A Guide To Weaning Puppies
Usually, a mother dog has no problem weaning puppies on her own. In some circumstances, however, it’s up to the dog-owner to help the pups make the transition from mother’s milk to solid foods.
Left to their own devices, mother dogs will usually begin to wean their young off of breast milk when they are about one month old. Prior to this, the maternal instinct is very strong and the mother dog should exclusively nurse her pups. This gives them the best chances possible to live a long and healthy life. Breast milk contains vital nutrients, as well as antibodies that can help the puppies to fight off diseases later in life.
You’ll be able to tell when a mother dog is ready to wean her pups. She will simply get up and leave the area when her pups are nursing, or whining for food. Often, she’ll start by letting the pups nurse while she is standing (as opposed to lying down at their beckon call) so that she can easily move away from them when she grows tired.
At this point, a mother will begin to offer a new food source. In a wild situation, this would typically be a regurgitated version of whatever the mother was eating. At home, you can provide wet food.
The puppies will inevitably try to nurse and will often reject the new food. Once the mother has decided she’s done nursing, she’ll stick to her guns and display a little tough love. The pups will be denied the breasts, gently at first with nudges or little growls. However, if a puppy is stubborn and continues to try suckling, the mother dog may nip at him or her. This is perfectly normal behavior and you shouldn’t be concerned unless any injury occurs.
Weaning Puppies Yourself
Sometimes, a mother is not available to nurse her pups. If a mother dog has died, is sick, or has refused to feed her puppies, human intervention is needed to help them survive.
In these situations, the best-case scenario would be to find another female dog that has recently had a litter to nurse the pups. Often, the surrogate mother will happily provide milk for the orphaned babies.
If pups have been orphaned, and no surrogate is available, they’ll need to be fed from bottles. This is an undertaking that requires a lot of time and attention. If you think you’re up to the task, consult a veterinarian. He or she can educate you about the nutritional requirements of the newborn dogs, and teach you how to sterilize the equipment you’ll use. You may have to try different methods of convincing the puppies to suckle. They will be hungry, but it can be difficult for them to figure out at first – especially if they were able to nurse from their mother at some point.
Once you are ready to switch them from bottle to solid food, you’ll have to act as their mother would and cut the puppies off. You can start by gradually reducing the amount of milk they intake at each feeding and/or the number of feedings they are given in a day. When you remove the milk, offer an alternative food source. Commercially available wet food works fine, and you can also soften up some dry puppy food with warm water.
Weaning puppies on your own can be difficult, and it’s tempting to give in to their desperate cries for milk. Teaching them discipline and adaptability now, though, will make them better-behaved dogs when they’re adults.