People often ask questions about the best way to feed a Labrador . There are two broad options available.
- Dry kibble
- Raw meat and bones
Both methods of feeding have their supporters and detractors.
How to feed a labrador
By far the majority of Labrador owners nowadays, feed their dogs on kibble. That is the dried pellets of dog food that you can buy in pet stores and online. All major pet food companies now supply a dried version of their brands and very few people now feed the canned dog foods that were popular twenty or thirty years ago.
The effect that this shift away from wet food and onto dried food, has had (if any) on canine health remain the subject of speculation. However, it would appear that most Labradors thrive on kibble and it is extremely convenient.
Increasing popularity of raw food
Over the last ten years a more natural diet of raw meat and bones has become increasingly popular in the UK despite some website giving out dire warnings of the dangers of letting dogs consume bones. I wrote a fairly in-depth article on why I switched to raw food for my dogs some years ago and you can read about that in Switching to Raw.
In the article I recommend a number of reading resources for those considering the switch. Whatever route you decide to take, there is more to feeding a dog than just the contents of his bowl.
Feeding Labrador puppies
When you first bring your puppy home, your breeder should have provided you with a diet sheet, some food, and plenty of information on feeding Labrador puppies .
It is really important to stick with his familiar food for the first few days as moving home is quite traumatic enough for an eight week old pup without giving his tummy a shock too.
If you have not been given any food or any information on how to feed a puppy then I suggest you call in to your local pet store and buy a small sack of (kibble) puppy food that is appropriate for his breed and age. Read the information on the sack carefully, as there are lots of different versions of each ‘brand’ and only one version is the right one for your puppy.
No cows milk
One common mistake made by new Labrador puppy owners is to feed their puppy on cows milk. Unfortunately cows milk is not well suited to puppies and may give your puppy diarrhoea. You can buy replacement for bitches milk, but an eight week old puppy is actually weaned and doesn’t need milk at all.
If you have inadvertently bought a puppy that is too young to leave its mother (less than seven weeks old), do phone your vet for advice on proper care and feeding, and take the pup for a check up without delay.
Puppies and older dogs need water available to them at all times during the day. It is ok to take your puppy’s water away an hour before bedtime to help with housetraining provided that it is at least an hour since his last meal.
Kibble fed dogs drink quite a lot of water, raw fed dogs may drink very little. This is normal.
Several small meals
The amount of food that your Labrador puppy needs to eat each day must be divided into several portions. If you try and give him the whole day’s ration in one go, he will probably give it his best shot, but it will almost certainly give him diarrhoea and could damage his stomach as kibble swells after drinking.
From eight to twelve weeks your pupppy will benefit from four meals a day, breakfast, lunch, tea and supper. Space the meals at least three hours apart to give him chance to digest them properly. And make sure the last meal is a two to three hours before his last trip to the toilet at bedtime.
7am, 11am, 3pm and 7pm works quite well. It is fine to work out your own schedule to fit in with family life. Don’t ask him to go more than six hours without food during the day though, and make sure you get the four meals slotted in.
Once your puppy gets to three months old you can divide his daily ration into three portions, and by six months to two. Breakfast and supper.
Many dog owners continue to feed their dogs twice a day throughout their lives. Some people feed their dog’s once a day after twelve months of age, and that is fine if you decide to feed raw meat. But with kibble it may be too much dry food in one go. Very large meals may be associated with ‘bloat’ especially in larger breeds of dog.
Don’t leave food down
Some people leave food down for their dog’s to ‘graze’ on. I do not think this is a good idea. Take up your puppy’s bowl after ten minutes. He won’t come to any harm if he hasn’t quite finished, and will soon learn to eat up his meal at mealtimes.
Puppies need a very well balanced diet to grow up strong and healthy. Unless you are a very experienced dog owner and knowledgable about nutrition and the dietary needs of a growing animal, it is not a good idea to feed your puppy on household scraps. Complete puppy foods contain all the nutrients your pup needs to develop a healthy body.
Raising pups on raw
The same provisos apply to raw feeding. Raising a puppy on raw meat food requires some considerable knowledge of nutrition and is best left to experienced raw feeders, unless you have thoroughly researched the subject in advance.
All puppies need regular veterinary check ups and when you take your puppy to the vet for his vaccinations this is a great time to ask any questions you might have on his diet and welfare generally.
This article was written by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa’s latest book Total Recall is a complete recall training programme for dogs and puppies.
The Labrador Site is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa's latest book The Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to early puppy care and training