Anxiety over feeding puppies is a common issue with new owners. They seem to stress more over what is the best puppy food than they do for feeding themselves or even their children! But really, feeding puppies is not rocket science but its still important to get it right for several reasons:
- During this time in their life they are going through very rapid growth to build their future dog. So setting a good dietary foundation of the best puppy food can have lasting benefits to future puppy health.
- Further, they are also in the most pivotal period of imprinting and socialization. So what you feed, or never feed, to young puppies will become what they largely do and don’t recognize as food for the rest of their lives.
- And finally there are some added benefits of feeding puppies right that we’ll look at here as well.
As a veterinarian and breeder I rear puppies regularly throughout the year, and do my best to advise my owners on feeding puppies for long term health.
When it comes to feeding puppies and dogs it’s my firm belief that nature makes the best puppy food. To me that means the majority of the diet be comprised of whole, not processed, foods, and a heavy reliance on raw, meaty bones just as nature intended for dogs.
Basic principles for feeding puppies naturally
- Don’t rely on one kind of meat.
Feeding just one kind of meat (e.g. chicken or whatever) is a recipe for the development of food allergies down the track. So mix it up! The recommendations to follow are just a guide. If you have the chance to introduce other kinds of meat from time to time go for it. For example, our dogs (and cats) love wild fresh rabbit (fur, guts and all). So we have an adage in our family: If you’re driving along and you see a rabbit, grab it! Nothing wrong with fresh road kill that hasn’t been squooshed yet. Similarly we occasionally get our dogs horse, buffalo, and fish to vary what you read below.
- Feed 50 to 60% of the diet as raw meaty bones:
Due to it’s low cost, and good proportions of fat, meat and bone, the best puppy food for feeding raw is chicken drumsticks. These I usually hammer flat (until no bone fragments larger than the teeny toenail on your little toe) using a large hammer or the back of a light axe (or you can put them through a mincer). Puppies’ jaws don’t have the crushing power of adult dogs. In nature, their mom chomps hard foods like meaty bones up for them, digests them a little in the stomach, then regurgitates it for her pups. I don’t expect you to go that far (lol). But you can then slice the flat drumstick into little squares with a sharp knife.
Alternatively, the flattened but whole drumsticks make great “chew toys” to keep puppy happy and occupied when you have to leave him alone.
Raw chicken necks don’t count here due to the risk of overdosing your dog on thyroid hormones. They often contain a little thyroid gland tissue and can actually cause hyperthyroidism-like illness if used as a large part of the diet. Once in a while, however, is fine.
- Feed a meal of offal every week
There are nutrients in offal not found in other meats, making it integral in small doses to a natural puppy food diet. Raw offal makes the best puppy food since many vitamins and minerals are destroyed by cooking.
I always use lamb as the basis to the offal part of the diet, which should comprise around 5 to 10% (about a meal a week) whether feeding puppies or older dogs. That is because, in Australia anyway, our lamb is free range right up until being shipped off to the abattoir. That means its on a natural, grass fed diet right to the end, unlike cattle which is often feedlotted for fattening on grains prior to slaughter (not as healthy for you or your dog).
So alternate each week the kind of offal you feed: Lamb heart and lamb liver (cut into portions and some frozen for later) are great. Lamb kidney is also fine. If you can get green tripe (the stomach with the green lining still intact) lucky you – the natural probiotics and enzymes in it it makes it one of the best puppy foods, and for big dogs too.
- Include raw or cooked vegetable stews as 30 to 40% of the diet:
If you have a large family and just one dog, you can make this up from family leftovers. Roast or stewed vegetables are ideal for puppies. Cooked meat is also relished and makes great training treats. Just remember to never, never, never feed cooked bones. They are brittle and can splinter into shards that can pierce the gut. And use commonsense when it comes to foods that are dangerous to a teeny number of dogs with sensitivities. For example, don’t stress about the little bit of onion in your stew, but at the same time don’t go feeding Fido that bucket of onion left over from your community sausage sizzle either. Similarly refrain from offering other sometimes dangerous foods in large amounts such as chocolate and grapes.
When you don’t generate enough leftovers, or when feeding puppies in larger numbers, you can also make up your own puppy stew. For this I always use beef mince as a base and then add vegetables in season: orange (e.g. carrot, pumpkin or sweet potato) and green (cabbage, silverbeet or zucchini). Example recipe is below.
How to Make Puppy Chow – Natural Puppy Food Recipe
1 kg beef mince
1/3 cup rice or quinoa
2 cups chopped veges e.g. cabbage/carrot/pumpkin/sweet potato/peas/zucchini
2 tspn dried and blended eggshells
2 tspn gelatine powder
Allow to cool, pull out any bones and add:
1 tablespoon of fish, coconut or hemp seed oil
1 heaped tspn of Puppy Vitamins Superfood Mix (to make your own see below)
Optional extras once cool:
An egg yolk or
A large spoon of natural yoghurt or probiotics (or give separately another time)
Puppy Vitamins Superfood Mix
To round off our natural puppy food diet, I like to add some high nutrient value superfoods. This is easy to do and you can make your own at home. My favourite puppy vitamins and minerals supplement recipe comprises equal quantities of:
- Kelp powder and/or spirulina
- Brewers or nutritional yeast
You can get all of these from most health food stores. Measure out equal quantities, mix well and store in the fridge. Give 1/2 teaspoon/10kg dog/day.
You can also add a similar dose of crushed egg shells as a balanced calcium source for feeding puppies that are not getting enough in the way of crushed whole meaty bones.
Frequency and Amount for Feeding Puppies
I often get asked by anxious new owners, what is the right amount for feeding puppies? As a rule of thumb, feed your puppy three to four times a day. Whatever he or she can get through in 10 to 15 minutes is the right amount. So if there’s food left over from a meal after that time, you’ve fed too much. Your puppy is also more likely to get all the way through a meal that they find tasty than one that they don’t, and that’s fine. As your puppy grows, the amount they eat will also grow. This rule of thumb for feeding puppies will get you through.
Be careful if you have a teacup breed of puppy as owing to their size, they have a very high metabolic rate and seriously reduced ability to keep themselves warm. Such puppies can become hypoglycemic or hypothermic very quickly and require special care and frequent, high energy meals.
If your puppy goes off it’s feed and looks unwell, please consult your veterinarian.