Unsure of the best weaning schedule?
Wondering why your puppies are shaking after eating?
Concerned your puppies aren't interested in their weaning food?
There's no easy answer to this; weaning will depend on the puppies' health, the litter's size and the milk quality the Dam produces.
Ways to Wean
Typically weaning does not need to be rushed if puppies are growing well, gaining weight daily, and the Dam is content to feed them. Most breeds commence weaning around three weeks of age because the puppies will have started growing their teeth, supporting the ability to eat more challenging textured foods.
From the introduction of weaning food, there should be a slow transition over the weeks until the puppies are fully weaned at six or seven weeks. Some breeders still allow a daily milk feed until they leave for their new homes if the mother allows; this slow transition reduces the likelihood of engorged teats and mastitis. It's not unusual for mothers to resist wanting to feed the pups or restricting access sooner, which may increase your weaning scheduled pace.
Weaning may need to happen faster if the puppies have been hand-reared, it's a large litter or milk production is inadequate. It's acceptable to start weaning puppies once all eyes are open in the litter. This is typically around 10 to 14 days old. Weaning this young can be a bit messier as they may not yet be able to stand steadily, and typically more training is required in moving from sucking to licking.
Ensure the puppy's nostrils are free of food to ensure unrestricted breathing and prevent inhaling food. A packet of sensitive baby wipes is generally required to tidy them up to post-feed.
What's the easiest weaning method?
You can start weaning by letting the puppies lick a dab of weaning food off the tip of a finger. Suckling a fingertip is similar to them sucking a teat. Silicone spoons are also a great alternative. I recommend starting to wean on a one-to-one basis, ensuring the correct feeding technique and monitoring their eating amount. However, I appreciate that this can be challenging with litters over 6 puppies and possible time constraints.
Once the pup can stand steadily unsupported, you can tempt them to eat from a shallow bowl, tray or soother Lickimat. Once every pup can stand and eat, you can introduce feeding numerous pups simultaneously whilst being monitored.
Typically group weaning will be a much more messier process. I would recommend initially weaning in pairs or small groups and increasing the number with eating confidence.
If puppies become mucky, a baby wipe should clean them up quickly but remember to towel dry them sufficiently to prevent them from chilling.
You may find the best milk feeders aren't keen to transition to food, while the poorest ones fully appreciate the alternative food source. For this reason, I typically introduce the weaning meal as the first feed of the day; they should be hungry from no night feed making the food more enticing.
You can top them up with a shorter milk feed if you don't feel they consumed enough. One weaning meal daily for the next 4 to 6 days should be sufficient. You then have the open to replace another milk feed. Depending on your schedule, lunch or dinner feed might be preferable.
What should you wean them on?
There are many options for the type of food to wean. I believe in keeping it simple. Use a transitional food, such as a Royal Canin weaning mousse, that's flavoursome and easy to digest, and add soaked kibble to make a porridge once confidently eating or fresh/raw food.
If puppies aren't interested in the food, adding a puppy milk replacer powder will help increase its appealing odour, create the correct consistency, and grind the kibble or blend it.
You may find the porridge thicker, the colder it becomes. It's worth having a 'top up' bottle of warm milk to keep adding it to help keep a favourable consistency. Puppies may avoid feeding if the food is cold. If placed on your wrist, it should be body temperature, not hot.
You may notice that your puppies shiver and shake after feeding. This is normal as digesting food alters the body temperature. Just ensure they are dry and warm, and they will soon settle. If they continue to do this on all feeds, I recommend you slightly reduce the amount of food in case the quantity makes them slightly uncomfortable.
Over time reduce the mousse/transition food, and change the milk to water. Eventually, you won't be required to mash it as much or pre-soak the kibble for as long, making it a more rigid texture that will need chewing.
Any breeders planning to wean to fresh or raw food should be aware that some companies manufacture a raw weaning paste that's finely ground and super smooth food, transitioning to a lesser ground puppy completely raw. Raw feeding puppies can help significantly with the quality and size of stools, improving the ability to toilet train and help reduce odours.
I don't particularly appreciate making DIY puppy gruels, such as Weetabix, egg yolks and goat's milk combinations. These are not nationally balanced, and I prefer puppy milk replacers to goat's milk.
What are the quantities that need to be fed?
The rule of thumb for hand-rearing a newborn puppy is 1 ml of milk per 1 oz (28g) puppy weight.
1 ml of milk is the same as 1 gram of food.
Considering the above ratio, a 2 lb puppy is around 900g (divided by 28g), suggesting 32g per weaning feed. That's just over two tablespoons, maybe three, give or take the amount that will end up on their face, on the floor and over you.
This amount will all depend on your breed and their weight, there's no right or wrong, but you want the puppy to have a comfortably full belly, not too full that it's hard and uncomfortable. If in doubt, start with less and increase each weaning feeding. Overfeeding is also more likely to result in loose stool as the gut is forced to process the food faster and less efficiently.
The food will need to eventually increase to align with your food manufacturer's recommendations for an eight-week-old puppy ready to leave for its new home. It's strongly advised that once puppies are competent eaters, they should be fed from individual bowls to reduce competition and possible future food aggression issues. Petnap and Weanafeeda offer an easy-to-manage and clean system in various bowl numbers and sizing to cater to most breeds.
Need more advice about weaning your puppies?
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