Feeding puppies

All mammals, including humans, are completely dependent on their mothers from the moment of birth. In humans, this dependency can last until old age, but it’s not the same for puppies. The first two weeks of their independent life are spent mainly eating and sleeping. All the energy requirements of the puppies during this period are met by the mother’s milk. Problems may arise if the mother dog does not have enough milk or if something unfortunate happens to her after giving birth, leaving the puppies without a mother. It’s best if another nursing mother dog is found immediately to care for the puppies. The chances of finding another nursing mother dog during the same lactation period, who has enough milk and is willing to accept the new puppies, are almost zero. In that case, the owners have to step into the role of the mother. They need to provide suitable conditions for raising the puppies. The ambient temperature during the first week should be maintained in the range of 35-37°C. It’s best if this is done in an incubator, but the situation can also be salvaged with makeshift means. The puppies can be raised on an electric heating pad or warmed with plastic bottles filled with hot water, and so on. Puppies cannot regulate their body temperature well and easily become chilled.

The next serious problem is feeding. Newborn puppies cannot withstand even a short period of time without food. More than 50% of their nutritional reserves are depleted within the first 3-4 hours after birth. Therefore, it’s very important for the puppies to start nursing as soon as possible, ideally within 15-30 minutes after birth. Initially, the mother dog doesn’t produce true milk but colostrum, which is rich in antibodies and provides passive immunity to the puppies. It protects them from various infections during the first weeks of their life. As lactation progresses, the colostrum gradually transforms into milk over 2-4 days. Mother’s milk is the only normal and complete food for puppies at the beginning of their life, and only it is capable of sustaining rapid and intensive growth during this stage (puppies double their weight by day 8-10 and triple it by day 19-22). They grow about 20 times faster than human babies.

None of the available kinds of milk are suitable substitutes for canine milk due to significant differences in their composition. Giving such milk (cow, goat, or sheep) forces the puppies to consume larger quantities to meet their energy needs, which are very high (24-25 kcal per 100 g of body weight). A simple example – if a puppy weighs about 600 g and needs 150 kcal daily, it can obtain them from 120 g of milk. If cow’s milk is used, twice as much will be needed. During this early period of life, the kidneys of newborns do not function at full capacity, and consuming large quantities of fluids (milk) would lead to quite adverse consequences. Cow’s milk contains significantly lower amounts of proteins, fats, calcium, and phosphorus. It has a higher content of lactose, which can lead to severe disorders with subsequent dehydration and fatal outcomes. Fortunately, special dry milk formulas for puppies can now be found on our market. They are well-balanced and adapted to the needs of young puppies, but they still cannot fully replace mother’s milk, especially colostrum. For this reason, puppies raised only on milk substitutes are highly susceptible to various viral and bacterial infections because they lack the passive immunity obtained from colostrum.

In our practice, we have had several successful experiences raising orphaned puppies. We used the powdered human milk NAN and FRISOLAC, with the difference that we made a concentration of milk twice as high as the recommended level for human babies. The puppies were fed every 3 hours (even at night) with a special baby bottle, and the temperature of the milk was kept at 38-39°C, with a new portion of milk prepared for each feeding. Feeding can also be done using a pipette, small syringe, or stomach tube (a rubber tube with a suitable diameter), through which the milk goes directly into the stomach. However, it is most convenient to use special puppy bottles of a certain size, depending on the size of the puppies. When artificially feeding, care must be taken to prevent the puppies from choking, milk from leaking from the mouth and nose, and milk from entering the trachea and lungs, as this could cause suffocation.

During the first week of their life, puppies consume between 10 and 30 ml per feeding, depending on the breed. It is advisable to prepare a fresh portion of milk before each feeding. After feeding, each puppy should be stimulated to urinate and defecate. The mother does this by intense licking of the abdomen and the anogenital area of each puppy. Owners can assist by using cotton soaked in warm water or a moistened finger to massage the indicated areas until successful. These procedures are done until the puppies reach 17-20 days of age, after which they can manage relatively well on their own.

At around 25-27 days of age, puppies can be offered less milk and gradually introduced to other foods if necessary. These can be special granulated foods or pastes, initially mixed with milk or warm water to make a thin porridge (slightly thicker than soup). Puppies at this age still lack the instinct to chew and prefer to lap. Until they reach 4 weeks of age, the main food for the puppies remains their mother’s milk. From this period, gradual weaning may begin, which should be completed by 6-8 weeks. The digestive system of the puppies needs to gradually adapt to the new type of food. During this weaning period, puppies are allowed to nurse 1-2 times per day to prevent the mother from developing mastitis (inflammation of the mammary glands).

After weaning, puppies are fed 4-6 times a day, roughly at equal intervals, with each feeding lasting 5-10 minutes. Puppies, both when young and later as adults, tend to overeat, so they should not have constant access to food. After reaching 4 months of age, feedings can be reduced to 3 times a day, and after 7-8 months, they can be fed twice a day. The goal is to feed them frequently but in smaller amounts to avoid chronic stomach enlargement, which could lead to serious problems in the future. It’s common for puppies to often not finish their food or to refuse a feeding altogether; this should not be a cause for concern, as long as it’s not indicative of an illness.

