One of the best decisions you can make for your puppy is to feed her a diet rich in fresh and natural ingredients. The first year of your pup's life is an important time as her body grows and develops, and feeding a diet made up of a variety of nutritious options will have long-lasting, positive effects on her health as an adult.
The first question every new puppy owner considering a raw diet has in mind is "When can you start feeding raw?"
The answer is: as soon as you get your puppy!
In fact, many dogs are transitioned from their mothers milk directly to raw food with no kibble in between. The sooner you can start your puppy on raw, the better, but if you have a puppy whose been sick or you'd like to hold off on feeding raw for just a while longer, you can do that too. A raw diet can be started at any age. Many dogs do not transition until much later on in life, when they are full-grown adults.
It's better to start your puppy on a raw diet as soon as possible. Waiting until adulthood simply means your puppy never gets the benefits of a raw diet while she's young and could use them the most. Puppies as young as 5 weeks old can be transitioned to soft raw food.
Although the pictures of raw meals for dogs may look pretty appetizing on social media (as dog food goes), it's best to start puppies off on just a single protein at a time. That means, no adding popular raw feeding community favorites like egg, vegetables, or goat milk until your puppy is comfortable eating just one protein.
In example, if you decide to start your puppy on chicken, for a few days, make sure to feed only chicken, such as chicken wing flats, chicken breast, chicken neck, feet, or thigh and see how it goes. If your puppy was transitioned directly to raw food, this stage usually goes fine, with minimal stomach upset.
Don't worry too much about your puppy becoming deficient during the transition period, because you will soon be adding more ingredients to your puppies food and this will balance it over time.
If your puppy is already eating kibble and you'd like to switch to raw, transition her off of her kibble by feeding a little less of it with each meal until her meal is completely, or mostly raw. This will help minimize the stomach upset associated with suddenly switching your dog to a new type of food.
Not everybody feeds completely raw dog food, and it is common for owners to keep their dogs on half raw, half kibble (or some combination of that) their entire lives. There's nothing wrong with that - the more your dog can get access to fresh, wholesome ingredients, the better! Think of raw food as a homecooked meal and kibble as fast-food. The more your dog can get of the former, the healthier she will be, but a little fast-food here and there probably wont be an issue. It's when your dog is eating fast-food for every meal of the day that it's a problem.
Depending on your preference, puppies should be crated or fed outside, but should not be allowed to run around inside the house with raw food. Although raw meat poses little threat by itself, there's no reason to let your puppy walk around the house with raw meat in her mouth. All the manners and life lessons your puppy needs to learn come from you guiding her behavior - if you don't allow her to run around with her food while she's young, she wont do it when she's older.
Feed your puppy based on how she looks, not based on what a chart says. You should be able to feel ribs, but not see them. It is very hard for puppies to get fat on a raw diet, so if your puppy looks a little bit lean, don't hesitate to add in an extra meal.
If you're making your own homemade raw food, the easiest way to go about it is to prepare your food ahead of time. Depending on how much freezer space you have, how many dogs you have, and how big they are, you can store several months of frozen raw food at a time. Take it out the night before and it will be ready to feed the next day. Preparing raw food ahead of time requires a commitment of several hours, but means 0 work when it comes to actually feeding your dogs.
You can also buy premade raw dog food online and have it shipped to your house, or look into local co-ops and raw feeding groups for raw food made locally. Some pet stores now carry specialty raw food brands like Stella & Chewy's, so switching to raw may be as easy as heading to the pet store!
Whatever you decide, there's nothing wrong with preparing raw food in your own kitchen. The same rules of disinfecting and cleaning apply as if you were handling raw meat for the human members of your family, but in the 12+ years I've fed raw dog food, I've never had an incident.
Some common raw food preparation essentials include:
You should feed your puppy 3 times a day until he's 6 months old, after which point you can taper off to feeding twice or only once per day, depending on your preference. It is generally advisable to keep large dogs on 2 meals per day throughout their lives, as feeding a lot of raw meat at once can make your dog sick, or uncomfortable, whereas breaking the same amount of food into 2 smaller meals will be much easier to digest.
Nutrition is a complex thing, whether human or animal. Like us, our dogs bodies operate on a system of reserves - in other words, their body tries to store minerals and fats for when there aren't enough, but when in deficit, the body can pull from these reserves to keep functioning. It's more important that you provide a variety of organ meat and naturally occuring vitamins and minerals over time than it is to try to get it perfect in every meal.
As your puppy grows, her body will change and so will her nutritional needs. In general, a raw diet made up of bones, muscle-meat, and organ is perfect by design. For thousands of years dogs and their ancestors have survived on nothing but raw meat, with the organs, skin, and fur still intact, so as long as you can provide enough of these raw building blocks, your dog will naturally metabolize and convert this food into energy without issue.