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Holistic puppy care

When you choose your pup, research the energy levels and size of the dog and make sure you can provide space and time to suit their needs and reduce stress. You should also discuss with your vet possible inherited disorders if choosing a purebred. Once you have chosen your puppy, you can apply holistic approaches to nutrition, vaccination and parasite control, environment, exercise and training to give them the best possible start.

A growing puppy’s diet must provide enough, but not too much, energy and be nutritionally balanced. Premium dry puppy foods are balanced and concentrated in calories. For some puppies, these are an ideal way to feed, provided you don’t overfeed and grow them too fast. However, puppies on commercial diets will benefit from some raw meaty bones and fresh food.

If you elect to use mainly a commercial puppy food, don’t supplement with calcium. You can add in a home-prepared diet up to 25 per cent of the volume of commercial food fed. If you are feeding this way, raw meaty bones (RMB) should be no more than 1 per cent of your pup’s bodyweight, twice a week. So, for example, a 10kg pup on commercial puppy food may receive 100g RMB, such as chicken wings or lamb ribs, twice a week.

Pups can be raised on a diet of good-quality raw mincemeat (including some fat), organ meat, including liver, a source of low-GI carbohydrate for energy, ground vegetables, lots of soft, raw, meaty bones as a source of calcium and, to exercise their head and neck muscles, supplemented with some flax oil for essential fatty acids and probiotics for immune health. A good-quality multivitamin supplement containing zinc is also good.

Feed pups a wide variety of foods with different meat sources. The diet of your pup may not be balanced for each meal so long as it’s balanced out over a week, much as yours (hopefully) is. The diet can be formulated with the help of a veterinarian experienced in holistic nutrition, and any pup on a wholly homemade diet should have monthly checks to rule out excess growth and signs of too little or too much calcium in the diet. Your vet can also show you how to measure your pup’s body condition score (BCS) and adjust the volume of food.

Two important factors that contribute to the development of hip dysplasia in larger-breed dogs are excessive weight gain as puppies and excessive high-impact exercise. Maintaining your pup in lean condition and limiting exercise to walking on grass and play during the active growing phase may help prevent early-onset osteoarthritis. Add in joint-supporting supplements, eg glucosamine sulphate, chondroitin sulphate and fish oil, to the diets of larger-breed pups.

Finally, if your pup has recurring tummy problems, poor coat, low energy or passes excessive wind and is prone to recurring illnesses, then the diet he or she is on is not working for them and should be reviewed.

Most holistic vets agree that all pups should be vaccinated. The goal of vaccination is to provide protection against serious and potentially fatal illness. The goal is also for the vaccine not to harm the developing immune system. There is much debate as to the best time to vaccinate pups and which vaccines to use. Ideally, pups are protected in the early weeks through antibodies from their mother. However, some pups may miss out on this important protection, so it’s usual for pups to have a vaccine early, at about six weeks of age.

Pups can then be vaccinated at 10 weeks with a modified live C3 vaccine, which protects against distemper, parvovirus and hepatitis. A blood titre test four weeks later will show if they have protective antibodies. If there is any doubt, a final puppy vaccine can be given at 14 weeks. These days, adult boosters are given every three years.

Pups should be vaccinated only if completely well, to ensure adequate immune response. Homoeopathic thuya just before vaccination may prevent adverse reactions and Rescue Remedy reduces stress and anxiety from the visit to the vet. Avoid using routine worming or heartworm medications on the same day as vaccination. A kennel cough vaccine is not regarded as a core vaccine and should only be given if required for boarding or training.

Puppies are more likely to have worm infestations because of their immature immune systems. All worming tablets are generally safe and effective and should be given monthly from six weeks of age. If your dog is sensitive to worming medications, monthly faecal tests can determine if worming is required. Heartworm is endemic in many parts of Australia, so a safe, effective heartworm prevention should be used. Homoeopathic nosodes are not always effective and, if you choose this method, your dog should have a heartworm test every six to 12 months.

Choose a good puppy preschool that uses gentle, positive training. Puppy preschool teaches you, the owner, how to live with your pup and teaches your pup how to communicate with other dogs. Even if you have a second older dog at home, your puppy will benefit from learning to play with other pups.

Puppies are not born “good” and will instinctively do things we as owners prefer they did not, such as rough excited play, digging, chewing, toiletting inside, play-biting and food guarding. With persistence and calm assurance, all these can be managed. There are four keys to managing your pup’s behaviour.


    1. Plenty of exercise and fresh air.
    2. Play, play, play, but stop before your pup gets over-excited and too rough.
    3. Training. Attend puppy preschool and adolescent manners classes or other group training classes, and spend at least five minutes two to three times a day running through training exercises. Your puppy needs to think. As part of training, practise leadership skills such as eye contact and sit/please.
    4. Promote a feeling of calm relaxation. Spend a few minutes, when your puppy is quiet, performing a relaxing massage on them. It is vital that you are not stressed and your massage is slow and calm. Use small circles behind the neck, then gently stretch out and massage the ears. Maybe play some of your favourite quiet music. Your puppy will associate the massage and music with a sense of calm. This technique can then be used to reduce the over-excitement that frequently leads to rough play.

Relax and enjoy your puppy. Gaze at them with love as they sleep and stay calm when they play up. They will grow up too fast.

Karen Goldrick

Karen Goldrick

Karen Goldrick is a holistic veterinarian at All Natural Vet Care, Russell Lea, Sydney, Australia.

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