Feeding your Labrador Puppy

” Hooray for FOOOOOD! “

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(Or …. How to find your way through the minefield, that is, dog food!)

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OK, before we start, its very important to know, that you can tell a lot about a breeder by the information they give you about food and feeding, when you collect your puppy. Food is very important. Its an important issue for them to have discussed or instructed you on when collecting your puppy. If it is glossed over, it can leave puppy buyers wandering, blindly, in the maze that is commercial dog food, wondering what on earth to do, especially if the breeder gives them no food to go home with OR chooses a brand impossible to obtain by the puppy buyer.

As a breeder, for me, rule ONE, and our crutial responsibility, is to ensure we wean our litters onto food that is:

* Nutritious

* Suitable for the job – IE producing a healthy, steadily growing puppy

* Is straightforward to obtain. So is NOT obscure, produced only locally to the breeder OR is complex to feed such as homecooked diets, for a new buyer.

Ideally, personally for me, knowing buyers wish to do the best by their new puppy possible, I REALLY would wean puppies these days, onto one of the commercially available complete kibble puppy foods. Over the years I have used Beta, Pedigree Chum Complete Puppy and James Wellbeloved for various litters. Now I wouldn’t use anything but James Wellbeloved, but only because I have had good results for the last ten years on it. My adult dogs are now fed Wainwrights and Skinners, however my litters will continue to be weaned on James Wellbeloved from their first bite, at 4 weeks old of puppy kibble, through to about six months of age. By choosing something complex, obscure or obscenely expensive, we do our buyers a diservice. We do our puppies an even greater one, as the buyers will NOT stick to what we have asked or advised. They will often change suddenly and overnight through necessity, and the puppy will immediately be set back with loose stools, upset stomach, often taking many days to get themselves back on track.

SO, that said, you may or may not have brought home your puppy on a food you wish to continue with. But for the record I shall describe the ‘types’ of food options available to you:

- Dry Complete Puppy/Adult Kibble:

Usually in sacks of 3kg, 5kg, 12kg or 15kg. A wide wide variety of ranges from the £10 per 15kg sack type (Dr Johns, Wagg, Supadog etc) Through to very expensive brands such as Burns, Hills Science Diet, Eukanuba etc at around £50 a 15kg sack.

- Wet Compete Foods:

Usually in tins, pouches or trays. These are complete meals needing nothing added to it to be a balanced diet. Usually a expensive way of feeding, but useful for fussy eaters. All brands usually between about £0.80 and £1.50 per pounch tin or tray, so basically per meal for a dog of this size.

A note on the two above food types. On their own they are complete. The main problem with the wet food, to me, is that 1) It tends to make a sound eater, a fussy eater, refusing to consider dry kibble once they have tasted the meaty wet stuff.  2) There is nothing in them to maintain jaw and teeth health, no crunching, it is all wet. Folks tend to THEN add DRY complete food to it for ‘crunch’, which completely unbalances the ‘completeness’ and tends to put weight on dogs immediately for obvious reasons basically that they are having, up to, TWO dinners per feed! Ditto folks adding complete wet food to mainly dry kibble to give it ‘appeal’.

-  Tinned Meat and Biscuit Mixer

What you might call an old fashioned diet. Tins of ‘dog meat’ of varying brands such as Chappie, Chum, Pal and Winalot…. also most supermarkets have their own brand tin too. These are not complete foods and are mixed with a biscuit mixer, a bland plain biscuit meal that aids teeth and jaws. Tinned meat, whilst not expensive, is in the main, little nutrition and a lot of water. Therefore quite a lot needs feeding, 2 or 3 tins a DAY, plus mixure, and by golly there is some waste out the back end  ;-)

- Homecooked diets/Bones and Raw Food (BARF)

A mix of veggies, raw bones, meat, leftovers etc, which, carefully balanced make a complete diet for your dog that is close to what they naturally would have eaten in the wild. Careful research should be undertaken to use such a diet, firstly to ensure what you are feeding fulfills all the dogs nutritional needs, and secondly that you can get a continuous supply of raw meaty bones so continuity occurs for the dog. Not everyone has a butcher who is quite so obliging as others   ;-)

So what do I feed?

