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Every mammal comes out of womb ready to drink mother's milk, which will provide the infant with all the nutrients needed for the first days, weeks, months or even years of life, depending on the animal in question. But eventually these youngsters will need to be weaned so they can move on to the solid food eaten by adults of the species. With puppies, the transition to solid foods begins at around four weeks and it can be a very exciting time for both the puppies and the humans providing them care!
Four-week-old puppies are still nursing from their mother or drinking milk replacement formula, but are also starting to eat solid foods in small amounts. From 3-to-4 weeks of age, a puppy begins eating wet or dry dog food as he is weaned from his mother's milk during the next few weeks. At 4-weeks-old, you'll need to provide your pup with some puppy-specific food along with some formula to ensure he gets the nutrition he needs.
The importance of mother's milk
Dr. Kristy Conn says puppies need to nurse from their mother to get the antibodies, nutrients and extra calories they need to stay healthy and fight off disease. Starting around 4-weeks-old, the little ones can safely begin eating solid foods as they will have the teeth necessary to do so.
If your young pup's mother isn't around or available, you'll need to bottlefeed him with a puppy milk replacement formula until he's completely weaned onto solid foods. The average 4-week-old puppy needs around 1 ounce of formula for every 8 ounces of body weight per day, spread out over four feedings, according the Banfield Pet Hospital. Your vet can show you how to do this.
The first solid food
Make your pup a soupy gruel to try to transition him onto eating solid foods. Things get messy when you start to feed your puppy solid food because young pups tend to walk in their meals, so it's best to do this in a bathtub or another easy-to-clean area.
- Pet Coach suggests mixing up one part puppy milk replacement formula with an equal part of dry or canned puppy food by hand or in a blender until it reaches the consistency of baby food.
- Add a bit of warm water to the mixture as needed if it's a bit too thick.
- Pour the mixture onto a shallow baking sheet and allow the puppy to eat it.
Feed puppy food
Puppy food contains a higher amount of calories and essential nutrients than adult dog food, which your pup's body needs to support proper growth. If you plan to feed puppy kibble, use it to make the gruel you feed to him during the weaning process, otherwise use canned puppy food. You'll feed your little one puppy food for the first year or so of his life.
The weaning process
The weaning process takes about three weeks. During this time, your pup's digestive system will slowly adjust to eating his gruel rather than drinking formula or nursing from mom.
- Replace one of your puppy's four bottle feedings per day with a puppy gruel mixture. Every four-to-five days, replace another until you eventually only feed solid food meals.
- If your pup is still with his mom, separate him from her during each feeding so that she can have a break from nursing. Brief separations from his mother are an important part of the weaning process for your pup because they get him used to nursing less from her and will allow her body to start producing less milk.
* When mixing up the puppy gruel, decrease the amount of puppy formula and water you add to the dry or wet puppy food every three-to-four days during the weaning process. Eventually, you'll only be feeding puppy food alone for all feedings when your puppy reaches between 7-and-8-weeks-old.
What food to feed your puppy
When your puppy is four weeks old, you can feed him a mixture of dry dog food or wet dog food with puppy milk replacement. One option for puppy food is Royal Canin's Size Health Nutrition Small Puppy Dog Food, which is made for puppies under 10 months old with an expected adult weight of 9-22 pounds. Its blend of antioxidants and vitamins supports puppies' developing immune systems, and its highly digestible prebiotics and proteins promote healthy digestion.
Your puppy may also like Purina Pro Plan Focus Wet Puppy Food, which is grain-free and made with real chicken as the no. 1 ingredient. It's made without soy, corn, or wheat, there are no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives, and it's rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which promotes a healthy coat. You can feed it to your puppy all the way up until his first birthday.
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.