I had mentioned in my column of April 10, 2022 that the first two questions with which veterinarians are mostly confronted when there is a new and first-time acquisition of a pet to a caregiver’s forever home are:
1. How do we toilet train our pup/kitten?
2. What do we feed the new member of the family?
Over the last two weeks, we dealt at length with the issue of potty training. Today we shall begin with the puppy feeding protocol (and when I say puppy, I mean kitten as well, unless I particularly and specifically refer to kittens).
The young pup should be sucking its mother until it is 3-4 weeks old. It is extremely important for the pup to consume its mother’s milk for the first 3 days of its existence.
I use the “rule of thumb”, which advises that the pup should not be introduced to solid food until about two weeks after its eyes are open. [Note that the puppy’s eyelids are closed until 12-14 days have passed. Please do not try to pry the eyelids open].
When the puppy is just over a month old, you may commence offering the puppy solids. Small quantities of a minced meat mixed up with a bit of rice or bread can be introduced. I know the new science is advising that we should keep milk and dairy products away from dogs. I will not contradict those scientists (not least with those who may be associated with commercial dog food producers), but, at an early age, dogs have been given milk (which has a balanced nutritive value) with no obvious deleterious effects, and even thereafter.
The introduction to solid food, as with babies, is a messy and often comical affair. Pups would walk into the bowl and scatter the contents all over the floor – not really knowing how to handle this new food container. I advise that you lift each pup and position its mouth into the bowl.
Optimally, each pup should have its own bowl. For large litters, this may not be practicable, but once the smartest (and perhaps the hungriest) pup understands the routine, and how to get at the food in the bowl, the others would follow.
I should also mention that, at 4 weeks of age, the puppy’s teeth are getting sharp, and they can injure the mother’s nipples. She herself would keep the pups away. However, some mothers, with a great maternal instinct, would accept the pain and continue to nurse their pups. You have to help the mothers, by removing the pups and introducing them to the partially-solid food in the bowl. Conventional wisdom has it that the puppies can be removed from the mother at 6-8 weeks of age. Common sense must, however, override conventional wisdom. A litter of ten healthy and hyperactive pups can be very stressful on the mother. She may experience rapid weight loss, and her breasts and nipples may become sore and inflamed. At this early stage of the puppies’ lives, we hesitate to treat the mother with antibiotics – topically to the nipples, orally, or by injection. The suckling puppies would ingest the antibiotics directly from the treated nipples, or indirectly from the milk. This would interfere with the building of natural immunity to the environmental microbes, the growth of microflora in the gut, and the supply of antibodies in the mother’s milk. Do keep a watchful eye on the mother’s well-being in determining when to introduce the semi-solid foods.
Within the context of breast feeding, I will share with you my doubts relative to advertisements of chemicals with fancy scientific-sounding names, which the producers promote as being better than what nature provides. I recall that, during my Africa days, there were advertisements of a huge child food conglomerate advising mothers that its manufactured product was better than mother’s milk for their babies. This thrust was conducted globally, not only in developing countries. When the WHO called the company into question for false advertisement, it quickly changed its advertising text to “Next to mother’s milk, our product is the best”, a slogan which was also questionable.
Please note that, at 3 weeks of age, the puppies should be dewormed. At 6 weeks of age (at just about the time when you are preparing to give away/sell the puppies, and the first vaccination and second deworming have been administered), the pups can leave your home and their mother. The new caregiver would be expected to continue with the deworming/ vaccination schedule determined by the veterinarian.
Next week we will pay special attention to special feeding protocols for young animals.