Mother Nature takes the credit – and the blame – for a lot of things, but Mother Dog also plays a role. Whether it is nature or a surfeit of nurture, around the 4-week mark, female dogs start gradually weaning their offspring. Weaning is stressful for all the canine parties involved, but you can help by showing the puppies the joys of solid food.
Four-week-old puppy care
As momma starts to wean her puppies, you'll need to fill the nourishment void and introduce her babies to solid food. The good news is that this slow introduction to solids benefits mom and the puppies alike. Within a month, you can usually get the puppies to wean themselves. Week four is just the beginning, however, as a puppy's needs change rapidly at this stage of life.
Buy quality food
To get the puppies off to the best possible start, feed them the high-quality puppy food recommended by your vet. For optimal nutrition, choose food, with an American Association of Feed Control Officials certification on the label. Also, look for puppy foods with high levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid, which is critical for brain and eye development. No matter how much they beg, do not feed puppies table scraps: It's important to keep a four-week-old puppy's feeding schedule consistent and start him on a healthy path.
Once you get a puppy started on a particular food, avoid switching to another brand unless you have no choice. Keeping a puppy on the same high-quality food can stem potential digestive upsets occurring from dietary changes. If you do have to switch, mix the two types of food at first and add larger portions of the new food over a few days until the transition is complete.
Introducing solid foods
Unless the puppies are orphaned, a four-week-old puppy's development still depends on him receiving most of his nutrition from mom. Introduce solid food by offering a small amount four times a day, Watch the puppies carefully as they learn about the world of eating solid food. Remove uneaten food after every feeding and throw it away.
The puppies' food should always be fresh. If a puppy doesn't seem particularly interested in eating, don't worry. If she doesn't eat after a few introductions, try putting a very small amount of food in her mouth. Praise her to the skies if she eats, but never force her. Within a few days, she should get the idea.
Introducing drinking water
Prior to the age of four weeks, puppies have no need to drink water. They receive all the hydration they need from mother's milk. While older dogs can drink water that's straight from the tap, it's wise to start puppies out with bottled water or tap water that you've brought to a boil and allowed to cool. Place the water in a shallow bowl so your puppy can't fall in, although he's likely to climb in initially and get himself wet.
Another option is attaching a water bottle, like those used for watering rabbits and other small pets, to the side of the whelping box or whatever type of enclosure you are using. You can give him his first taste of water from cupping your hand. Whatever your water choice, keep working on having the puppies drink until they are doing it on their own. They should always have fresh, clean water available, just like the big dogs.
Real weaning takes time
Over the next couple of weeks, you can increase the level of puppy food to correspond with the puppies' growth. By week seven or eight, puppies should be fully weaned from their mother and eating a completely solid food diet. As the puppies head off to their next stage of life, and possibly new homes within a short time, there's a mother dog who is probably relieved to no longer serve as a food source.