You've made it through a few weeks of 3 a.m. feedings and your puppy is ready to check out solid food. When you stop bottle-feeding your puppy, it is a process. Just as Mom would do, you must go through weaning in stages to ensure a healthy transition.
The first step in the weaning process is to introduce your puppy to a bowl. This can be done when the puppy is about 3 weeks old. Fill the bowl with the milk replacement formula your puppy is used to getting in his bottle. At this early stage, your puppy may do more playing in the bowl than eating, but that's OK. This is how he comes to realize that this stuff in the bowl is really his food. You can dip your finger in the milk and let the puppy lick it off to help him understand that the bowl contains his food. Continue to bottle-feed your puppy during this time, though you may decrease the amount of milk given at each feeding or the number of feedings, if it seems your puppy is starting to eat enough when he is offered the bowl.
Once your puppy seems to have accomplished lapping up milk from his bowl, it's time to introduce him to gruel. This can happen a few days after you first introduce the bowl of milk to him, depending upon his progress. You'll make the gruel by adding some of the milk replacement formula to dry puppy food. Let it stand for a few minutes so the kibbles become soft and soupy. Again, continue to bottle-feed during this time, though you may decrease the amount you feed or the number of feedings even more if your puppy is responding well to eating the gruel.
The weaning process is going to be messy. Your puppy is going to wade in his bowl. He is going to stick his entire face in the milk. Mostly likely, he'll be filthy at the end of each feeding. It's important to wash him off and make sure he is dry and warm after each feeding. Always provide a bowl of fresh water between feedings. If you're raising more than one puppy, it's also important to monitor each puppy's progress at eating on his own. The largest in the litter may be chowing down on the kibble within a few days and be done with the bottle by the time he is 4 weeks old, while the runt may need to be supplemented with bottle-feedings for a couple additional weeks. Monitor the puppies' weights every few days to ensure they are continuing to gain and grow throughout the weaning process.
By the time your puppy is 7 to 8 weeks old, the weaning process should be completed. This means that there are no more bottle-feedings and you've gradually reduced the amount of water in the gruel to the point that the puppy is eating dry food.
Bethney Foster is social justice coordinator for Mercy Junction ministry, where she edits the monthly publication "Holy Heretic." She is also an adoption coordinator with a pet rescue agency. Foster spent nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter/editor. She graduated from Campbellsville University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English, journalism and political science.