Expert advice from Baileys’ canine nutritionist on weaning puppies onto solid foods

Q: My Cairn terrier recently gave birth to her first litter of puppies and all are thriving. Please could you give me some advice on when and how to wean the puppies onto solids and what a recommended healthy diet for them would consist of?

Liz Bulbrook replies: Your young puppies should naturally begin weaning themselves onto solids at around four weeks of age when they start exploring their surroundings and taking an interest in soft, wet food that is easy to digest.

Although the weaning diet does not have to be full of milky ingredients, initially mixing the food with some milk can help stimulate interest and appetite due to a familiar taste and smell.

Overall, the diet must be digestible, palatable and dense in energy and nutrients to allow for their limited stomach capacity at this stage. While the puppies are experimenting and adapting to this new diet the mother’s milk is still going to be their most vital source of nutrients.

Young puppies grow at a rapid rate and need to ingest large amounts of energy and nutrients in relation to their size. As a guideline young puppies can require two to three times the energy intake of the adult, therefore concentrated specialised puppy food is recommended.

Feed three to four meals a day initially, gradually decreasing to two meals as the animal approaches mature body weight. Smaller breeds can mature between 6-9 months of age but larger breeds can take 18-24 months. However, do not be tempted to “push” your puppies by over feeding and getting them too fat – this can cause numerous problems in later life.

It is important to feed a balanced diet in terms of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals to encourage even growth and development. You should find that if the puppies are eating well, then you could wean them off mother’s milk by 7-8 weeks of age.

Giving exact quantities to feed is difficult, due to variation in the requirements of the individual. Regularly assess your puppies by “hand and eye” and make adjustments to the ration according to the individual.

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