Can You Feed A Nursing Dog Raw Meat?

Feeding a raw meat diet to nursing dogs is a controversial topic. While some claim raw meat provides optimal nutrition for lactating dogs and their puppies, others warn of potential risks like foodborne illnesses. This is an important issue for any dog owner breeding a litter, as nutrition during this critical growth period can impact puppies’ lifelong health.

In this article, we’ll examine the potential pros and cons of feeding raw meat to nursing dogs. We’ll look at veterinary recommendations, how to balance the raw diet, properly prepare meat, and manage potential risks. The goal is to provide a thorough overview of this complex issue, including expert perspectives on both sides, so dog owners can make an informed decision for their nursing dog’s diet.

Pros of Raw Meat for Nursing Dogs

Feeding raw meat to nursing dogs has several potential benefits. Raw meat contains more nutrients than cooked or processed dog food, providing important vitamins, minerals, enzymes and protein needed for milk production. According to Raw Feeding Guidelines for Pregnant & Lactating Dogs, the natural enzymes found in raw meat may also help improve a nursing dog’s digestion and nutrient absorption.

Furthermore, some raw feeding advocates claim that feeding a species-appropriate raw diet can enhance milk quality and volume. The high moisture content of raw meat may help nursing dogs stay hydrated as well. However, more research is still needed on how raw diets impact canine milk composition.

Cons of Raw Meat for Nursing Dogs

While raw meat diets have gained popularity in recent years, there are some drawbacks to feeding raw meat to nursing dogs that should be considered.

One major con is the risk of bacteria and parasites. Raw meat may contain harmful pathogens like Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, and Listeria (The raw end of the deal: the risks of bacteria in raw pet food, 2023). These bacteria can make both the mother dog and her puppies sick. Raw meat may also contain parasites like Toxoplasma and Toxocara that can be shed in the feces and spread to puppies (Educating clients about raw diets and the associated parasitic risks, 2020). Puppies have developing immune systems and are more vulnerable to illness from bacteria and parasites.

Feeding raw meat also requires balancing the diet properly to ensure the dog is getting complete and balanced nutrition. This takes additional time, effort, and nutritional knowledge compared to feeding a commercial kibble. Imbalances can negatively impact milk production and the health of puppies (Raw Feeding Guidelines for Pregnant & Lactating Dogs).

Finally, raw food diets tend to be more expensive than kibble. Raw meat, bones, organs, and supplements add up, especially when feeding a nursing mother and multiple growing puppies.

Veterinary Recommendations

Many veterinarians caution against feeding raw diets to nursing dogs. According to a vet blog post from VetHelpDirect, “most vets are very anxious about raw meat diets for dogs and cats.” They express concerns about the risks of bacteria, parasites, and nutritional imbalances. Most veterinarians recommend cooking meat thoroughly to kill any potential pathogens before feeding it to dogs.

Vets especially worry about puppies’ developing immune systems and advocate caution with raw diets for nursing mothers. Pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli in raw meat and eggs can infect both puppies and adult dogs. Vets typically recommend well-balanced commercial diets, while monitoring the nursing dog’s hydration, weight, and milk supply.

According to the British Veterinary Nursing Association, “vets are taught that raw meat is dangerous.” They are trained to associate raw feeding with the risks of nutritional deficiencies, choking hazards, and foodborne illnesses. Most vets favor conventional commercial dog foods that have been rigorously formulated and tested.

Meat Quality and Preparation

When feeding raw meat to a nursing dog, it is crucial to choose only the highest quality, fresh meats. Raw meat can harbor harmful bacteria, so proper handling and storage is essential. According to the New Zealand Government, raw meats should be stored at temperatures below 5°C to prevent bacterial growth. Meat should be used within 1-3 days and kept separate from any cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination ( Always wash hands, utensils, and surfaces after handling raw meats. Only choose fresh, high-quality cuts without discoloration or foul odors. Proper preparation is key when feeding a nursing mother raw meat to provide healthy nutrition while minimizing risks.

