl during weaning

Puppies typically start weaning just after three weeks and it is a gradual process, not something that happens over night. The exact age at which a puppy is weaned can depend on various factors, including the breed of the puppy, the size of the litter, and the mother’s health.

When puppies are born, they rely on their mother’s milk for the first few weeks of their lives. As they grow and develop, they explore their surroundings and become more independent. This is when they will start to eat solid food.

The ideal age for weaning to be completed is around seven weeks old, or between six and eight weeks. At this age, they are typically able to eat solid food without assistance and are no longer reliant on their mother’s milk.

According to the Center For Animal Welfare, puppies separated from their dams and littermates too early tend to bite more readily and more complicatedly than those separated at eight weeks. However, it is essential to note that some puppies may need to be weaned earlier or later, depending on their needs.

Signs Puppies Are Ready To Wean

indicators that puppies are ready to wean

Puppies are typically ready to wean when they are about four to six weeks old. However, it is vital to look for sure signs to ensure the puppies are ready to transition to solid food.

Increased Appetite

One of the most apparent signs that puppies are ready to wean is an increased appetite. Puppies will start to show more interest in their mother’s food and may even try to nurse more frequently. This indicates that they are ready to start eating solid food.

Teeth Development

Another sign that puppies are ready to wean is the development of their teeth. Puppies start to grow their teeth at around three to four weeks old, which can make nursing uncomfortable for the mother.

This discomfort may lead to the mother dog refusing to nurse her puppies, which is a clear sign that they must start eating solid food.

Independence

As puppies grow, they become more independent and explore their surroundings. This indicates that they are ready to start eating solid food. Puppies ready to wean will begin to show interest in their mother’s food and may even try to eat it independently.

Weight Gain

Puppies that are ready to wean will also start to gain weight more quickly. This is because they are getting the nutrients they need from solid food rather than just from their mother’s milk. You should monitor your puppies’ weight to ensure that they are gaining weight at a healthy rate.

The Weaning Process

puppy weaning process

Weaning is a complex process that can have lifelong effects.  Puppies between four and eight weeks old are separated from their mother at intervals. Typically, their mother will start leaving more of own accord, as she starts to find the nursing uncomfortable and the litter a bit overwhelming.  However, she will still be protective and miss them if they’re gone.

This is where the puppy starts learning to be independent of their dams and to create social bonds with other littermates. They also get braver about exploring their surroundings.

Separating the puppies abruptly from the mother, especially puppies below eight weeks, could be detrimental to their social life as adults.

puppies drinking milk from mommy dog

A study by ScienceDirect showed that pups with prolonged maternal care who were allowed to observe their mother performing specific tasks were better at those tasks than the non-exposed pups.

Transitioning to Solid Food

The first step in the weaning process is introducing the puppies to small amounts of watery food that is easier to drink rather than chew. It is vital to choose a high-quality puppy food that is easy to digest and provides all the necessary nutrients. The food should be moistened with water or milk replacer to make it easier for the puppies to eat.

At first, the puppies may only be interested in playing with the food or licking it off their paws. However, with patience and persistence, they will eventually learn to eat it. It is important to monitor their progress and make sure they are getting enough to eat. 

Over the course of about three weeks, you can gradually allow the food to get harder if you want them to eat kibble. But stick to small pellets and watch for puppies that eat too quickly, as they are prone to choking at this age.

Weaning Diet

As the puppies become more comfortable with solid food, their mother’s milk should gradually reduce. This can be done by feeding their mother small amounts of food to cut off her milk production or gradually increasing the amount of solid food the puppies eat.

It is important to provide a balanced diet that includes all the necessary nutrients. Puppies should be fed puppy food appropriate for their age and size. It is also essential to provide plenty of fresh water.

How Often Should Weaning Puppies Be Fed?

