If we could go back in time to the very first day man befriended the dog, I’m sure we would find it all started with a puppy. Puppies are the picture of innocence, love and affection, and will warm the coldest of hearts with their instant adoring attention and playful antics. And it was these traits that carry on into adulthood, along with many of the common hunting, protecting and scavenging skills that dogs possess, that ensured the dog’s place as “man’s best friend”. But even though that happened over 10,000 years ago, man’s actual impact on the dog, on an evolutionary level, is less than 0.01 %. The dog family (Canidae) have been evolving for over 40 million years, and for the first 39.99 million years, they had no human contact. So if we are to ask the question, what should a puppy eat to get the optimum in nutrition, healthy growth, strength and vitality; should we ask a scientist? a veterinarian? a pet food manufacturer? a zoo keeper? or mother nature herself ??
Common sense feeding practices are the key to good health!
In just about every situation where mankind has altered the natural feeding practices of domesticated animals, whether it be for reasons of increased growth and production, better condition or speed, convenience, profit, or simply by the nature of domestication and confinement, which prevents natural migration patterns, we see deterioration in health, and the emergence of new diseases. Mother nature, for want of a better name, or Darwin’s theory of evolution, has been at work for millions of years evolving genetic traits and structuring every single organism to best survive and thrive in it’s given environment and the basic essentials are how to eat, how to survive, and how to reproduce. Dogs are no exception. They have been evolving for over 39.99 million years eating raw food (prey) and scavenging scraps. And that is exactly what they thrive on!
Nature has a counterpart for every domesticated animal, be it dogs and wolves, cats and lions, horses and zebra, cows and buffalo, pigs and boars, and in every situation, you will find diseases and degenerative conditions that are not prevalent in the wild counterpart. Yes, domesticated animals often live longer due to their protected environment and help from mankind, but in almost every situation, the domesticated animal will suffer from diseases that are either not found or are very rare in the wild. And why? Because in every situation man has changed their natural diet!
Do wolves suffer from allergies, flea hypersensitivity, gingivitis and gum disease, anal gland blockage, sensitive bowels and food allergy, hip or elbow dysplasia, diabetes, thyroid deficiency, early onset arthritis, autoimmune diseases or the vast array of cancers that are diagnosed in dogs today? No! Why not? Because they eat a natural raw diet, the same diet they have evolved to eat over 40 million years. Their whole body, from teeth, salivary glands, stomach, intestines, organs and enzymes, has all been finely tuned over 40 million years to process and digest raw food: meats and organs, bones, fur, feathers, insects, plants, fruits and nuts, grasses…fresh today or weeks old, they can handle it all. And they thrive on it. So how different are modern domestic dogs today? … about 0.01 % So what should a puppy eat to achieve maximum optimal nutrition, health, growth and longevity? …a natural, raw, uncooked, unprocessed, unadulterated diet.
What is a natural diet for a growing puppy?
Natural nutrition starts in the uterus, and in the diet of the pregnant bitch. Although you can’t always know the parentage of puppies, if you have a choice, try and find a breeder who feeds raw food. The health and vigor of new born pups is a direct reflection of both diet and genetics. The importance of the bitch’s nutritional plane continues through lactation, where for the first few weeks the pups are completely reliant on mum for all their nutrition (growth), immunity (colostrum), and waste disposal. You can usually pick the strongest pup (often the pick of the litter) at about 2 weeks. At this age the pup is a direct reflection of his genetic make-up, and the bitches nutritional intake. From the time the pup cuts its first milk teeth ( approx. 2-4 weeks old) he or she is ready to tackle solid food. This coincides with increasing discomfort at feeding time for the bitch ( those nice sharp teeth we all know so well !), who is stimulated to start offering solid food. In the wild state, she does this by regurgitating food (voluntary vomiting) for the pups to eat. Food (or prey) she may have eaten minutes or hours earlier, is then regurgitated ; pre-masticated (chewed), warm (38.5 ‘C) and part digested, for the pups to devour back in the security of the den (or whelping box). Many bitches today will still start vomiting at this stage of lactation, even if you are offering solids already, which are the cause of many a panicky phone call from inexperienced breeders.
