Depending on which stage a puppy enters your life, different schedules and guides for feeding puppies apply. A puppy grows very fast, passing through several life stages quickly. Be responsive to your puppy’s special needs along the way.

Bottle Feeding Puppies

Newborn puppies.
Newborn puppies require bottle feeding. Photography by Soraluk Chonvanich / Shutterstock.

If a newborn pup is especially large, if there are many puppies in the litter, or if you have undertaken to adopt and raise a newborn puppy, we’ll need to talk about bottle feeding puppies. For very small puppies, sometimes a needle-less syringe can substitute for a bottle. For puppies with larger mouths, your vet can recommend the appropriate type of bottle and silicone or rubber nipple. Commercial puppy milk formulas for feeding puppies are readily available either from your vet or from large pet store chains. You can make your own formula — there are many to be discovered online — but check with your vet about the recipe you have chosen before using it. (Be sure to make a new batch every day to keep the food fresh.)

Heat the formula to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure the milk drips, not streams, out of the nipple or syringe.

Feeding puppies, especially feeding newborn puppies, requires patience. Find a comfortable seat. Cradle the puppy in your hand or in a soft towel and introduce the nipple to his mouth. You want him to swallow the droplets from the syringe and learn to suck on the nipple, not flood him with formula and hope some goes down. Watch out for choking and avoid holding him on his back. Newborn puppies do not drink from their mothers lying on their backs, so such a posture would be unnatural.

Afterward, mimic what the mother dog would do. Rub a little cotton ball on the pup’s bottom to encourage him to defecate and urinate. After about 3 weeks, he’ll take over in that area. Also, remember to allow your puppy a little quiet time after eating. Carrying him about or allowing him to play vigorously with family members could cause a tummy upset that causes him to lose all you put in him.

Newborn puppies generally need about 1 cc of formula per ounce of body weight every three hours round the clock. Since puppies vary greatly according to breed as to how fast or large they will grow, this guide for feeding puppies needs to be modified according to your individual puppy’s special needs as outlined by your vet.

Feeding Puppies: Weaning to Solid Food at About 3 to 4 Weeks

At about 3 or 4 weeks, as you see your puppy begin to explore his little world, you can take the next step when it comes to feeding puppies. Begin to introduce solid puppy food, but do not immediately stop bottle feeding. Ask your vet what brand of high-quality puppy food she recommends. Buy the best you can. Remember, what goes in, especially at this early stage, affects your puppy’s future health.

At this stage, begin feeding puppies by spooning a little of the formula you have been using over the solid food just to get the puppies started. Offer solid food four times a day in small quantities and supervise your puppy’s eating to make sure he doesn’t choke or fall into the bowl. Discard uneaten food and put out fresh food the next time. Do not expect your puppy to immediately begin to gobble up this new food in spite of the fact that he seems to put everything else in his mouth. Puppies really love to nurse, so chewing may not appeal initially. For reluctant puppies, you might try putting a very small bit of the new solid food in his mouth and encouraging him cheerfully. If your puppy isn’t ready, don’t force him, but wait a few more days and try again.

As you introduce solid food when feeding puppies, it is also time to introduce water. Boiled and cooled or filtered water is safest for young puppies. Put your puppy’s water in a small, shallow bowl, not one deep enough for him to fall in, and keep it fresh. Alternately, start with a water bottle with a ball and drip spout affixed to the side of the puppy’s crate. Show him how to approach the water and have him take a few drops from your hand initially. Continue to introduce him to the water until he drinks on his own. Water is essential for non-nursing puppies.

Feeding Puppies: Introducing Puppies to Solid Food at About 6 to 8 Weeks

Make sure that feeding puppies is a positive, happy event. Remember that patience with training puppies yields cooperative and trusting adult dogs. By about 6 to 8 weeks, your puppy can be weaned off the formula and onto solid food. As your puppy grows, naturally, make the portions bigger, but remember, the idea is to support healthy growth, not a chronically plump little chowhound. Regular check ups with your vet will help you to ascertain if your puppy is attaining the proper weight.

As your puppy approaches his adult weight and size, reduce feedings to twice a day and remember to ask your vet when it’s time to either change to a junior food or to move on to adult food. As your puppy reaches adult size, he will need to eat less since he is growing less. Again, encourage growth in bone and muscle not fat. Once he’s reached his adult size he can only grow out, not up. If your puppy is overweight, see what to do if your puppy is overweight.

Kindness to your new puppy begins with nutrition and patience with feeding and builds trust for a lifetime.

Thumbnail: Photography ©WilleeCole | Thinkstock. 

This piece was originally published in 2009.

Need more guidance on choosing the right puppy food? Check out this guide to puppy food on Whole Dog Journal >>

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