Ask the Vet: At What Age Puppies Eat Dry Kibble?
Dr. Ivana Crnec
If you are wondering at what age puppies eat dry kibble, most likely you have bottle-fed puppies and are wondering when they can be switched to kibble. Or perhaps, you have mother dog who is starting to resent having her pups with sharp teeth nursing and you can't wait to get them used to relying less on her milk. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana shares information about when puppies can eat dry food.
At What Age Puppies Eat Dry Kibble?
When are puppies old enough to eat dry puppy food? Usually, puppies are completely transitioned to solid foods when between six and eight weeks of age. Most puppies indeed are not even interested in dry dog food before three to four weeks old.
After this point though, at around four weeks of age, they start showing interest in foods other than milk and are capable of nibbling on solid foods.
The transition process of switching from milk to puppy food should be slow and gradual. Puppies should be fed a mush during the transition phase. Mush is a mixture of dry puppy food and either milk or water. The process during which puppies are transitioned to solid food is known as "weaning."
The Goals of Feeding Mush to Puppies
Generally, there are three reasons for feeding mush to puppies instead of just offering plain dry puppy food. Following are the reasons.
Eating solid foods is an unusual experience for puppies. Puppies know that food comes in a liquid form, and offering dry kibble may be so surprising that they might not even know what to do with the kibble. However, if the kibble is soaked, especially with milk, the familiar scent will give them a clue on what to do.
It should be noted that giving puppies cow’s milk is not recommended. Instead, you can use a puppy milk replacement powder or water. Soaking in water is a much better alternative than soaking in regular milk.
Eating solid foods without teeth is a real challenge. Puppies start growing their deciduous, baby teeth when around two weeks old. However, they do not have a complete set of teeth until between eight and ten weeks old. Soaking the kibble or making a mush will make the eating process more accessible and more comfortable. It will also have a soothing effect on the gums. Once the pup grows its full set of baby teeth, it will be able to nibble on dry kibble safely.
Puppies have sensitive stomachs. Their digestive systems are used to digesting liquid foods. Abrupt changes to dry kibble may come as a shock and can wreak havoc on the stomach.
Sudden switches are likely to cause vomiting, diarrhea, temporary appetite loss, and dehydration. Feeding mush for a while will help the digestive system get used to the new food, thus decreasing the risk of upsetting the sensitive tummy.
Introducing Mush to Puppies
The weaning period usually starts around when the pups are 4 weeks of age and lasts for about four weeks. This means you will probably have to prepare mush meals for about a month.
At first, it is advisable to mix one part of puppy kibble with three parts liquid (milk or water). The kibble should be allowed enough time to soak the liquid and then mashed with a spoon until reaching a mushy, gruel-like consistency.
As time passes, you can slowly change the kibble to liquid ratio. The changing pace should be one-part-per-week.
Namely, you feed one part kibble to three parts liquid for a week. Then you provide two parts kibble to two parts liquid for another week. In the third week, you can feed three parts kibble to one part liquid. You can slow the process down if the puppy experiences a tummy issue.
The kibble shouldn't soak for too long. Usually 15 to 20 minutes are enough for the kibble to soak in water/milk and moisten. If you allow the kibble to soak for longer than 30 minutes, potentially harmful bacteria can develop in the mush.
For the same reason, if the pup does not eat its entire mush meal, discard the leftovers – never leave the mush out for longer than 30 minutes.
It is highly recommended to serve the mush in a shallow dish or preferably a pan, the puppy can easily access. It is also recommended to place a non-slip, easy-to-clean mat under the pan as things get really messy when puppies lap up mushy meals.
It is not unusual for puppies to get inside the pan and even play with the food or with each other during mealtime. In such cases, the puppies will need a thorough cleaning after meals with a damp towel.
At What Age Puppies Eat Completely Dry Kibble?
The answer depends on the puppy’s breed or, better said, its size. Although there are individual variations, small breed puppies should be able to eat un-moistened dry puppy food by 12 or 13 weeks, while large breed puppies a bit sooner – by 9 to 10 weeks.
A Timeline of Puppy Nutrition
Following is a general timeline of puppy nutrition.
6-12 weeks – growing puppies have unique nutritional needs. They need plenty of high-quality nutrients to support their fast growth and ensure proper development. Therefore, puppies should be fed formulas explicitly designed for puppies. Plus, they need to have their daily portion size divided into several meals, preferably no less than four.
3-6 months – at this point, it is safe to decrease the number of meals per day from four to three. During this phase, the puppy will lose its characteristic potbelly, and its body will start maturing.
6-12 months – once your puppy is six months old, you can start giving food twice per day. Spaying/neutering decreases the energy needs, so if you subjected your puppy to this procedure, you could switch from a puppy formula to a maintenance formula. If your puppy is intact, the transition should be performed when seven to nine months old (for smaller breeds) or 12 to 14 months old (for larger breeds). It should be noted that late transitions are better than premature transitions.
+1 year – your puppy is now no longer a puppy; it is an adult dog and can eat dog food formulated for adults. The right formula depends on its breed, lifestyle, and of course – taste preferences.
The transition phase, from mommy milk to dry food, can be challenging. Luckily, if you stick to the basics – feeding mushy foods and making the transition slow and gradual, things should go smoothly.
Once your puppy starts eating dry kibble on its own, things will become much simpler and less challenging – just be patient.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.