Soaking Puppy Food in Water or Replacement Milk

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All babies, both human and animal, start their lives taking nutrition from their mothers. They aren’t born with the skills or knowledge to feed themselves, but they develop them overtime. While you may not be your puppy’s biological mother, you’ll certainly be taking over that role by bringing him into your family.

As your puppy’s caretaker, it’s your responsibility to make sure he’s properly fed. Depending how old the puppy is when you take him in, you may need to make some adjustments to his diet to make it more palatable and easier to digest. Soaking your puppy’s food for a few weeks while his adult teeth grow in may be necessary.

Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of soaking puppy food and how to do it.

Before we get going, you may also be interested in our article the Best Puppy Foods you can buy in 2022.

Why Should You Soak Puppy Food?

Puppies aren’t born with teeth and all they know for the first few weeks of life is suckling from their mother. Around three weeks of age, puppies are ready to start sampling solid food and they should be completely weaned by the time they are four to six weeks old.

During the transition onto solid food, it’s a good idea to soak the food. Here’s why:

  1. Soaking the food gives it a more liquid consistency for puppies to lap up while their teeth are still developing.
  2. Soaking puppy food makes it easier to digest and less likely to cause digestive upset.
  3. Soaking the food increases the moisture content to make sure your puppy stays hydrated.
  4. Soaking puppy food in milk replacer vs. water can boost your puppy’s intake of calories and key nutrients.
  5. Soaking the food makes it expand prior to consumption so your puppy doesn’t become overfull.
On the whole, soaking puppy food makes it easier to eat and to digest. When your puppy is just getting used to a diet of solid food, it’s important to make the transition as seamless as possible.

How to Soften Puppy Food

The process of softening puppy food is fairly simple – you literally just soak it in liquid. That being said, you have different options which liquid to choose, and there are a few tips to follow to get it right.

Regardless which liquid you choose, puppy food should be soaked for about 10 to 15 minutes. Place your puppy’s portion in a bowl then pour the liquid over it. Let it soak until is softened then give it quick stir before offering it to your puppy.

The liquid you choose to soak your puppy’s food is up to you, though each option comes with its own benefits. Here are a few options to consider:

  1. Water – This is the simplest option for soaking puppy food. Water is an essential part of a dog’s diet at any age because it supports hydration. Mixing water with your puppy’s food not only softens it to make it easier to eat, but it helps keep your puppy hydrated as well.
  2. Milk Replacer – Some puppies are more resistant to weaning than others because they haven’t gotten used to the smell or taste of solid food. In cases like these, mixing the puppy food with milk replacer could be a good option. Milk replacer may also be recommended for puppies who could use a boost of calories or nutrients, often because they aren’t feeding well or growing quickly enough.
  3. Broth – Another option for soaking puppy food is broth. If your puppy doesn’t need the extra calories of milk replacer but water-soaked food isn’t appealing, broth might work. Just be sure to choose a broth with no sodium added. You might even consider bone broth over traditional broth for the added protein content and digestive benefits. Just be mindful of the mineral content and any added ingredients.

As an alternative to soaking kibble, consider feeding your puppy wet food. 

According to the experts at Dog Food Advisor, wet dog food tends to be higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than dry food. This could make it a more appropriate choice for growing puppies. Plus, it’s already soft and has plenty of moisture in it.

If you’re worried that canned food might ruin your puppy’s teeth, don’t. There is little scientific evidence to suggest that dry food is any better than wet food in keeping your dog’s teeth clean. 

Dr. Jonathan Block, DVM, told The Farmer’s Dog the following:

There is no evidence-based research that supports the claim that eating kibble helps prevent dental disease. Wild carnivores chew on bones, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage that help strip the teeth of debris. Intuitively, it seems to make sense that the abrasive nature of kibble may provide a similar dental benefit, but this is unproven.

The best way to protect your puppy’s dental health is to get into the habit of brushing his teeth while he’s still young and more likely to accept it.

When Should You Stop Soaking Puppy Food?

You should soften your puppy’s food as long as necessary, but how do you know when to stop soaking puppy food? Most puppies only need their food to be softened for a few weeks until their teeth fully grow in. Experts generally recommend soaking the food during weeks three and four, though some puppies may need softened food up to the age of twelve weeks.

Now that you have a better idea why you might want to consider soaking puppy food and how to do it, let’s dive into the details about feeding a puppy.

First, we’ll talk about what you should be feeding your puppy in different life stages and then we’ll talk about how much and how often.

What Should You Be Feeding a Puppy?

Studies show that proper nutrition is essential for dogs in all life stages. Puppies subsist entirely on their mother’s milk for the first few weeks of life but will begin to experiment with solid food around three weeks of age. Whether you’re hand-raising a litter of puppies yourself or caring for a newly adopted puppy who is already weaned, it’s helpful to be familiar with the nutritional needs of puppies of all ages.

Here’s what you need to know about feeding puppies up to 12 months:

