Nick Ridley on what you need to do to ensure a strong healthy pup.
One of the most confusing issues when bringing home a new gundog puppy is what to feed and how often to feed the new arrival, but in truth to ensure a healthy strong pup proper feeding should have started weeks before the little ones even take their first breath.
A pregnant bitch uses up a lot of energy in making sure her offspring grow healthy and strong; it is vitally important that she gets a good quality food that contains all the necessary nutrients and vitamins to ensure the viability of the growing pups. It is recommended that the pregnant bitch is changed over to a high quality puppy food which should contain a higher level of protein than her normal food. The unborn pups will rapidly increase in size during the last third of pregnancy and so the feed intake of the bitch must correspondingly increase, although due to the decreasing space in her body you will have to spread her food intake over smaller but more numerous feeds.
Once the pups are born they will obviously be solely relying on the bitch’s milk for the first couple of weeks but at around weeks three to four you will need to start the weaning process. During this period two major changes will be experienced by the pups. Firstly they will be changing from a liquid to a solid diet and secondly there also begins the change from being totally reliant on the bitch to one of independence in readiness for their new homes. This obviously means that weaning can be a stressful time for the young puppies but by careful management this can be minimised. You should be aiming to have completed the weaning process by around week six, although this can depend on the number of pups and the availability of the bitch’s milk supply.
Sucking to lapping
There is no doubt that weaning a litter of pups is a messy affair, they have to learn to transition from sucking to lapping and therefore their food will need to be soaked so that it is like a sloppy porridge. You may need to encourage the little ones by letting them lick the food from your fingers, but remember to have a strict hygiene protocol in place as the pups will more than likely be climbing in and out of the bowl. They will be susceptible to infections and that also means keeping food bowls etcetera scrupulously clean. Initially the bitch’s milk will still be the main source of nourishment for the pups but as they approach four to five weeks old the food can gradually be increased and the bitch can start to be separated from the pups so that her milk can begin to dry up.
Feeding the pups
By six to seven weeks old the pups should be on three to four feeds a day. Remember their stomachs are very small so you will need to divide the recommended volume of food between feeds. Feeding should be spread evenly over the day, ideally starting first thing in the morning and then the last meal late evening. If you are feeding a good quality puppy food this should contain all the nutrients that the growing pups will need. Protein and mineral content are most important at this time as these contribute not only to growth but also bone and tissue development and it is vitally important that a dog that is going to spend its life working in the shooting field is given the very best start in life.
The best start
When collecting your pup from the breeder make sure they give you a quantity of the food they have been using and do not be tempted to change over to your chosen brand or method of feeding too quickly as this can lead to digestive upsets. Puppies are individuals and feeding will of course vary between breeds and size but in general they should be fed enough to allow a good growth weight for the breed. Under or over feeding is to be avoided. The saying “look at the dog not the bowl” is a good mantra; if the pup looks healthy, has plenty of energy, has bright eyes and is growing like a weed then the chances are you are doing everything right. If you have any questions then most feed manufacturers have dedicated help lines or speak to your veterinary surgeon.
Shooting UK created this content as part of a paid partnership with Chudleys. The contents of this article are entirely independent and solely reflect the editorial opinion of Shooting UK.