If you are wondering when you should stop bottle-feeding a puppy, the answer is that there is no rule set in stone. In other words, don’t expect that every puppy will go through exactly the same weaning process. Even if there was some sort of age estimation one could rely on to gauge at what age puppies should stop being bottle fed, it's important to understand that getting them to eat on their own does take time. Weaning the puppies off milk is a gradual process but these easy steps will guide you on how you can stop bottle feeding your puppies completely.
The Bowl Step
Every puppy undergoing the weaning process will have to do this very step first. It's an important step that entails introducing your puppy for the first time to his bowl.
When your puppy is about three weeks old, invite him over to investigate his new bowl by filling it up with milk replacement formula, basically, the same product you are using to bottle feed him.
Basically, the objective of this step is getting him acquainted with eating from his bowl. At first, your puppy may ignore the bowl or think the food bowl is just another toy.
You can help him out to understand that the bowl in front of him contains tasty and healthy food for him by dipping your finger into the bowl to attract your puppy. If your puppy laps up some milk make sure to praise him lavishly. As your puppy is undergoing this step, you may find that you may still have to bottle feed him to supplement, in case he does not take enough from his bowl.
Tip: If you have a very small pup, you may find the use of a shallow cake pan easier for the pup to access rather than a food bowl.
The Gruel Step
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In this step, you will be replacing the milk in the bowl with some gruel. As you can imagine, this step entails training your puppy to eat gruel from the bowl. Gruel can be made by simply mixing some milk replacement formula with some dry puppy food ground up in a food processor. Make sure the mixture is like a slurry before your puppy is introduced to it. Now expect things to get quite messy! Your clumsy puppy will likely stick his whole face in the gruel and step into his bowl. You may need to wash him with a moist cloth, but it's imperative to make sure he is dry and warm to prevent him from getting chilled.
Again, you may find it necessary to keep bottle-feeding your puppy during this step as he may not eat enough gruel due to the adaptation process. You may try to decrease the amount of milk you bottle feed to your puppy, but just don’t cut it off yet. Don't forget to also leave out the water bowl, so your pup gets used to lapping water as well!
The Mush Step
As your puppy gets used to lapping up the soupy gruel, you want to start making it gradually less soupy and more dense. Simply add less formula to the dry food so that it's the consistency of mush. If you have an entire litter of puppies who were bottle-fed and being introduced to mush, you want to offer it in several food bowls so the puppies won't feel compelled to push each other with some pups not getting enough of a serving. Keep an eye that each pup gets to eat and keep on monitoring the pups' weight.
As your puppy gets used to eating his mush, you will reduce the amount of formula added, until your puppy will start eating exclusively the dry food. You may find though that the the larger, stronger pups may be already almost weaned by the time they are five weeks old, while the runts of the litter may take a little longer.
As a general rule of thumb, most puppies completely graduate to eating dry food by the time they are 7 to 8 weeks old. By this time, the pups are usually ready to go to their new homes.
As seen, weaning a bottle-fed puppy is a gradual process that will vary from one puppy to another. It may take a bit of time to adjust to the new food bowl and the new food, but all puppies eventually get it.
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