At some point, you may wonder when does a mother dog stop nursing her puppies. The answer tends to vary and depends on several circumstances. For instance, it may depend on how reluctant mother dog is about leaving her puppies to eat by themselves. Also, it may depend on how you help those cute puppies start separating themselves from their mom’s nipples. The point is, this puppies’ transition process is not one-fits-for-all, and there may be variances. While there are some things you can do to help expedite the process, consider that there is more to weaning than food. Although puppies may be eating solid foods by 5 to 6 weeks of age, this doesn't mean they are ready to leave the litter. Most pups aren't ready to leave their mom and littermates until they are 8 to 12 weeks of age.
A Word About the Nursing Process
Ever since the day they were born, puppies have relied on their mother’s milk in order to grow and strengthen their bodies. Rich in nutrition and antibodies, mother’s milk has provided health and nourishment during the pup's early upbringing.
However, at some point around four weeks of age, puppies will start getting their new set of milk teeth which happen to be quite sharp!
At some point mom finds the newly grown teeth uncomfortable when her puppies nurse and therefore she will gradually step away from her whelping box and become more and more reluctant to feed her hungry pups. The pups may start to follow her around and try to latch on her nipples, but she will try to avoid them as much as she can, and who can blame her?
Warning: if mother dog stops nursing earlier than expected, it could be she is suffering from a case of mastitis, which causes her nipples to become red, hard, painful and swollen. Please see your vet if you suspect mother dog is suffering from a case of mastitis.
When Does a Mother Dog Stop Nursing Her Puppies?
When does mother dog stop nursing her puppies? There is no clear-cut answer as weaning is a process. Generally, the weaning process in dogs is expected to begin anywhere between 3 and 4 weeks of age.
With the eruption of sharp puppy teeth, Mother Nature has coordinated the perfect setup for weaning to start. With mother dog reluctant to nurse and the puppies feeling hungry, it's time to start training the puppies to eat solid food.
The process must take place slowly and gradually as puppies need time to get accustomed to solid food. You can start off the process by using commercial milk replacement formula (never cow's milk!) and offering this to the pups in a large and shallow dish.
A good formula for weaning puppies contains proper ratios of fats and proteins and sugars suitable for puppies. A good example of a good commercial puppy formula meant fr weaning is Esbilac 2nd step. This milk replacement formula is tailored for puppies 4 to 8 weeks.
As the pups get acquainted with lapping up the milk from the dish, they will still continue to nurse from mom every now and then as she permits. This is fine.
Should the pups develop diarrhea from the commercial milk replacement formula, it might be a good idea to dilute the formula slightly with water, suggests Dr. Margaret R. Kustritz in the book "The Dog Breeder's Guide to Successful Breeding and Health Management."
Then, as the pups show signs of getting accustomed to their new menu, you may start mixing in ground-up dry puppy food to the milk formula which should result in a soupy gruel-like consistency. After a bit, you can also start gradually decreasing the amount of water along with milk over the next four weeks until you are only feeding exclusively the dry. Here are some recipes for puppy gruel and puppy mush.
During this transitional time, the pups will nurse less and less and mother dog might do her best to prevent them from nursing. She will keep on playing with them though and keep on teaching them important social skills.
By the age of eight weeks most puppies should be fully weaned which means they exclusively eat dry food and no longer depend on mom for nursing. A word of caution is needed though for some small, toy breeds. Maltese puppies for instance, tend to develop a bit slower and therefore may be a step behind in the process. For more on this read about Maltese puppy development.
Tip: to increase the probability of the puppies eating the new food it helps to remove them from mom for 1 to 2 hours. This separation may help increase their hunger and heighten the chances of them eating the mush offered. Reluctant pups may be encouraged to taste the novel food by gently dipping their chin in the gruel. Once they feel their chin is dirty, they'll lick their chops and discover that it actually tastes good!
What You Must Be Prepared For
Weaning is the process when you have to get prepared to always keep your puppies clean and dry after they have their meal. Get ready as things will get messy! The pups will walk in the dish, dunk their faces in it and get dirty.
Always have paper towels on hand which have been dipped in warm water to wipe off any food from your puppies’ bodies and then be ready to dry them up to prevent dangerous chilling.
By the age of six weeks, puppies should be generally eating four meals a day. Try to be patient during these stages until your puppies reach 7 to 8 weeks old. Generally at this age (besides a few exceptions mentioned above), the puppies are weaned and no longer depend on their moms for nursing and it's time for them to go out to their new good homes.
Once weaned, when puppies are offered solid food, it shouldn't be free-fed. In other words, it should not be offered all the time. This is especially important for puppies of large or giant breeds as too many calories may have a negative impact on their growth. Instead, they should be fed at certain times, generally 2-3 times a day.