Whether you’ve just brought the little bundle of joy home or are in the planning stages, bringing a puppy into your family is an exciting and often nerve-wracking time.
You want your puppy to have the happiest, longest life in their new home, and their diet plays a huge part in this.
You may have heard about the benefits of a fresh-food diet for dogs. It’s a popular choice for pet parents, but can your new puppy start on a fresh food diet?
We asked Brandon Stapleton, DVM, and head veterinarian for 5-star-rated The Farmer’s Dog, for his opinion and advice on feeding puppies a fresh food diet.
What is fresh dog food?
Getting a new puppy can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first dog. There are endless options for dog food and many different kinds of diets to choose from — it can all get a bit confusing. So, let’s make life a bit easier and explain what exactly fresh dog food is.
“Generally, fresh dog food is food that’s gently cooked (versus subject to several rounds of high-heat processing, which is typically how dry pet food is made). That lower-temperature cooking helps preserve the nutrients and moisture in the food,” says Dr Stapleton.
Not all fresh dog food is the same. Better brands are made from whole meat and vegetables and are developed by on-staff, board-certified nutritionists. Much of it is made to the standards of human food — meaning the ingredients and the facilities that make the food are subject to the same standards that govern food that people eat.
Does fresh food have the nutritional requirements for a puppy?
It’s important to note that, no matter the type, not all pet food is made for the nutritional needs of puppies. Growing puppies require more calories, fat, protein, and essential nutrients per pound than older dogs.
“At this stage, when a puppy’s bones, brain, and other organs are developing, feeding healthy, balanced food in the right portions is key,” says Dr. Stapleton.
“Your puppy’s diet must contain the ideal mix of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Too much or too little of certain nutrients — like calcium and phosphorus — can cause health issues. And nutrients such as DHA, a component of omega-3 fatty acids, have been shown to improve puppies’ memory and learning.”
Look for dog food that’s formulated by a board-certified animal or veterinary nutritionist and meets the AAFCO guidelines for all life stages (A) or for growth (G). Foods such as The Farmer’s Dog are formulated to be complete and balanced for all life stages, which means you can keep feeding the food through puppyhood to the adult and senior years — and it’s easy to update their plan as their needs change. (The addition of healthy fish oil provides those all-important omega-3 fatty acids.)
Your puppy’s food should also meet the guidelines for pet food as determined by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). WSAVA provides veterinarians and pet owners with guidelines that can help them select pet food based on meeting important criteria like food safety and ensuring that a properly credentialed expert is formulating the food.
Depending on the company, you may need to do a little research to determine if all of the criteria are met, either by visiting the company website or contacting them directly. If a company cannot answer the WSAVA guideline questions or provides incomplete answers, exercise caution or speak with your vet before continuing to feed those products.
What are the advantages of fresh food for a puppy?
Minimally processed and digestible
If fresh food is made to human-grade standards, it means it’s made from high-quality meat and doesn’t contain the powdered “meal” often found in kibble (meal is made from rendered protein scraps and isn’t allowed in human-food facilities).
This kind of whole, gently cooked food is also highly digestible. “Digestibility is the amount of nutritional value from a dog food absorbed into the bloodstream,” says Dr. Stapleton. “‘Bioavailable’ is a similar term which means the proportion of an absorbed nutrient that can be used by the body.”
It is an important measure of pet food quality.
Fresh food is high in moisture
“It’s important to ensure puppies are drinking enough throughout the day. Fresh food retains a lot of its natural moisture — and it’s softer and easy to chew for little puppies,” says Dr. Stapleton.
Subscription service means delivered to your door
Many pet parents find the subscription model used by fresh food brands pretty convenient. Rather than having huge tubs of kibble kicking about or cupboards stacked full of cans, correct portions can be delivered frozen to their home regularly.
Some people might not be accustomed to keeping dog food in the fridge next to their own, but if fresh food is made to human-grade standards, it means it’s just as safe as any of your own food.
Pre-portioned for weight management
Although puppies carry a little baby fat and can look adorably soft, it is important to keep them at a healthy weight. No matter their age, weight matters for your dog. Research shows that dogs kept at a healthy weight and lean body condition can actually live longer than overweight dogs.
“Though they grow at different rates depending on their breed, all puppies will grow and change over their first 12 months,” says Dr. Stapleton. “The fresh food model can be a good option as it makes it easy to adjust portions as your puppy grows so they can get exactly the nutrients and calories they need—no more and no less.”
How and when do I start feeding my puppy fresh food?
If you do decide to go down the fresh food route, introducing the diet to your puppy is just like any new food.
From about the age of eight weeks (ideally your puppy will be with their mother before this) puppies will be eating solid food. If you’re looking to introduce your pup to a fresh diet, be sure to slowly transition from their current food over the course of about 10 to 14 days, to give their digestive system time to adjust and to get them used to the new texture and taste.
“If you have any questions about what or how much to feed, or are worried about their digestive system, your vet will be happy to answer any questions and work out a plan with you,” says Dr. Stapleton.
Are there any disadvantages to feeding your puppy a fresh diet?
Depending on the size of your dog, and what kind of food you are feeding, a fresh food diet may be more expensive than most dry or tinned wet food. The prices will differ from brand to brand and dog to dog.
Many fresh-feeders will argue that a fresh-food diet is an investment in your dog’s long-term health.
Although there are many fresh food brands now available, some pet owners may be inclined to try home-cooking fresh food, but there are some problems here. Research indicates that most recipes for homemade dog food lack vital nutrients, and feeding unbalanced food to a dog of any age is a major health hazard.
Ultimately, a human-grade, nutritionally balanced fresh food diet containing high-quality ingredients that aren’t heavily processed is a great option for your new puppy. However, we appreciate that, depending on the size of your dog, this diet can be on the expensive side. While it’s a healthy option, there are other safe, balanced diets to choose from.
We rate all dog food in the same way and fresh brands do very well in general so if you are thinking of feeding your new arrival a fresh diet, we say go for it.
If you’d like some inspiration, have a look at our article on top-rated fresh foods: https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/best-dog-foods/fresh-dog-food/