Weaning Puppies: How and When to Do It

Teresa Manucy, DVM
By Teresa Manucy, DVM on Jul. 31, 2020

The gradual transition of a puppy’s diet from their mother’s milk to solid food is known as weaning.

This natural process allows puppies to become independent feeders and reduces the physical demands on the mother as the puppies grow.

Here’s everything you need to know about weaning puppies.

When Should You Start Weaning Puppies? 

The weaning process should begin at 3-4 weeks of age, when the puppies’ teeth begin to erupt. The discomfort of nursing teething puppies may cause the mother to pull away before her puppies are completely satisfied. Hungry puppies will naturally seek an alternate source of food.

Steps for Weaning Puppies

To start weaning, you will remove the mother from the puppies for an hour, two to three times a day, to try eating solid food.

Step 1: Make a Gruel

Make a gruel of canned or dry puppy food mixed with puppy milk replacer or water. Look for a well-known, name-brand puppy food that is not grain-free. Ideally use the same brand of food that the mother dog eats.

If the puppies do not take to the gruel, try blending this ratio:  

  • 2 cups of puppy food

  • 12.5 ounces of puppy milk replacer

  • 2 cups water

Step 2: Offer the Gruel to the Puppies

During the hourlong periods where you separate the puppies from their mother, offer them the gruel in a shallow dish or baking pan. Place the puppies in front of it.

If the puppies do not seem interested, try dipping your finger in it and then touching their mouths so they can taste it. They may get messy in the process of exploring this new food.

Step 3: Reunite the Puppies With Their Mother

When the mother dog is reunited with her puppies, allow her to lick the remainder of the food from the dish and to lick the puppies clean.

Step 4: Gradually Increase the Amount of Solid Food

When you’re beginning the weaning process, the puppies’ diet should consist of only 10% solid food. The gruel should be transitioned to less liquid and more solid until the puppies are able to eat the canned or dry food without diluting it. Then, you should gradually increase the amount each week until their diet is 100% solid food by the time they reach 7 or 8 weeks of age.

What to Do if a Puppy Isn’t Weaning

Each puppy will wean on an individual schedule. If a puppy is not ready, continue to offer meals in the presence of another puppy, if possible. The example of exploration with solid food will encourage this behavior.

How to Feed Puppies After Weaning

After the puppies are completely weaned, offer them three to four solid food meals a day until they are 6 months old, then two to three meals a day depending on their breed requirements and growth.

Be sure that each puppy is gaining weight and not vomiting or having diarrhea. Seek veterinary care if problems arise.

What to Feed the Mother Dog

The mother dog should begin to eat puppy food during pregnancy, especially during the final two or three weeks. Consider a puppy food from the same brand that she is already accustomed to eating.

She should continue eating the puppy food as she begins to nurse her puppies. Dry puppy food should be available at regular meal times. This will keep the mother dog from excessively eating it and allow the puppies to develop an appetite between meals.

The demand for producing milk will decline as the puppies begin to eat solid food. With less time spent nursing, her milk production will decrease.

At week four, gradually transition the mother dog back to eating regular dog food, which will also help to reduce her milk supply. By week seven or eight, her milk production will cease without the stimulation of nursing puppies once they are completely weaned.

Featured Image: iStock.com/SolStock

Teresa Manucy, DVM


Teresa Manucy, DVM


Dr. Teresa Manucy is a 1997 graduate of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. She completed an internship in small...

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