There are many issues here. However in a single sentence:

- Feed what suits YOUR puppy/dog, YOUR pocket and what is easy, for YOU, to obtain.

I stress this because every single person you meet will have an opinion on what you should be feeding your puppy. From the breeder, to the man that owns the pet shop, to your vet, to internet forums, to the people you meet out on a walk! If you wish to stay sane, NEVER ‘Google’ “What should I feed my puppy?” not ever!  ;-)  You will have to be physically dragged, from the one million pages of advice, with cross eyes and a tired brain about eight hours later!

The next important thing to say about feeding are:

- If you trust your breeder, and have had adequate and suitable advice from them, your puppy is doing well on what they have sent it home on, and her own dogs looked in good condition, then STAY ON THE FOOD THEY CHOSE FOR THEIR LITTER. Basically, if it isn’t broke, don’t try and fix it, whatever ANYONE says!

However, of course you may not be able to, especially if they have picked something hard to obtain, so therefore then you will have to explore other possibilities.

Its important to know that, without a doubt, dogs and puppies can be all very different. Even within a litter, some with thrive on even poor quality food, and some will become upset even just by the start of a new sack of the exact same brand. Some can chop and change like the weather between brands and types and so on, whilst some steadfastly refuse to consider anything other than the exact type they are used to. Some seem to do well on one food for a while, then seem to ‘go off’ it, and become pickier and pickier, until you are virtually forced to change brand. They then pick up eating again, before the same thing happens a few weeks later (sometimes even less!) You end up collecting 15kg bags of food with half or less out of them ;-) (remember if this happens to PLEASE donate any food you don’t want anymore to your local dogs shelter or rescue, they will rip your arm off for it even if puppy has turned its nose up!)

Food quality.

A lot is spoken of brands being ‘better’ than one another. There is truth in this, in life, generally you DO get what you pay for, however you should never feel guilty at not being able to afford (or sometimes your dog not being able to tolerate) the top whack price foods.

If you can, for me, a good middle ground is feeding a middle price complete food. Some choose to use the Puppy formula for a few months (ignore the bag saying till a year, that is completely unnecessary). Some wean a puppy over from the puppy food they come to you on from the breeder, to the adult formula of that variety within a few weeks. There is NO sound research either way to show what is right and wrong. Personally we feed puppy food until 6 months of age, but we know people who feed adult food from 10 or 12 weeks of age with perfectly good effect.

Bakers – Food of the Devil?

One food, personally, I would avoid, is Bakers complete. YES it is really easy to obtain in supermarkets etc, and a minority of dogs DO certainly do OK on it. But it IS a mixture of different colour kibbles, all coloured by additives and E numbers, and is like ‘smarties in a bag’ to many dogs. Tasty, but puts them through the ceiling! There are many around the same price (Chudleys, Supadog, Wagg etc) that are the same rock bottom price, but without the ‘Red Bull’ effect ;-) THAT SAID, if your dog is eating Bakers, feeding up well, holding its weight steadily, you are happy with what is coming out the other end and your puppy/dog seems alert, in good condition and happy to settle, then there is NOTHING WRONG with feeding Bakers. You could pay more and probably get better, but there is no harm done if it is not having a negative effect.

So basically IF your food is cheap, but your puppy is cheerful, then you are probably doing OK!  ;-)

So which brand ?!

Foods we have PERSONALLY used for any length of time through the last 17 years (because to me, who can comment with any authority, on a food they have never used?? Bear that in mind when someone is trying to push a certain food at you or advise you to avoid a particular brand…..)

