BREEDING FOR PET OWNERS
7. The growing puppy, lactation and weaning
What should I expect during the puppies’ first
few weeks of life?
During the first three weeks of life, puppies
require little care from the owner provided the mother is doing her
job. Puppies are born with their eyes closed but they open after
7-14 days. If any swelling or bulging is noted under the eyelids
they should be gently opened by massaging with a cotton ball
dampened with warm water. If the swelling is due to infection, pus
will emerge as the eyelids open and it is important to contact your
veterinarian. If the
eyes have not opened by 14-16 days of age or if you are concerned
about any discharges, it is important to seek veterinary care.
Is there anything else I
should note during these early weeks?
The puppies’ growth rate should be monitored. Most
puppies will double their birth weight in the first seven to eight
days. Electronic or kitchen postal scales are ideal to monitor
weights. A trend indicating increasing weight is more important than
When should the puppies
start to stand and take an interest in their surroundings?
As soon as the puppies’ eyes open they develop
rapidly. By two weeks of age they should be alert and trying to
stand. By three weeks they should be trying to climb out of their
nest. At four weeks all the puppies should be able to walk, run and
What about the mother? When and how do I
increase her food and with what?
You will have increased your female’s food during
the last two or three weeks of pregnancy. We have a handout
detailing this process.
After whelping, food requirements increase as the
mother produces more milk for her growing puppies.
Maximum milk production occurs approximately three
weeks after whelping and at this time it is not unusual for the
mother to be eating three to four times her normal maintenance diet
depending on the size of her litter, breed, etc.
What should I feed the
mother and how often?
It is important not to change the mother’s diet too
suddenly especially immediately after whelping. Eating the
afterbirth, which helps to stimulate milk production, also tends to
promote diarrhea, which is the last thing you need with a nursing
mother. If she has been fed a well-balanced diet, either canned or
dry, you should have been gradually increasing the amount during the
last 2 or 3 weeks of her pregnancy by increasing the frequency of
feeding rather than the volume per meal.
After whelping she may not want to eat very much for
24-48 hours and then regain her appetite. It is recommended to feed
her frequently, gradually increasing the amount per meal as her milk
production increases and as her puppies grow.
Peak milk production will be at approximately 3
weeks. At this time, depending upon breed and size of litter, she
may be receiving up to four times her normal maintenance ration fed
in four meals a day. Adequate fluid is also essential, particularly
if dry food is being fed. Make sure there is an adequate supply of
clean drinking water. You will be surprised how much she eats and
drinks while feeding her puppies.
Is it necessary to feed the mother milk or milk
substitute while she is lactating?
No. If a good veterinary-recommended diet is being
fed, water is all that is necessary. Some breeds should not receive
certain supplements. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian
before giving any nutritional supplements or vitamins to your pet.
What is an appropriate
We can advise regarding suitable, highly nutritious,
energy dense complete foods. Toy and small breed dogs often prefer
the canned variety whereas the larger breeds often do better on
dried food. We can help you determine the best diet for your pet’s
I understand I have to
wean the puppies. What is this and how and when do I do it?
Weaning describes the transition of the puppy’s diet
from its mother’s milk to the solid growth diet of puppyhood.
In the wild, weaning begins naturally as soon as the
puppies start to develop their teeth at three to four weeks of age.
Suckling then irritates or hurts the mother who will move away and
leave her puppies for longer and longer periods. Natural weaning
involves the female dog vomiting her food and the puppies consuming
the vomitus. Many pets will also do this and cause concern to
owners. It is usually a natural maternal function and nothing to be
Once the puppies’ eyes are open, the sooner the
puppies are weaned, the less the strain on the mother and the sooner
she will return to normal condition.
If the puppies have been hand raised for any reason,
the sooner they are weaned and eating solid food on their own, the
better. It is worthwhile to begin offering soft foods as soon as
their eyes are open.
What should I start with?
Start by placing one of the reconstituted puppy milk
replacers in a flat saucer. Puppies’ noses can be dipped into this
or their noses and mouths wetted with a finger dipped in the
formula. Repeat this two or three times a day until they begin to
lap the replacer on their own. This usually takes one to four days.
Next try offering canned puppy food placed in the
milk replacer until soggy. As the puppies lap at the milk they will
also ingest the food. The amount of milk is then decreased daily
until they are eating the canned food with little or no moisture
added. This should be completed by 4-6 weeks of age.
Weaning them onto one of the complete puppy foods
(which are available in dry, canned and semi moist forms) ensures
balanced nutrition. Consult with your veterinarian regarding puppy
vitamins. Recent research shows that not all breeds should receive
all vitamins or nutritional supplements.
If you have any questions about weaning your puppy,
please consult us.
I realize that diet is
extremely important. How long do puppies need a special diet and how
often do I have to feed them?