Raw fed puppy

Rupert—my Lagotto Romagnolo, 8 weeks—being hugged by his breeder’s daughter, beautiful Tabitha

The best sort of puppy, the one with the healthiest start in life, is the one borne of and nurtured by a mother that has been brought up on raw food. The nutrients that the mother consumes will be the same as those ingested by the puppy via the mother’s milk for the first 2+ weeks of its life and even thereafter when ready for its first solids (at the 2–4 week mark — with appearance of the first milk teeth).

A raw feed dog will voluntarily regurgitate food that has just been consumed, specifically to feed her puppies. This will be pre-masticated, body warm and part digested, for the pups to devour in the security of the den (or whelping box). Interestingly, even where a breeder is offering solids direct to the pups, a dog may still vomit at the lactation stage, as a measure of evolutionary rearing. At about 6–8 weeks, a mother, if in the wild, will be normally be offering whole or part prey or other scavenged raw foods for consumption by her puppies — no more pre-digesting of foods for her puppies.

By the time an owner of a newly acquired puppy is brought home at 8–12 weeks (a puppy should not for a whole range of behavioural and dietary reasons, be removed from its litter before 8 weeks — and preferably not before 10 weeks) it will already be on solid foods. And in fact at this point, their raw diet will vary little to that of an adult dog.

The basics — A raw diet should always comprise four basic food groups: protein, fat, carbohydrate and vegetable. The explicit carbohydrate content (i.e. foods that are mostly carbs) will be comparatively small and be found in items such as grains, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoe and seeds. Even then, all carbs should be of a low glycemic index or GI to prevent ’sugar highs’ and ‘lows’. Its worth noting that dogs metabolise sugars and starch from meat and don’t need high carbohydrate foods. But as with humans, they do need dietary fibre, again in the form of vegetable matter, seeds and even in indigestible fibrous cereals like oats.

Whilst the diet between puppy and adult dog isn’t that different, the ratio of dietary components will vary with the different nutritional requirements of age or stage of growth, metabolism, exercise levels and reproductive status — just as it would for humans. But basically all this means is tweaking the various percentages of core foods:

— protein, in the form of muscle meat and offal (organ meat)

— carbohydrates (low GI), in the form of grains, fruits and vegetables

— fibre (indigestible matter), found in vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, oats, even animal hair, fur and bone, cartilage and tendons

— vegetables and fruits, such as peas, carrots, beetroot, apples.

Amounts — For puppies, the appropriate mix is 70–80% meat and offal, 10% vegetable and grains and 10% bone. Not that different to an adult dog — but with an emphasis on higher levels of protein and fats, as well as more concentrated vitamin and mineral content to keep pace with rapid growth of body tissues, organs and bones. But remember, balance doesn’t have to be achieved in every meal, just over the entire diet.

Bones are essential to development and should always be of the softer variety for young pups, chicken is ideal — whole frames, necks, legs. Turkey necks are also a valuable option. It is advisable to wait until after about 7–8 months to add softer bones of larger animals (and therefore larger bones), such as roo, sheep and goat — allowing for a full range of adult teeth to be in place (most puppies will have their adult teeth, usually all 42 of them, by this time).

Supplements — What about additional supplements and treats? Well, goat milk, goat yogurt and goat kefir are ideal. Goats milk is high in protein and packed with a good range of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. A desert spoon or less each meal. The only other ‘essential’ supplement at this age would be an omega oil blend, again NAS do one comprising cod liver, flaxseed, virgin olive and sunflower oils together with vitamin E (to offset vitamin E depletion with the consumption of fish oils). This blend provides a balanced ratio of omegas 3, 6 and 9. If feeding bones regularly, it’s probably unnecessary to add calcium supplements. But if not (and you really should be), NAS also have an organic calcium supplement, supporting healthy bone and teeth development in young (and old) dogs. It is an organic plant based calcium containing naturally-available zinc, magnesium, boron, iron and other nutrients.

How much — The norm for adult dogs, is to feed 2–3% of bodyweight each day. For puppies this is going to be higher, about 4–5%, maybe even up to 6–7% for larger breeds. Puppies grow pretty quickly and increase their weight just about daily, so you can’t use visual or touch cues (like a noticeable waist or ribs that can be clearly felt when you pass the back of your hand over them) as a measure of intake. You do need to weigh your dog regularly and adjust their meals accordingly. The easiest means to weigh your dog using a standard set of (accurate) scales, is to weigh yourself once and then again, the second time holding your dog in your arms — and subtract one from the other measurement. Up to three, even four, meals a day for the first 6–9 months. Two meals thereafter. When 20–24 months reduce to one meal a day.

Specifics — When it comes down to what specifically to feed your new puppy, I’d use a base of Vets All Natural (VAN) Complete Mix for Puppies — containing a little more yeast, calcium, kelp, barley grass, lecithin and vitamin C than the adult mix. The product needs to be soaked over about 12 hours or more (use filtered water), so mix enough for about a week and keep refrigerated.

To the VAN I’d add a spoonful of goat milk, kefir or yogurt. Only use goat — don’t substitute cow (too much lactose — which is basically sugar); and a measure of the NAS Omega oil blend. On top of this, I’d add the protein — the meat. As with adult dogs, most meats will work. Avoid beef, pork and non-organic free-range chicken. Never buy from a supermarket unless you can depend on the source and the purity; and remember to favour meats high in protein, such as kangaroo. There’s no harm and plenty of benefits, in also using fish for some meals, particularly sardines. All raw of course. For offal, source liver, heart and kidney from a meat market or butchers. Add a little to the meat component.

For regular vegetable and fibre content, It’d be a good idea to puree (in a blender) a mix of green and orange vegetable and keep in the fridge, to add to meals, a desert spoon each time.

That’s about it. You can of course, buy a commercial mix of raw meat, offal and bone (usually ground bone). Some of these commercial products are better — they use better source ingredients — than others. But for a new puppy, up to 18+ months of age, I’d rather rely on sourcing my own protein (meat), adding offal and bone separately. Remember, with raw feeding, whether adult dog or puppy — and I can’t stress this enough — you don’t need to balance each meal. You just need to balance the whole diet, which means that individual meals don’t have to contain exactly the same amounts of each of the main elements, meat, offal, vegetable. In fact they don’t have to contain these elements at all just as long as your puppy has a balanced intake overall.

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