And what do the pups then eat? Exactly what mum has eaten? Pre-chewed, partly digested, raw meat, organs, gut contents, bones, fur, feathers, and any other plant or organic material the bitch has eaten. But remember, the bitch is often eating for herself and 6 or more pups, and as a result, her diet is often more varied and ravenous than usual. In fact, the concept of cravings for certain foods, which are experienced during pregnancy and lactation, may play an important role in ensuring balanced early nutrition of pups and people in the same way. By 6-8 weeks, the pups will tackle whole carcass and food brought back by the bitch intact. And by the age of 6-8 months old, the pup has grown and learnt to hunt and scavenge for itself. So how does this translate to the modern domestic puppy of today? Very simply : We try to recreate the core elements of the natural diet, with easily accessible ingredients currently available, that will supply the equivalent constituents of a natural diet. It is not that complicated or time consuming, and there is only one Golden Rule:
Do not cook food for your puppy!
The cooking and artificial processing of dog (and cat) foods, that began back in the 1950’s with the post-war popularity surge in canned foods, is the single most significant impact that man has had on the domestic dog. It represents the most dramatic deviation from nature that we have imposed on any domesticated animal, and is integrally linked to the rapid decline in health, fertility and longevity that our “best friends” suffer from today. The nutritional damage caused by cooking is insidious and far reaching, and too involved to go into in great detail here. As a bare minimum, it damages/destroys essential vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and trace elements in the diet. It denatures (mutates) proteins, inactivates natural enzymes, and kills all natural bacterial flora (sterilises food). It results in decreased nutritional content, increased digestive effort and enzyme output, poorer absorption and intestinal vitamin production, and greater waste production. This all adds up to a diet that is nutritionally deficient, has lowered bioavailability (harder to digest and absorb), and contains mutated protein fragments that may be absorbed across the bowel. Cooking is a completely unnatural, man-made process, and should not be involved in the preparation of a dog’s natural diet.
What are the ingredients for a modern ‘natural puppy’ diet?
The ingredients in a natural diet vary only slightly from puppy to adulthood. They comprise the four basic food groups: Proteins, fats, carbohydrates and vegetables. The ratios of these in the diet will vary with the different nutritional requirements of age (stage of growth), metabolism, energy expenditure or exercise levels and reproductive status. A diet based on raw meats (both muscle meats and some organ/offal), bones, mixed cereal grains, vegetables and fruits, and a few basic natural supplements to ensure vitamin/ mineral balance, can be adjusted to suit all stages of a dog’s nutritional needs. Our aim is to mimic the omnivorous diet (both animal and vegetable) that wild dogs consume.
The basic constituents of a weaning diet are no different to that of a growing diet, except that the very act of predigestion and regurgitation introduces several key points. The meat portion must be finely chopped or ground to match the pre-chewed state. This increases the actual contact surface area for easier digestion and absorption. The time spent in the gut of the bitch also introduces both a mix of digestive enzymes, and a mix of pro-biotic bacteria (normal bowel bacteria or flora), which are both underdeveloped in the weaning pup. This can be re-created by the addition of enzyme supplements (e.g. enzyplex powder), and pro-biotic supplements (live culture,non-harmful, bacterial additives e.g. Protexin powder or Skin and Coat formula). These two additives will greatly enhance the digestive and absorptive capabilities of the pup, which results in vigorous healthy growth. The mix should also be highly moist, and served at body temperature (38.5”C)
The weaning mix should be made available to the pups as soon as you see or feel the milk teeth erupting (2 weeks plus). Spend some time introducing the food to the pups; let them suckle your finger and then dip it in the mix and repeat the suckle, show them where the bowl is etc. Make sure your bitch is well fed if she is in with the pups during this process, as it will lessen the chance that she will eat the lot herself. The mix should be available as often as possible (ad lib), but the pups should still have full access to mum’s milk at least until 5-6 weeks old, or ideally, when the bitch naturally dries up and weans the pups herself. The practice of making weaning diets that are high in dairy products, and often high in cereals, is unnecessary while the bitch is lactating. There is no substitute for the bitch’s milk, and certainly not pasteurised milk from a cow. If you must use a milk substitute for any reason, raw (un-pasteurised) goat’s milk is the best alternative. High cereal diets (farex, porridge etc.) are not ideally suited to the pup’s needs. They provide a rich source of energy and easily processed starch and sugars, but the pup has not developed a normal glucose metabolism at this age, and will experience sugar highs and sugar lows (bursts of high energy followed by collapse and sleep). Cereals are also too low in protein for the rapidly growing pup who is doubling his/her bodyweight every 3 weeks at this stage. Proteins are the building blocks for body tissues. The basic nutritional ratio for the growing pup is 70% protein (raw meat), 20% carbohydrate (cereals), 10% vegetable/fibre.
