A feeding plan for mums and puppies
Bitches fed on a well-balanced, raw food diet are more fertile, enjoy easier pregnancies and produce healthier puppies. The puppies themselves, if raised on raw food, grow into healthier dogs and lead longer lives. This is because a well-balanced, raw food diet is what dogs are biologically designed to eat. We don’t have to look far to see why. Imagine feeding generation upon generation of humans on an inadequate diet. We know from what happens in developing nations (and to the disadvantaged in Western countries) that a poor diet leads to lower fertility, bad health and shorter life expectancy, whereas humans that eat what nature intended enjoy higher fertility, better health and longer life expectancy. Dogs are no different. They need the diet that nature intended – raw meat, raw bones and a certain amount of vegetable matter – to achieve optimum health.
Diet and so-called genetic conditions
Much has been said in the media and elsewhere about how overbreeding has caused all sorts of genetic health conditions in dogs. While this is true, it diverts attention from another possible cause: processed food.
Processed food has two serious drawbacks. First, it is seriously deficient in the ingredients dogs need to maintain good health. Second, it contains ingredients that actually damage a dog’s health. When experts describe a health issue as being ‘genetic’, they may be overlooking something more obvious: the effect of feeding processed food to generation upon generation of dogs.
A good example of this is skeletal disease. Almost unheard of before processed food, bone disease is now widespread in the West. For dogs to have healthy bones they need the calcium and other vital bone-building nutrients that are only found in raw bones. Each generation that doesn’t receive these vital bone-building nutrients is weaker than the last. Modern solutions to bone disease, involving various treatments as well as culling and selective breeding, are never going to solve the problem. What has to happen is a re-building of healthy ‘stock’ by means of the correct diet.
Natural feeding for mums and expectant mums
Mums and expectant mums require more food than other adult dogs. Apart from this, there is no difference in the way they should be fed. However, there are certain extra ingredients and supplements you may like to consider.
Before you start
Just before your mum-to-be (hopefully) comes into season you should start to increase, very slightly, the amount of nutrition she receives. Reduce the amount of vegetable in her diet and give her more chicken wings and more eggs. If you are concerned that she may have trouble conceiving, you could consider some extra supplements, such as cod liver oil, vitamin E, multi B, vitamin C and foods high in zinc. Don’t add supplements without taking professional advice.
Be careful about foods (especially commercial foods) supplemented with glucosamine, as this can interfere with conception. You want her to be increasing in weight as she comes to be mated because her body will respond to the increase in nutrition by increasing her hormone production. This in turn leads to greater fertility. You should carry on feeding her a little more than usual for about a week after mating and then drop back to the normal amount.
Incidentally, check that the mum isn’t anaemic (a sure sign of a poor diet) and make sure that she is free of any external parasites (fleas and ear mites) as well as internal parasites (intestinal worms and heartworm). The mum should be at her ideal weight, that is to say slim without being too thin. She should have lots of energy, a pliant elastic skin, a shiny coat, a light covering of fat and well-developed muscles.
Once she has conceived
If mum is on a raw food diet then for the first two-thirds of her pregnancy, unless she has some health issue that needs addressing, there is probably no requirement to alter her normal feeding routine. In the last third of her term, that is to say the last three weeks, you should aim to gradually increase the amount of food. This is because the puppies do most of their growing during this period.
The general rule is:
- Week 6: increase by 5–10%
- Week 7: increase by another 5–10%
- Week 8: increase by another 5–10%
By the time she reaches the end of the eighth week, she should be eating around a third to a half as much as her normal diet. Incidentally, don’t feed it all to her in one sitting but spread it over the day and be mindful of her general condition.
- Week 9: start reducing the amount of food very slightly
By the time she has the puppies she should be eating about a quarter of what she was eating in week eight. She should be eating less bone and more vegetables, as you want her diet to have a gentle laxative effect. On the day before giving birth, many mums go off their food completely.