Newbie puppies should be fed four to five times throughout the day. As they become more accustomed to solid food, feedings can be gradually reduced to three to four times daily. Very small teacup breeds may need food every two hours to prevent low blood sugar.

It is crucial to monitor the puppies’ weight and adjust their feeding schedule as necessary. Overfeeding can lead to obesity, while underfeeding can lead to malnutrition.

The weaning process is an essential step in a puppy’s development. By providing a balanced diet and monitoring their progress, you can help ensure that they grow up healthy and strong.

Weaning Diarrhea

Diarrhea represents one of the most frequent disorders in dogs. In puppies, weaning is a high-risk period. Studies have concluded that degradation of feces quality can be a sign of infections by digestive pathogens and can lead to weight loss and risk of death.

A sudden change in diet or stress can also cause weaning diarrhea. The diarrhea is usually mild and self-limiting, but it can be concerning for pet owners.

Symptoms of weaning diarrhea include loose stools, abdominal discomfort, and sometimes vomiting. If the diarrhea persists for more than a few days or if the puppy becomes lethargic or dehydrated, a veterinarian should be consulted.

If weaning diarrhea does occur, it is crucial to keep the puppy hydrated. Offer small amounts of water frequently and consider giving an electrolyte solution to replace lost fluids and minerals. A bland diet of boiled chicken and rice may also help ease -the symptoms of weaning diarrhea.

By introducing solid food gradually and monitoring the puppy’s health, pet owners can ensure a smooth transition to solid food.

Potential Weaning Issues

When puppies are weaned, it is not uncommon for them to experience some issues. These issues can range from reluctance to eat solid food to resistance from the mother dog. In this section, we will explore some potential weaning issues that puppies may face.

Refusal to Eat Solid Food

 Some puppies may be reluctant to eat solid food initially. To address this, you can start by mixing puppy formula or warm water with the solid food to create a semi-liquid mixture. Gradually reduce the liquid content over time until the puppy is eating solid food. Patience is key.

Diarrhea or Upset Stomach

 A sudden change in diet can lead to digestive issues like diarrhea. To minimize this risk, make the transition to solid food gradual and ensure the food is appropriate for puppies. If diarrhea persists, consult a veterinarian.

Dehydration

Puppies might drink less water when they begin weaning. Ensure they have access to clean, fresh water to prevent dehydration. You can also moisten their food slightly to provide some additional hydration.

Choking Hazard

Some puppies may not chew their food properly, leading to choking hazards. To minimize this risk, offer age-appropriate and small kibble, or you can even soften it slightly by mixing it with water or puppy formula.

Weight Loss

Puppies might lose weight during the weaning process, especially if they’re not eating enough. Monitor their weight and consult a vet if significant weight loss occurs.

Socialization and Behavioral Issues

Weaning is not just about food; it’s also a time when puppies learn social behaviors. Puppies separated from their litter and mother too early can sometimes develop behavioral issues. Ensure they have appropriate socialization and playtime with other puppies or dogs to learn critical social skills.

Mastitis in the Mother

Sometimes, the mother may develop mastitis (inflammation of the mammary glands), making nursing painful for her and less desirable for the puppies. This can lead to weaning issues. Consult a vet for guidance on managing mastitis.

Inadequate Nutrition

Ensure that the puppies are receiving proper nutrition during the weaning process. You may need to supplement their diet with commercial puppy food formulated for their needs.

Orphaned Puppies

Orphaned puppies may face additional challenges during weaning. In such cases, it’s crucial to provide round-the-clock care, warmth, and bottle feeding with a suitable milk replacement formula.

Weaning is a gradual and sometimes challenging process, but with proper care and monitoring, most puppies can successfully transition to solid food and develop into healthy, well-adjusted dogs.

Post-Weaning Care

post weaning care in dogs

After puppies are weaned, they require continued care and attention to ensure they grow up healthy and strong. Two essential aspects of post-weaning care are continuing nutrition and monitoring health.

