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Breeding, My First Litter, Puppy and Kitten Care

My First Litter: How to Wean Puppies

August 11, 2022

How to Wean Puppies

My First Litter

Last updated: February 7, 2018

Puppies are weaned when they are independent of mom and are not nursing at all. We want to transition this gradually until they don’t need mom. You don’t want to pull mom away suddenly, that causes issues. Weaning can be stressful if not managed for an effective smooth transition to solid food.

When to Start Weaning Puppies

Weaning starts when a puppy starts eating solid food or gruel. The cells of the puppy’s gut need to be turned on and modify their enzymes to allow them to be able to digest more complex proteins, fats and carbohydrate than in milk. During weaning, digestive upset can happen and the stress of weaning can lower immune function. This makes puppies prone to URI or diarrhea.

Except for tiny breeds, puppies begin to need more nutrients than mom can provide at three to four weeks of age. When giant breeds reach three weeks of age, they begin to crave more calories. At this point they will eat gruel and start changing their digestive process to solid food.

When it comes time to feed the gruel, put it in a flat pan and lock mom out. The puppies will get messy the first few times so when they are done, turn mom back in and she will clean them up by licking them. Puppies think they are getting cleaned up because “mom likes me best” and mom likes the gruel so it’s a win-win.

The goal is to slowly increase the gruel twice a day. This will back them off their dependence on mom’s milk. Usually mom is removed during the day and placed back with puppies at night. Everyone is different but limiting access to mom makes puppies move to gruel and away from milk.

What to Feed Weaning Puppies

Puppy food soaked with water and milk replacer for flavor is the recipe for a tasty puppy gruel. In addition, keep dry puppy food available and some will nibble on it throughout the day. As puppies increase their solid food consumption, they change the gut cells to digest puppy food. Put more and more gruel and kibble in front of them and have mom leave for longer periods of time during the day until one day mom nurses in the morning and does not return. Mom’s milk production will decrease with less being asked of her and her glands will dry up and shrink to her body.

Mixing Doc Roy’s GI Synbiotics Granules into the puppy gruel will also help prevent digestive upset and diarrhea during this changing of function for the GI tract.

Offering gruel early is the most helpful way I have found to eliminate the puppies’ stress of being separated from mom. Always offer an alternative source of easy-to-digest, appetizing calories such as gruel.

Problems Weaning Puppies

When weaning, watch for the puppy that does not do well off mom. One option is to wean most of the litter but leave mom with two puppies for one extra week if needed. That is okay and desirable if one of the puppies is slow to transition to solid food.

Puppies should continue to gain weight during weaning. If you notice a puppy not gaining or losing weight during weaning, give us a call and we can help.

How to Care for Mom While Weaning Puppies

During weaning, mom should be monitored. She should have no discharge from her vulva during weaning. At this point, we want her to shrink her mammary gland up to her body, except for her prominent nipples. We want no sign that she raised and weaned a litter.

If, a few days before removing the puppies, you notice mom has several mammary glands that are still hanging down, that indicates mom did not dry up well. To help correct this, give her a lower calorie maintenance food for a few days before removing the puppies. This helps back off milk production. For a heavy milking mom, we may have to remove food for 24 hours when the puppies are removed to back off milking. The back pressure from not nursing will stop milk production totally and her glands will shrink. You want to be sure she is trying to dry up before you remove puppies. A full breast is painful and prone to mastitis.

Is the Puppy Ready for a New Home?

Puppies are generally easy to please and adapt well if they are provided with nutrition, comfortable sleep and security. However, there are some things to look for that would indicate a puppy isn’t quite ready for a new home. Number one is if the puppy is not gaining weight and eating well. Don’t send a puppy to a new home if he isn’t eating and gaining weight.

Socialization is also important, along with ensuring the puppy is ready to fight any diseases or parasites it may become exposed to. This is easily done through management with vaccines and dewormers.

Putting Together a Puppy Starter Pack

You want to set your puppies and their new families up for success. Putting together a puppy starter pack can help achieve this.

The My Puppy Guide booklet gives training tips for new puppy owners and tips on how to deal with puppy behavior appropriately. Many breeders include this 25-page booklet as part of their puppy starter pack.

It’s also a good idea to give new owners a guarantee on the puppy’s health, a sample of the diet you use, a health record and a list explaining what you do for the puppy. It’s also important to tell new puppy owners that they need to stay away from dog parks until the 12-week booster vaccine is in and effective. Exposure to disease increases as puppies go out into the world and we don’t want to take any chances.

And, don’t forget to give them our number as well. Just like we’ve helped you along the way, we are always happy to help new puppy owners as well. Any questions? Give our knowledgeable Pet Care Pros a call at 800.786.4751.

-Dr. B
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health

Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.

This is the sixth and final article in our My First Litter Series. Other articles in the series talk about pregnancy stages, breeding and heat cycles, what to know before raising a litter of puppies and newborn puppy care. Be sure to check out all the articles in the My First Litter Series.

Prefer video? Check out the Pet Care Pro Show How to Wean Puppies to learn more weaning tips!

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.