Puppies. They bring a smile to the faces of everyone who sees them. Adorable, playful, and energetic, puppies offer us unconditional love, make us laugh, and entertain us with their antics. In honor of National Puppy Day (March 23rd), I want to share with you an easy way you can return some of that unconditional love to your puppy, while at the same time giving them a healthy foundation as they grow into adults. What is that something, you ask? It’s simple: feed them the way nature intended—with a species-appropriate raw food diet.
Raw Feeding Puppies
Providing puppies with a varied, balanced, raw diet is one of the best ways you can help them grow up to be strong, healthy, thriving dogs. Conversely, when you feed them a processed food diet, you start them on the path to chronic health issues as an adult, because the ingredients, toxins, and even cooking process in the kibble cause inflammation, rob them of vital digestive enzymes, and throw off their gut flora. Furthermore, because kibble contains too much fat and protein for puppies, not to mention synthetic calcium, it can cause fast, uneven growth and interfere with the absorption of vitamins. Raw diets, on the other hand, have the right amounts of fats and proteins, and the natural calcium in them doesn’t interfere with the absorption of other nutrients. If a puppy eats too much natural calcium (i.e. bone), they just eliminate it through their stool. They can’t do this as easily with synthetic calcium, which can lead to major health issues.
For the purposes of this discussion, when I use the term “puppy,” I’m referring to a dog that is anywhere from 8 weeks to 1 year. Believe it or not, feeding puppies a raw diet at these ages is actually pretty similar to feeding an adult dog a raw diet, but there are some differences to keep in mind (for more about why raw diets are so important and for information about how to switch adult dogs to a raw diet, please see my post HERE or visit my website at http://www.rawpetsthrive.com).
How Much To Feed
Essentially, dogs that are less than a year old don’t require any special ingredients, special proteins, or special levels of calcium. In fact, they require the same amounts of calcium and phosphorous as adult dogs do. However, whereas adult dogs should be fed approximately 2.5–3% of their ideal weight per day, puppies need more. If you know what your puppy’s ideal adult weight is, you should feed them about 3% of that weight each day. If you have no idea what their ideal adult weight will be, then you should aim to feed them about 10% of their current weight. Keep in mind that puppies can grow rapidly, so if you’re feeding them 10% of their current weight, you’ll need to monitor their weight and adjust the amount you’re feeding as needed. Also, when they go through growth spurts, puppies might need to eat more than their usual amount–sometimes even twice as much! If they seem overly hungry, it’s fine to feed them an extra meal.
How Often To Feed
Your puppy’s age will help dictate how frequently you need to feed them each day. In general, if they’re less than 4 months, they’ll need 4 meals per day. For example, if your puppy is estimated to be 50 pounds as an adult, they would need about 1.5 pounds per day. So, you would give them .375 pounds of food at each meal. If it’s easier, you can convert this to ounces: .375 pounds converts to 6 ounces, so you would plan to feed your puppy about 6 ounces of food at each of their 4 meals. Between 4 and 6 months, most puppies will do well on 3 meals per day. So, for our puppy that’s estimated to weigh 50 pounds as an adult, divide the 1.5 pounds you feed them each day into 3 meals, and feed them .5 pounds (or 8 ounces) at each meal. From 6 months to 1 year, most puppies thrive on 2 meals per day, so you would feed your puppy .75 pounds at each meal, or 12 ounces. Of course, these are just general guidelines; if your puppy starts vomiting bile, you may need to give them an extra meal. If they aren’t finishing their meals but they’re losing weight, add in another meal to create smaller portions that they can finish in one sitting. If they aren’t finishing their meals but they are maintaining weight, you can take out one of the meals. Also, unlike adult dogs, puppies should never be fasted.
