Wholesome, healthy food is a cornerstone of well-being for all living things, and there are numerous benefits of feeding a natural diet to your puppy. In many cases, getting off to the right start with good nutrition will set a pup up for a lifetime of great health.
Much of the poorer quality pet foods contain so many cheap fillers and indigestible ingredients, that a pup has to eat a huge amount in order to obtain the nutrition he needs. Recipes that contain whole foods and organic ingredients are generally better quality overall.
Because of the dramatic increase in allergies, immune problems and even illnesses such as cancer since the introduction of commercial pet foods years ago, many people have decided to begin making their own dog food. A carefully balanced homemade diet can be an excellent source of nutrition but can often be very time consuming to prepare and tricky to balance.
There are of course, also some human foods that dogs should never eat; these include grapes, raisins, onions, chocolate, macadamia nuts and any foods containing the natural sweetener Xylitol, to name a few. However, these foods aside, healthy people food that is properly balanced to provide all the nutrients required by a puppy, adult or senior dog is one of the best things you can offer your pup!
Regardless of whether you choose to offer a homemade or commercially produced diet, there are some important nutritional differences between what a pup needs in order to grow and develop properly compared with what an adult dog needs as a maintenance diet.
Puppies need proportionately more calories, protein, vitamins and minerals than adult dogs— balance is crucial, and more is definitely not always better. Pups have a faster metabolic rate than adult dogs. Growth and development alone consume a lot of energy. Many pups go through growth spurts, and even more food than usual can be required at these times, but care should be taken to keep the puppy lean and ensure he doesn’t grow too big, too quickly.
Protein, made up of amino acids, is the primary building block of skin, muscles, cartilage, organs and other tissues. Puppies require certain amino acids, such as Arginine, in much larger quantities than adults. For large-breed puppies, restricting protein intake, as many people try to do, can alleviate fear of causing skeletal problems. In fact, a moderate protein intake is best. Around 25 percent to 29 percent is a good starting point for most pups.
Calcium + Phosphorus
These minerals must be provided to a puppy in balanced ratios for proper skeletal development and healthy teeth. The ratios can be between 1 part calcium to 1 part phosphorus, and up to 2 parts calcium, to 2 parts phosphorus—with the optimum ratio between these two values. Feeding calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D (which aids in the absorption of calcium) in quantities outside of their optimal ratios increases the risk of developmental deformities in growing pups.
Calcium is also a necessary component of the blood and is important for nerve and muscle function. If dietary intake of calcium is too low to support normal blood calcium concentrations, then calcium will be mobilized from the bones. In contrast, excess dietary calcium causes additional calcium to be deposited into the bone.
A diet that’s excessively high in calcium may contribute to bone problems in young, rapidly growing dogs. There appears to be a link between the incidence of hypertrophic osteodystrophy, osteochondritis dissecans, and hip dysplasia and high dietary calcium intake. Scientific studies have been conducted in which researchers fed dogs calcium at a much higher amount than recommended and compare the incidence of disease in dogs that were fed normal or less-than-normal calcium levels. Those animals that were overfed calcium showed increased incidence of skeletal problems, including hip dysplasia.
Fat-soluble vitamins should also be supplemented very sparingly, if at all. A fat-soluble vitamin (A, D, E or K) will be stored within the body fat if fed in excess and can become toxic in very high quantities. But a deficiency of vitamin E can lead to muscle degeneration, and insufficient choline can be problematic for the liver. A vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteochondrosis, and inadequate levels of vitamin A can cause eye and skin problems, reduced resistance to infection and abnormal bone development.
Water-soluble vitamins (C and the B group) are less problematic because any excess of these substances is excreted in the urine. Vitamin C is important for collagen production, healthy skin and immunity. Some holistic vets also recommend it for its anti-inflammatory properties, especially in large-breed pups, though its use is not agreed upon because dogs actually manufacture their own vitamin C. The B vitamins are necessary for a whole array of functions including metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, and enzyme formation.
Pups should be kept lean because getting chubby and overweight can put stress on delicate, developing joints. With larger-breed puppies in particular, it’s important to keep a close eye on total calorie intake. Studies have shown that dogs who maintain a lean body throughout life enjoy a longer life expectancy than those who are allowed to become overweight, so it’s important to start a puppy off on the right track.
Just as the correct balance of nutrients is essential for a pup’s growth and development, so too is digestibility. Focusing too heavily on the percentage of protein in a particular food can mean that not enough attention is paid to the quality of that protein, and how it will be assimilated by a puppy’s young body. For example, a food that contains poultry by-products like chicken feet, beaks and feathers is far less digestible than one that is made with true chicken muscle meat.
In addition to feeding a healthy diet, it’s important to try to feed only good-quality natural treats to your puppy for rewards and training. Look for small treats that won’t fill him up too quickly and avoid products with by-products, fillers and chemical preservatives. With softer, jerky-style treats, avoid those containing propylene glycol and excess sugars.
Raw beef marrow bones (also called soup bones) make an excellent treat between meals. Your puppy will not actually eat these, but gnaw on them in delight! These are available from many supermarkets and will help with teething and also keep adult dogs’ teeth clean and sparkling white. They also provide hours of chewing entertainment that can help to alleviate separation anxiety and reduce destructive chewing on household objects.
Extra nutritional supplements are not usually necessary with a healthy, wholesome diet unless your vet or breeder recommends them for your particular dog. Examples of supplements that may be recommended for a pup include green foods like spirulina, bone meal or an essential fatty acid supplement such as fish oil or seed oil.
The benefits of a good, wholesome, natural diet are numerous. A raw food or home-cooked diet is commonly associated with increased strength and vitality, “happy” eyes, and freedom from chronic skin and health problems such as dry hair, excessive scratching, ear infections and digestive problems. You may fi nd your puppy gets lots of compliments for his healthy, shiny coat and bright disposition!