If you have just had your first litter of puppies (so to speak) and you are wondering when and how to introduce your puppies to drinking water, then this is exactly what this article is all about.
This is an issue that confuses a lot of people and many mistakenly think that puppies should be introduced to drinking water far earlier than they need to be.
As I explain in the next section, for the first three weeks of their lives the puppies are getting everything that they need from their mother’s milk.
But before I really focus on puppies and water, I want to briefly mention the liquid needs of their mum: because in the initial few weeks, it is far more important to get these right.
Your (lactating) bitch needs you
My advice to you in these initial weeks is not to worry about your puppies’ access to water but do worry about their mum’s access to water.
She will need to drink huge amounts of it and make sure that it is always fresh and clean.
A lactating bitch (or a dog who is feeding her puppies) should be eating up to 25% extra food and she will probably increase what she drinks by well over 25% of her normal amount.
And don’t just think about lots and lots of fresh water.
Think about some kind of enriched supplement which can be added to their water, or goats milk, lactose free cow’s milk or chicken broth.
Can puppies drink water at 2 weeks old?
No. For the first three weeks of their lives all that any puppy needs is their mother’s milk. They will feed up to X a day just by sucking on one of their mother’s nipples.
Water and special puppy food can be introduced in week 4. This is called “weaning” because from this point on puppies aren’t just relying on their mother for food.
From about 3 weeks of age until 6 weeks of age, the puppies will have a mixture of puppy food (dry or canned) water and their mother’s milk.
At 6 weeks old, in an ideal world, you don’t want them drinking milk from their Mum. At this point nutritionally they no longer need it and most Mum’s will have had enough.
They will be sore and exhausted- their cute little babies are no longer quite as charming as they have nasty, sharp teeth which will really hurt if they try to drink.
Some puppies will push their luck and try to still feed from their Mum but hopefully she will be grumpy enough to tell them “no” in no uncertain terms.
When to give puppies water for the first time?
Puppies should first get water in week 4 as you are introducing them to solid food- well I say solid food but in reality the best way to introduce water to a 3 week old pup is to use it to soften the dry kibble.
The way that we have done it in the past is to boil some water in the kettle (and that sterilises it) , wait for the water to cool down until it is warm and then pour it over the kibble until the kibble has the consistency of mashed potato.
I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to wait until the water is warm and not hot- you have to really start preparations 10- 15 minutes before it is “feeding time”.
Then the soft kibble is ready to be given to the puppies.
The warm water has three advantages:
- You are introducing the puppies to water by stealth
- It makes the food softer and easier to eat,
- Adding warm water onto kibble makes it more appetising because it has a much stronger smell.
How long should you keep adding water to their food?
I would keep adding warm water to their kibble until they are at least 10 weeks old. At about ten weeks old they should be ready to eat dry kibble.
Now, some commentators say you can stop at 8 weeks, others say don’t stop adding water until they are 12 weeks old.
For the first couple of weeks or so I would keep the consistency the same- think slightly wetter than mashed potato and then you from week 6 to week 10 just add less water over time.
But be guided by your puppy or puppies. If they are eating the soft food faster than it can be put on a plate, then make it slightly drier, as this should slow down their consumption because they have to chew more.
What should I do if one of the puppies doesn’t eat the puppy mash?
For the first few days on introducing the puppy mash, from a litter of puppies you might have one or two that are just not interested in eating it.
This is fine, don’t worry about it too much.
However, if after three or four days the same puppies are still not refusing the mash, then it is time for an intervention.
I think that stage 1 of this intervention is to feed the puppy on its own. Separate it from the rest of the litter so it is away from all the hullabaloo and have some puppy mash on its own plate.
Some puppies are just overwhelmed by the noise and the chaos of a litter that is feeding.
If this calmer approach doesn’t do the trick, then place some of this mash on your fingertips and place it in front of the puppy’s nose and if that doesn’t work you can gently smear a small amount on its nose which will force it to lick it off.
I have never had a puppy that has needed any more prompting than this. I repeat these interventions for a few feeding sessions just to make sure that the puppy is eating enough and it is confident enough and then they are ready to join the eating melee with their littermates!