*Low* Price Foods:  Dr Johns Gold £12.00/15kg sack, Chudleys Working Crunch (adult dogs only) £16.00/15kg sack, Skinners various £15-£20/15kg sack

My Own Thoughts:  The amount of poo is high compared to more expensive brands. The amount of time taken to ‘adjust’ to the low priced food seems to be longer, than switching from low to higher priced food. Because of the low meat content of the food (and high meal and filler content) more needs feeding generally speaking which *can*  make them a slightly false economy. Usually easy to obtain and widely available. All balanced complete foods that suit the vast majority of dogs except those with specialist dietry needs or with food intolerances, such as to gluten, wheat or maize. Some dogs cope beautifully and thrive on lower priced complete. Some simply do not and a higher quality needs purchasing. Personally, I would never feed a low price complete food to a PUPPY (Under 6 months of age). I will bite the bullet and pay more in those crutial months even if were to use the (usually cheaper) adult formula rather than the puppy.

*Medium* Price Foods:  Wainwrights £33.00/15kg sack, Beta  £36.00/15kg sack

My Own Thoughts:  I have found Wainwrights to be a very good food indeed. I discovered it by way of feeding a dog who was prone to stomach upsets on everything else I tried, including JWB. The Salmon and Potato one was superb for him and turned him around. Now I feed it to three of our six dogs and they settled to it, from JWB brilliantly.  Beta was a food that I fed to all my dogs and litters about ten years ago for 3 – 4 years. I found it perfectly acceptable. It seems to have a ‘poor quality’ reputation but this has not been our experience. The ingredients do not seem to have changed from when we were feeding it. It is very easily obtainable. Wainwrights can only be bought at Pets at Home stores. 

*High* Price Foods:  James Wellbeloved £45.00/15kg sack, Royal Canin Labrador 30  £45.00/15kg sack

My Own Thoughts:  I rate both of these foods very highly indeed. However as regards JWB, I have found Wainwrights to be equally good in every way and at least a tenner cheaper per sack. RC Labrador 30, Allan fed for several years to his dogs and it was excellent. I won some on several occasions, and have to admit that with absolutely NO changeover period, my adult dogs tolerated it immediately without a loose stool between them. It has been the foodstuff that has produced the least poo for the portion size in my estimation. But then it is the MOST expensive thing I have ever fed so I would expect results, quite frankly for that money.  ;-)

Bear in mind these are not ALL the brands out there, just the brands we have used, ourselves, for more than a few months at a time over the years.

I would not even consider paying more for dog food. Once I had to pay £70  (yes!!!!) for a sack of Hills Science Diet special allergy food whilst they tried to suss out why a certain dog of mine was loose, literally, all the time. The snag was on the £70 he was looser than on the £16 Chudleys Working Crunch! Work THAT one out!!! I really don’t believe that you have to pay top dollar to have a fit, healthy, happy dog. And thats from experience, not opinion. 

I am not a technical sort of person. Its not difficult to work out that you do tend to get what you pay for with food, in the main, but there are perfectly good ways of not paying a fortune UNLESS your dog turns out to have problems which require specialist food. Even then, I believe many have overcome problems with homecooked diets, which whilst timeconsuming and needing quite some planning and thought, is a LOT less expensive route than £50-£70 sacks of special dietry food from the vets or stores. 

Why have I not done a comparison of ingredients in these various foodstuffs to judge their worth and quality? Percentages of this verses percentages of *that*? ……… Hand on heart? Because I really don’t care *if* they work for my dogs in practice, rather than theory. And by golly there are many *theories* out there.

Something that is important to say is that ALL puppies have loose tummies from time to time. Especially after being wormed, in hot weather, whilst teething and when they have their vaccinations. Do not always be fooled that the food you are feeding is the problem. Once a puppy picks up a bacterial infection in their gut it can be merry hell shifting it, and food will count for practically nothing in that. So constant loose stools require vet help not a repeated swapping of foods and trawling the internet to ask what *others feed*.

I am always happy for any questions on this topic, however, the above is *our* first hand thoughts and experience. You can make life TOO complicated. Bear in mind when changing food at least two weeks of upset and loose stools can be expected however carefully and slowly you change over, but, otherwise as regards feeding: Find something that works, however cheap or expensive, and STICK to it  ;-)

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