Deciding what to feed your puppy can be overwhelming. Walking into your local pet store and seeing the massive variety of dog food options, from kibble to canned food and freezers overflowing with options, can leave anyone confused. However, there is another way. Many dog owners have discovered raw diets work for puppies and fit just what they are searching for. Puppies have different nutritional requirements than their adult counterparts, but that doesn't mean they can't eat raw food. In fact, raw feeding puppies is very similar to how you would raw feed your adult dog, but with a higher caloric intake. Puppies need three meals of raw food per day, as opposed to two feedings for adult dogs.
Raw Feeding Diet Options
When you decide to enter the world of raw feeding, you will notice there are several feeding methods for puppies. The best thing about starting a puppy out on raw is, you can use an established method to ease your puppy into raw foods from the start, without having to transition them away from a traditional kibble diet (as you would with an adult dog).
Review each one and choose what you think might work best for your individual puppy. If you aren't sure, you can try one to see if it works for you and your puppy. If not, you can always transition to a different one. You aren't restricted to choosing only one diet type forever. As always, discuss any dietary changes with your veterinarian, and make sure to switch to any new feeding regime slowly, especially if your puppy isn't used to raw foods yet. There are several options to choose from:
- Biologically Appropriate Raw Food: Known as BARF, involves feeding your puppy raw muscle meat and raw meaty bones, in addition to vegetables and fruits.
- Ancestral: The ancestral diet is similar to the BARF diet, but it does not include fruits and vegetables. The main difference is that it uses fur and feathers for fiber.
- Prey Model Raw: This diet mimics a wild dog's diet. It's very similar to what a coyote or wolf would eat. In this feeding method, you provide your puppy with whole small prey.
- Hybrid: For those who aren't fully ready to make the switch to raw feeding, a hybrid diet could be best. In a hybrid diet, you feed your puppy their regular kibble, but add some type of raw food, such as raw salmon, raw anchovies, raw chicken, or similar.
Once you choose the type of raw diet your puppy will eat, you can begin to formulate and balance their diet accordingly. Each diet type has different levels of muscle meat, raw meaty bones, and other constituents. If you struggle with this, there are calculators available to help you through the process.
Setting Your Puppy's Raw Food Portions
There are two ways raw feeders determine how to portion their puppy's daily intake of food; based on their actual weight, or based on their adult weight. Both approaches are acceptable, but you will need to determine which is best for your pup.
If you're feeding based on your puppy's actual weight, you'll need to weigh them fairly regularly until they become an adult. They should consume between 7 and 10 percent of their body weight in food daily. Watch your puppy's body condition score to make sure they aren't getting too little or too much food.
If you would like to feed based on your puppy's expected weight at adulthood, you would feed 2% of that weight daily. This option isn't as common as feeding based on actual weight. However, it may be better for large and giant breed puppies that need to grow more slowly to prevent health conditions.
The Benefits of Raw Feeding Puppies
When considering whether you would like to begin raw feeding, you may want to factor in the benefits of feeding your puppy a raw diet. These benefits include:
- Raw food is often easier for a healthy puppy to digest compared to commercial kibble.
- Puppies who are prone to allergies are at a lower risk with raw feeding.
- You'll see your puppy produce smaller stools due to more nutrients being absorbed by their digestive system.
- Tearing flesh maintains good oral health.
- A raw-fed pup's fur is often healthier because they're receiving higher amounts and better ratios of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
- Raw diets may decrease cancer risk because they contain lower amounts of carbohydrates and sugars.
Safety Concerns for Puppies Eating Raw
Raw dietary options for dogs can be controversial. Because puppies are more delicate than adult dogs, these issues are even more important to understand. Concerns around bacterial contamination of raw food, balancing nutrients in a raw diet, and potential injury from eating raw bones are all commonly cited as risks for puppies. Always do your research and talk to your veterinarian to decide if this is a good option for your puppy.
Bacteria Contamination in Raw Foods
Most of the stigma around raw feeding comes from concerns about bacteria. Because commercial kibble comes inside a bag with beautiful labeling, it's often perceived as healthy and nutrient-dense without bacterial contamination. However, you're probably aware of the number of recalls in commercial diets. If not, it may surprise you to discover an alarming number of recalls due to E. coli and Salmonella contamination.
If you think back to where dogs came from, their bodies were designed to eat raw food, not processed kibble containing carbohydrates. Their ancestors captured their prey, shredded meat with their teeth, and ate entire animals. From this perspective, raw makes sense.
Both good and bad bacteria are important for the gut microbiome to function properly. Dogs, including puppies, have defense mechanisms in their bodies to maintain this balance. If they were designed to eat kibble, their saliva would contain amylase, the enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates. Instead, it contains lysozyme, which kills harmful bacteria to help consume raw foods properly.
