The first year of your puppy’s life is a critical period when his or her physical growth and immune system develop. Decisions regarding socializing, vaccines, parasite control, and nutrition made during this period will have a lasting and profound impact on your dog’s health and longevity. While this may seem overwhelming at first, one of the simplest things to do to promote health and longevity is to provide a fresh, wholesome raw-food diet to your pup from day one.
Weaned-to-raw puppies from raw-fed parents generally have healthier immune systems with improved resistance to infection and disease and experience milder symptoms and quicker recovery if ill. They have a slower, steadier growth rate and superior bone/muscle development overall with healthier conformation and structure. They produce less waste and more compact, low-odor stools. They have soft, odor-free, shiny coats, and healthy skin; bright, richly pigmented, clean and healthy ears/mouth/eyes/nose; and behavioral benefits, including a nicely balanced temperament and healthy energy levels.
One of the very cool things about weaned-to-raw puppies is they quickly learn, at a very young age, how to safely consume raw, meaty bones. Puppies in weaned-to-raw litters are exposed to raw, meaty bones starting at 3 weeks. By 5 weeks, they will start to pull the meat off the bones and consume bone-in cuts such as chicken wings, chicken backs, and chicken necks.
For puppies 8 weeks old and up, bone-in chicken parts are an ideal starter food (basically for puppies of any age), but with weaning and very young animals, you may need to supplement these in a ground format (bone-in grinds that may include small amounts of organs: liver, etc.). You can grind your own, but you can also find fresh or frozen ground or bone-in ground chicken options from a variety of sources.
If you don’t have a grinder, cut the meat and bones up into smaller pieces, as needed, or smash with a mallet to make them easier for your pup to consume. Provide boneless meat chopped into thin strips (fajita style). Do not chop anything into sizes that present a possible choking hazard; pieces should be small enough to swallow safely or large enough to require that your puppy pull off pieces and learn to chew. Always supervise your puppy while he or she eats—especially bones and chews.
All meals should be served warm (75 to 100 degrees) until the puppies are over 12-weeks old. To warm, use a water bath method for best results and do not microwave.
The most critical aspect of feeding raw for puppies over 12 weeks is to follow a basic diet template: 50 to 80 percent muscle meat (ground, stew, thigh, breast, trim, roasts, steak); 10 to 40 percent raw meaty bones (chicken backs, necks, wings); 5 percent liver; 5 percent other offal (heart, kidney, spleen); up to 10 percent fish/seafood and raw goat milk, yogurt, pastured eggs; and up to 30 percent raw green tripe.
While it may be exciting to try all kinds of new foods, the most successful method is to start with a single protein (typically chicken) and ever so slowly build up to feeding a nice rotation of several different proteins, eventually including red meats, fish, game bird, or rabbit. For example, start week one with chicken and tripe; week two, add beef and lamb; week three, add pork and rabbit; week four, add turkey and duck; week five, add goat and venison; week six, add quail and bison. Only one new meat at a time, and allow their systems to adjust before determining if any specific foods are problematic.
Every dog has a different metabolism, and suggestions for how much to feed are based on averages. Your dog is unique and may require less or more than suggested to maintain an ideal body condition. The recommended amounts are: 0.5-0.75 pounds of food daily for a 25-pound adult; 1-1.5 pounds of food daily for a 50-pound adult; 1.5-2 pounds food daily for a 75-pound adult; 2-3 pounds food daily for a 100-pound adult; and 3-4 pounds food daily for a 150-pound adult.
For the growing pup, divide the total daily suggested feeding amounts by the number of meals suggested to determine how much to feed each day and for each meal. In general, 8-12-week-olds need four meals a day (8 a.m., 12 p.m., 4 p.m., 8 p.m.); 4-6-month-olds need three meals a day (8 a.m., 12 p.m., 8 p.m.); 6-12-month-olds require two to three meals daily; and those over 12-16 months need one to two meals daily (12 p.m., 7 p.m.)
If your puppy was not weaned-to-raw, you will need to transition off kibble to raw food. For very young puppies, those weaning and under 12 weeks old, I suggest a four-day transition. Day 1: 25 percent raw, 75 percent current food and nursing. Day 2: 50 percent raw daily ration, 50 current food. Day 3: 75 percent raw, 25 percent current food; Day 4: 100 percent raw, eliminating all processed food (donate the remainder to a shelter).
Older puppies may experience mild digestive upset when switching, but this typically resolves in under a week. I have found older pups and adults do best with a “cold turkey” transition over three days. Day 1: no solid food; instead, raw goat milk, kefir, yogurt, bone broth, and slippery elm bark. Day 2: 50 percent their expected daily ration of raw food divided into meals. Day 3: 100 percent raw divided into meals.
If your puppy is not tolerating the food as expected, seek guidance from an experienced raw-feeding mentor, breeder, or a veterinarian that has experience with raw feeding and is supportive.
Do not buy prepared raw foods that have been subjected to high-pressur processing, or HPP, or that include starches, grains, vegetables, or vitamins-minerals, which are not appropriate for young puppies and may cause health problems. Do not buy meat that is less than wholesome and fit for your own consumption. Seek out local, organic, truly pasture-raised and grass-finished products. Be sure to practice safe and sanitary food handling techniques. Wild game, salmon, trout and pork are not safe to feed your dog when fresh, but they are safe to feed raw after freezing for three weeks. Read labels: retail packaged and supermarket meats often are “enhanced” with a sodium solution or natural flavors. Be sure to avoid these foods as they will make your puppy sick.
Puppies require even more high-quality, fresh sources of protein than adult dogs for proper growth and immunity. The raw diet suggested here provides the ideal level of protein for growing puppies at an average of 18 to 22 percent.
Becoming overweight, over-nutrition, and over-exercise are risk factors involved with many serious skeletal or growth related diseases. Thankfully, these diseases are largely avoidable when following a raw-food program. It is equally important to never allow your puppy to get pudgy/overweight, and to provide gentle, age appropriate exercise until they are fully mature.
The sooner your puppy starts on a fresh raw-food diet, the better. Fresh, wholesome nutritious whole foods, provided in an unprocessed state, and completely eliminating all commercial treats and foods make the world of difference for increasing their chances for a lifetime of vitality and wellness. It is a joy to watch your puppy eat the foods they are biologically designed to eat, and there’s nothing quite like the glowing vibrant health associated with eating wholesome, fresh foods.
Kasie Maxwell has been feeding home-prepared raw diets to her animals since 1989 and founded San Francisco Raw Feeders, or SFRAW, in 2003. She teaches workshops and provides private nutritional consultations from the SFRAW warehouse at 250 Napoleon St. in San Francisco. SFRAW is open to the public seven days a week.
Main article photo by: Photo by Terrah-CC