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By Dr. T.J. Dunn, Jr., DVM
If your puppy is four weeks old or older, you probably don't have to worry too much about weaning. For the rest of you, follow this basic guideline for weaning puppies from their mothers.
Most experts recommend against allowing puppies to nurse after the third or fourth week. That means that about 24 days, a puppy should begin to be introduced to a starter or weaning formula. One of the best ways to wean a puppy is to present him with a semi-liquid nourishment in a shallow pan such as a cookie baking sheet. Gently place the pup at the edge of the food, push his little chin into the food, and they will smell it and begin to lick the mixture you prepared.
Within a week, your little one will want a little extra treat: puppy food! Gradually thicken the formula with ground up dry puppy food or begin adding canned puppy food to their weaning mixture.
By six weeks of age the puppy should be eating four meals a day of a high quality puppy food. You can break up kibble so it is smaller than packaged or soak it a bit in warm water to soften it up. It is also good idea to get pups acquainted with both canned and dry food. And don't forget the water. You should introduce your puppy to the water dish the same way you did to the puppy weaning formula.
Now do you have to wean a puppy on formula or can they start with diluted canned milk? I have never been a fan of condensed milk because of the possibility that it does not dilute enough, and if fed as is from the can, it may cause osmotic diarrhea. The sugars and other concentrated substances draw water into the intestine in an attempt to neutralize the condensed milk, resulting in loose stool and puppy stress. Instead I always recommend a "puppy specific" milk replacer rather than human labeled products. That's not to say that human baby milk replacers will be bad for dogs, but the puppy products are designed with proper ratios of fats and proteins and sugars tailored for canine physiology. The puppy milk replacers can also be fed at birth if necessary (if the bitch's milk isn't available for some reason).
Consult with your veterinarian what brands of formulas and food are best for your puppy, and devise a weaning timeline.
Image: Katie Brady / via Flickr