6. 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 bitch is competent. They are born with their eyes closed but these open after 7-14 days. If any swelling or bulging is noted under the eyelids they should be gently opened by massaging with cotton wool damped with warm water. If the swelling is due to infection, pus will emerge as the eyelids open and it is important to contact us. Again if the eyes have not opened by 14-16 days of age, or if you are concerned about any discharges, do not delay in seeking veterinary advice.
Is there anything else I should note during these early weeks?
The puppies’ growth rate should be monitored. Broadly speaking a puppy should double its birth weight in the first 7- 8 days. Electronic or kitchen postal scales are ideal to monitor weights. Absolute accuracy is not as important as weight increases.
When should the puppies start to stand and take an interest?
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 play,
What about my bitch? When and how do I increase her food and with what?
You will have increased your bitch’s food during the last two or three weeks of pregnancy. (We can supply a hand out giving information about this.)
After whelping, food requirements increase as the bitch 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 a bitch to be eating 3-4 times her normal maintenance diet depending on the size of her litter, breed etc.
In that case what should I be feeding the bitch and how often?
It is important not to change the bitch’s diet too suddenly particularly immediately after whelping. Eating the afterbirth, which helps to stimulate milk production also tends to promote diarrhoea which is the last thing you need with a nursing bitch. If she has been fed a complete balanced diet, either canned or dried, this will have been gradually increased 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 be disinclined to eat very much for 24-48 hours and then regain her appetite. It is worthwhile feeding frequently, gradually increasing her pre-whelping quantities as her milk production increases and as her puppies grow.
Peak milk production will be at approximately 3 weeks by which time, depending upon breed and size of litter she may be receiving up to four times her normal maintenance ration broken down into about four meals a day. Adequate fluid is also essential particularly if dry food is being fed. Make sure there is a plentiful supply of clean drinking water. You will be surprised how much she consumes.
Is it necessary to feed my bitch milk or milk substitute while she is lactating?
No. If a complete diet is being fed, water is all that is necessary. The bitch does not need any added vitamins or supplements provided the appropriate complete diet is being fed.
What is an appropriate diet?
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.
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 essentially meat based high energy growth diet of puppyhood.
In the wild weaning begins naturally as soon as the puppies start to develop their teeth at 3-4 weeks of age. Suckling then irritates or actually hurts the bitch who will move away and leave her family for longer and longer periods. Natural weaning involves the bitch vomiting and the puppies consuming this. Pet bitches will often do this and cause concern to owners. Often it is merely a natural maternal function.
Once the puppies’ eyes are open the sooner the puppies are weaned, the less the strain on the bitch and the sooner she will return to condition. This is particularly important with exhibition stock.
If the puppies have had to be hand reared for any reason the sooner they are weaned and eating on their own the better. Therefore it is worthwhile commencing offering soft foods as soon as their eyes are open.
What should I start with?
Start by placing one of the reconstituted bitch 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 two or three times a day until they begin to lap. This usually takes 1-4 days.
Next raw scraped meat can be smeared around their mouths or alternatively canned puppy food can be placed in the milk until it is 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, dry, canned and semi moist) ensures balanced nutrition and no added vitamins or minerals are necessary.
Puppies of the toy or smaller breeds often prefer the canned varieties. Once the puppy is happy with a complete formula from a reputable manufacturer try to keep to it.
If you have any concerns please consult us.
I realise that diet is extremely important. How long do puppies need a special diet and how often do I have to feed them?
It is good sense both economically and from a labour saving point of view to feed complete diets formulated for puppies. At the time of weaning they should be fed little and often, approximately 4-6 times a day. By the time they are ready to leave the bitch, at about 6-8 weeks of age they should be receiving about four meals a day. By the age of three months this can be increased in quantity and reduced in frequency to about three times a day. Most breeds then progress to two meals a day at the age of 6-9 months and one meal a day at about a year old. Although some of the slow maturing breeds, particularly the giant breeds, may require more frequent feeding until nearly two years old.