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WHEN DO I WEAN MY PUPPY?

Your puppy will meet many milestones as he grows from infant to adolescent, and it all seems to happen too quickly. One day he's a helpless, wobbly bundle of fluff and before you know it, he's bouncing, running, and trying out his brand-new growls and barks.

One of the first challenges your puppy may face is weaning, when the amount of milk that he gets from his mother is gradually reduced and replaced by more solid foods. During this time, your puppy will need both the proper nutrition and a little extra love to help smooth the transition. Weaning can prove traumatic to some puppies because of the reduced amount of contact with their mother, but the loss can be offset by lots of cuddling from their human companions.

Nutritional Guidelines

Puppies require two to four times as much nutrition as adult dogs, so your new puppy will be relying on you to provide him with the appropriate nutritional intake during weaning. A well-fed puppy will appear plump without being bloated. Check with your veterinarian for your puppy's specific nutritional needs.

If you bring home a new puppy from a reputable breeder or shelter, chances are that he has already been fully weaned. Be sure to find out what kind of food he has been eating and stick to that diet for at least a few days. Make any changes to your puppy's diet gradually, over a period of a week or so. If your young puppy seems to be experiencing eating problems, however, or if you are raising puppies from birth onward, it is important for you to understand the weaning process.

Timelines

Most breeders agree that weaning should start when the pups are about three weeks old and will generally take from three to four weeks to complete. In most instances, the process should be finished by the time the puppies are six to eight weeks old. There is variety, though, between large breeds and small ones, so check with your veterinarian regarding the optimal age for your particular dogs.

Techniques

To begin weaning, offer your puppy a fairly liquid gruel of dry puppy food moistened with water and milk substitute and perhaps a bit of dry baby cereal. As your puppy gets older, reduce the amount of liquid until he is eating a more solid mixture. You should warm the gruel to body temperature or a bit warmer for the first week or so of the weaning process.

Some puppies will accept the change from mother's milk to puppy gruel enthusiastically, while others may require a bit of coaxing. Place the gruel in a shallow dish and set your puppy in front of it. If he doesn't immediately sample the gruel, dab a little on the end of his nose so he'll get a taste. You won't have to repeat this process too many times before he'll get the idea!

Food fed to puppies must be higher in nutrition than that of adult dogs. They also need to be fed more frequently. Give your puppy around 15 minutes on the average to eat, and then remove any leftover food so that he doesn't overeat. Overfeeding can lead to growth and digestive problems. Base how much you feed your puppy on established guidelines for his breed and weight. He will gain weight constantly, so weighing him every two to three days will tell you whether he's receiving the right amount of food.

Problems

Weaning puppies too early or too late can create both physical and emotional problems. Puppies weaned too early may become nervous, destructive, or overly demanding of attention. Weaning too late may result in timid or nervous puppies. Their health may also suffer because mother's milk does not provide sufficient nutrition after the pups are three to four weeks old. Check with your veterinarian to find out exactly when your puppy should be weaned.

A Word about Orphans

Should something happen to their mother, you're next in line to hand-raise the puppies. To do so, use specially designed pet nursing bottles and professionally formulated milk replacement formula. Homemade formulas are not balanced enough to provide your puppy with all the nutrients he requires, and cow's milk and human baby formula are both deficient in the quantity and types of nutrients a puppy needs.

Very young puppies must be bottle-fed every three to four hours around the clock until they are about two weeks old. For the next week or so, you can eliminate overnight feedings, but you must continue daytime feedings on a rigorous schedule. After three weeks of age, you can lengthen the time between feedings to about six hours, especially if the puppy is beginning to eat some solid foods.

Stimulation

Until a puppy is about two weeks of age, he is unable to eliminate his wastes on his own. His mother's licking usually aids this process, but if you are hand-raising a puppy, you must be prepared to step in and help by stimulating him before and after feeding. Use a cotton ball or tissue moistened with a bit of warm water, and gently wipe the genital and anal areas until the puppy urinates or produces a bowel movement.

Finally . . .

It's hard to tell who is happier once the weaning process is over, the puppy, the mother, or the owner! But even though weaning requires a bit of extra effort from everyone, it takes only a few weeks. Once he has passed this milestone, your puppy will be ready to take on the next one!