Feeding Your Puppy a Fresh and Natural Diet: Why Proper Dietary Balance Is Critical to a Growing Dog

Just like babies, puppies grow rapidly during the first few months of their lives, and a proper diet provides the necessary nutrients to meet their needs. This developmental stage needs to be well-fueled for a healthy pup. In this article, we will talk about the benefits of a puppy being fed a commercially-prepared natural diet using raw protein.

Feeding your puppy on a commercially produced natural diet comes with an impressive list of benefits:

  • Puppies grow slower and develop stronger bone structures and muscles. The body takes time to develop naturally into providing a better or more powerful stance as the puppy grows.
  • Natural foods are known to have highly digestible protein and essential oils, which are one of the main contributors to your puppies' growth, body mass, and building as well as brain development.
  • Puppies derived from parents on a raw or natural diet have stronger immune systems than those on processed food. The stronger body can fight diseases and infections more effectively, lowering puppy mortality at this stage.
  • Processed foods contribute to poor healthy gut microbe formation in the intestinal tract. Raw foods, on the other hand, are packed with healthy bacteria for a healthy gut that will produce less waste and low odor in stools.
  • Puppies used to natural diets using raw proteins develop rich fur or coats that are shiny and well colored. The eyes, nose, ears, and mouth are also richly pigmented and brightly colored.
  • A natural diet will also affect a puppy's behavioral pattern. Raw fed puppies have more natural energy, with a moderate temperament making them easier to train and work with when it comes to obedience.

You can start giving your puppy a natural diet with raw protein as you are weaning them at about 8 to 12 weeks. When starting a puppy on a raw diet, the most common worry among pet owners is the presence and number of bacteria that raw food inherently holds. It is wise to note that dirt or the environment around us contains billions of microbes that puppies have access to all around us. Research shows that giving the mom raw food before the puppies are born improves the quality of the puppy when it comes to immunity, growth, and health. Access to these not only helps your pup improve the immune system but makes it possible to handle raw food.

What Does a Puppy Need for Healthy Growth?

Small breed puppies may need up to 10% of their weight per day in food, especially if they are active. Large breed puppies may need 4-8% of their weight per day. 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 information below was obtained from the National Research Council. Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. National Academies Press, 2007.

Macronutrients

Proteins are one of the main requirements for growth and are made of complex strings of amino acids. Fat provides essential fatty acids and energy.

Micronutrients

Vitamins and Micronutrients are critical when it comes to converting proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into more available forms in the body. They are also responsible for catalytic reactions that enable faster healthy conversions.

Before putting a puppy on a natural diet, the first thing that needs to be understood is that nutritional needs do not differ significantly from breed to breed. All puppies require the same three essential nutrients in their diets for proper growth and development: protein, fat, and calcium.

#1: Protein

Your puppy most needs protein immediately after weaning, although the required amount of this nutrient will gradually decrease as he reaches adulthood. Anywhere between 22-32% protein on a dry matter basis is optimal for sustained growth during these first few months.

#2: Fat

Fat is a concentrated energy source that carries and helps dissolve specific essential vitamins. Including 10-25% fat content on a dry matter basis into your puppy's diet will fuel his first few months of accelerated growing and inquisitive learning. However, be sure to include fat content into the diet with caution since excessive fat intake can cause obesity and orthopedic issues.

#3: Calcium

A strong skeletal development relies on calcium. Compared with protein and fat, the calcium content is significantly lower (0.7-1.7% on a dry matter basis). No matter how small this percentage might appear, even the slightest amount of calcium in excess can be harmful to your dog. Puppies cannot adequately regulate calcium absorption in their intestinal tract, which is why calcium over absorption and over retention might lead to skeletal malformations.

Different Puppies Exhibit Different Needs

Although we've established that different breeds do not call for different diets, other circumstances, such as the puppy's birth, parents, and environment, necessitate specific tweaks in his food bowl. For example, a C-section puppy does not benefit from the healthy bacteria associated with natural birth so his gut microbiome may not be as resilient. In this case, feeding a raw, well-balanced diet will help reinforce the gut microbiome and promote a robust immune system. Ensure that you bring these questions to your breeder's attention before bringing a puppy home and have all of the pregnancy and birthing details that you need to support healthy growth spurts right from the beginning.

The Importance of Portion Feeding Instead of Free-Choice Feeding

Dog parents have multiple approaches to choose from when deciding on a feeding method. The first and most straightforward approach is free-choice feeding, where the dog parent fills the puppy's food bowl often with dry kibble and allows him to create his own eating patterns. This method requires the least amount of knowledge and effort on the part of the dog parent. The second approach is portion feeding, where the dog parent must determine the proper amount of food for their puppy and divide it into 2-3 daily portions. Portion feeding suits raw diets, whose nature demands more attention and planning than free-choice feeding, and helps the puppy to control himself with a more rigorous eating schedule. So which of the two approaches is more healthy?

