Puppies grow up quickly. They start to transition from their mother's milk onto solid foods, a process known as weaning, at around 3 weeks to 4 weeks of age. Before long, those little guys won't be nursing from their mother at all. Instead they'll be chowing down on puppy food.
The nursing process is an important part of your pups' health and development. Mother's milk provides the nutrition and antibodies they need to fight off disease. Her milk is the only diet they will receive during their first three to four weeks of life. After this time, the little guys' teeth will begin to come in, making nursing uncomfortable for mama cat. The discomfort prompts her to spend more and more time away from the nest. At this point, they'll slowly start to transition onto solid foods over a period of about four weeks.
To reduce stress on the puppies, take the weaning process slowly, getting them used to eating solid foods. Whether mom is with the pups or they're orphaned, start to offer a mixture of equal parts canine milk replacement formula and water to the little ones in a large, shallow dish, the VCA Animal Hospitals website recommends. This gets the pups used to eating from a dish rather than a nipple. Once they are consistently eating from the dish, start to mix in some wet or dry food that's specifically formulated for puppies. Slowly decrease the amounts of formula and water while increasing the amount of solid food over the four-week weaning period until the pups are consistently eating solid food.
The weaning process begins quite messy as the little pups discover that strange gruel-like mixture of formula and puppy food in the dish. Furry babies will usually smell the food and then may walk right through it as they start to taste and eat it. You'll have to clean up the little ones after their foray into eating solid foods. Use paper towels moistened with warm water to wipe them down after meals, and dry them off so they don't become chilled. Place them back in with mom afterward. Make the cleaning process of the food area easier for yourself by placing the dish in a contained area, such as a bathtub. This prevents food-covered little ones from dashing onto your carpets or furniture before you have a chance to clean them off.
While most mother dogs naturally begin to nurse their pups less and less starting at 4 weeks of age, some don't. If your pooch won't begin to distance herself from the little ones, it's up to you to separate them from her for an hour to two each day, during which you can give them their formula-and-food mixture. Because mom might be feeling anxious during these initial separations, engage her in a fun game or give her some special attention to make her feel more at ease.
At the end of the weaning process, around 8 weeks of age, pups should be fully graduated to eating solely puppy-specific solid foods. The furry babies should be eating four meals of puppy food each day, with fresh water available to them at all times. When the little ones are fully weaned, between 8 and 12 weeks old, you can adopt them out because they are no longer nursing at all or dependent on their mother for nutrition. Keep in mind that 8 weeks is the minimum age of adoption or sale of little pups in most states, according to the Animal Legal & Historical Center.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Weaning
- petMD: Weaning Puppies From Their Mother
- American Kennel Club: Responsible Breeding Steps
- VetInfo: A Guide to Weaning Puppies
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Breeding for Dog Owners -- Caring From Birth to Weaning
- Genito Animal Hospital: Weaning Puppies
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Breeding for Dog Owners -- Caring for Mother and Puppies After Weaning
- RSPCA Australia: How Old Should a Puppy be Before They are Adopted/Purchased?
- Cesar's Way: Puppy Development: Stage 3
- Animal Legal & Historical Center: Overview of Laws Restricting the Age of Puppies for Sale
- Three Lions/Valueline/Getty Images