When Do Puppies Start Eating Food? - Weaning and Diet
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Knowing when a puppy will start eating food is something mother dogs know instinctively. Even with first-time mothers, they will know to meet all the dog's needs. These needs include ability to eliminate, keeping warm and, importantly, food for sustenance. The mother's body provides this sustenance through its mammary glands. In this AnimalWised article we ask the question, “when do puppies start eating food?” Their mother's milk is food as it is a substance which provides nutritional support to the puppies. Specifically, we want to look at when do puppies start eating solid food on their own.
It is important to state that a puppy should be with their mother for at least the first 8 weeks of life. We are only discussing feeding newborn puppies in case there is an emergency situation where the puppies have been separated from their mother prematurely.
Since when can puppies eat?
As we state in the introduction, the first food a puppy will eat is their mother's milk. The very first feeding will be of a particular type of milk known as colostrum. Colostrum is a nutrient rich type of milk which also has antibodies and other immune boosting properties. It is designed to help the newborn puppies have a strong start to life. Once the colostrum is finished, he regular milk will begin.
The amount of milk a puppy receives during nursing will be controlled by the mother. The puppies themselves known instinctively how much they need to be full. They will not need to drink water as their receive their hydration through the milk itself. A puppy will need to breastfeed for 3 to 4 weeks minimum.
It is best for a dog to remain with their mother for as long as possible. Whether due to illness, death or abandonment, mothers and puppies can be separated. If this is the case and you find yourself looking after a puppy which is unable to eat on their own, you will need an alternative. There are different brands of specialized puppy milk formula which is used to substitute for their mother's natural milk. This special puppy formula will have the ingredients which can best simulate the nutrients they would be receiving from their mother.
Puppies should be self-limiting when it comes to how much milk they drink. This means they shouldn't drink too much, instead getting as much as they need until they are satiated. If any puppies are not drinking enough milk, it is possible they have an illness or some other issue is affecting their feeding. Typically, newborn puppies will need about 1 oz of milk per 1/2 pound of body weight a day. Feed them with a baby bottle and be observant of any issues.
When do puppies start eating solid food?
After about 4 weeks, the mother dog will start the weaning process. This is when the puppies stop drinking only milk and start to eat solid food. They will continue to both drink milk and eat food. Eventually, the puppy will eat more food and drink less milk, until they stop drinking milk completely. After this time, they will begin to eat food on their own.
While it takes around 4 weeks for a puppy to start eating solid food, this can vary in individuals. The issue with many dogs is that they are unable to ingest the solid food easily. Their teeth are still developing and they need more time to be able to eat dry food correctly. We can provide them with wet food, but this can be expensive and it will need to be the right puppy formula.
Once a puppy starts to eat solid food, you can wet the dry food with a little water. This will help move the puppy on to solids as well as provided added hydration. The mother dog should help the puppy to eat by preventing them from suckling when they should be eating solid food instead. The puppy will also have an instinct to start eating on their own. When we take over the weaning process, we will need to alternate between solid food and milk to mimic their mother's behavior.
Puppy food is specially formulated to meet the needs of dogs with lower immune systems. The dry puppy food should also be smaller to allow for easier ingestion by young dogs. You can gradually stop adding water to dry puppy food when they become able to eat it easily.
How to feed puppies
When we are providing the alternative puppy milk for the newborn, we will need to feed them with a bottle. The rubber teat on the end of the bottle simulates their mother's nipple. This means they will instinctively be able to suckle from it. The milk should not be hot, but you can warm it up a little if the puppy is having trouble feeding. You will have to store opened bottles of puppy milk formula in the fridge, but if it is too cold, the puppy may struggle to drink it.
When you have begun the weaning process, you will be able to leave a very shallow dish of food. You may not want the paste you made with dry puppy food and water to spill over. But if the dish has steep sides, the puppies may not be able to access it. Although they can walk after 4 weeks, they are not very agile and could starve if they do not have proper access to the food. They gain their sight at around 15 days, but they will not be completely developed.
What to feed a weaned puppy
Although dogs will start to eat solid food around 4 weeks of age, the exact date will differ according to individuals. A mother will know naturally when the puppies are to be fully weaned and will stop providing access to her milk. This can lead to some disgruntled puppies, but it is better for them in the long run. It makes them more independent and they can start to eat for themselves.
The puppy will be fully weaned when they can eat solid food on their own. This will occur when they are around 8 weeks of age, i.e. around 4 weeks after they begin weaning. A dog will need different nutrients throughout their lives. This is why commercial dog food has an age on the packaging.
The ingredients commercial puppy food is made from are generally meat and fish. While they are not obligate carnivores like cats, a dog's diet should consist mainly of animal protein. As the food will not be the same diet as they would eat in the wild, the commercial feed needs to have added nutrients such as taurine.
Ideally, you should speak to your veterinarian for advice on the right food for your dog. You will need to take puppies to the vet for an initial examination and to commence vaccination and deworming schedules. They will see if there are any medical issues facing the newborn pups and will suggest a suitable diet accordingly. Larger puppies from larger breeds will also need larger portions, so it is best to also discuss this with your vet.
When can puppies drink water?
As we state above, newborn puppies will receive their hydration from their mother's milk. Once we start adding water to the dry food, we will be introducing water into their diet. However, as soon as the puppies are being weaned off of their milk, then providing fresh clean water at all times is essential.
This means puppies can start drinking water as soon as they are weaned onto food at 4 weeks of age. When you prepare the puppy's food, also provide a shallow dish of water which you can replenish throughout the day. Unless there is a medical condition which causes dehydration, the puppies should self-regulate their water intake.
The puppy may be a little unsure how to approach the water at first. They may stick their snout in the bowl and sneeze or cough. However, they are naturally coded to be able to drink water. Instinct will eventually kick in and they will be able to drink water unassisted.
When do puppies start eating adult food?
The above question is almost an impossibility. While we may want to think of our canine companions being puppies forever, they will become adult at some stage. This does not mean they are completely grown up and have finished their development, but it will mean they have left the puppy stage. In terms of diet, they will have to eat differently. They will eat less and they should have a dog food formula which is designed for older dogs.
A puppy will stop being a puppy around the age of 10 to 12 months. This will depend on different factors with breed perhaps the most important. Larger dogs may take longer to develop, some even taking up to 24 moths to reach their adult stage. If we are unsure about an individual dog, then we will need to speak to a qualified veterinarian.
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- Carlson and Giffin (2002): Practical manual of canine veterinary medicine . Madrid: Editorial el Drac.