Feeding raw food to puppies from 8 weeks into adulthood can seem like a daunting task. But it isn’t as complicated as you may think. With a few tips you can make your puppy’s meals healthy, interesting and fun!
But first, let me share an important fact with you …
A raw diet doesn’t need to be a special puppy diet at all!
So-called puppy diets are a marketing ploy by the kibble industry. It’s a way for commercial dog food companies to sell more food by telling us dogs need special phased diets at different stages of their lives.
So, while the information I’m going to share is about puppies, you can follow the same guidelines for adult dogs too.
Diets For Health Issues
My advice below assumes your dog doesn’t have any health problems that need a special diet. If your dog does have an illness that needs dietary support, you should find a knowledgeable and trusted professional to help you.
I don’t recommend looking for dietary quick fixes on Facebook or Google. And I don’t recommend prescription diets either. Especially because most of them have really poor-quality ingredients.
Look at it this way …
You don’t go to the supermarket and buy yourself ready-made meals for diabetes, kidney disease or cancer. You get an individualized plan from a nutritionist or dietitian. It’s the same principle for your dog.
Now, getting back to feeding healthy puppies, starting at 8 weeks old …
Why Your Puppy Needs Variety
Let’s go back to Mother Nature and the wild for a moment …
In the wild the puppies get whatever food their mother can find. It might be a wild rabbit she hunted, or even a scavenged burger from a bin! The puppies would eat these foods. And usually thrive, as long as they didn’t have any underlying health issues … like parasites.
Puppies do fine eating like this. So why the heck are we as a society allowing ourselves to become a marketer’s dream?
It’s more important to offer a wide variety of foods at an early age. This helps ensure you’re not promoting any food reactivity (intolerances, allergies). And it gets your puppy used to different eating experiences and choices.
How To Choose Pre-Made Raw Food For Your Puppy
If you’re not confident enough to feed your puppy using your own recipe, that’s okay. In that case, I would suggest buying a pre-made complete raw food for your puppy. I’m going into a bit of detail about this. You shouldn’t just assume the food gives your puppy what she needs.
Check the label on the food carefully. And make sure you understand the regulatory descriptions wherever you live … because they’re different everywhere.
In the US, “complete and balanced” means it has everything in it your dog needs. This means it meets AAFCO standards – the Association of American Feed Control Officials. If it doesn’t, it will say “for intermittent or supplemental feeding only.” In that case, you’ll need to add some ingredients to reach balance.
A “complete” raw diet is usually minced or ground meat, organs and bone with added veggies and fats.
But many pre-made raw diets use the 80/10/10 (meat/organ/bone) model of feeding.
I don’t consider this a complete meal. Other foods are also important …
Add some of these ingredients to your dog’s pre-made food for extra nutrition. To help you with amounts, check out the Raw Food Shopping List For Puppies I’ve provided in the DIY Raw Feeding section below!
Research The Food You Buy
I’m a real stickler about balance! If a raw dog food claims it’s complete and balanced, it should be balanced on a caloric basis … not a dry matter basis. (Dry matter basis means without the moisture. And it should meet or exceed the minimum standards from AAFCO or FEDIAF (stringent European pet food standards).
There are many different types of raw sold as “complete and balanced.” My issue with this is, how do we actually know that everything they say is in the food is actually in it? And how do we know if there is enough of every nutrient?
I recommend you ask the manufacturer for a breakdown of the nutrients in their products. That way you’ll know if the recipe meets your new pup’s requirements. When you ask the company to share the nutritional breakdown of the food, it should include a list of nutrients like …
… to name just a few.
Why Variety Matters With Pre-Made Raw Diets
I’m strict about balance … and variety too.
Let’s say a brand has a range of only four proteins, such as beef, lamb, chicken, and duck. But your puppy only likes or tolerates beef and chicken. That means he’s only getting two proteins.
Feeding a wide range of proteins is ideal. If the food isn’t balanced, it could create nutritional imbalance or even a health problem over time.
One solution to this is to feed different brands. That way your puppy gets different formulas with a wider range of nutrients.
Supplementing Pre-Made Raw Food For Puppies
In my Facebook group, I often see questions like …
“I’ve just gotten a new puppy. How many sardines can I add to his food?”
My answer is …
“That depends on the other ingredients – and on why you’re adding sardines.”
Maybe you want to add sardines to make sure your pup is getting enough omega-3. If so … first you need to know how much omega-3 is in the food. You don’t need to add anything else if it meets the recommended minimum standards set by AAFCO or FEDIAF … unless it’s for your dog’s eating experience.
