How Long Should A Mother Dog Breastfeed?

Proper weaning of puppies is an extremely important part of their development. Weaning is the process of gradually transitioning puppies from nursing on their mother’s milk to eating solid food. The weaning period usually begins around 3-4 weeks of age and continues until puppies are fully weaned by 8 weeks of age.

Weaning must be done carefully and gradually. Abruptly weaning puppies too early can lead to health issues and behavior problems. Allowing puppies to nurse for too long can also create issues for both the mother and her puppies. Following proper weaning guidelines ensures puppies grow into healthy, well-adjusted adult dogs.

Recommended Weaning Age

Experts recommend starting the weaning process when puppies are between 3-4 weeks old. According to WebMD, you should begin weaning a puppy when their teeth start to erupt, which is usually around 3-4 weeks of age

The Kennel Club states that the recommended time for weaning puppies is from around 3 weeks of age and can last until the pups are around 7-8 weeks old

VCA Hospitals states that naturally, weaning begins as soon as the puppies start to develop teeth, typically at three to four weeks of age

Signs Puppies Are Ready

There are some clear signs that indicate puppies are ready for the weaning process. According to ZooNerdy, puppies start to show readiness for weaning around 3-4 weeks old. At this age, they become more curious and begin exploring their surroundings. Puppies also start to chew on solid food and show less interest in nursing from their mother. Their declining interest in milk is a natural part of the weaning process. As the puppies mature, they are ready for the transition to solid foods.

Weaning Process

The weaning process should be gradual, slowly supplementing the mother’s milk with solid foods over time. Start by offering very small amounts of puppy food soaked in warm milk multiple times per day while continuing nursing. Over the course of a few weeks, decrease the amount of milk and increase the amount and consistency of solid foods. Offer 3-4 meals of softened puppy food per day, monitoring to ensure the puppy is eating well. Slowly transition to dry kibble soaked in water or broth. The puppy’s mother will naturally start discouraging nursing behavior when she feels the puppy is ready for complete weaning.

Avoid abruptly switching from milk to solid food, as this can be stressful and unhealthy for the puppy. The transition should take place over 2-4 weeks. Make sure the puppy is eating enough at each meal before decreasing nursing sessions. Watch for signs of dehydration or malnutrition. By 10-12 weeks of age, puppies should be completely weaned from their mother’s milk.

Benefits of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding provides many health benefits for puppies. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, breast milk contains important antibodies that help strengthen the immune system and fight disease. The antibodies passed from mother to puppy provide passive immunity that protects them during the early weeks of life when their own immune systems are still developing.

Additionally, breastfeeding is an important opportunity for bonding between puppy and mother. Nursing encourages close physical contact between mum and pups which helps form the mother-offspring bond. According to Cornell, some nursing behavior in puppies is simply for comfort and bonding rather than nutrition.

Potential Problems

Weaning puppies too early can lead to some potential health problems. If a puppy is taken from its mother before 8 weeks of age, it misses out on important antibodies and nutrition from the mother’s milk that help strengthen its immune system and aid in digestion (

Puppies weaned too early are at higher risk for malnutrition since their digestive systems are still developing and may not be ready for solid foods ( This can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, and failure to thrive if they are not getting proper nutrients. Their developing immune systems may also suffer without the antibodies from the mother’s milk, making them more susceptible to illnesses.

It’s best to allow puppies to wean naturally by gradually introducing solid foods while still allowing them to nurse, only fully weaning once they reach 8-12 weeks old. This ensures they get proper nutrition to grow big and strong and avoid digestive upset from an abrupt weaning. Weaning too early can set up puppies for potential lifelong health issues if not done properly under veterinary guidance.

Solid Foods to Introduce

When beginning the weaning process, it’s important to start by introducing soft, highly digestible foods to help the puppy transition from nursing to eating solid food. Some good options include:

Wet puppy food: Offering canned or pouched puppy food makes an easy transition, as it has a soft, mushy texture and appealing taste. Mix the wet food with warm water or puppy milk replacer to thin it out initially.1

Dry puppy food: Dry kibble can be moistened with water or milk replacer to soften it. Allow the kibble to soak for 5-10 minutes before feeding. Start with just a small amount mixed into the gruel.

Milk replacer: Goat’s milk or a commercial puppy milk replacer can help provide calories and nutrients. Slowly mix milk replacer into the gruel to transition away from nursing.

Gradually decrease the amount of water or milk replacer mixed into the food as the puppy gets used to eating solids. Provide small portions frequently throughout the day during weaning.

Weaning Challenges

The weaning process can be difficult for both mother dogs and puppies. Puppies may experience separation anxiety and regress in their housetraining as a result of weaning.

Puppies often become very attached to their mothers during the nursing period. When they are separated from her, some puppies may experience separation anxiety. Signs can include excessive vocalization, destructive behavior, loss of appetite, and depression. To help ease the transition, try giving puppies a blanket or toy with their mother’s scent.

Additionally, some puppies may regress in their housetraining after weaning. The stress of separation can cause accidents. Be patient and consistent about taking puppies outside frequently to reinforce housetraining habits. Clean any accidents thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner to discourage repeat incidents.

With time, patience, and consistency, puppies should adapt well to weaning. If problems persist, consult your veterinarian for advice. They can provide tips tailored to your puppies’ specific needs.

After Weaning Care

After puppies are fully weaned, it’s important for owners to continue monitoring their health and providing proper care (Source). One key aspect is monitoring the puppy’s weight to ensure they are growing properly and getting adequate nutrition from solid foods. Owners should weigh puppies regularly and track their growth rate. If weight gain slows or the puppy loses weight, adjustments to diet and feeding may be needed.

It’s also important for owners to continue socializing puppies after weaning. The weeks after weaning are a prime period for socialization as puppies engage more with their environment. Owners should introduce puppies to new people, animals, places, sights, sounds, and experiences in a positive and controlled way during this period. Continued socialization teaches good behavior and helps prevent fearfulness or aggression later on.

When to Consult a Vet

If the puppy seems lethargic, sick, or is rapidly losing weight after weaning, it’s important to consult your veterinarian. Puppies should continue gaining weight steadily after being weaned off their mother’s milk. A lack of weight gain or energy can signal an illness or that the puppy is not properly adjusting to solid foods.

Some signs that indicate the need to see a vet include:

  • Weight loss of more than 10% of body weight
  • Little to no interest in food
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Lack of energy, excessive sleepiness

If your puppy exhibits any of these symptoms after weaning, schedule an appointment with your vet right away. The vet can examine the puppy for potential illness and provide advice on getting their food intake and nutrition back on track.

With proper monitoring and care during and after weaning, puppies should thrive on their transition to solid foods. But at any sign of trouble, your vet can provide medical guidance tailored to your puppy’s needs.

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