  • Age 0-3 Weeks – Newborn puppies feed every two to four hours. While some puppies may need some encouragement to feed at first, they typically get the hang of it and don’t require any outside help. If the mother is unable to nurse the puppies sufficiently for any reason, you may need to feed the puppies by bottle with milk replacer. Be sure to talk to your vet about the proper formula and how much/how often to feed them.
  • Age 3-4 Weeks – Around three weeks of age, puppies should be introduced to solid food as part of the weaning process. Keep in mind that puppies have only begun to develop teeth at this point, so the food should be very soft. It may take up to six weeks for their teeth to fully grow in. During the weaning process, it’s a good idea to feed the puppies wet food or to soak dry food in warm water. Soaking puppy food in milk replacer could be an option if the puppies aren’t putting on weight quickly enough. Mixing water and milk is an option as well.
  • Age 4 to 8 Weeks – By the time a puppy reaches four weeks of age, he should be fully weaned onto solid food. Again, the teeth may not fully grow in until six weeks, so soft foods are still recommended at this time. Keep an eye on your puppy’s dental development and start introducing more solid foods once the teeth grow in.
  • Age 8-12 Weeks – After eight weeks of age, your puppy should be able to handle commercial puppy food. If you’ve just gotten a new puppy from a breeder or rescue, it’s a good idea to keep him on the same diet he’s used to. Puppies have sensitive digestive systems and changing their diet too quickly could result in gastrointestinal upset with unpleasant symptoms like diarrhea.
    If you want to change your puppy’s diet because you can’t afford the food the breeder gave him (or for any other reason), do so over a period of about two weeks. Start by adding a few pieces of the new food to your puppy’s regular diet and gradually increase the ratio of new food to old food over time. If you start when you bring your puppy home at eight weeks, he should be fully transitioned by three months.
  • Age 3 to 12 Months – While puppy’s experience their most rapid rate of growth during the first few weeks, most continue to grow for 12 months – sometimes more. Experts suggest that toy and small-breed puppies may reach their adult size by six months of age while large and giant breeds may develop for 12 to 18 months.

Puppies require a diet rich in protein and calories to fuel their growth and development. DHA is essential for healthy brain development and puppies require an adequate balance of calcium and phosphorus to grow strong bones. Commercial puppy foods are properly formulated to meet the nutritional needs of growing puppies, so choose a high-quality recipe made with whole-food ingredients.

soaking puppy food

How Often Should You Feed a Puppy?

Puppies need to be fed more often than adult dogs to sustain their rapid growth. Up to the age of four months, you should be feeding your puppy about four meals per day. From there, you can reduce to three meals per day. By the time your puppy hits six months of age, two daily meals should be sufficient.

While most dogs do just fine on two daily meals, very active dogs may require a midday meal or a diet that is denser in calories.

Veterinary experts use the Body Condition Score (BSC) as an objective method to determine if pets are at a healthy weight. There are two recognized versions of the BSC, one is a 5-point scale and the other a 9-point scale. Both scales offer visual guides for the ideal weight of dogs and cats as well as visual guides for pets that are underweight or overweight.

Using a combination of the BSC and your vet’s record of your dog’s bodyweight, you can easily determine whether your dog’s current diet is sufficient to maintain a healthy bodyweight. If your dog is consistently underweight, add a third daily meal or increase the calorie content of his diet.

How Many Calories Does a Puppy Need?

Consistent intake of protein and calories is important for puppies, but their actual calorie needs may vary from one breed to another. The National Research Council (NRC) suggests a 10-pound puppy with an expected adult weight of 33 pounds requires about 990 calories per day.

While individual calorie needs may vary, the following chart from the Animal Medical Center of Chicago may help you get a feel for your puppy’s calorie needs as he grows:

Bodyweight in Pounds Puppy (Up to 4mos.) Puppy (Over 4mos.)
2 194 kcal 129 kcal
4 330 kcal 220 kcal
6 447 kcal 298 kcal
8 552 kcal 368 kcal
10 654 kcal 436 kcal
12 750 kcal 500 kcal
14 840 kcal 560 kcal
16 930 kcal 620 kcal
18 1,017 kcal 678 kcal
20 1,098 kcal 732 kcal
25 1,299 kcal 866 kcal
30 1,491 kcal 994 kcal
35 1,674 kcal 1,116 kcal
40 1,848 kcal 1,232 kcal
45 2,019 kcal 1,346 kcal

For the most part, it’s not necessary to track your puppy’s calorie intake. Choosing a nutritionally complete commercial puppy food and giving your puppy at least three meals a day should be sufficient.

If you’re concerned about growth, you can try free feeding. Most puppies will eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. If your puppy starts to gain too much weight, you can always switch back to portioned daily meals.

Wrapping Up

Soaking puppy food is recommended during the first three to four weeks of age, but after that you can make your own decision. Keep an eye on your puppy’s teeth as they grow in and experiment with unsoaked food to see how he does with it. You can also slowly wean your puppy off the softened food by adding a little less liquid each time or by mixing unsoaked pieces into the mixture.

Just as important as making sure your puppy’s food is palatable and easy to eat is ensuring that it is properly balanced. Again, we recommend nutritionally complete commercial puppy foods because they are formulated to meet your puppy’s nutritional needs.

When choosing puppy food, look for a reputable brand that uses high-quality ingredients. Check the label to make sure a quality source of animal protein is listed as the first ingredient and avoid products that seem to be overly carb-heavy or loaded with fillers like corn, wheat, and soy.

With a healthy diet and your veterinarian’s support, your puppy will grow up happy and healthy. Best of luck to you and your new furry friend!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should you soak puppy food in water? – Yes, for at least the first three to four weeks of life. Soaking puppy food softens it to make it more appealing to puppies who are used to drinking their mother’s milk. It also makes it easier to digest.
  • Can I soak my puppy’s food overnight? – You can, but it generally isn’t necessary to soak puppy food for more than 20 minutes. If the mixture is still too solid, add more liquid. If your puppy leaves any liquid leftover, add a few more pieces of kibble and store it in the refrigerator overnight for feeding the next day.
  • What do you soak puppy food in? – The easiest thing to soak puppy food in is water. If your puppy doesn’t find the mixture appealing, however, you could try using bone broth or milk replacer instead.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

  1. Kerns, Nancy (2019) Editor of Whole Dog Journal – Soaking Dry Dog Food in Water 
  2. Coates, Jennifer DVM – How many Calories a Day Does a Puppy Need?
  3. Alt, Kimberly (Reviewed By: Dr JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM) – How Much To Feed A Puppy By Weight And Puppy Feeding Chart

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