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Weaning your puppies

Updated: Feb 29

Hariamrit Khalsa contributed to this post.

Common sense disclaimer: As with everything else on this blog, it’s critical to seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian, preferably one that is board certified in theriogenology (reproductive science) for reproductive matters. This website, its blog, and its courses are NOT designed nor intended to replace the need for a qualified veterinarian, but instead to help educate people to to work optimally with their veterinarians. All recommendations should be reviewed with qualified professionals, such as a board certified reproductive veterinarian, prior to implementation in a breeding program. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian. Readers assume all risks associated with use of material on this site. More here.

Before I even talk about anything else related to weaning, I need to make sure you understand one critical concept:


Once parasites are ruled out, the most common cause for puppy diarrhea and troublesome weaning is OVERFEEDING.*

👆 Be sure you read that correctly 👆


This is even more pronounced when you feed a nutritionally dense, highly digestible food, as more is retained in the digestive system and less is pooped out, overwhelming a puppy’s limited digestive abilities. Free feeding or overfeeding WILL overwhelm the digestive system of your puppies and WILL give them loose stool. I typically recommend pawTree food, but not to those who want to free feed. If you insist on free feeding or tend to feed too much I strongly recommend you do not wean to pawTree and find a lower quality food instead.

Successful Weaning

There are several components to successful weaning.

Food choice and qualityFood amountsFeeding scheduleSkillful transition, including adjustments for age


These are very rough guidelines and WILL differ from litter to litter by as much as 2 weeks +/- for some stages.


Under 3 weeks old

If mom isn't able to feed them you will likely need to bottle feed. Puppies at this age need to be fed every 3-4 hours, possibly 5 for larger breeds


3-4 weeks old

Puppies probably need to be encouraged or taught to lap from a dish.


Start by putting milk replacement formula or goats milk in a shallow dish. Milk should be warmed to body temperature, 99-100 degrees F. We usually add a little Karo syrup (about 1/2 tsp per cup) for added energy and to prevent constipation.


Place the dish on the floor and encourage puppies to lap it. This skill can take a few days to develop, and sometimes puppies are just not ready to lap milk, so keep trying every day until they learn. Dip your fingers in the milk and let them lick them to help teach them.


NOTE: Goat's milk by itself is deficient in the amino acid arginine. While it's safe to use for 2-3 days, if you feed it as the main protein source beyond that time your puppies are at increased risk for juvenile cataracts.


Once puppies have been lapping milk for a day or two or three, you can start to introduce a small amount of kibble to the milk.


We grind the kibble and keep it in a jar and just add a little to the milk, but you can also soak it if you don't want to grind it first.


Soaked kibble should be soaked long enough and soft enough so that you can easily mash it with a fork, which you will need to do at first (you can also put it in a blender). For faster soaking, you can microwave it for a few minutes, but you will need to let it cool to 99-100 degrees or you risk burning sensitive puppy mouths, which can cause additional problems getting your puppy to eat.


Gradually increase the amount of kibble grind/mash and decrease milk/formula until puppies are eating the mash without milk. In an ideal situation, we can do this in 3 days, but a week entirely reasonable and not at all a failure as long as puppies are getting some kind of nutrition.

If puppies are still on mom and not eating, you may need to remove her so that they can get a little hungry. NEVER remove mom completely for more than 1 meal if they aren't eating from a dish. Puppies can easily get hypoglycemic and dehydrated.


At this point, puppies should have access to fresh water 24 hours a day.


Puppies at this age need to be fed 4 times a day for larger breeds, 5 times for smaller breeds.


4-5 Weeks Old

Most puppies can eat soaked kibble with no milk or grind/mash at this age. If you wean at this age, you can try going directly to soaked kibble and skip the milk/grind/mash step.


If not, please revert to the 3-4 week protocol until they can.


Puppies at this age need to be fed 4 times a day for larger breeds, 5 times for smaller breeds.


6 Weeks Plus

Teeth can come in as early as 3-4 weeks or as late as 6+ weeks. When teeth come in, you can start to give partially soaked kibble, and eventually dry kibble.


Be sure teeth have fully erupted and puppies can chew well, otherwise dry kibble is a choking risk.


Puppies at this age need to be fed 3 times a day for larger breeds and 4 times for smaller breeds. At 8 weeks old, we are usually down to 2 times a day for larger breeds and 3 times for smaller breeds.


Are My Puppies Weaning Successfully?

The best metric for monitoring the success of weaning and feeding is to monitor Body Condition Score. Info on that here: https://www.midwoofery.com/post/feeding-your-puppy-body-condition-and-food-rotation


Hypoglycemia

Even if getting great nutrition, hypoglycemia is a risk. Please be sure you know the signs and get to a vet asap if a little food or a drop or two of karo syrup on the tongue don't give results within a few minutes. https://www.thesprucepets.com/low-blood-sugar-in-puppies-2804768


How Much to Feed

If you've bred more than once or gotten this far with your first litter, you have surely come to realize that breeding is a challenging endeavor. Looks easy, sounds like fun. But in reality, it can be extremely stressful and emotionally challenging.


Feeding is no exception. And determining the right amount of food is also no exception.


So when you ask me how much to feed your puppies, I don't have a set answer. No one does (if they are being honest).


You have to figure it out yourself.


So here's where you start.


Do NOT follow amounts on the bag of ANY dog food. Those amounts are for some nebulous dog created by calculations in a laboratory. I can guarantee that in 95% of the cases they will be WRONG for your dog. Trial and error is the only way.


To start determining how much to feed puppies you want to work within the framework of what's too much and what's too little.


  • Too much—Puppies are getting too much food if they have loose stool, gas/flatulence, tummy upset, and sometimes lethargy or even vomiting.

  • Too little—Puppies are not getting enough food if they are falling below 4 on a Body Condition Score Chart of 1-10.


To make this even worse, food requirements are different for different breeds or even different sizes within the same breed.


You are going to have to figure this out. However, you are not alone so please reach out to us and we will be HAPPY to work with you. Book with Ji or Hariamrit