In my actual position I have the opportunity to discuss a lot with our breeder partners and their veterinarians about this very specific phase of puppies’ growth. Everybody agrees that this is one of the most stressful phases for these still immature individuals, and that weaning diarrhea is from far THE most common affection in canine breeding units. It’s not uncommon to have “softer stools” at weaning, but if for any reason, “something goes wrong”, the digestive system can go haywire…
I realised there are plenty of “recipes” out there when it comes to weaning: everybody use what seems to work best for their breed, their kennel… I am totally fine with that, in the end, we’re all working somehow in the field of biology, with lots of “specific cases”. I am however often asked what my recommendations are, so I thought I should just write down what I consider as my 5 rules of weaning. If you think weaning diarrhea is a problem in your kennels, these rules can definitely help you optimizing your weaning process!
1/ Don’t start to early: weaning should usually be started around 4-4.5 weeks. In some situations (orphaned puppies, lactation disorders in the mother like mastitis,…) you can start at 3 weeks but never before, the digestive system will not be mature enough yet!
2/ Always something important to emphasize: do it PROGRESSIVELY! Weaning should be done on a 3-4 week period to decrease the digestive stress of transitioning from milk to solid food. The diet should be fed as a gruel (=kibble mixed with water OR dedicated canned solutions) at the beginning of the weaning period, and the water used should be progressively removed to end up with only dry food at the end.
3/ Prefer several meals per day: there are published data showing that stool quality is improved in puppies fed 4 meals per day during weaning, this is a way to decrease the digestive workload in these still growing individuals. Don’t free feed the puppies at this stage, this is a recognized risk factor that can lead to occurrence of weaning diarrheas!
4/ If 30 minutes after feeding, there is still some food left, discard it. If you let this food mixed with water and/or milk stay too long in the outside environment , potential bacterial overgrowth can happen, so don’t take any risk here!
5/ Use dedicated nutritional solutions with a high focus on digestive safety. There are plenty of publications today on nutrients that can optimize the digestive function in critical situations and these papers led to formulation of specific diets that WILL make a difference. Speak with your RC PRO rep about them they will be able to give you lots of information !