A Step Ahead for the Best Start in Life
All pet parents want to give their new furry friends the best start in life but they don’t always know where to begin. Feeding a good quality puppy food or kitten food is a great step to achieving this goal. But what does this really mean?
How do we determine which diet is best for a puppy or kitten?
A good starting point is the key nutritional factors for growth in puppy and kitten food. Key nutritional factors are the nutrients of concern for that particular life stage ie/ which nutrients out of the 40-50 in a diet are of the greatest importance, as these can be used to compare diets.
The daily energy requirements (DER) for a puppy or kitten at weaning age can be as high as 3 times their resting energy requirements (RER). This decreases over time as they get closer to their adult body weight. Puppies and kittens have a relatively small stomach size so we need to provide adequate energy in small meal sizes. Hence the energy density of a diet is important and should be at least 4kcal/g DM (dry matter basis).
The more digestible the food, the more they are able to utilise the ingested nutrients. It also means a smaller the amount of food is required to meet their needs. From a pet owner’s perspective, the decrease in volume and odour of stools can be a distinct advantage.
Growing animals need increased levels of high quality, highly digestible protein to support lean body mass development. It is also aids the development of the immune system by providing the building blocks for antibodies. Utilising both animal and plant sources of protein can help provide the optimal balance of essential amino acids in the diet.
The optimal amount of calcium is important to support skeletal development during growth. Kittens fed on all meat diets are prone to calcium deficiency. Puppies can be prone to calcium excess through supplementation of the diet. This can happen either directly or indirectly through foods such as cheese, milk and bones. Dietary intake of phosphorus is another important factor. However, as long as the minimum dietary requirements are met, the calcium to phosphorus ratio is more important than the actual level of phosphorus.
A published paper showed that puppies consuming antioxidant enhanced foods had significantly higher antibody responses following vaccination to distemper and parvovirus. They also had increased numbers of memory immune cells (memory CD4+ lymphocytes) which may help provide longer lived protection1.
Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are important in healthy brain and vision development. Published studies have demonstrated how feeding diets enhanced with DHA can optimise the development of rods and hence enhance the development of visual acuity in both puppies and kittens2,3.
Learn more about feeding Puppies and Kittens, nutritional myths and misundersdtandings at Hill’s Wellness Blogs.
Dr Jessica Mills BVSc (Hons I), Hill’s Technical Services Veterinarian
Jessica graduated as a veterinarian from the University of Sydney with honours in 1999. After graduation she spent 10 years working first in mixed, and then small animal practice at a number of clinics both in Australia and the UK. She moved into industry in 2009, initially immersed in the world of fleas and ticks at Merial Australia and more recently enjoying utilising her skills in the field of nutrition as the Technical Services Veterinarian for NSW/ACT for Hill’s Pet Nutrition Australia