What To Feed Puppies In Their First 6 Weeks? Vet Reviewed
Puppies grow like weeds, and they need adequate nutrition to support their development. Figuring out the best food to feed puppies once they've grown a set of teeth is easy, but what about the first two months of life?
For all new dog parents out there, this guide should help you keep up with your pup’s nutritional requirements throughout this period.
The Nursing Period
Puppies are born with an undeveloped immune system, so they rely on getting antibodies from their mothers. The milk they produce during the first two days post-birth, also known as colostrum, is packed with antibodies to give the puppies the much needed immunity base (1).
Antibody levels in milk will slowly drop over time, but will provide the puppies with passive immunity for several weeks to come. That’s why it’s best to let the puppies nurse as long as possible to ensure they stay healthy.
If the puppies are nursing, then then you don’t need to worry about introducing solid food until their mother’s milk is no longer fulfilling daily nutritional needs, which is around four weeks of age. This is when you should start introducing solid food to the puppies.
If, for whatever reason, puppies aren’t nursing, then it’s on you to provide the necessary diet. This is where puppy formula comes into play.
Feeding Your Puppy Formula
If your puppies aren’t nursing, then it’s important to feed them a milk replacement formula.
Mother’s milk is very rich in nutrients, way more than any type of milk you can find in a supermarket. In fact, milk produced by a puppy’s mother has roughly twice as much protein as cow milk. This is why you can’t just replace one type of milk with another. Not just that, but cow milk is hard for dogs to digest and contains proteins that can cause allergic reactions.
On the other hand, goat milk, which is much easier to digest, is safe for puppies. Not just that, but goat milk is high in essential vitamins and minerals, as well as small and medium chain fatty acids (2).
With that being said, just using goat milk won’t be enough to fulfil the daily nutritional requirements of young puppies. However, providing a balanced diet for this life stage shouldn’t be difficult, as many pet brands provide puppy milk replacement formulas. These formulas come as either a powder (to which you add water) or as a canned liquid, and the packaging will indicate the appropriate serving size and instructions on how to feed the formula to your puppy.
Just like human babies, puppies at this life stage need to be fed on a bottle. With larger breeds, you can use a baby bottle, but for tiny pooches, you’ll need a smaller, pet specific nursing bottle or even a syringe. The feeding position is also very important. Puppies should be laying on their stomachs while being fed, just as they would lie while nursing. Laying on the sides or even their backs could cause them to choke.
Finally, the formula should be served warm, heated up to roughly 38°C (3). However, you don’t want to microwave it. Microwaving doesn’t heat up the formula evenly, plus the fast heating process causes fat molecules to be less digestible. Instead, what you want to do is place the feeding bottle in a cup of hot water for several minutes. To test whether the formula is ready, put a drop on your wrist to test the temperature. It should be warm, but not uncomfortably hot.
After feeding, make sure to gently pat your little pooch on the back. Puppies tend to swallow air when nursing, so doing so can help them burp that air out.
Now, how often should puppies be fed formula? For the first two weeks of their life, they should eat every two to three hours. With each new week passing, you can add one hour to the feeding interval.
Transitioning From Milk To Solid Food
Around three to four weeks of age, the first teeth start to erupt. The teething period can be quite uncomfortable, not just for puppies experiencing it, but also for mothers that are nursing those puppies. This is the perfect moment to start introducing solid food to your pup’s diet. But, it’s important to make the transition slow and smooth.
Start by mixing puppy formula with kibble soaked in water, making a gruel (4). Don’t worry about making the meal look good. Instead, you want it to be as soggy as possible, since it can take puppies a few days to get used to eating something more solid than milk. To point them in the right direction, you can dip their noses into the mixture a few times until they get the memo.
When you start the transition, the meal should consist of roughly 10% solid food. And as each day goes by, slightly decrease the amount of moisture added to the meal. Within the next few weeks, they should be able to eat 100% dry food.
PRO TIP: During the transition period, figuring out how much to feed your puppy can be difficult. That’s why it’s important to weigh your little furry ball on a daily basis. At this life stage, puppies should be gaining weight steadily. If that’s not the case, contact your vet.
Puppy Diet At Six Weeks
Most puppies stop nursing completely between six and eight weeks of age. In the case they were fed puppy formula, this is when they should completely transition to dog food. But of course, they can’t eat just any dog food.
If considered complete, a dog food formula needs to meet a dog’s daily nutritional demands. But different dogs have different needs, and that depends a lot on their current life stage. That’s why dog food formulas are often targeted to specific life stages.
Related: What Food Can Puppies Eat?
The essential difference between these formulas lies in nutrients. Puppy dog food has a higher protein and fat content compared to adult and senior formulas. What’s more, puppy food is usually richer in minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, manganese and copper, which provide essential support to their fast growth.
Now, there’s such a thing as an ‘all life –stages' formula, which is supposed to provide necessary nutrients for dogs at any age. These recipes are fine for small and medium sized breeds, but they might not be enough for large breed puppies. But don’t worry, many pet brands offer formulas specially tailored for these fast growing big pooches.
Related: Can Puppies Eat Adult Dog Food?
Once puppies are fully transitioned to solid food, they should be fed three to four times a day. Ideally, the meals should be fed on a schedule, as that helps with house training. While young, puppies poop shortly after a meal, so this is a great way to establish a routine.
Throughout their first six of life, puppies slowly transition from mother’s milk to solid food. During this lengthy process, it’s essential that you provide your little pooch with proper nutrition that supports their fast growth and development.
- Farmer, V. February 13, 2021. “Caring for a Newborn Puppy”. Fetch by WebMD. Retrieved June 10, 2023. https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/caring-newborn-puppy
- Khalsa, D. February 20, 2020. “Goat milk – why it’s so good for your dog or cat”. Animal Wellness. Retrieved June 10, 2023. https://animalwellnessmagazine.com/goat-milk-dog-cat/
- Williams, K. “Feeding Orphaned Puppies”. VCA Animal Hospitals. Retrieved June 10, 2023. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feeding-orphaned-puppies
- Manucy, T. July, 31, 2020. “Weaning Puppies: How and When to Do It”. Pet MD. Retrieved June 10, 2023. https://www.petmd.com/dog/puppycenter/nutrition/evr_dg_weaning_puppies_from_their_mother