Growth, a key stage

From birth through weaning

In a few weeks the puppy can develop from being both blind and deaf, to a fully weaned, energetic puppy, capable of socialising and becoming integrated into a new family environment in your home. 


Giving birth

Birth occurs after an average gestation period of 63 days. A week before, the bitch begins to nest; she may go in search of a quiet place or she may seek the reassurance of her master’s company. At birth, the amniotic sac holding the puppy appears within twelve hours after her waters have broken. If the amniotic membrane has not been torn open over the new pup, the mother will usually do this within the first minute following expulsion. She severs the umbilical cord and licks the newborn’s chest, stimulating his first breaths. Expulsion of the next puppy then follows in succession at intervals of a few minutes to half an hour.

The puppy’s nervous development is not complete at birth. He is born deaf, blind, and with a very poor sense of smell; he also has a poorly myelinized nervous system, which is unable to quickly convey sensory impulses, and consequently movements are slow. The mother pushes her puppies towards her teats so that they may suckle the colostrum. This first milk is essential for their immunity. Besides its nutritive value – it has a much higher protein content than milk – it supplies them with 95% of the antibodies necessary for their protection from infections. The mother thus passes on passively her "immunological memory" to her puppies; these antibodies protect the puppy for a period of five to seven weeks, until their own immune system develops further.

The first days

During the first weeks, the puppies are groomed by their mother. Licking the puppies’ abdomens also stimulates their defecation and urination reflexes. The puppies feed from their mother about twenty times a day. They react only to tactile stimuli and are drawn towards sources of heat, and thus their mother, by crawling. Eyelid opening occurs between the 10th and the 15th day of age. Deciduous teeth appear from the 20th day of age.

Around the 4th week of age, they begin to hear and to react to noises. This is the beginning of the exploratory period during which they start to play, get attached to their mother and recognize the identity of their fellow puppies. The breeder can then begin to take advantage of the moments when the puppies are awake to get them used to human presence, play with them and handle them gently.

The socialization period extends from the 3rd to the 9th week of age. During this period the puppies gradually become able to communicate and develop the sense of hierarchy by interpreting maternal reprimands, olfactory and postural signs. The puppy must get used to the various stimuli he will encounter throughout life in this socialisation period: loud noises, smells, new individuals... and become familiar with the individuals he will have to mix.


Lactation lasts six weeks on average after giving birth, with a maximum peak of production around three weeks of age. During this period, it is important to feed the mother with a highly palatable, energy dense food, that will provide all the nutrients and energy she needs without having to eat huge volumes. The quantity of milk produced by a bitch may be estimated by regularly weighing the puppies before and after their feeds. It can thus be estimated that a 32-kg Labrador bitch feeding eight puppies will produce 2.4 times her own weight in milk to raise her litter!

During the following weeks, the declining milk production prompts the mother to regurgitate food to supplement the puppies’ feeds, as they are beginning to become interested in their mother’s bowl. This marks the beginning of weaning that will end between the sixth and the eighth week of age with the complete switch to a suitable growth food. Like any dietary transition, weaning must be a gradual process giving a smooth change from milk to formulated diet. The puppies’ nutritional requirements at weaning are similar to their mother’s at the end of lactation (i.e. during the period where she is building up her reserves). This means the breeder can feed the same diet to both mother and pups, mixed with lukewarm water or formula milk to make a porridge. As the puppies develop, less and less liquid should be added to the diet, to make the consistency firmer and firmer, ready to switch onto the next stage diet kibbles.


The puppy’s first steps

Already trusting, already close, the puppy is ready to share and receive anything his owner will be willing to give him. Knowing well his needs to preserve his health is man’s first duty. Nutrition, synonymous with health, disease prevention, protection of the body, is an essential component of his vitality.

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