Knowing what 3-week-old puppies need is important if you want to successfully raise a happy litter of puppies.
Let's face it: taking care of newborn puppies is an amazing experience – challenging at times but definitely rewarding.
Knowing the basics of puppy development and their unique needs during different puppyhood stages is critical for proper care. The 3-weeks age is a turning point when the newborn puppies start having a bit different needs than before.
In this article, we will talk about the needs of 3-week old puppies. We will discuss their development and what happens during this stage. Then we will make an in-depth review of their needs – food and weaning, ambient temperature, the basics of potty training, modified grooming versions, socialization, and deworming.
Need Number 1: Being Weaned From Milk
The right weaning time is between 3 and 5 weeks of age (depending on the breed and size of the puppies). Weaning is the time when puppies transition from mother's milk to solid foods.
Once you start weaning, you need to supplement your dog’s dietary needs with special puppy food. It is critical therefore that you invest in a high-quality puppy food.
Adult dogs can thrive on cheaper foods, but puppies need the best formula possible. It is advisable to look for a puppy formula that is rich in omega fatty acids (EPA and DHA) as these nutrients are vital for proper brain and puppy eye development.
Also, depending on the breed, you may need to look for a formula rich in calcium to support proper bone and skeleton formation (particularly important in large breed puppies).
Most commercial puppy formulas should have all that your puppy needs. Consider that over supplementing calcium can cause harm. You'll need to feed optimal protein and calcium and phosphorus levels so to help the puppies grow and develop at the right pace. Ask your vet for help on what to feed your puppy based on their specific needs.
When 3-weeks old, puppies need to eat every 6 to 8 hours. You therefore need to make a feeding schedule in accordance with this need.
As for the food itself, you should mix the formula with a puppy milk replacer. This will make the food moist and easy to eat and will help the dog navigate the eating process (as the milk smell is already familiar).
Finally, you need to keep track of your puppy's body weight. The food transitioning process is particularly sensitive in terms of weight gain, and you need to make sure your puppy is growing properly.
The exact weight a puppy needs to gain on a daily basis depends on the breed.
Need Number 2: The Basics of Potty Training
If you start weaning off the puppies at the age of 3 weeks, you should also start investing some time and effort in potty training. Obviously, it is way too early for actual potty training, but you can start with the basics.
This is because as soon as the puppies start eating solid food and decrease the milk suckling, the mother will stop tending to their bathroom needs.
In other words, things will start to get messy, and you need to do something about it!
The principle is similar to potty training an older puppy. You should designate a potty area within the whelping box or crate and cover it with clean and well-absorbing puppy pads.
It would be very helpful if you left some puppy poop or pee on the pad. Namely, wait for some of the puppies to pee, soak the urine with a napkin and leave it on the pad in the designated bathroom area. In the case of poop, it is even simpler – just pick it up and leave it on the puppy pad.
Expecting the puppies to go to the designated area every time they need to pee or poop would be highly irrational. However, at this point, the goal is to give the basics, and this is a good start.
Need Number 3: Puppy-Friendly Grooming Version
Since the puppy is starting to eat on its own and poop on its own, it goes without saying that it will get messy way too often. Not to mention, it is likely to stink by this age.
However, bathing a 3-week old puppy is definitely a no-go. Puppies are not ready for baths until at least one month and a half (preferably even later). Luckily, there is a modified bathing version you can try.
Namely, you can use a damp cloth to simply wipe the puppy with it. Start by soaking the clean cloth or towel in warm water (not too hot as you do not want to accidentally burn your puppy) and then wipe, paying special attention to the extra soiled body areas.
Once the cloth loses its warmth, re-soak it again (using a cold cloth is highly inadvisable since puppies cannot regulate their body temperature at this age).
Plus, you will have to make sure the puppy stays warm after the modified bath is finished.
Need Number 4: Ambient Temperature
Puppies are altricial, and therefore, they are born with underdeveloped thermoregulation systems and depend on external heating sources to stay warm.
Interestingly, puppies reach their adult body temperature when four weeks old, however, they still cannot regulate it (puppies start to regulate their body temperatures when around 7 to 8 weeks old).
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Therefore, 3-weeks old puppies need an ambient temperature between 72 and 80F.
At this point, puppies get warm and stay warm by the radiating heat from their mother and the heat that is produced when they huddle together. By the way, this is one reason why puppies like to sleep piled up together.
However, if the mother needs to leave the whelping box, you must ensure the temperature remains comfortable for the puppies.
There are different devices and products for generating extra heat – pads and special heaters. Some modern versions even have automated off switches to prevent overheating (which can also be a problem considering the puppies' lack of ability to regulate their body temperatures).
Need Number 5: Puppy Socialization
Socialization is a critical process in every dog’s life and starts while still a young puppy. It may seem like too early, but the truth is puppies start socializing when their sleepyhead phase ends – which is roughly around week 3.
At this point, the puppy’s senses (sight, smell, hearing) are maturing, and they actually start picking up stimuli from the environment. They are also more likely to interact with their mother and other siblings. These interactions are subtle and sometimes cannot be spotted from the outside.
We often assume socialization is directly linked with making new friends – this is not true. In fact, it is highly inadvisable to let 3-week old puppies make acquaintances as the risk of infectious diseases is too high.
Socialization includes exposure to new situations and new stimuli which the puppies are now experiencing through their slowly sharpening senses.
Socialization also includes handling – puppies need to learn that being picked up and cuddled is fine.
Need Number 6: Deworming Protocols
There is a popular misconception that puppies do not need to be treated with dewormers because they do not go out and cannot get worms. This is so wrong on so many levels.
First of all, dogs and puppies need deworming regardless of whether they live inside or outside.
Second, puppies usually get worms from their mothers.
Third, most dewormers are perfectly safe for puppies, while leaving them with worms can have severe health consequences. Let's explain these claims.
Mothers transmit worms to their new puppies in two ways:
1) Through the placenta, while the puppies are still inside the womb
2) Through the milk after the puppies are born and suckling.
As you can see, no need to go out, as the source of worms (the mother) is here.
This is the reason why responsible breeders deworm their pregnant dogs following specific protocols. Such deworming will not eliminate the risk of transmitting worms to the puppies, but it will decrease the parasite load. More about this is covered here: are puppies born with worms?
Therefore, puppies need to be dewormed, and the 3-weeks old stage is perfect for this. There are different protocols (some start earlier) so, you need to talk to your vet about the exact details and, obviously, the deworming product you will use.
Finally, we should note that it is critical to deworm the mother at the same time when deworming the puppies. As already explained, if the mother is not dewormed, the puppies could get re-infected when nursing.
Heavy worm loads in puppies can be detrimental and cause a variety of issues ranging from decreased appetite to poor growth to life-threatening anemia.
Concluding Thoughts on the Needs of 3-Week-Old Puppies
All in all, 3-week old puppies have unique needs. At this point, they are slowly transitioning from being newborn pups to slightly well-rounded puppies.
If this is your first time taking care of a mother dog and her puppies, chances are you are confused and overwhelmed.
Therefore, it is best advised to start researching the topic well before the mother gives birth. That way, there will not be any surprises, and you will be prepared for every situation and scenario.
If you have any doubts, do not hesitate to talk to your trusted veterinarian – every help and advice is more than welcome.