Weaning is a crucial period in the life of any animal, because it is the moment when it starts to gain its independence. In strictly dietary terms, it is a phase of digestive transition, a gradual physiological development enabling the puppy to slowly pass from a liquid milk diet (mother’s milk or formula) to a solid growth food. At this stage, the food must be adapted to the development of the puppy’s digestive functions and not vice versa.

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Development of the puppy’s digestive capacities

The puppy’s growth is marked by many gradual changes, including those to its digestive capacities. For instance, the quantity of enzymes able to digest lactose gradually decreases, while the ability to digest cooked starch develops much more slowly. These variations explain why some puppies do not tolerate cow’s milk (which contains three times as much lactose as dog’s milk) and that simply reducing the quantity given to a puppy stops diarrhoea triggered by the saturation of its lactose digestive capacities.

This development is essentially determined by the genes and has little to do with any imposed dietary habits. It concerns the majority of the digestive enzymes, without which digestion would not be possible.

Choosing the weaning period

The topping out of milk production naturally imposes the beginning of the weaning period. Having reached maximum production, mothers are no longer able to meet the growth requirements of their puppies.


The topping out of milk production naturally imposes the beginning of the weaning period.


In small breeds, lactation covers the most intense part of the growth period of puppies and therefore meets their maximum requirements.

Medium and large breeds, on the other hand, are denied the nutrients they need at a critical moment in their growth, as their mother’s milk production is unable to meet their requirements.

So, while gestation and lactation make more demands on small breed females, the risks facing the puppies are greater for large and giant breeds.

It is not uncommon to see a mother regurgitate food (which she partially predigests) for puppies aged four weeks. Around a week later the puppies’ milk teeth start to erupt and the mother begins to rebuff their attempts to feed because of the pain these new teeth cause her.

How to wean puppies

However it is done – naturally or artificially – weaning must be a gradual process, commencing around week three and ending around week seven or eight. During this period mothers gradually disassociate themselves from the puppies, asserting their right to eat first. It is better not to completely separate the puppies from their mother before this time to avoid increasing their stress at an already difficult moment. The puppies could, for example, be isolated gradually during the day and returned to the mother at night.

The weaning process should be slow and gradual, along the following lines:

• At the beginning of week three, give the puppies formula milk (not cow’s milk) in a bowl. A few “baths” are unavoidable, but they will also start to lap at the milk.

• After four days, start mixing a special weaning food in with the formula milk, in increasing quantities, until the start of week five.

• From week five, the puppies should only receive this weaning food, until week seven, when it should be gradually replaced by a complete dry growth food.

The nutritional requirements of weaning puppies are comparable to mothers’ at the end of lactation (when they reconstitute their reserves), which makes the owner’s work much easier.

If the owner does not have access to weaning pap, an alternative is to mix some puppy kibbles with lukewarm water and formula milk. As weaning progresses, less and less fluid should be added, until, at the end of the weaning period, the puppies are eating the kibbles in their original state.

Clearly, the ideal solution is a complete dry food that meets the suckling female’s nutritional requirements, while also serving as a weaning food for the puppies, given that the nutritional requirements of mother and puppies are comparable at this stage. This starter food must be physically tailored to young puppies (kibble size, shape, form and hardness) and highly palatable, with a high energy and protein content, alongside clays and fermentable fibre (such as fructo­oligosaccharides) to improve digestion, and antioxidants, which ensure the puppies acquire a good level of immune protection.


If the food is prepared by the owner a mineral supplement will always have to be added in the form of eggshell or bone powder to ensure bone mineralisation is not hampered.


If the food is prepared by the owner a mineral supplement will always have to be added in the form of eggshell or bone powder to ensure bone mineralisation is not hampered. The quantity needs to be fine-tuned every day, which is why the practice is very unusual and not recommended these days.


Conversely, the addition of a mineral supplement to balance complete prepared food can lead to early and irreversible calcification, which will seriously compromise the puppies’ growth and future health.

Successful weaning is made simple by following these steps, giving the puppies the best possible start for the growth phase.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin
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