Let Your Puppy Guide You
By watching your puppy and paying attention to their eating habits, you’ll be able to make sure you’re giving them what they need. If, for example, they don’t finish all their food for a few meals, consider reducing how much you’re feeding them. If they seem really hungry or vomit bile, add another meal to their daily regimen. Also, as they grow, pay attention to how they look to help ensure they maintain a healthy weight. Contrary to popular belief, puppies shouldn’t be fat, but neither do you want them too skinny. As they start to get closer to adulthood, watch to make sure they have an abdominal tuck, that their waist tapers just before their hips, and that you can feel their ribs, but not see them, unless they have a very short coat.
The Raw Diet Itself
So, what does a raw meal for a puppy look like? Pretty much the same as it would for an adult dog, with adjustments made for the smaller size of your puppy. You might give your puppy a little bit of liver, gizzard, heart, and a chicken drumstick in one meal, then give them ground chicken and a little bit of green tripe, which is loaded with probiotics and digestive enzymes, along with other benefits, at the next meal. Remember, just like adult dogs, they should get organs, bones, and muscle meats, with about 80% of their diet coming from muscle meat, 10% coming from bone, 5% coming from liver, and 5% coming from non-liver, secreting organs (these ratios are over the course of a week—they don’t have to be balanced this way for each meal).
Types Of Raw Foods
You can feed your puppy grinds, chunks (parts of a whole carcass that are big enough they don’t try to gulp them), or whole prey. Remember, their mouths are smaller and they don’t yet have their adult teeth, so they might not be able to get through the bones an adult dog would. In general, whole raw fish, chicken, duck, and rabbit are doable for puppies to gnaw through. Turkey, lamb, goat, and pork might be more than they can get through until their adult molars (carnassials) come in, but they’ll still enjoy gnawing on the bones and ripping off what meat they can. Providing a variety of proteins and food types–grinds, chunks, or whole prey–will help ensure your puppy gets all the nutrients they need and enjoys the mental and physical stimulation that comes from learning how to eat different foods.
“Reading” The Stool
Just like with adult dogs, you can watch your puppy’s stool to make sure they’re getting the right ratios of meat, bones, and organs. You want the stool to be firm but moist. If you’re feeding too much bone, their stool will be powdery. If you’re feeding too much organ, their stool will be tarry and very dark.
Your Puppy And Bones
Even though they’re young, puppies still get lots of benefits out of eating bones. Of course, it’s vital that you only give them raw bones—cooked bones are brittle and can splinter, severely damaging the stomach and/or digestive tract. Bones are good for dental health and help your puppy naturally exercise their jaw muscles and bones. They also provide great mental stimulation. Remember what they say: “A sleepy puppy is a good puppy.” Spending mental and physical energy to gnaw through a bone will make your puppy sleepy!
To keep your puppy’s bone-eating experiences safe, make sure the bones you offer are size-appropriate. The bones should be larger than their mouths so they don’t swallow them whole. Also, make sure there’s still meat attached to the bone, so your puppy is forced to slow down a bit while they tear the meat off the bone. Finally, if your puppy is trying to gulp bones down at lightspeed, you can feed the bone fully or partially frozen. This will force them to eat more slowly. When puppies are young, they’re hungry, so they’ll try to eat as fast as possible. Following these simple guidelines will help keep them safe while teaching them how to eat bones appropriately.
Transitioning Your Puppy To Raw
If your puppy was on a processed-food diet, you will need to transition them to raw. This is usually a relatively quick and simple process, since they haven’t built up the toxins in their system that adult dogs have. For puppies, it’s a good idea to wait 4–5 hours from their last kibble meal, then feed them their first raw meal. Lots of people find that chicken is a great protein to start with. Stick to the same protein until their stools are normal, then you can start introducing variety (other proteins, organs, and so on).
To give your puppy the best chance at optimal vitality, it’s of the utmost importance to feed them a raw diet. Nutrition is the foundation of good health, and providing that strong platform early in life will help set them up for a lifetime of vitality and thriving.
-By Kristin Clark, MA, CSAN
Editor-in-Chief, Raw Pet Digest
Founder, Raw Pets Thrive Movement