As I write, my delightful little twin puppies, just under five weeks of age, are happily slopping up some minced turkey, egg and goat milk. Hopefully one puppy will stay to live with me and the other has a lovely home waiting for her where her new mom will feed her nothing but raw food. By the time these puppies go home, they will have eaten chicken, turkey, beef, pork, lamb, venison, rabbit and more and they will do so with little in the way of tummy upsets.
When you bring home a new puppy that was not raised on raw, it can be a bit trickier to get him started – although really not that difficult. There are just a few guidelines you need to follow to avoid digestive upset as your puppy transitions from kibble to raw food.
Before I start, I would like to address the issue that many people have with feeding large breed puppies raw. I’ve raised every litter and puppy in the last fifteen years on raw and have never had one of my puppies fail his hips and elbows. Yes, it is important to balance the calcium and phosphorus content in the food, but it’s easy to do with raw food – and in light of the dog foods that were recalled due to excesses of some nutrients, the ability to monitor the nutrients in raw food makes it a safer option than kibble in my opinion.
Here are a few tips for getting your puppy started on raw with a minimum of fuss – and minimal stains on your rugs!
- Start off cold turkey
It’s not wise to mix your puppy’s raw food with kibble. Because kibble requires a different pH in the gut to digest, it will make your puppy more susceptible to the bacteria in the raw meats. He is capable of handling this bacteria just fine, but once you add in artificial foods, the meat will sit in his digestive tract twice as long, meaning there is a much greater chance of harmful bacteria building up.
- Start with one protein source
Regardless of whether you are preparing your own raw or are using a prepared raw food, it is best to start with just one protein source, like chicken or turkey. Give that one protein for a good week and, if there are no signs of digestive upset, start your puppy on a second source of protein, and so on.
- Balance the calcium and phosphorus
This is fairly easy to do. If you view a turkey neck as a nice meaty bone, then your puppy’s diet should be half to two-thirds meaty bones and half to one-third meats and offal (organ meats). There is no magic formula and every puppy is a bit different. Despite what the kibble manufacturers say, it’s pretty easy to balance calcium and phosphorus and there is a wider margin of error when feeding raw. Calcium that comes in a synthetic powder is nearly impossible for a puppy to excrete, so excesses of calcium are more of a concern with synthetic products than with the naturally occurring calcium found in bones.
- Feed three times a day
Your puppy should eat three small meals a day until he is about six months of age – then he can eat twice a day and eventually once a day if you wish. This is especially important for small breed puppies as they can become hypoglycemic if meals are spread out too long.
- Feed 2-3% of his adult body weight
This is easier to determine if you have a purebred dog, but the amount you feed should be 2-3% of your puppy’s anticipated adult weight. If you’re not sure what that will be, then feed about 10% of his current weight. Watch to see if he gets too fat or too thin and adjust accordingly.
- Don’t overdo it with the offal
Liver and other organ meat can cause some pretty nasty loose stools in puppies who have never had them before. If your puppy is new to raw feeding, wait until you see a good two or more weeks of solid stools before you introduce organ meats. Then add them in gradually instead of feeding one giant meal of liver. Don’t skip the organ meats; they are important because they are full of nutrients not found in muscle meat.
- Don’t forget the supplements
Even if you’re feeding free range, organic meats, the earth is not what it used to be so your puppy will benefit from some supplementation. Supplements to consider include:
Fish or krill oil (a source of Omega-3 fats which are a good idea if the meat is not grass fed)
Coconut oil (antibacterial and antifungal)
Nutritional herbs (alfalfa, dandelion leaf, nettle and more)
Probiotics (soil based products are best and green tripe is an excellent natural source of probiotics and digestive enzymes)
Bovine colostrum (helps to build a strong immune system)
- Other important stuff
Make sure your puppy has plenty of fresh, non-chlorinated water. He should also have plenty of fresh air and exercise. Exercise for young puppies should not be forced walks – his growing joints will suffer less stress if you take him outside for short play or training sessions instead. Keep the walks short – about five minutes per month of age until he is about six months of age.
- Find a mentor or raw feeding chat group
You will find there are plenty of experienced dog owners who love to help. One day, you can return the favor and help another puppy owner realize how simple it is to raise puppies on raw!
My Favorite Meaty bones (50% to 65% of the diet)
Turkey tails and necks
Chicken backs and necks
Veal ribs and tails
Venison bones of any kind
Muscle Meats (35% to 50% of the diet)
From a variety of animals (includes heart and tongue)
Offal (10% of the diet)
Liver, kidneys, spleen, brain, lung
Balanced foods (feed often)
Eggs with shell
Whole animals (rabbit, quail, etc.)
Also includes fish but this should be fed less often, due to mercury exposure
Chicken feet and beef windpipes (good source of naturally occurring glucosamine and chondroitin)
Beef neck bones (a great chew that won’t break teeth)
Dana Scott breeds naturally reared Labrador Retrievers under the Fallriver prefix. You can visit Dana and her Labradors at www.fallriverlabs.com