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Weaning puppies onto a raw diet

Updated: Nov 20, 2023


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Weaning should occur as a natural, slow progression for the pups from a diet of 100% milk to a 100% solid food; it should be stress free for both the mother and the pups as they start to reduce their reliance on their mother’s milk as her milk supply reduces. Ideally the weaning process begins before it is necessary with the Bitch still able to supply ample milk to satisfy all of her pups. This allows the puppies to be introduced to solid food without any requirement to actually eat it. Instead, they can just play, suck and chew on it to get used to the smell, taste and textures in a relaxed, stress-free fashion. The puppy's digestive system and immune system are not sufficiently developed to handle the ingestion of solid food until 4 weeks old, until this time they should only be relying on milk from the mum to avoid the development of any dietary health issues.


By the time the puppies are 3-4 weeks old they should still be receiving ample milk from the bitch, at this time they can be introduced to raw meaty bones such as chicken necks or wings. Introducing them to these solid foods at this young age is a great way to get them used to the taste and provide a useful teething aid for those sharp baby teeth cutting through whilst the mum is still able to meet their nutritional needs. It’s important that the bones are fresh so as not to place an unnecessary bacterial burden on the puppies’ immune systems. They should also be provided at room temperature and definitely not chilled or frozen. Making small cuts into the meaty portion of the bones will increase the palatability for the pups but they shouldn’t be minced or chopped as they need to remain big enough to be chew toys rather than swallowed. Ideally the bitch will also be used to eating a raw diet, she may therefore be keen to eat the meaty bones provided, if necessary, the pups could be separated from mum to have some ‘meaty bone play time’ while mum has her own supply, a recreational bone or perhaps just some rest time, whatever is appropriate for her. Raw liver chunks can also be offered to the pups during this time, again as an introduction to the new smell, taste and texture without any need to eat any of it, although it is not an issue if they do eat some of it.


By week four, both the digestive system and immune system of the puppies should be sufficiently developed to successfully tackle solid food without any digestive issues or upsets, this is also the time when the puppies’ energy demands are likely to begin exceeding the mothers supply of milk making it an ideal time for the pups to start eating solid food properly. The soft meaty chicken bones remain the ideal choice for the puppies as they are now ready to start eating, not just playing with the meat and bones. It may be worthwhile chopping them up a bit if required to make them a little more manageable; it does however depend on the puppies as many are quite capable of crunching their way through a neck or wing without any issues and if they are capable of this then they should be encouraged to do so. If any of the puppies are swallowing the bones whole, then bigger bones should be provided such as chicken frames rather than wings. Liver can continue to be provided, like the chicken bones, chopping it into manageable sizes is recommended but only as much as is needed as it’s far better for the puppy's development to be breaking down their own food.


At 6 weeks old the pups become very curious about their world, with teeth cutting through and healthy appetites they bite and chew on everything around them, combined with mum’s dwindling milk supply this is the ideal time to introduce them to a wider range of dog appropriate foods. Meaty bones are now the major component of their diet and rightly so, this is the ideal way to meet their mineral needs and with some added liver their nutritional needs are easily met without any need for supplementation.


Adding other items such as plain, organic Greek yoghurt, eggs, or leafy greens during this curious period is a great way to set the pups up for adulthood with a high level of acceptance for a wide variety of foods. When adding new foods, it's important to maintain a high proportion of meaty bones to ensure nutritional needs continue to be met. A simple way to ensure the minimum 60% meaty bone and 10% offal component continue to be met is to mince them and mix with the other foods being introduced so that the pups are not able to pick and choose one item over another.


By 7 weeks of age the pups will be almost fully weaned with mums' milk production greatly reduced as she prepares to ‘dry off’, their reliance should now be on a steady supply of meaty bones, liver and other solid foods provided to prepare them as they become fully weaned by the age of 8 weeks old.

Dr Ian Billinghurst, Author

If you’re looking for an easy, well-informed read on nutrition, one author worth checking out is Dr Ian Billinghurst with chapters devoted to breeding specific nutrition, the above article is based on his text Grow your pups with bones.


The above is provided to inform only, animal breeding involves many complex issues and with an abundance of abandoned animals already available, adoption is recommended.



Sources

Billinghurst, I. (1998). Grow your pups with bones. Bathurst, New South Wales: Warrigal Publishing.


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