caloric feeding for puppies

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Supplying appropriate & optimal nutrition when feeding a puppy is important to their growth

Puppies should be fed balanced meals each day

Feeding the Dog in Front of You Matters When Building a Balanced Growth Diet

Vital nutrients can be consistently obtained through the right selection of foods in the correct amounts during a puppy’s growth. It is important to be educated about your breed(s) and if there are any deficiencies or growth abnormalities they may be predisposed to that can be addressed through their diet.

We feed puppies for growth by making sure they are getting the correct types of nutrients in amounts that support them for optimal growth, not maximum growth. Because puppies cannot regulate nutrients the same way that adult dogs can, we need to make sure that they are being fed foods each day in correct amounts that provide the critical nutrition for them to physically and mentally grow properly.

Critical Recap: Your puppy’s breed matters and the types of foods that make up the calories a puppy eats determines their growth.

Using Metabolized Energy (ME) is How We Feed Puppies

The energy density of foods determines how much of what goes into a puppy’s bowl. This is because different foods bring different nutritional values. As a basic example, beef and chicken bring entirely different nutrition, so we wouldn’t feed the same amount of beef as we would chicken. What else is in the bowl with the beef or the chicken also plays a part. Let’s use beef as another example and take it a little further: Different cuts of beef provide different nutrition which means they provide a puppy with different amounts of energy. Some cuts are high protein and low fat while others are high fat and bring minimal protein. We can’t feed a puppy the same amount of two different cuts of beef and have the same nutritional value across the board.

Critical Note: Puppies eat to meet their energy requirements for growth so the appropriate method to formulate their diet, is per unit of energy. 

Maintenance Energy Requirements (MER)

The best method for feeding puppies is via the caloric feeding method. The NRC guidelines for puppies provides a floor which is called minimal requirements (MR) or adequate intake (AI), the window you want to use which is called recommended allowance (RA), and the ceiling, known as, safe upper limit (SUL). These guidelines were established based on the findings of focused studies about puppies. The NRC is a report organized into 15 chapters addressing nutrition aspects of dogs and cats and provides requirements tables and feed ingredients. 

You need to know how much energy your puppy needs before you can build any portion of their diet. Visit the growth stage calorie calculators here. 

To learn how to correctly feed a puppy, visit the Introduction to Caloric Feeding for Puppies Guide here. 

Maintenance Energy Requirements for Growth After Weaning

MER for growth stage after weaning, is 1.2 to 3 times more than that of a typical adult dog’s ME needs. This is because a puppy’s energy needs are extremely high. 

Critical Note About Growth: Calories are not a linear function of body weight. So variables do factor into the MER of a puppy. This is why we do not calculate a puppy’s nutrient needs by body weight (BW). Body weight is used as one of the components of calculating their MER and their individual MER is used to determine their nutrient requirements per ME.

Adult calculators and charts should not be used for calculating a growing puppy’s energy requirements or nutrient needs. 

Building a Raw Diet for a Puppy

In order for puppies to obtain the correct amount of nutrients from the diet it is consuming, that diet must contain appropriate concentrations of each nutrient.

When raw feeding puppies, the right kind of foods to feed a puppy can be accomplished using the food composite databases found here or on the menu under nutrition tools. 87%-93% lean meats are the appropriate choice, with 90% being the solid average to strive for when feeding a puppy. The Nutrient Requirements for puppies established by the National Research Council (NRC), state puppies aged 4 weeks-14 weeks are recommended to be fed 56.3 grams of protein per 1,000 kCals. This number decreases as the puppy ages but the lowest Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for puppies and protein is 43.8 grams per 1,000 kCals.

As discussed, puppies have higher energy needs and nutrients requirements than adult dogs so you want to provide your puppy with a range of beneficial nutrients that can only be gained through the appropriate amounts of proteins, fats, vitamins + minerals. Not every type and cut of meat or organ offers the same value and not everything your puppy needs to grow optimally can be found in just meat/bones/organs. Particularly, a pup’s calcium needs are much higher than an adult dog’s calcium needs so making sure the correct amount of calcium for the pup’s breed and age is important. Other nutrients such as vitamin D3 impact the absorption of calcium and phosphorus so attention to the correct amounts of everything is needed.

Ratio Feeding is not the Correct Way to Feed Puppies

Raw feeding puppies is intricate and requires time and planning. After auditing many puppy diets and seeing the deficiencies & elevated levels of various nutrients and reviewing case studies as part of required reading in companion animal nutrition classes, I cannot recommend ratio feeding for puppies. You just cannot meet their needs via guesses. There are a lot of fantastic tools online and nutrition books that can help you with caloric feeding. Visit the menu to access these types of tools here on SCRFD.

Food for Thought: There is an element of integration that is important to help occur when feeding your puppy a raw diet. You want to first make sure that your puppy is getting optimal nutrition and second, emulate the ancestral diet to a certain extent.

Whole Foods Your Puppy Should Eat if Tolerated

muscle meats • bones • organs • fish • mollusks • sea vegetables • some land plants • other appropriate naturally derived supplements

Raw Facts: Some foods must be made bioavailable for your dog to benefit from them. Do your homework about each food you are considering feeding to see the best way to give it to your puppy.

Too much or too little of something can negatively impact another nutrient level. Balance is key.

