Puppies are largely carnivores but will also eat some plant-based foods. Puppies naturally wean off their mother’s milk at around 8-12 weeks of age. Wild dogs feed their young with prey animal carcases. In the wild, when young dogs are old enough (around 7-8 weeks old) they start to eat on their own whilst simultaneously decreasing the amount of milk they suckle from their mother.
Basic puppy feeding guide
The following information is general advice, but as each dog is an individual, seek veterinary advice, particularly if your puppy has any special dietary needs or has a reaction to a standard diet.
The basis of your puppy’s diet should be a high quality balanced premium commercial puppy food that is appropriate for their life stage and health status. By reading the label, you can check that it complies with the Australian Standard for the Manufacturing and Marketing of Pet Food AS 5812:2017 .
You can also offer some natural foods to provide variety. Natural foods include fresh human-grade raw meat such as diced up pieces of raw lamb. Avoid feeding too much raw meat off the bone while the pup is growing. This is important to prevent certain nutritional deficiencies during growth. Natural foods include raw meaty bones. Always check with your vet first that raw bones are suitable for your particular puppy (e.g. some puppies may have misshapen jaws and may have difficulty chewing on raw bones).
We recommend you choose only human-grade raw meat and raw meaty bones because some raw meat products marketed as pet food (pet meat/pet mince/pet rolls and bone products) contain preservatives to keep them looking fresh, but these can be detrimental to the dog’s health. There have been many pet food safety incidents linked to sulphite preservative-induced thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency, which can be fatal. You should avoid sausages, sausage meat and cooked manufactured meats as they can also contain sulphite preservatives.
Puppies should be offered food at least 4 times per day to begin with, gradually reducing the number of meals as they grow (adult dogs should be fed at least twice per day to help avoid bloat, which can be fatal).
It is important not to underfeed or overfeed puppies. Research indicates that overfeeding puppies (particularly large and giant breeds) can predispose them to muscle and bone problems. Your vet will be able to advise you on how much and what to feed your puppy.
If your vet advises that it is appropriate to feed raw bones to your puppy, they should be introduced gradually. The bone must be large enough so that the puppy cannot fit the whole bone in its mouth or swallow the bone whole. Avoid large marrow bones, T-bones, ‘chop’ bones (e.g. lamb cutlets), large knuckle bones or bones sawn lengthwise as dogs may crack their teeth on these.
Take your puppy to their vet regularly; they can weigh your pup, assess your pup’s body condition score and provide advice.
Fresh drinking water must be available at all times but do not offer your puppy milk as this can cause gastrointestinal upsets.
Between four to six months of age, the permanent teeth appear and grow rapidly. Introducing fresh raw meaty bones at around 12 weeks of age ensures they are chewing actively around the time the permanent teeth erupt. This chewing is important to alleviate “teething” issues and also provides several important health benefits including keeping teeth and gums healthy.
Some examples include raw lamb ribs and flaps (but not lamb chops), and raw chicken wings. Too many raw bones may lead to constipation. One raw bone per week is generally well-tolerated. ‘Meaty’ bones are better.
Never feed your dog cooked bones as these can splinter, causing potentially fatal internal damage or intestinal obstruction. Bones must always be raw.
A small amount of finely-cut vegetable matter may be offered, such as cooked pumpkin or carrots.Raw bones should be introduced gradually. The bone must be large enough so that the puppy cannot fit the whole bone in its mouth or swallow the bone whole. Avoid large marrow bones, T-bones, ‘chop’ bones (e.g. lamb cutlets), large knuckle bones or bones sawn lengthwise as dogs may crack their teeth on these.
You should always supervise your puppy when they are eating raw bones.
Dogs really like bones and can sometimes become protective over them, so take care and discourage young children and others from approaching dogs whilst they eat.
Cooked meat such as boiled chicken or lamb may be offered occasionally, but ensure there are no cooked bones, onions/onion sauces or other toxic substances present (see below).
Tinned sardines in springwater, tinned tuna and tinned salmon may also be offered as a treat occasionally (take care with any fish bones). Please avoid feeding fish constantly.
A small amount of finely-cut vegetable matter may be offered, such as cooked pumpkin or carrots.
Provide access to grass (avoid chemically treated grass and toxic plants). Puppies will sometimes eat grass which may be a source of vegetable matter and micronutrients.
Calcium powder supplements should not be given (unless directed by a veterinarian).
Do not ever feed the following substances as they are toxic to dogs (note this is not a complete list): alcohol, onions, onion powder, garlic, chocolate, coffee or caffeine products, mouldy or spoiled foods or compost, avocado, bread dough, yeast dough, grapes, raisins, sultanas (including in Christmas cakes etc), currants, nuts (including macadamia nuts), fruit stones or ‘pits’ (e.g. mango seeds, apricot stones, avocado stones), fruit seeds, corncobs, green unripe tomatoes, mushrooms, cooked bones, small pieces of raw bone, fatty trimmings/ fatty foods, salt, and roughly-cut vegetables.
Also ensure your pet dog doesn’t have access to string wrappings around rolled roasts or absorbent pads found under meat when wrapped on trays.