Mum may be eating more in those last few weeks, but she shouldn’t be getting fat. What she needs is extra protein, vitamins, essential fatty acids and minerals, exactly what you will find in a well-balanced raw food diet. Incidentally, there are a couple of things you need to avoid during pregnancy. First of all, don’t give any food with too much Vitamin A (such as cod liver oil) in the first five or six weeks of the pregnancy, as it can be dangerous to foetal health. Before the pregnancy and once mum is lactating, cod liver oil is valuable, however. Second, don’t give mum any extra calcium while she is pregnant. Indeed, in the last week or two many breeders switch to a lower-calcium diet. Why? Because this is what mums do in the wild! They eat much more meat (and organ meat, especially liver, which has a laxative effect) than bones. They want the higher protein. Too much calcium during pregnancy can cause tissue calcification and other birth defects in puppies.
After the happy day
If your new mum wants to eat the afterbirth then you shouldn’t stop her. It is full of nutrients that will help to nourish her in the first few days after the puppies have been born when she may not feel like leaving the puppies or eating.
By and large if your new mum is on a well-balanced raw food diet then while she is feeding her puppies she can usually be given as much food as she feels like. The only time you might limit her intake would be during the first week or if the litter were very small. After the puppies are born, mum should return to close to her ideal weight, that is to say the weight she was before she became pregnant, and she should maintain this weight until the puppies are weaned. This will be over a five- to six-week period with the peak demands for milk in weeks three to five.
When you wean the puppies off their mother’s milk, you should reduce the amount of food you are giving her. You want her body to register that milk is no longer required. Assuming that she is producing ample quantities of milk, cut her food back to the normal amount and stop giving her chicken wings until her milk has dried up.
How a natural diet boosts fertility
The first thing to remember is that it takes two to tango! Dogs are just as likely to suffer from fertility issues as bitches are. Most manufactured dog food offers a narrow spectrum of nutrients, damaged fats and proteins, high chemical and grain levels, high levels of artificial calcium, salt and sugar mixed with low levels of natural antioxidants, enzymes, available micronutrients and phytochemicals and… but you get the idea.
One of the effects of feeding processed food to several generations of dogs, according to Dr Ian Billinghurst in his book Grow Your Pups with Bones, is substantially reduced fertility. He points out that ‘the best way to be certain of low to nonexistent fertility … is to feed dogs a dry food starting from when they are puppies’. Billinghurst then goes on to explain why the different elements (essential fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin C, antioxidants and so forth) in a raw food diet boost fertility. For males he lays great stress on the need for zinc, which occurs naturally in lamb, beef, chicken, liver, eggs and carrots as well as methionine (found in eggs), magnesium (found in green vegetables), manganese (again found in green vegetables) and selenium (found in eggs). Billinghurst feels that it is always better for dogs to obtain all these nutrients from their food and warns against overdoing it with supplements. Where supplements may be required, it is vital to get professional advice as it is possible to overdose a dog on ingredients such as zinc.
How wolves feed their pups
For the first three or four weeks, puppies live on their mother’s milk. Interestingly, if something happens to the mother then another bitch from the same pack will take over. Female wolves have the ability to produce milk even if they haven’t given birth. The milk not only provides all the nourishment required but also helps to build each puppy’s immunity to disease.
At around three to four weeks (and sometimes earlier) puppies will start to pick up food scraps discarded by the other wolves in the pack. They will play with the food and chew on it. In this way they learn to eat. Milk will be part of their diet until they are around seven weeks.
At around six to seven weeks the mother and other members of the pack will start regurgitating their own food and giving it to the puppies. Puppies may eat regurgitated food as part of their diet for up to 20 weeks after they are born.
The switch to adult food is gradual, usually starting at around 12 weeks and finishing at 16 weeks, which is about the time the puppies get their permanent teeth.
