Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Basics of puppy feeding

One of my customers recently had acquired a German Shepherd puppy. Before she did so she diligently, first without and later with my input and in great detail had researched dog and puppy food. She came to her own conclusion, and I congratulated her on her decision, that it would be best to let the puppy grow up on a raw diet. We decided upon the freeze dried version of AFS Beef nibblets to be once in a while supplemented with some freeze dried Beef Tripe nibblets. She was in heaven, her most cutest puppy loved it, her vet had nothing but positive comments on the puppy’s health and of course I was happy as well as I had acquired a new and loyal customer for our business. Then, all the sudden out of the blue, one day she called me. She was a little down and after some small talk I came to find out that she simply had come to realize that, though it was a great choice, she simply could not afford the raw diet due to the simple fact that her, just like any other, puppy was eating unbelievable amounts of food without any consideration for his mom’s budgets. And it certainly was a burden on her finances. This was the point when once again we started discussing puppy feeding. I told her, look, it’s just like this:
All puppies during the early stages of their lives go through a rapid growth and development period. Normally they require at least double, some even 3 to 4 times the amount of nutrients compared to older dogs. Additionally they require higher levels of nutrients. Nutrients, which typically are not available in regular adult maintenance food. When feeding dry or canned food you want to make sure you get the puppy formulas during the first year. These special formulas usually are higher in protein (28%-30%), and enriched with the fat soluble and water soluble vitamins, minerals, fats, and other essentials nutrients your puppy needs during the growth period.
When you get your puppy make sure to find out what the breeder or from whomever you get it, was feeding and stay with that same food for at least a while. I have a lot of breeder customers and what we do with many of them is that they increase their puppy price slightly and in return also provide the new owners with an initial food supply. Then slowly start using the food you have chosen to feed going forward and based on the information you received from the breeder and your veterinarian. A pet needs to be switched to a new food slowly to prevent intestinal upset. A typical transition period lasts about 10 days to 2 weeks. Initially start with mixing 10% of the new food with 90% of the old one, then slowly increase the ratio of new to old, feeding each new ratio mixture for about a couple of days until you are at the final point of feeding 100% of the new food. If during the transition period you notice vomiting, loose stools or that your puppy appears constipated, slow down with the new food and take more time. Ultimately your puppy will get used to it.
I never recommended semi moist food for puppies. Based on my and my customers’ experience I also no longer recommend canned food. Canned foods are typically higher in calories and fat. On average they are around 80% moisture, the pet food industry’s fancy name for water. The high moisture content also makes them an expensive food considering the nutrient value of the can. Semi moist foods is on average slightly above 50% in moisture but for preservation uses high salt or sugar content, both of them not being good for your puppy. Similar to canned food you are paying too much for water. Dry foods on average contain 8 to 12% moisture and are made of the same quality ingredients as cans and semi moist. Kibble diets are simply the most economical way to go. They also are convenient, easy to store and use and in my mind for your pup simply better than semi moist of cans.
Dogs on dry foods typically have fewer intestinal upsets usually reflected in diarrhea or constipation. They also have fewer problems with unwanted weight gain. I see no advantage over canned food as far as hair coat or skin quality is concerned. Additionally, some manufacturers and even vets want to make us believe that dry is also better for dental health due to the abrasive nature of a dry kibble. I don’t go along with that theory, in my mind dental health and maintenance is a subject on its own having something but very little to do with food.
Another issue always brought up in puppy food discussions are table scraps. Most vets are strictly advising against them. So are many pet food manufacturers, especially the commercial mass producers. While the manufacturers have a certain intention behind such philosophy, which is simply selling you more of their food, I came to the conclusion that many vets are against table scraps for the simple reason that they don’t want you to feed your puppy junk food. Unfortunately many pet owners don’t make a difference of good, healthy (such as veggies & fruits, meats) and unhealthy, bad (fried food, fatty, heavy sauces, etc.) table scraps. Many nutritionists these days say that dogs that on a good quality commercially prepared dry food are nutritionally better off than their owners are. This has been shown in many studies. And they argue that table scraps are usually high in calories, certainly are not balanced and neither are they fortified with required vitamins/minerals as your dog requires them. This last statement lets me conclude that they are talking about table scraps as an exclusive feed, not what I am talking about, an occasional treat.
Just like you would pick for an adult dog, make sure the dry food you select has a meat based protein source as one of its first two ingredients.
With regards to money, like with everything else, with dog food, you (careful, unfortunately not always) get what you pay for. Stay away from economy or super market brands. They are cheap, made of the cheapest ingredients available, useless, will make your puppy a sick dog and very often involved in recalls. Their energy values are lower, they use lowest grade proteins with lower digestibility. This means the majority of the food passes right through the puppy’s digestive system and is not absorbed. Premium brands, which include those classified as Super Premium and Performance, use higher quality ingredients from sources with higher biological values. Because better quality ingredients mean better digestibility, your puppy does not need to eat as much and less waste is produced (which means less to pick up in the yard).
