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Feeding puppies: top five tips for keeping them healthy

Young Charlie schools his father in the ways of Zoom before quizzing a trio of dog nutrition experts ahead of the arrival of his first puppy

feeding puppies

Keep a close eye on the amount the puppies eat

Feeding puppies and gundogs

Taken from Charlie’s notebook, these are the top five tips from Skinner’s for keeping your gundog healthy: (Read more about feeding a dog here.)

  1. Feed a nutritionally complete diet.
  2. Regularly assess your dog’s weight, preferably by using weighing scales.
  3. For dogs working in the colder weather, especially retrieving from water, it can be useful to let them go into the working season 0.5kg to 1kg over their ideal weight, as a small layer of fat can provide insulation.
  4. If a dog is too heavy or light, adjust portion size before you change the food.
  5. Don’t add too many things — treats and titbits — to a complete food as it can unbalance the diet.
puppy being weighed

Keep a close eye on the weight of the puppies as this will help in knowing how much to feed them

Learning about feeding puppies

“You are on mute, Dad. Now you need to switch your camera on. You can see them, but they can’t see you,” the boy muttered, his tone a mix of despair and pity.

Charlie and I sat side by side on the sofa in the study, my laptop balanced on my knees. He reached over and mouse-clicked a few buttons. All of a sudden, voices could be heard and faces flickered into view on my screen as connection, via the medium of Zoom, was made with the team at Skinner’s.

Video conferencing is a quirky novelty for me. For my son, it is the stuff of normality, having endured months of online schooling during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Charlie and I had been due to take a tour of the factory with Will Delamore, group commercial director of the Suffolk firm. However, with extra precautionary measures still in place at its mill, we had agreed to hold the meeting over Zoom.

I had met Will on the windswept moors of Delnadamph in August. There we hatched a plan for the boy and I to learn how dog food is made and to teach Charlie the science of canine nutrition. Charlie is soon to become the owner of his first puppy, once my cocker Mabel deigns to come into season and providing the planned union is fruitful.

Wildfowling painting

Mabel and Richard out wildfowling

Burning questions

This was very much Charlie’s show, so I left it to him to think up five burning questions about feeding puppies  He has taken on board the weighty responsibility of the impending additions to the dog family here. He has devoured countless books on gundogs and gundog breeding, while his YouTube search history has taken a decidedly canine turn. So it was a well-briefed inquisitor who faced Will along with Zoe Russell and Rebekah Thompson — Skinner’s nutrition gurus — across the ether.

“When Mabel has been to her husband and they do their business and then she gets pregnant, which she hopefully will,” he began, his voice speeding up slightly at the mention of dogs mating, “what should I feed her on?”

The advice came back detailed and understandable for boys, be they 11 or 50. I read my son’s notes over his shoulder as he scribbled “move to puppy food a few weeks prior to whelping”, “not too fat”, “not too thin”. Mabel slunk in and joined us on the sofa. The boy automatically put his arm around her.

He consulted his notes for the next question. “When the pups are born, how many times a day should I feed them?” The news that this needed to be undertaken four to five times a day caused a smile to appear on Charlie’s face. “Will I need to stay off school for a few weeks Dad, so I can feed the puppies properly?” he whispered, briefly muting our conversation from the Skinner’s team. “No,” I whispered back. He returned to his listening and note taking. He then learned from Rebekah about making a mush with warm (not boiling) water, “like wet Weetabix”. Charlie wrote it down hurriedly. He discovered he would have to get used to mess and getting smeared by puppy paws covered in food as he helped to wean them.

“The only dogs I know that don’t make a mess with food are labradors,” he informed the trio. “They just eat everything.” It amused me to hear my son parroting the prejudices that I spout at my friend, Richard Gould, in our ongoing battle over the merits of lab versus spaniel as the ultimate sporting breed.

Dog food

Dog food

Dental care

Charlie went on to ask intelligent questions about when to wean and how to ensure the dam is receiving the best nutrition. While he queried and responded to the expert and knowledgeable replies he received, I watched him. How ridiculously proud I felt in seeing him hold his own in a Zoom meeting. How strange it felt to be a mere onlooker in all of this grown-up stuff.

Next, he moved on to dental care. Reading from his pad, he said: “Dad gives Mabel dental sticks. I heard that they aren’t that good for dogs. What do you advise?” I shifted slightly on the sofa, realising that not everything I did or said was treated as unquestionable gospel truth. Mabel fidgeted, too, then slid off the sofa and disappeared with a sigh. I don’t believe this was down to discovering her favoured treat was soon to be off the menu as they are fattening. More likely, she found Zoom a bit boring.

It was time for Charlie’s final question. “At what age should I change my pup on to an adult diet?” Here again I learned along with Charlie and surreptitiously started making notes of my own. Modern complete foods are not only more convenient, but also allow you to tailor a dietary plan for your favoured breed type. Charlie’s puppy, being a lively cocker, will be prone to losing condition, thus is best fed on puppy food for longer than some of the breeds that have a propensity to put on weight.

Charlie finished writing and shut his notebook with a snap. “Is there anything else you want to ask the experts while we still have their attention?” I asked him. Without a moment’s pause or fear of shame, he looked into the laptop’s camera and answered my question, with a question to Will. “Could we have some free samples? My dad has loads of followers on Twitter and he can put in a good word for you.”

On that note, I thought it was time to end the meeting before my son asked for a complimentary T-shirt, too. Having made our profuse thanks to Will and his team, Charlie shot off to join Mabel in some nefarious acts in the garden. I picked up his notebook and read his scrawls. I was impressed. He had written down most of the salient points from the answers to his questions.

All that is left now is for Mabel to come into season, which should be some time in late November. It’s reassuring to know that she has a knowledgeable young nutritionist to help in her maternal endeavours.