Feeding newborn puppies
It is vital to a dog’s long-term health that he or she eat the best possible food when being weaned. It is especially damaging to puppies to allow them to eat processed foods containing harmful ingredients, additives and chemicals. A puppy’s stomach lining is more permeable than an adult dog’s, so the risk of causing lasting health issues is much greater.
For the first three weeks of their lives, your puppies need nothing more than their mother’s milk. Weaning should be a gradual process starting at three to four weeks and finishing at about eight weeks, assuming that mum’s milk holds out. If mum starts to dry up then you may need to speed things up a little. The earliest a puppy can really be started on solid food is 3 weeks of age. As with humans, the longer puppies drink (within an 8- to 12-week timeframe… not indefinitely!) their mother’s milk, the better it is for their development.
At three weeks it is a good idea to offer puppies cut-up bits of chicken wing for them to lick and play with. It doesn’t matter if they eat anything. You just want them to become familiar with the smell and taste.
You should slowly introduce solid food after the fourth week. After about six or seven weeks the puppies should be nearly weaned. They may still be drinking mum’s milk, but it won’t be their main source of nutrition. Incidentally, if there are foods you want your puppies to eat when they are adults this is a good time to introduce them.
In terms of volume of food there is no hard-and-fast rule but, generally speaking, you should follow these guidelines:
0–4 months: 8%
4–6 months: 6–8%
6–9 months: 4%
9–12 months: 3%
12 months: 2%
The percentage refers to the weight of the food to be fed per day in relation to the body weight of the puppy.
So a puppy aged less than 4 months would receive 8% of its body weight every day. The transition should be gradual, not sudden. So the day a puppy turns 6 months you don’t suddenly drop the food from 8 to 4%, and in the case of miniature and smaller breeds you need to up the quantity by up to half as much again. Do remember that no two dogs have the same metabolism and the above is for general guidance only. The precise ingredients of what you feed will also have a bearing on quantities.
Puppy feeding tips
Make the move from mother’s milk to raw feeding gently. It takes a few weeks for a puppy’s digestive system to cope with a 100% adult diet.
There is an argument for feeding puppies the more solid food in the evening as this gives them time to digest the food properly while they are sleeping.
During the transition, you might like to give your puppies foods that are easy to digest such as egg yolks, natural yoghurt, goat’s milk and even a bit of mashed-up vegetable. In weeks four, five and six you could offer lightly cooked chicken and perhaps add some probiotic and digestive enzymes. Chicken wings are fine from six weeks but ideally should be from young birds. Puppies shouldn’t be given any food with more than a 10 or 15% bone content until after they are 10 or 12 weeks old.
Remember that, in the wild, puppies would be eating the regurgitated, semi-digested contents of their mother’s stomach. These easy-to-digest foods are in addition to the more ‘solid’ raw food you will be providing.
Feed your puppy three or four times a day up until the age of 12 weeks and then twice a day until fully grown. Small breeds tend to reach full size at between 8 and 10 months, larger breeds from between 10 months and a year. Giant breeds may take as long as 16 months to reach maturity.
Go easy on liver! It can cause runny stools. Lamb liver is best.
If possible, feed only organic ingredients. It is best to keep as many potentially harmful chemicals out of your puppy’s system as possible.
You shouldn’t really need to add supplements, but if you feel you want to then consider kelp powder, B vitamins, vitamin C, flax or hemp seed oil and even the occasional multivitamin pill. But approach supplements cautiously and seek professional advice. Note a little garlic and ginger in the diet will help to ward off parasites.
Puppy feeding plan
- 0–3 weeks: Mother’s milk
- 3–4 weeks: Start on soft foods such as egg yolks, lightly cooked chicken, mashed-up vegetables. Let them play with ‘adult food’. Three meals a day.
- 6 weeks: Introduce chicken wings and more adult food but not too much bone.
- 12 weeks: Full adult diet and cut back to two meals a day. Occasional fasting.
- Fully grown: One meal a day and regular fasting.
If your dog is pregnant or feeding puppies please don’t hesitate to contact us for additional advice and information.
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