Ask a Vet: What Age Can I Feed My Puppy Raw Food?
The team at Verm-X are all passionate about feeding our animals the most natural and healthy food possible.
Many of us choose to feed our cats and dogs Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF), a diet that's close to what their ancestors would have eaten in the wild, starting from when they're small.
But, at what age can you start feeding your puppy raw food? We asked our consultant vet Dr Nick Thompson for his advice on introducing puppies to raw food.
What age can a puppy eat raw food?
Starting a puppy on a raw food diet is a process many pet owners are considering. It's an age-old debate whether traditional dog food or a raw diet is better, but if you're leaning towards the raw diet option, you might ask yourself, "What age can I feed my puppy raw food?"
Let's look at some key pointers in this simple process to make the introduction of raw food simple, safe and healthy.
Before you start your puppy on raw
Before embarking on this exciting adventure with a new litter of pups, there are three things to do (if you're not an old hand at this most ancient of processes).
First, read as broadly as possible on the subject of raw feeding. Suggestions would be:
- Feeding Dogs by Dr Conor Brady
- Real Food for Dogs and Cats by Dr Clare Middle
- BARF for Puppies by Swanie Simon
Secondly, talk to experienced raw feeders among your friends online or consult with raw food vets or nutritionists.
Finally, talk to your local raw store and to raw food manufacturers all around the country. Assess the quality of the food and the service you receive, whether your pups or bitch like their products, and whether you like their ethics and ethos.
Recommended raw diet for puppies: getting started
It's essential to understand that while adult dogs may transition smoothly to a raw food diet, puppies are similar but just need more attention to detail. They require a balanced and nutritious diet to facilitate rapid growth and development.
As a pet owner, I suggest starting a puppy on a raw diet as early as three weeks of age. This is typically when puppies start showing interest in mum's minced foods while they are still nursing.
Starting them on their mother's raw diet can help them transition to solid food, mimicking a natural progression. But it's crucial to consult with a vet experienced in raw feeding beforehand, ensuring puppy gets all the necessary nutrients.
Let puppies feed from the mother's bowl to encourage this natural process. If the mother's food is mixed with the puppy's, it can make the transition smoother for the little ones. Initially, puppies are fed on more finely minced products but can move on to all but the chunkiest minces by the time they are 8-12 weeks.
How to switch puppy to raw diet: meat and bones
The first few weeks should be focused on feeding them finely minced meats. This will help them adjust to the new diet and develop a taste for raw food. Rotating the proteins, offering one protein per week and offering a variety like beef, chicken, turkey, duck, fish, and lamb is advisable to expose them to various tastes and nutrients.
Each minced meat (always from frozen and containing bone and organ meats) has its unique nutritional profile, providing diverse nutrients. As puppy grows, larger pieces of meat and large, uncut soft, edible bones, such as chicken wings and carcasses, turkey and duck necks, can be introduced gradually.
It is better to offer an uncut turkey neck or chicken carcass, even though it may be bigger than the puppy's head! In theory, small fragments of bone/cartilage could cause choking problems. Keep it large!
Chewing on bones will contribute to the pups' oral and mental health, but remember never to give cooked bones, as they can splinter and cause harm. Minces and bony chewing material can be served frozen for teething pups to help soothe sore gums.
Raw feeding puppies: hygiene
While raw feeding can have its benefits, hygiene is non-negotiable. Raw meat can carry low levels of pathogens harmful to pets and humans, so washing hands thoroughly after feeding and keeping the feeding area clean are necessary. Any leftovers should be promptly refrigerated to prevent spoilage.
But don't let this panic you. Feeding pups raw is overwhelmingly a safe and rewarding business.
A recent study from the University of Helsinki (2019) examined over 45,000 households where dogs were fed raw food. Their conclusion what that human householders were more likely to come down with transmissible infections if they had kids at nursery school than if they fed raw food to their dogs!
And infections were less likely if food for the dogs and humans was prepared in the same place, e.g. the central kitchen. Pretty logical, really, but nice to hear, nonetheless.
Remember that every puppy is unique. Close observation of the puppy's health and behaviour during the transition to a raw diet is necessary.
To sum up, you could feed a puppy raw food from about three weeks. Raw feeding is easy, but the journey requires careful planning, hygiene, and continuous observation of the puppies' reaction to the new diet.
Consultation with a raw feeding vet can be reassuring but not critical. If done correctly, a raw food diet can enormously contribute to puppies' long-term health and well-being.
Ready to switch your puppy to raw? Here are some additional resources to help you on your journey.
Best raw food for puppies
Raw feeding involves feeding uncooked and unprocessed foods, such as raw meat, bones, organs and sometimes vegetables and fruits.
If you're new to raw feeding and want an easy option, to here are plenty of prepared meals available for your puppy.
Benyfit offers nutritious raw food formulated for your puppy. Made with a finer mince for smaller mouths and with added Verm-X for gut health.
In addition to a raw diet, we offer a Natural Essentials Puppy Bundle which you can introduce to your puppy from three months.
Raw feeding puppy calculator
Benyfit also have a handy calculator on the website so you can work out exactly how much to feed them.
Raw diet for puppies recipes
As mentioned before, it's crucial to consult with a veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist to tailor the diet to your puppy's specific needs.
Additionally, always prioritise food safety by handling and storing raw meat properly.
Chicken and vegetable mix
- 70% raw chicken (muscle meat)
- 10% raw chicken liver (organ meat)
- 10% raw chicken heart (organ meat)
- 10% mixed vegetables (carrots, broccoli, spinach, etc.)
- Thaw the raw chicken if frozen and cut it into appropriate-sized chunks.
- Dice the vegetables into small pieces or use a food processor to finely chop them.
- Mix the raw chicken, liver, heart, and vegetables in a large bowl until well combined.
Beef and fish blend
- 50% raw beef (muscle meat)
- 20% raw beef kidney (organ meat)
- 20% raw fish (salmon or mackerel, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids)
- 10% mixed leafy greens (kale, collard greens, etc.)
- Cube the raw beef and fish into suitable portions.
- Chop or grind the beef kidney finely.
- Blend the beef, beef kidney, raw fish, and leafy greens together in a food processor until thoroughly mixed.
Additional recipes from our Ambassador Dee Dee:
- Festive Doggy Mince Pies
- Bone Broth for Dogs with Apple Cider Vinegar
- Grain-Free Liver Cake
- Healthy Popsicles for Dogs (ideal for teething puppies)
Portion sizes may vary based on your puppy's size, age and activity level. It's essential to monitor their weight and condition regularly and adjust the portions as needed.
Remember to include any necessary supplements, as advised by your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist, to ensure your puppy gets all the essential nutrients.