If the food falls short on vitamin D3 or omega-3 fats, for example, then by all means, add some sardines.
DIY Raw Food For Your Puppy
What if you prefer DIY raw meals for your dog?
That’s great! When it comes to DIY raw food, my experience tells me that nourishing puppies using “balance over time” works best!
This means that you don’t feed a balanced meal every day. Instead you feed a variety of foods that will cover all of the nutritional bases over, let’s say, two weeks. (It’s very much the way that we feed ourselves. (I doubt you measure out the nutrients in every meal you make for your family.)
Raw Food Shopping List For Puppies
I know DIY raw can be intimidating. Lots of people worry they’ll harm their puppies by feeding an unbalanced diet.
So I’ve made it really easy for you!
Here’s a downloadable shopping list you can take with you to the store.
It shows ingredients and percentages to feed your puppy. So you’ll see how easy it can be. It’ll help give you the confidence to feed DIY raw food to your puppy.
Bones For Puppies
There are 2 types of bones …
- Edible bones. Your dog eats these as part of her diet. They help her meet her all-important calcium needs. Examples are necks, wings, backs.
- Recreational bones. These are just for chewing as entertainment. Your dog shouldn’t swallow them. (You should supervise a dog of any age with recreational bones.) Examples are knuckles, long bones, other weight-bearing bones.
You want to feed puppies edible bones as an essential part of their diet, giving 10 to 15% daily. I have a “bone day” for my dogs. They have a breakfast of duck necks and a boneless meal in the evening.
If you’re worried about feeding bones, you can pop a defrosted neck bone in a bag and smash it with a rolling pin. Then feed it to your dog in small amounts. You can also whizz up a wing in a Nutribullet, then use a teaspoon a day and freeze the rest.
A Note About Calcium
Some people like to give eggshells for calcium. But I avoid eggshells as a primary source of calcium. One reason is how most store eggs are washed (with chemicals). But my main issue is … dogs don’t absorb the calcium carbonate that’s in eggshells all that well. So I would prefer you to use real, fresh bone. Or, at the very least, give a third party tested grass-fed bonemeal.
All dogs are individuals. You’ll know the correct amount of bone for your puppy by trial and error, as you get the perfect poop! Be cautious with bone, slowly increase and take your time. If your puppy gets constipated, try feeding liver and mashed pear together, this should get things moving!
Did I Mention Variety?
Earlier I mentioned giving your dog eating experiences. Why is this so important? I’ll go back to humans and Mother Nature for this one …
As a mother to two now-grown handsome men, I offered many different types of foods to my kids. I played with:
- Melting points
- Crunchy vs soft
This gave my children new experiences and expanded their dietary horizons. It also …
- Created a beautiful microbiome.
- Strengthened their immune systems – nearly 90% of our immune system is in the gut and associated organs.
- Released happy hormones when they ate – the gut-brain connection is well documented now.
So … it’s the same for your puppy or dog. Even as raw feeders, sometimes we become complacent. We’ve gone from dishing out brown dry pebbles (kibble) to dishing out the same cold raw patties every day.
Let’s switch it up, starting during puppyhood!
Improving Your Dog’s Eating Experience
Here are some ideas to give your dog some different textures and flavors!
- If you feed ground meat, then add some chunky interest! Something like some cubes of meat for your pups to practice tearing and gnawing on.
- Or try adding some freshly steamed veggies with a little crunch left in them.
- Maybe add some nice gelatinous homemade bone broth.
- Feed some delicious small raw fish. (Smelt or whitebait are perfect. Buy them ready frozen or freeze them for two weeks first.)
- Try playing with spices and herbs. Add some flavor by using one of my raw rub recipes.
Pop everything in a pestle and mortar and make into a dry crumble. Now add a tablespoon of good quality extra virgin olive oil. Mix all together and rub into your chosen meat, organs and veggies!
You can leave the food to marinate for as long or as little as you like. If your puppy isn’t used to the flavor, start with a small amount of rub and a short marinating time.
You can freeze this mixture for up to 8 weeks.
You could also change up the way you serve your dog …
Try placing her food on a wooden chopping board. Spread out the foods and let your dog choose! It’s fascinating to watch your dog self-select. And it allows her to choose foods that her natural intuition tells her she needs.
Dogs are scavengers; this is inbuilt in puppies. I don’t think we should sanitize this behavior by controlling every mouthful they eat.
Start from an early age. This will help you avoid a picky pup. It’ll create a healthy, strong immune system. It’s about creating fun ways to introduce flavor, texture and varied nutrients.