As I’ve mentioned, I am in the process of raising my third puppy in two years. Each had a different initial upbringing, before coming to me. Hannah was conventionally reared, i.e. born of conventionally reared parents and weaned to kibble. At 7 weeks she came to me and was switched to a raw diet. Mira, who was out of a conventionally reared sire and a raw fed dam, was weaned to raw although a good portion of that was commercial raw. Finn was out of two naturally reared parents, and weaned to fresh, predominantly pastured, raw meat.
What I have observed is obviously a very small-scale study and no solid conclusions can be drawn, but I think is interesting. I have been told many times that raw fed puppies grow and develop more slowly than kibble fed puppies, and that definitely holds true with my crew. But what I find most interesting is that my weaned to kibble, switched to raw at 7 weeks puppy (Hannah) grew at a rate much closer to that of a kibble fed puppy than my two weaned to raw puppies. This suggests to me that even those first few weeks on kibble (and probably drinking milk from a kibble fed bitch) makes a tremendous difference in the growth patterns of a young dog.
Despite being switched to raw, Hannah grew very quickly in her first few months. By 18 weeks, she weighed 29lbs and by 5.5 months was nearly her full adult weight. Her conventionally raised sister grew faster than her still, but Hannah eventually ended up a little bigger (grew a solid inch in height between 12-18 months), which is par for the course with raw fed dogs growing more slowly. But in Hannah’s case it was just a tad slower.
Mira and Finn are presenting very differently. I have measured each puppy, every week, from the day I got them, and have watched their growth patterns carefully. Each of these two has grown very steadily and evenly. There have been no sudden growth spurts or awkward stages. Mira did have bone development issues, but that I believe is a different issue that I will discuss in a moment. Mira is tiny, and she grew steadily at about one quarter inch in height, and one half pound in weight, per week, until she reached her current height of 18″ and weight of 27lbs at 12 months of age. Finn is growing steadily at half an inch and full pound per week. At 4.5 months he was 8lbs lighter than Hannah was at his age, yet his feet and leg bones are bigger, suggesting he’ll outgrow her in the long-run. Finn has two naturally reared siblings who are growing as slowly and steadily as he is, and one kibble fed sister who has sprouted rapidly and is already nearly as tall as their sire (who is a big dog).
Finally, Finn has a conventionally reared buddy of the same breed and 2.5 weeks older. As younger pups, they were the same size. In fact at 8 weeks, Finn was the same size as his buddy who was 11wks. Today the pups are 5 and 5.5 months respectively, and the other puppy is significantly larger than Finn. His buddy has undergone a tremendous growth spurt over the past three weeks, leaving Finn in the dust by probably close to 10lbs. It’s interesting to see this almost physically adult dog with very puppy behaviour and facial expressions. Finn is still very much a puppy in looks as well as act. It will be some time before I know the final results, but it will be interesting to see if Finn eventually catches up to his now very big friend.
These puppy growth spurts are considered very common, but are they normal? My perspective at this point is that no, they aren’t. From my current understanding of health, a slow, steady growth pattern is much better for a puppy, and that is – from my research and now experience – best achieved on a raw diet that starts before birth (i.e. raw fed dam). I’ll really only know the difference in 10-15 years, in terms of how my dogs fare in old age.
Briefly back to Mira, I want to address the fact that while she was out of a raw fed dam and weaned to raw, she was fed a considerable amount of commercial raw prior to coming to me. I didn’t think about it at the time (isn’t hindsight great?) but these pre-packaged raw foods are high in bone and vegetable content, and low in protein. When I got her at 12 weeks (she weighed all of 8lbs!!), I switched her to a 100% fresh raw diet. To my surprise, she detoxed as if she had previously been fed cheap kibble. She also had bone growth development issues, as I mentioned above: she was very down on her pasterns as a young pup, so much so that they were almost flat to the ground, her legs grew more slowly than the rest of her body, and by the age of 6-7 months, she showed serious hip problems that have yet to be resolved. I can’t help but wonder if that was linked to being fed the high-calcium, low protein commercial raw. Neither Finn nor Hannah have had any of these problems. Of course Mira’s issues could simply be genetic, but I am going to conclude from this that, if you’re not going to feed fresh raw, it is better to feed a good quality kibble than commercial raw, especially to a puppy.
To sum up, it has become very clear to me through raising these puppies just how important those first few weeks are. The growth pattern difference between Hannah and the other two suggests to me that 3-4 weeks on a kibble diet at a very young age can trigger the kibble growth pattern, even if the puppy is then switched to raw. Or perhaps it starts even sooner, from the mother’s milk and/or in-utero. As such, it is of the utmost importance to feed the bitch a fresh raw diet, ideally before she even gets pregnant, then wean the puppies to a fresh raw diet from the get-go. Should I ever breed a litter, this will definitely be the way I will proceed.