The final ingredient is access to raw bones. Bones are a vital ingredient in any dog’s diet ; they provide for good abrasive dental action, which maintains healthy teeth and gums, they are the best natural source of calcium in a dog’s diet, and they provide solid matter for proper stool formation which aids bowel cleansing and appropriate anal gland function. Bones should be raw, soft enough to be chewed completely, and therefore digested completely, and of a size large enough to prevent swallowing whole.
The ideal puppy bones are raw chicken carcasses or frames. They can be made available as soon as the pups are starting to chew solids (or chew on soft toys), and can be continued for life. The pups we raise can easily devour a chicken frame at 4 weeks old. The growth diet (from weaning as a pup to mature adult size) is designed to provide the pup with all the raw materials required for rapid growth. The pup needs higher levels of protein and fats, and more concentrated vitamin/mineral content to keep pace with the rapid growth of body tissues, organs and bones. Correct ratios of key elements like calcium and essential fatty acids, and micronutrients like iodine, chromium and zinc, are all vastly more important when designing a diet for a growing puppy, than that of a fully grown adult dog. Our diet is the result of years of research and trial. We have fifth generation pups due shortly, that will be weaned and grown on this diet, just as their parents, grandparents and great grandparents were. Every generation raised on raw food benefits both nutritionally, and genetically, as they grow to reproductive age. A natural raw diet is the key to better health, vitality, reproductive vigor and long life.
The puppy diet for all breeds
There has always been a lot of discussion about the different needs of large and small breed puppies, but with a properly balanced puppy diet, the only difference is in the amount you feed, and the length oftime you feed it for. All pups need small regular meals during the early stages (the amount is relative to the size of the pups) ; 4 feeds a day up to 6 weeks old, 3 feeds per day up to 12 weeks, 2 feeds per day up to 6 months old. Small breed dogs will reach mature size between 6-12 months old, and can be fed once a day.
Larger breed dogs continue to grow and develop until between 12 months to 18 months, and giant breeds 18 months to 2 years, and should be maintained on 2 feeds per day until then. As long as the diet ratios are correct, this is the main significant difference, as well as the individuals own metabolism. The meat should always be raw, preservative free, and meat inspected. I prefer kangaroo and rabbit, as they are both free range and organic, they are a likely natural source of prey, they are lean meats (approx. 4% fat), and they are cost effective. It is a good idea to add some organ meats on occasion (once or twice a week). A mix of 100g organ to 600g meat is rich enough. Use liver, kidney and heart primarily, and only buy from a butcher or supermarket. Try and always have a bone offering (chicken carcass or roo tail bones are fantastic) at least once daily or every second day.
This article was written and authorised by: Dr Bruce Syme BVSc (Hons), Founder of Vets All Natural
For more information visit www.vetsallnatural.com.au
This article or parts thereof can only be used with written permission from Vets All Natural.
Dr Bruce Syme is a practicing vet and animal lover who founded Vets All Natural in 1996 with a simple mission, to “Improve the health and longevity of dogs and cats”. Dr Bruce is an expert in natural pet nutrition, has spoken at the Australian Veterinary Association Annual Conference, and provides regular comment on TV and Radio.
Disclaimer: The entire contents of this article are based upon the opinions of Dr. Bruce Syme, unless otherwise noted. The information is not intended as medical advice, it simply shares the knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Bruce and his community. Pet health care decisions should be based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified pet health care professional.