Without a doubt, portion feeding brings a more substantial contribution to your puppy's growth. Although it liberates dog parents from strict feeding schedules, free-choice feeding is not monitored and can be problematic with multiple dogs in the household. Free-choice feeding does not allow you to know how much each dog is eating, or if there is a health issue and one dog is not eating. Portion feeding is more considerate of your puppy's nutritional needs, allows you to know exactly how much that dog is eating, provides vital hydration with every meal and is more sanitary. As we will soon discover, the nutrient ratio differs from a three-month puppy to a six-month one. Portion feeding acknowledges the need for change in your puppy's diet and facilitates the necessary nutritional adjustments.

A Poor Diet Leaves Marks

The significance of a well-balanced diet in a dog’s early months cannot be overstated. After all, both his physical and mental growth are at stake. Without enough nutrients to fuel the growth spurts, the puppy’s internal system will have to divide its available resources unevenly and prioritize vital organs and the respiratory system over other body parts. Because of this uneven nutrient distribution, potential structural malformation (e.g., lameness, weak tendons, etc.) can occur.

For example, the Calcium - Phosphorus ratio needs to be spot on for a puppy's diet. Too much calcium in a puppy's diet has been shown to increase the risk of crippling hip dysplasia in large breed puppies. That's because puppies can have trouble regulating how much calcium is absorbed from their intestinal tracts. On the other hand, feeding too little calcium can also lead to problems. That's why it's so important to feed a diet that contains an amount of calcium considered safe for large breed and small breed puppies.

Let’s expand our discussion to animal fat. Too much or too little both have their issues. When underfeeding animal fat, your dog can suffer from:

  • Lack of energy
  • Heart problems
  • Diabetes
  • Growth deficits
  • Dry skin
  • Cell damage

On the other hand, too much fat in the diet causes:

  • Obesity
  • Some forms of cancer
  • Acute Pancreatitis

Unfortunately, poor growth and improper development during the dog’s early months cannot be overcome with excess nutrients in the future. For example, structural malformation will persist, no matter how much calcium you include in your dog’s diet. Therefore, it would help us to think of early canine development as building a house: if the foundation is not sturdy, the whole structure might collapse in the future. But with a well-designed raw diet, your dog will enjoy the solid and steady growth he needs to live a long, happy, and healthy life!

Choosing the Volhard Raw Feeding Guidelines for Puppies

In order to help dog parents create the perfect balance of nutrients for their rapidly growing puppies, we’ve put together a healthy, balanced, easy-to-follow natural diet using our Volhard Natural Diet Foundation Mix. It’s time to learn how to put together and implement a schedule for your puppy’s diet!

#1: Weigh Your Puppy

The amount of food you prepare for your puppy must be proportionate to his diet, so you need to weigh him first and foremost. You can either put your puppy directly on a scale, or if he can’t stay still long enough, weigh yourself alone, then together with your puppy, and subtract the difference.

#2: Double the Amount of Food Designated for Your Puppy’s Weight

For example, if your puppy weighs 12 lbs, feed enough food for a 25 lb dog. We have included a chart representing how much food per meal should be fed to an adult dog who follows a natural diet:

#3: Create a Solid Feeding Schedule for Your Puppy

A three-month puppy’s feeding schedule is more intense as his nutritional needs are more demanding. Dividing the canine’s daily food allotment into more meals helps to fuel puppies consistently throughout the whole day. We have noticed that 4 meals/day best supports proper growth and development all the way through their teething phase:

  • 1st meal: 8:00 AM
  • 2nd meal: 12:00 PM
  • 3rd meal: 4:00 PM
  • 4th meal: 8:00 PM

Once the teething phase is over, you can reduce the number of daily meals to three, then, around 6-7 months of age, to two.

#4: Constantly Weigh Your Puppy

Your puppy will multiply his weight multiple times during these growth spurts, thus requiring more and more nutrients over time. Be sure to weigh your puppy constantly and adjust his food intake based on his weight gain each week.

#5: You Can Replace NDF2 with the AM/PM Diet!

Aside from NDF2, you can use both AM Porridge and PM Crumble for your puppy’s raw diet. All you have to do is replace NDF2 with the AM Porridge in the morning (8:00 AM and 12:00 PM) and PM Crumble in the evening (4:00 PM and 8:00 PM).

A Parting Reminder

Feeding a well-balanced raw diet to your dog is no walk in the park. Research, monitoring, and consistency are essential if you want the raw diet to work its magic on your puppy’s early growth and development. It might sound challenging, but if you play your cards right, your canine companion will reward you with a lifetime of energy, playfulness, and loyalty. For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us or check out our blog