Balancing the Raw Diet

When feeding a nursing dog a raw diet, it’s important to ensure the diet is nutritionally balanced. Nursing dogs have increased nutritional needs, so their diet should include a greater proportion of nutrient-dense organs, bones, and supplements.

Including the right ratio of muscle meat, organs, and edible bones helps provide complete and balanced nutrition. Organ meats like liver are especially important because they are rich sources of vitamin A, B vitamins, iron, and other nutrients that support milk production and puppy growth [1]. Bones provide calcium and phosphorus to meet the higher mineral needs during nursing.

Even with a well-formulated raw diet, potential nutrient gaps can arise if variety and proportions are not optimized. Nursing dogs may especially need supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids like fish oil for brain development, probiotics for gut health, and extra calcium for maternal skeletal support [2]. Consulting with a veterinary nutritionist can help determine the ideal raw diet composition and supplements for each nursing dog.

Weaning Puppies Onto Raw

Puppies can start the weaning process as early as 3-4 weeks old, though most puppies are fully weaned by 6-7 weeks of age when they no longer need milk from their mother (Big Country Raw, 2021). The transition from nursing to solid food should be gradual. According to Whole Dog Journal (2001), raw green tripe (cow stomach) is a great first protein to introduce during the weaning process since it contains easy-to-digest enzymes.

Around 3-4 weeks of age, puppies can be introduced to softened raw food soaked in warm water or goat’s milk. The portions should be small and frequent throughout the day. As their teeth develop, usually around 4-5 weeks old, puppies can be given larger pieces of raw food to chew on. By 6-8 weeks old, most puppies are ready for ground raw meals or chopped pieces of raw meat and bone (Bella and Duke, 2022). It’s important to monitor each puppy’s progress, only moving forward when they readily accept each new texture and protein source.

Risks to Puppies

Puppies have underdeveloped immune systems, making them more susceptible to foodborne illnesses from raw meat ( Their gastrointestinal tracts are still maturing, so they may not be able to handle the high bacterial load associated with raw diets. According to veterinary nutritionists, the risks of foodborne illness are higher for puppies fed raw meat compared to adult dogs.

Puppies under 12 months old have an increased risk of infection from Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and other pathogenic bacteria found in raw meat. Their developing immune systems and gastrointestinal tracts make it difficult to fight off these infections, which can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and other serious health issues ( While some proponents claim raw diets are safe for puppies, veterinary nutrition experts strongly caution against raw meat for young dogs due to these heightened risks.

Alternatives to Raw

While some owners swear by raw diets for nursing dogs, there are other options that can provide balanced nutrition. Some alternatives to consider include:

Cooked or wet dog food: Many commercial dog foods go through a cooking process that kills any potential bacteria while still retaining nutrients. Wet foods with an high meat content can provide the protein nursing dogs needs. Top brands like Hill’s Science Diet and Purina Pro Plan have specially formulated wet puppy foods.

Dry kibble: Dry dog kibble is another cooked alternative that lasts well, though it has lower moisture content. Look for a kibble designed for growth with meat as the first ingredient. Mixing kibble with warm water or wet food can increase palatability.

Commercial puppy formulas: Major pet food brands offer puppy-specific formulas that account for the nutritional needs of nursing and growing dogs. For example, Blue Buffalo Freedom Puppy Chicken Recipe is made with DHA for brain development.

While raw diets can work for some nursing dogs, there are also many nutritionally balanced alternatives that have been pre-formulated and tested by experts. Consulting with a veterinarian can help determine the best diet for an individual nursing dog and her puppies.


In summary, there are both pros and cons to feeding a nursing dog a raw meat diet. The potential benefits include providing more nutrients and protein, which may boost milk supply and help puppies grow. The potential drawbacks include risks of bacteria, parasites, nutritional imbalance, and bones being hazardous for puppies.

The final recommendation is to consult your veterinarian about whether raw meat is appropriate for your nursing dog. If pursuing a raw diet, choose high-quality meats, follow safe handling and preparation, feed a balanced mix of proteins, and properly transition puppies once weaned. With careful precautions, raw meat can be feasible, but it requires effort to minimize risks. For many owners, a high-quality commercial dog food may be the safer choice.

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