Whether a newborn puppy is fed by his own mother or by his owner, he must eventually be taught to depend on something besides milk for his food. This learning process is called “weaning”, and represents the changing of a puppy’s diet from liquid to solid. At about three to four weeks of age, as soon as their eyes open and they are able to move about with some ease, most puppies will begin to experiment with the solid foods being fed to their mother. When this happens it is time to begin to teach the puppies to eat from the pan.
Instituting such an early feeding procedure accomplishes four important things. First, it allows you to feed the puppies a food that is more satisfactory for them than the food you are feeding their mother. Second, it speeds up the weaning process because the puppies will learn to eat solid food at an earlier age. Third, it begins the social interaction between the puppy and his owners. And finally, it allows you to reduce the mother’s intake of food at the same rate you increase that of her puppies. The latter prevents the mother from overeating as the early feeding of her pups promotes reduced lactation.
Weaning is a learning process in which the pups’ digestive system is trained to eat solid foods. Before the puppy is born, he is fed by his mother with pre-digested nutrients. When he is whelped the puppy drinks the mother’s milk. The mother’s milk contains some of the most digestible nutrients that a puppy can eat. At weaning the puppy’s digestive system must learn to handle each new food in turn, as it comes to him. Similar to all learning processes, the weaning process cannot be taught faster than the puppy’s ability to learn.
In formulating the diet, the ingredients that make up the food fed to a puppy that is starting to wean must be highly digestible and non-irritating. An excellent weaning diet can be made easily by preparing slurry using a specialized dietary animal foods designed to be fed to patients with gastro-intestinal disorders, mixed into equal parts of the mother’s milk substitutes. “Half and half” coffee cream can also be used. High-quality ration-type commercial foods also make adequate solid foods to mix with the liquid part of the diet. In all cases, ¼ to ½ tablespoonful of grated, raw liver should be added to each can of food just before it is mixed. The slurry can be either beaten with a fork or mixed in a blender.
For larger breeds, it may be more practical to use the higher quality, expanded dry foods in combination with the canned foods to blend with the liquids. Addition of dry foods may also help these larger, faster-growing puppies to get sufficient nutrients in the quantity of food they are able to consume in. Whatever the mixture used, the quantity of milk substitute in it is gradually reduced, so that when the puppy is about six or seven weeks old, he is only eating pure, solid food.