Nutrition

Continue to feed high-quality, age-appropriate commercial puppy or kitten food. These foods are specially formulated to meet the nutritional needs of growing animals. Follow the feeding guidelines provided on the food packaging or as your veterinarian recommends.

Feeding Schedule

Establish a regular feeding schedule. Young animals thrive on routine, so try to feed them simultaneously daily. This helps with digestion and can make housetraining easier.

Portion Control

Be mindful of portion sizes to prevent overfeeding or underfeeding. Monitor your puppy or kitten’s weight and adjust the portions as needed. Growing animals have specific nutritional requirements that vary as they age.

Hydration

Ensure access to clean, fresh water at all times. Proper hydration is vital for overall health, especially for kittens and puppies that are more active and have higher metabolic rates.

Socialization

Continue to expose your puppy to various social experiences, people, and other animals to help them develop into well-adjusted adults. Positive socialization during the post-weaning phase is essential for behavior and emotional development.

Training and Behavior

Start basic training and behavior reinforcement, including house training, basic commands, and leash walking. Consistency and positive reinforcement are essential to successful training.

Healthcare

Keep up with veterinary visits and vaccinations as recommended by your veterinarian. Discuss an appropriate vaccination schedule and preventive healthcare measures, such as flea and tick control and deworming.

Parasite Control

Implement a regular parasite control program to protect your pet from internal and external parasites. Consult your vet for guidance on which products are safe and effective for your puppy or kitten.

Grooming

Depending on the breed, you may need to establish a grooming routine. Regular brushing and grooming can help maintain a healthy coat and identify skin issues.

Exercise and Play

Provide ample opportunities for exercise and play to keep your puppy or kitten physically and mentally stimulated. Age-appropriate toys and activities are essential for their development.

Remember that post-weaning care is a continued commitment to your pet’s well-being. Regular veterinary check-ups, a balanced diet, proper training, and affectionate care are essential for raising a happy and healthy adult dog or cat. Tailor your care to your pet’s specific needs and consult with your veterinarian for personalized guidance.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When should puppies be fully weaned off their mother?

Puppies should be fully weaned off their mother by the time they are eight weeks old. This means that they are no longer nursing and are eating solid food on their own. It’s essential to ensure they are eating enough and getting all the nutrients they need during this transition period.

At what age can puppies start drinking water?

Puppies can start drinking water as early as three weeks old, and should always have access to clean water in a shallow bowl to learn to lap and drink. The bowl should be too shallow to be a drowning hazard and tit needs to be cleaned multiple times a day as puppies will poop and walk in it.

What is the best age to get a puppy?

The best age to get a puppy is between 8 and 12 weeks old. This is when they have been fully weaned off their mother and have had time to socialize with their littermates and learn from the mother. It’s vital to choose a reputable breeder or rescue organization and research the breed before getting a puppy.

What should I feed my 4-week-old puppy?

At four weeks old, puppies should still be nursing from their mother and have quality puppy food given in the form of a thin gruel to supplement their nutrition. If they cannot nurse, they should be fed a milk replacer formula specifically designed for puppies. It’s essential to follow the feeding instructions on the procedure and to introduce solid food when they are ready.

When do puppies stop nursing at night?

Puppies should be able to sleep through the night without nursing by the time they are six to eight weeks old. It’s essential to establish a consistent bedtime routine and to reduce nighttime feedings as they get older gradually.

Final Thoughts

Weaning is an essential process for puppies as it helps them transition from milk to solid food. The age at which puppies are weaned can vary depending on the breed and the individual puppy’s development.

It is important to note that weaning should be done gradually to avoid upsetting the puppy’s digestive system. Puppies should also have access to fresh water at all times once they begin eating solid food.

Pet owners should work closely with their veterinarian to determine the best time to wean their puppies and what type of food to introduce. A high-quality puppy food that meets all puppy’s nutritional needs is essential for their growth and development.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.