Many pet owners believe that puppies should continue to be primarily fed milk long after weaning. This leads to an absurd practice of making milk-soaked bread, crackers, cheese, and so on, which provides such a poor start in life for their dogs that some consequences cannot be undone. After weaning, puppies do not need to consume fresh milk in any form. Their energy requirements after weaning are so high that they cannot be met by liters of fresh milk and kilograms of cheese per day. Puppies aged 2-4 months need three times more energy per kilogram of body weight compared to adult individuals of the same breed. These high requirements can only be met by exceptionally high-quality food suitable for puppies of a given breed and age, which will guarantee the owner a healthy and beautiful pet in the future.

Dogs are unique in their large breed differences in weight as mature individuals, but the commonality is that all breeds reach approximately 50% of their weight at the same time – around 5-7 months of age. The major difference lies in the fact that small and medium breeds complete their growth at one year of age, while large and giant breeds add the remaining 50% to their weight for about another year, meaning they grow until 24 months of age. Due to this important difference, a Pekingese cannot be fed the same food as a Saint Bernard at 4 months of age and vice versa, just by adjusting the quantity of food offered.

Let’s open a big bracket here and talk a little more about feeding growing puppies from large and giant breeds. In the first category are all breeds that, as adults, weigh between 25-45 kg. These include German Shepherds, Boxers, Dobermans, Wirehaired Pointers, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and others. The second group includes all breeds weighing over 45 kg. In our area, the most common ones are Rottweilers, Saint Bernards, Neapolitan Mastiffs, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Caucasian Shepherds, Central Asian Shepherds, and others.

Most owners of Bolognese, Pinschers, and Dachshunds are already asking themselves: “Why do these little guys deserve special treatment in the canine world?”

We will try to explain the most important differences between David and Goliath in the dog world, hoping to spare future owners (of such breeds) the problems related to feeding.

The digestive system in dogs from large and giant breeds represents only 2.5% of their body weight, while in small breeds it is over 7% of their weight. This shows that in larger breeds, it is relatively shorter, less efficient, much more delicate, and sensitive.

  • Dogs weighing over 25 kg as adults have a slow growth period until 18-24 months of age, while smaller breeds finish their development at 9-12 months.
  • Large breeds have an extremely delicate skeletal system during growth. Every kilogram of excess weight would significantly increase the risk of joint and bone deformities, even with a normal calcium-phosphorus ratio in their diet and blood.
  • Canine giants, both as puppies and adults, are much more predisposed to stomach torsion due to several anatomical features.
  • Overfeeding and rapid weight gain, which most owners enjoy, can be a triggering factor for some genetically predisposed conditions affecting these breeds – hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, panosteitis, and others.
  • Even as puppies, representatives of these breeds do not chew their food (kibble) well; they prefer to swallow it, which leads to swallowing a large amount of air (aerophagia). This can lead to chronic gastric dilation.
  • According to our observations, dogs weighing over 25 kg represent a larger percentage of all raised dogs.

Almost all owners of growing puppies from giant breeds are convinced that in order for their pets to become strong and healthy (understand, large and fat), they need huge amounts of food per day. This is not the case. They need appropriate food, which is not equivalent to a lot. On our market, there are already enough quality foods designed for such dogs. They are usually labeled as – Dr Trend, Optimeal, or they directly reflect the age at which such food should be consumed. These foods are perfectly balanced for the needs of growing puppies, tailored to their specific requirements (even by breed), and the levels of proteins, calcium, and phosphorus are optimal. Only in this way can rapid weight gain be avoided while simultaneously meeting all energy requirements. A puppy fed with such food may appear slightly weak and slender to the owners, with visible ribs and a lean physique, but at the same time, it is very lively, with shiny fur and no health problems.

You ensure a good start in life for the puppy and limit visits to the veterinarian to a maximum. If such a puppy (e.g., a 4-5-month-old German Shepherd) meets the “neighborhood specialist” or the “person who has been around dogs all their life,” they immediately label it as weak and rickety. Then come recommendations for giving calcium, vitamin D, fish oil, eggshells, and bone meal – all things unrelated to proper and quality nutrition. Every serious literature on nutrition emphasizes that if the animal is fed a balanced diet appropriate for its age and specific requirements, there is no need for additional supplements. For growing animals, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D are prescribed only by a veterinarian and not just when the dog enters the clinic, but only after a thorough examination, blood tests, and X-rays of the skeletal system. Once such supplements are prescribed, their levels in the blood should be monitored monthly, and appropriate action should be taken in response to any changes.

Another commitment for owners of growing animals is regular weight monitoring. A weight gain of 1-3 kg per week between the third and eighth months is absolutely normal. However, the frequently observed tripling of weight within 10-15 days is very concerning and is a sure indicator of future health problems.

It must be well understood by all owners of growing puppies that the maximum growth and optimal weight of the animal depend more on its genetic predispositions and less on the quantity of food consumed. Good and quality nutrition would only help fully develop the inherited qualities of the dog, but food cannot turn a dachshund into a Great Dane.