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Puppies get all of their vital nutrition nursing from their mom when they're born, but grow up pretty quick. Before you know it, they'll be eating solid foods within weeks of birth. At this time, their mother weans them off of her milk, and they can begin to eat solid foods. That's where you come in, and you'll need to have some puppy food — wet or dry — handy to provide your new puppy with the nutrition he needs to continue growing up to be big and strong.
When to wean
If you have a young pup or a litter of puppies to care for, you'll need to start weaning them at around 4 to 5 weeks of age. During the weaning stage, you'll slowly be transitioning your puppy onto solid foods from his mother's milk or a milk replacement formula if mom isn't around. That means mixing the puppy dry dog food with the formula until the pup gets used to eating it.
The weaning process takes about four-to-five weeks and allows your pup to get used to the process of eating solid foods. This means that your puppy will be eating wet or dry food on his own by around 9 to 10 weeks old. The puppies' mother will naturally start the weaning process when the dog's teeth starts to come in. At this stage don't worry about overfeeding. Your puppy needs to eat and drink a lot to meet their nutritional needs!
Why make a mush?
When you wean your puppy, she won't be suckling as much from mom or being bottle-fed. Because she's used to drinking liquids, you'll need to soak her dry dog food in either water or puppy milk replacement formula to form a mush. The soaking process helps reduce the dry nuggets to a mushy consistency that the pup can comfortably eat.
Remember that puppies start getting their baby teeth at around 2- weeks old, according to petMD, and won't have a full set until they reach between 8-to-10 weeks old. So during this time, you'll need to create something mushy until all those tiny teeth have come in, allowing your puppy to crunch away on the dry nuggets comfortably.
A slow transition from puppy formula or mother's milk to adult dog food also helps keep digestive upset to a minimum, which is vital because puppies have sensitive tummies.
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How to wean
Weaning is a relatively easy process. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suggests simply combine warm water or puppy formula with the dry puppy food that you want to transition the puppy onto.
Because weaning lasts for around four weeks, your puppy recipe will be to combine one part dry pet food with three parts liquid during the first week. Let the liquid soak into the kibble and mash it with a spoon to get a mushy consistency similar to gruel. In the following three weeks, you'll increase the amount of puppy food by one-part-per-week and decrease the liquid by one-part-per-week. Feel free to slow down this process by a week or so if your puppy is experiencing a sensitive stomach.
Alternatively, get a puppy weaning food such as Petag Esbilac 2Nd Step Puppy Weaning Food, available on Amazon. The formula contains natural milk proteins designed to emulate the nutrition of mother's milk. The shelf-stable powder can be reconstituted as a thin gruel for pups to lap out of a bowl and gradually served thicker as they transition onto more solid food.
When feeding the mushy puppy chow during the weaning process, put it in a shallow dish or pan that he can easily get into so he can start lapping up the mix. Expect things to get messy! Puppies tend to walk in and even play with their food while they eat it — they may need a clean-up with a damp towel after meals.
Keep your puppy from walking through his food with a puppy weaning bowl such as Indipets Extra Heavy Stainless Steel Puppy Saucer with Raised Center 15-Inch Diameter, sold on Amazon. The bowl keeps food at the outer edge with a raised center that deters dogs from entering their food bowl. The spacious dish has room enough to feed the entire litter of puppies during the weaning process while preventing food bowl aggression.
How much food and how often?
The best dog foods are suitable for particular life stages, such as growth or pregnancy. Other foods are formulated for all life stages, but puppy food is usually considered its own life stage that calls for its own food.
Puppies have little bellies that don't hold a lot of food at once, which is why small, frequent meals are the best choice for them during the weaning process. Ideally, you want to offer puppy chow four times per day, recommends Cesar's Way.
Regarding how much to feed your growing dog, it's based on her size. Check the package of her dry kibble or wet puppy food for daily feeding recommendations and divide that amount by four. This is the amount of food to include in each of her feedings. Many high-quality foods are formulated for how fast puppies grow based on their breed size. Large breed puppy food will be formulated differently than food for small breeds.
Once your pup reaches between 9 and 10 weeks old, she'll be eating only her dry puppy food and can, in most cases, be free-fed. This means leaving a bowl of kibble out for her to graze on throughout the day because dry food doesn't spoil if left out the way wet food does. Consult with your veterinarian, though, because free-feeding may not be the best choice for larger breeds who tend to inhale their food. Overfeeding a large-breed pup can cause rapid growth of their bones, which isn't good for them, cautions the ASPCA.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.