Feeding puppies and kittens... - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Feeding puppies and kittens…

IAN WILLIAMS
in this second in a series of columns from Royal Canin explores nutritional influences at the weaning stage and throughout the growth period of young cats and dogs

THE weaning period is a
transitional period during which
the capacity of an animal to digest
starch develops and the ability to
digest lactose wanes (explaining
the diarrhoea often seen when the
suckling period is prolonged).

For kittens and puppies this is a
stressful time. They are separated
from the mother and set out to
explore new environments. Their
maternal immunity starts to wane and
their own immune response is not yet
fully developed.

On top of this, they are at
increased risk of
encountering
infectious
agents and,
given their
low gastric
acidity, are
more open to
toxic infections from poorly
processed food or from poor hygienic
standards.

To help support the immune
function, brain development and
general health of animals during
weaning, a high-quality, well-balanced diet should include high levels of
antioxidants (such as vitamins E, C
and taurine) and appropriately
balanced essential amino acids and
fatty acids (such as docosahexaenoic
acid).

Growing dogs

In dogs, the weight at birth changes
very quickly, being doubled in 7 to 10
days, tripled in three weeks and
quadrupled or quintupled in a month.
Breed-specific variations in puppy
growth patterns are well documented.

Larger breeds (with a growth period of anything up to 24 months)
have a longer growth period than
smaller breeds (averaging eight
months).

However, most breeds will reach
half of their adult body weight at six
months of age. Poor nutrition during the first four months can have dire
consequences for future growth and
development. During this period
excesses can be as dangerous as
deficiencies.

During weaning and early growth,
the puppy has a very sensitive
digestive system (low digestive
capacity) and is experiencing a critical
period in terms of its immune
system.

There are a number of important
considerations in the selection of a
diet whether it is for growth or
weaning:

  • the digestibility of the food must be
    excellent;
  • diets should be of a high energy
    density allowing a sufficient energy
    intake in a small volume, so as not to
    overload the gastrointestinal
    system;
  • the protein, calcium
    and phosphorus
    requirements of
    puppies are more than
    twice an adult’s
    requirement – a
    puppy should
    therefore not be fed
    an adult diet;
  • an enhanced and
    balanced level of
    vitamins and other
    dietary antioxidants is
    recommended to
    reduce the risk of
    growth disorders but more
    importantly to help support a
    developing immune response;
  • fermentable and non-fermentable
    dietary fibres such as fructo-
    oligosaccharide (FOS) and mannan-
    oligosaccharide (MOS) can have a
    beneficial effect on the digestive tract
    of puppies.

Given the marked differences in
growth periods, the diet should be
selected with the age and stage of
development taken into account
together with the anticipated adult
size of the animal.

Growing cats

With cats, nutrition has much more of
a consequence post-neutering, when
the feline is faced with a number of
risk factors related to gender (such as
stone formation and obesity), risks
which can be reduced via diet. That
said, there are still some important
considerations when feeding growing
kittens.

In terms of monitoring growth, it
is useful to weigh kittens daily and at
the same time every day. Kittens, like
puppies, grow rapidly, gaining 10 to
15 grams per day and doubling their birth weight within 10 days.

Weaning should be a gradual process but can be aided by providing
a wet or a dry soaked food, suitable
for kittens, from an early age.

Cats appear more sensitive than
many other animals to the taste and
texture of food; soaking dry food in a
suitable milk replacer will help make
the food more appealing and the amount of liquid added
can be gradually
reduced over time until
the kittens are fully
weaned.

Ideally, the diet fed
to the queen will be the
weaning diet of choice.

As with puppies,
kitten food should be
energy dense, highly
digestible, complete and
well balanced in terms
of nutrient content. At
eight weeks of age, a
kitten has an energy
requirement two to
three times more per kilogram bodyweight when compared
to an adult cat.

Energy requirements will stay high
until around 12 weeks of age when
the animal then enters a slower
growing period.

In summary, practitioners have a
level of responsibility to ensure that
clients are made aware of the
requirements of a growing animal and
so ensure that optimal nutritional
requirements are met.

Puppies and kittens, fed a diet
especially formulated for their age
and stage of development as well as
their adult size will have all of their
nutritional
requirements
addressed.

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