The acidity in a dog's gut also varies based on what they're eating. Dogs who are kibble-fed have less acidity in their stomach than dogs who are raw-fed. Dogs who are raw-fed have pH ranges from 1 to 2, whereas kibble-fed dogs hover around 4 to 5. Salmonella cannot survive in pH levels lower than 3. That's why Salmonella isn't often a concern in the raw feeding community. However, you still need to practice safe handling procedures to keep yourself and your family safe from bacteria, so always avoid cross contamination, and clean all surfaces thoroughly, just as you would when handling raw meat for human consumption.
Making Sure Your Pup Gets a Balanced Diet
Debate is common between advocates of feeding raw diets and their detractors. Those opposed to feeding raw argue that nutritional imbalances can develop if you feed your pup a raw diet without making sure they're getting everything they need. Often, this idea stems from the perception that owners feeding raw diets are just giving their dogs raw meat alone, but no well-considered raw diet plan suggests only feeding raw animal proteins and nothing else.
Balance is a key factor is successfully feeding your puppy a raw diet. One way to avoid this problem is to supplement their raw food with an appropriate commercial dog food designed to be fed alongside raw foods. You still have to make sure you are balancing your pup's caloric intake and the nutritional qualities of the food you offer, but this method may work for your pup.
Another option is to use an online calculator, such as BalanceIt.com's recommendations, or the Raw Dog Food Calculator. Even if you use one of these services, or other paid services that can help you formulate a raw diet for your dog, consult with your veterinarian and track your dog's health and weight to make sure your puppy is developing in a healthy way. Feeding raw to your puppy is not something you can do without planning and paying attention to your pup's diet and health.
Concerns with Raw Meaty Bones
If you're like most people, you have been told all of your life not to feed your dog bones of any kind. So naturally, you may be worried about feeding your dog raw meaty bones, commonly known in the raw feeding community as RMBs. Raw bones are softer and more pliable than cooked bones. You should never feed your puppy cooked bones. Cooked bones splinter, whereas raw bones break, reducing the risk RMBs will harm your puppy's digestive system or mouth.
Chewing on bones not only provides your puppy with mental stimulation, but also provides a method to clean their teeth. This allows you to worry less about your puppy's oral health. Don't be worried if one of your dog's puppy teeth falls out while chewing on a raw meaty bone. Regardless of if your puppy chews on these or not, the likelihood of you finding a puppy tooth lying around the house is fairly high. Like children, puppies lose their baby teeth as their adult set of teeth grows.
Chipping teeth is also often a concern with raw meaty bones. The truth is, the risk of your puppy chipping a tooth on a raw meaty bone is equally high if they're eating kibble or enjoying chew toys at home. If you are concerned about chipped teeth, provide smaller pieces of meaty bones so your puppy doesn't have time to chew them as much as large bones. You could also offer softer bones, such as uncooked chicken necks or duck wings.
To be on the safe side, make sure you always monitor your puppy as they chew on RMBs, and don't leave them with bones to chew unattended. Also, remove any bones that have been chewed down to a small size. Your puppy might end up swallowing these smaller pieces whole, which can lead to digestive issues or blockages. This is uncommon, but just be cautious and make sure you watch your pup while they eat. Also, check with your veterinarian to find out if chewing on RMBs is OK for your puppy.
Tips for Raw Feeding
Raw feeding is a journey. You will likely experience a significant amount of trial and error while discovering what works best for your puppy. We have compiled some tips to help you along the way, including:
- Watch your puppy's poop. You want their poop to remain intact but not be too hard or too soft. If it's difficult for them to use the bathroom, you likely want to decrease the amount of bone in their diet. If they are experiencing diarrhea, decrease the amount of organ meat in the diet.
- Plan for a transitional phase. Understand that it's normal for your puppy to experience diarrhea at the beginning of raw feeding. Any transition, even if it were from one kibble to another, can cause gastrointestinal issues.
- Don't forget to rotate your proteins. Rotating food not only fills in nutritional gaps, but also prevents intolerance to food and allergies.
- Supervise your puppy when they're eating raw meaty bones. Take the raw meaty bone away if it gets small enough for your dog to choke on.
- Don't panic. This is an experience and it may take a little time for both you and your pup to acclimate.
- Don't get hung up on the aesthetic. Raw bowls aren't always pretty like they look in magazines or advertisements. If your puppy's bowl looks less than perfect, you're not alone.
Do More Research
Raw feeding is becoming more popular, but there is still a stigma about raw meat that makes dog lovers fearful. Doing more research on your own can prove helpful if you are on the fence about feeding your puppy a raw diet. Be sure to search for reputable sources and, if possible, ask a lot of questions. You can also reach out to a holistic veterinarian to ask questions about raw feeding and get help with determining if your puppy is a good candidate for this feeding method.