It’s All in the… Mouth?

As the wolf pups grow, their bodies change rapidly. At almost a month old, it’s incredible how different the eldest pups look in comparison to their week-younger counterparts. At this age, not only do they get larger, but their ears stand up, their eye color begins to turn from blue to amber, and their body proportions even out so they aren’t so head-heavy. Of all these developments, some of the most important changes happening now are the hardest to see.

Wolves are extremely tactile, but without the gift of opposable thumbs, they rely on their mouths rather than their paws to get the most out of their sense of touch. In a single day, they can use their mouths to eat, drink, groom, play, howl, and even kill. Most of these uses will serve a wolf throughout its life, but one is only beneficial at a very young age.

Nursing requires an incredible ability to suck, and a wolf pup’s mouth is expertly outfitted to do the job. They are born without teeth, and their tongues are excessively wide, allowing them to create quite a bit of suction. To ensure that minimal milk is lost in the nursing process, pups are equipped with marginal papillae, a unique tool that assists in closing potential gaps in the pup's mouth while it nurses. These papillae are only visible up-close, resembling tiny, feather-like fringes on the edge of the tongue. As the pups shift from an all-liquid diet to one that is more meat-based, the papillae are no longer beneficial, and they disappear as part of the development process.

A change that's much easier to see (and feel!) is the eruption of teeth! Tiny milk incisors have been present for a while, but the rest of the baby teeth are now on their way. Canines and premolars are just starting to come in, making things far more interesting for our puppy nannies. Suckling on anything and everything is a comfort to the pups, and while this was a very sweet way to bond early on, it's becoming more painful every day! The pups will retain these teeth through their first whole prey item meals, until they loose them between four and six months old. It's rare to find pup teeth when they fall out, but every once in a while a stray tooth ends up in someone's clothing!