Learn the secrets of how to read and correctly understand the package labels. Remember, the back of the dog food bag does not tell the entire story. This includes important information like for example info on digestibility, i.e. how much of the food is actually being used by your puppy’s body. Talk to your vet, a pet nutritional consultant or a professional breeder about the best food for your puppy. Typically store clerks at the general merchandise supermarket, grocery market or pet super market are not reliable sources when it comes to optimized puppy nutrition. You may find out they may know less than you do.
Your puppy’s feeding schedule will be somewhat dictated by your own personal schedule. Get them used to a strict schedule starting on day 1 or latest day 2. Puppies under six months of age should be fed three times daily; between six and twelve months old, two times daily; and once per day after twelve months of age. Puppies maturing into adults will naturally decrease the number of feedings per day on their own.
Feeding your puppy on a schedule also helps you for house training. After the meals the puppy will need to go to the bathroom. Doing that on a more set schedule makes housetraining easier and faster. Make it a habit to give the puppy some quiet time after the meal. Keep excitement away, for example, do not let the children play with him for the first hour to one to two hours after a meal. It could lead to some stomach upsets that can sometimes be very serious. Still, just a reminder, the puppy will need to go to the bathroom, however.
The amount of food given with each meal should never be dictated by what is on the back of the puppy food bag. Those numbers give you a basic guideline. From my own experience, many puppies need less than what the food manufacturer recommend, some others may need more. Adjust the amount of food to maintain your puppy’s optimal weight. Remember to always have water available with or immediately following the meal.
Quite frequently puppy owners come to me complaining that their dog doesn’t eat enough. The owners feel the dog is not putting on weight or growing as fast as they think he should. They are tempted to somehow encourage their animals to eat more. Don’t do that. Growth rates and appetites of puppies on a good quality food are primarily dictated by genetics. Do not interfere with nature and try to make your dog grow faster than he should or into something he is not. This will only cause problems. Artificially accelerated growth leads to bone and joint disorders. I always say feed them the amounts they want. At the same time, use common sense, puppies sometimes don’t have that and need your help and strict supervision. But principally let their bodies dictate their needs.
While it is good for our business, it sometimes makes me feel uneasy when I see that pet owners buy (and use) treats in bags as large as kibble bags. Treats should never account for more than 10% of your puppy's caloric intake. Your puppy's food is his sole source for the nutrition he needs. Just like you don’t give children chocolate before meal time, do not fill up your puppy with treats before meal time. Good treats for puppies are trip and/or liver products, best freeze dried with nothing added to them and as a 100% single protein source. They provide nutrients your puppy is unlikely to obtain from any other food source. Hard chew treats like raw bones, tendons, possibly a natural rawhide (make sure of US or South America origin), keep your puppy not just entertained and busy but also improve dental health by exercising the gums and scraping the teeth. Make sure you apply the same quality standards for treats as you expect them you’re your puppy food. Treats also satisfy teething puppy's need to chew and all day long are better than your shoes. Treats also should or can be used as training aids rewarding your learning puppy for good behavior. Always supervise your pet when giving treats to avoid accidents.
Finally, something often getting ignored is water. Puppies may seem to drink large quantities of water. That is simply because they need it. Do not deprive them of it. A dog can starve and lose almost all of his body fat and half of his protein mass (muscle) and still survive. However, if this same patient loses 15% of his body water, he will die. Water is the most important nutrient of all. Dogs of any age being fed dry food need water to rehydrate the food in their stomachs for digestion. Puppies need more water per pound than adults do because they are growing. Growth comes through very active metabolism at the cellular level. These processes produce many wastes and by-products that are excreted into the blood. It requires plenty of water to carry these substances to and be flushed through the kidneys. On a daily basis you must allow your puppy to consume what it wants and needs, even if this is on a scheduled basis, like along with the scheduled meals. And make sure the water is always fresh. This is important because infectious agents and diseases such as leptospirosis, Giardia, E-coli, and Cryptosporidium can be transmitted through contaminated water. Always providing plenty of fresh water greatly reduces the risk of disease.
As to my customer: While all of this while being interesting but really wasn’t anything new to her since we had discussed it before, we still had to come up with an idea as to how to soften the financial burden she was carrying due to her puppy’s humongous appetite. We ended up with the idea of feeding a varied diet of Innova Large Breed Puppy kibble and the AFS raw. This way, as a much more economical solution, the kibble would take over a large part of the diet and still be supplemented with the best possible, a raw diet. Doing so, right in the beginning of the transition we ran into a few minor, but typical and normal problems. Initially the puppy was already spoiled and at first refused the kibble, however shortly after that changed his mind. Then during the initial and typical days of adjustment with some loose stool, we got a kibble with a little higher fiber content (actually it just so happened that Innova had introduced it’s new and improved formula with pumpkin being one of the ingredients) and finally got it right. Now everything is in best order again, the budgets are balanced, so is the food and guess what: My customer just got herself another puppy. It’s cute and small. Right now. The “being small” part will change: It’s a Bull Mastiff. Maybe down the road I have to go through the same scenario once more. Bring it on, I love my job.

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