Critical Note: It is important to note that large and giant breeds have different skeletal growth than other size breeds of puppies.

Click or press here to learn about the appropriate nutrient levels for large and giant breed puppies 

It is best to work with a canine nutrition professional who specializes in growth stage when initially creating meal plans for your puppy. This arms you with an appropriately balanced plan for you to learn from. 

Energy Providers

Only proteins, fats, and carbohydrates provide energy; vitamins, minerals, and water do not. Notice the NRC recommended protein intake changes based on a puppy’s age while the fats, vitamins, and minerals recommendations apply to puppies aged 4 weeks and older. You can use the nutrition tools provided for you in this guide to make this all come together by feeding the foods talked about and checking the food values you choose in the databases. Though water does not provide energy, water is vital to life and to the optimal functionality of your pup’s internal systems. Offer your pup fresh water with each meal and through the day to ensure they are taking in an appropriate amount of water.

Key Gut Support Suggestions

Probiotics: The immunity a puppy has from its mother begins to dwindle once the puppy is weaned from their mother’s milk and exposed to more environmental factors. Once a puppy reaches about twelve weeks of age, most of its mother’s antibodies have faded and it is important to provide immune system support i.e., gut support. Probiotics have shown to gently stimulate mucosal immunity. Puppies fed probiotics demonstrated higher phagocytic activity of neutrophils which is indicative of enhanced immune response.

There are specific strains of bacteria that are optimally beneficial for dogs such as: Bifidobacterium animalis lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus salivarius, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus reuteri. Look for high-grade products that have these on their ingredients list. Number of CFU’s does play a part in the benefits of a probiotic but it is really about the particular strains that impacts/supports the gut. Choosing a probiotic that contains a prebiotic when feeding a puppy is important because puppies don’t have the same microbiota as adults and providing prebiotics helps build and maintain a healthy gut microbiota.

Fermented Goat Milk: Offering your puppy fermented goat’s milk helps with digestion and acts as a probiotic. Some feeders like to give plain goat’s milk but if your pup is yeasty, then don’t give them plain milk as it can feed the yeast. Stick to the fermented milk (kefir). The fermentation changes the structure of the raw milk. The kefir feeds off the sugar and eats the lactose in the milk. 

Slippery Elm Bark: The Slippery Elm is a species of Elm tree used in herbal medicine. It is a high soluble fiber known as mucilage. Slippery Elm is known to provide nutritive support for gastrointestinal wellness. The digestive support gruel recipe given here includes slippery elm bark and other GI support herbs.

Veggies in Moderation: Puppies do not need vegetables for diet balance but when they are fed to a puppy after being prepared correctly; such as, a steam, a puree, and also via fermenting, all allow for the benefits veggies offer to become more bioavailable for the puppy’s body to use. Choosing a food to ferment that is a soluble fiber (prebiotic) and rich in carotenoids and/or antioxidants is recommended.

Fiber can displace the energy of other nutrients but it is important to include fiber in a puppy’s diet. See the introduction to caloric feeding for puppies guide to learn about fiber types and how to feed it to puppies. 

Suggested Foods to Feed your Puppy to Offer a More Balanced Meal

Feed your puppy oily fish such as salmon, raw sardines or mackerel. Oily fish helps boost Omega3s. Mackerel and Salmon are also excellent source of vitamin D3.

Vitamin D3’s functions are intricately involved with normal calcium and phosphorus homeostasis in the body. At the site of the intestine, vitamin D stimulates the synthesis of calcium-binding protein, which is needed for efficient absorption of dietary calcium & phosphorus. Vitamin D affects normal bone growth & calcification by acting with Parathyroid Hormone (PHT) to mobilize calcium from bone and by causing an increase in phosphate reabsorption in the kidneys. 

Zinc is another important part of your puppy’s diet. Red meat is a great source of zinc. You can also offer your pup oysters for zinc. Some feeders like to ferment raw (no salt) pumpkin seeds as a zinc boost option. This is not the most ideal way to provide zinc to canines because of the presence of phytates. The bioavailability of zinc from plants is lower than from animal products. Zinc is involved in numerous aspects of cellular metabolism and immune function.

Iodine is needed for the synthesis of thyroid gland hormones. Seafood and seaweed are both whole food sources of iodine you can use in your pup’s meals to help get the vital trace mineral into their body. A little bit about kelp: It is a sea vegetable and it has a plethora of minerals + trace minerals as well as amino acids. Kelp is iodine-rich so it provides support to the glandular system, particularly the pituitary, adrenal, and thyroid glands.  Certified kelp is a great food source for metabolism support. Certified organic seaweeds are not permitted to contain heavy metals or other contaminants so be sure to use certified organic kelp.

Vitamin E is an important vitamin that can be low in a raw diet. Vitamin E is a required nutrient provided by the diet and it’s also an antioxidant. It is a group of eight fat-soluble compounds that include four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. Alpha-tocopherol is the most biologically active of these compounds. High amounts of Alpha-tocopherol are found in wheat germ oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil. This can be fed via foods or it can be met via a high-grade, gluten, wheat, and dairy-free complex.

The owner, Amy Granillo, CHN, DipCN, CertCN is trained and equipped to formulate balanced growth diets for puppies using canine nutrition guidelines. If you would like to learn about these options and the other raw feeding services offered, you can find them on the menu under diet formulating services + consultations.