Should the puppies have a separate bowl of water?
Yes, even though the puppies will be getting enough water to keep them hydrated via the mash you should have a couple of plates of water available to them.
Plates? Yes because the lip on a proper dog bowl will be too high for most puppies.
Should I take the plates of water away?
Yes, take the plates of water away at the same time that you take the empty plates of food away- or a few minutes later at the most.
What should I do if the puppies just play with the water instead of drinking it?
For the first week or so, let them play with the water. They are getting enough water with their food in terms of hydration and so they don’t need the water for that purpose.
You are introducing them to a water bowl- although it is on a plate at the moment.
Part of getting used to something is to play with it and so relax and enjoy the circus! The good news is that they can’t make their living area any messier than it is after a feeding session.
Why can’t I just leave the water down all the time?
Any water bowls need to be taken away at the same time as the food plates are cleared because if the water is left in place it will very quickly get dirty and that increases the risk of infection.
After feeding, the puppies might have a manic session of charging around and they will not go around a plate of water but they will charge through it.
But even if the puppies don’t use it as part of an obstacle course, it is still too dangerous to leave it down because they might also pee or poop in or near it.
What should I do if my puppy gags or chokes?
From week 6 to week 10 as you transition your puppies onto slightly drier food, you might have a couple of choking episodes.
Mercifully these are done and dusted within seconds, and in my experience they happen for two reasons.
Firstly, a puppy will gag if the food is too dry for them. They haven’t learned to chew it as much as it needs and so it is still too big to swallow.
If your puppy was eating the food at a reasonable speed and this happens just make the puppy mash slightly wetter once more as perhaps you made it too dry too soon.
Secondly, puppies that like to wolf their food down can also sometimes “gag” and the thing to do with these puppies is to give them their portion of food bit by bit, so that they eat slower.
When should a puppy have access to a water bowl all of the time?
Ideally, you want to give your puppy constant access to water throughout the day from about week 8.
This is the time when three important things are happening. Firstly, most litters will start to go to their new homes around this point and so the environment will become a lot calmer.
With fewer puppies cavorting around your house, a water bowl is less likely to become a prop in a crazy game and more likely to be used as a place to quietly get a drink when they need one.
Secondly, as the kibble mash that they are eating becomes drier, puppies will need to drink extra water to make sure that they are hydrated enough.
And thirdly, as a puppy’s awareness and bladder control grows, poop and pee is not randomly dotted around the house and so there is less risk of any water getting polluted.
Why do puppies need access to fresh and clean water?
Did you know that up to 60% of an adult dog’s body is made up of water- which is the same as humans?
And so it makes sense that dog’s of all ages need access to water because water is life.
And the reason that dogs need access to fresh and clean water is because it is far less likely to have any dangerous germs in it which will keep a puppy safer.
And dogs will drink more water if it is fresh because they can be funny about drinking water- such as not drinking water that isn’t their own.
Are there germs in a dog’s water bowl?
I can hear you saying that is all well and good but we are talking about a dog’s water bowl here and not a glass of water.
What harm is there in a bit of grubby water in my puppy’s water bowl every now and again? Well apparently quite a lot.
A study has found out that a dog’s water bowl can contain some big hitting germs such as e. coli, salmonella and MRSA.
Which is worrying enough but on top of that these germs can be transmitted between dogs and their owners? I kid you not.
What material should the water bowl be made out of?
The same study found out that some materials are a lot safer to use in dog’s water bowls than others.
Germs thrive more in ceramic or plastic bowls than they do in stainless steel bowls, I suspect because ceramic or plastic bowls are easier to scratch, mark and scar and it is in these places that germs hide….
Which leads us to our final question, which is…
How do I clean a puppy’s water bowl properly?
Just rinsing out your puppy’s bowl with clean or hot water just doesn’t cut it.
You need to use antibacterial dish soap and hot water….
I hope that you have enjoyed reading this article about a puppy’s relationship with water as much as I have enjoyed writing it!
If you have any questions or wonderful stories to tell about very young puppies and water, please let me know.