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Feeding your puppy and kitten: Essential nutrition tips

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Learn how to provide a balanced, nutritious diet for your puppy or kitten, how often to feed them and which foods to avoid.
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Both puppies and kittens thrive on a balanced diet that evolves to accommodate their age and life stage, although the nutritional needs for each are very different. Developing a healthy and nutritious diet for your new puppy or kitten will help set the foundation for their growth, energy levels and overall health. 

A balanced diet for puppies

When it comes to happy and healthy puppies, a complete and balanced diet is key. When choosing a puppy food, you’ll need to consider the ingredients, serving sizes and food quality. The following guidelines can help.

Puppy formulas

Nutritious, premium-quality commercial food developed specifically for puppies will provide all the necessary nutrients to accommodate their rapid growth. Ask your veterinarian before switching your puppy to an adult formula.

Breed formulas and size

Make sure to get the correct food for your puppy’s breed and/or size, so your puppy receives the correct amount and does not gain too much weight as it grows. Some formulas will be specifically designed for small breeds with smaller kibble adapted to smaller mouths. Other formulas will be designed for the rapid bone and joint development of large and giant breed dogs.

Clean water

Clean, fresh water is a must. Avoid giving them milk as it can cause diarrhea. Remember to regularly change their water bowl if it has been sitting for more than a day. 

Avoid human food

Human foods are a common cause of skin conditions, dental disease, allergies and obesity in dogs. Fatty human foods like sausages and bacon are common causes for pancreatitis in dogs and must be avoided.  

While you’re at it:  Ask your pet health professional for advice on keeping your puppy’s teeth and gums healthy. Special diets, cleaning treats and home teeth cleaning are all great ways to keep your puppy’s teeth strong and healthy. These are healthy habits you should keep up for your pet’s lifetime. 

Feeding guide for puppies

Space out meals evenly throughout the day. If you are changing your puppy’s diet or transitioning to adult food, do it gradually over a week to avoid tummy upsets. 

Some puppies can have food left out and will take small meals throughout the day. However, some puppies will gobble down any food in their bowl and will need to have a more structured feeding schedule with portions and meals.

Here are some general guidelines for a feeding schedule for puppies who have been weaned from their mother’s milk: 

  • Three to four meals per day until your puppy is 12 weeks old 
  • Two to three meals per day for puppies up to six months old 
  • One to two meals per day for dogs over six months old 

Foods you should not feed your puppy

Feeding your puppy foods other than puppy-specific formulas can cause health issues. 

Do not feed your puppy any of the following: 

  • Adult dog food (doesn’t provide the right nutrition for a growing dog) 
  • Table scraps (high in fat) 
  • Cooked bones (can fracture teeth and perforate the intestinal tract) 
  • Raw food (this can be a source of bacteria and make humans sick)

Additionally, you should avoid the following dangerous foods that are toxic to dogs: 

  • Chocolate 
  • Onions 
  • Garlic 
  • Avocado 
  • Macadamia nuts 
  • Grapes 
  • Xylitol (a sugar substitute which can be found in sugar-free products such as peanut butter) 

Liver treats are much healthier for your dog than human snacks and are just as tasty. 

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A young kitten walking in the grass

Kittens thrive on a complete and balanced diet

Kittens have their own special dietary considerations for nutrition and feeding frequency. 

To help foster proper growth and lifelong health, follow these guidelines for proper kitten nutrition.

Kitten formulas

For the first year the best nutrition is derived from premium-quality commercial food that is specially formulated for kittens.  

Small meal portions

Feed small amounts regularly. Don’t overfeed your kitten as this can cause diarrhea, vomiting and weight gain. 

Fresh water

Make sure your kitten always has access to fresh water and change the water frequently. 

Quiet, secure feeding area

Feed your kitten in a clean, secure area away from lots of noise and activity.

Talk to your health care professional to find out what food is best for your kitten. Although home cooking may seem like a more nutritious option, in fact it lacks enough omega-3 fatty acids for their brain and eye development and can lead to taurine deficiencies, a cause of blindness and heart failure in kittens. For the same reason kittens should never be fed dog or puppy food.

Premium-quality kitten food has the right balance of essential nutrients, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Not all premium foods are complete and balanced. Check the ingredients on the label before you buy a new food for your kitten or cat. You can also discuss your options with your veterinarian.  

If you want to change your kitten’s diet or transition to adult food, do so very gradually over a week or more to avoid possible stomach irritation. 

How often you should feed your kitten

Establishing a feeding schedule with your kitten will help it develop lifelong good eating habits and avoid unhealthy weight gain.  

Here’s a suggested feeding schedule for kittens who have been weaned from their mother’s milk: 

  • Three meals a day when your kitten is three to six months old 
  • Two meals a day when your kitten is six months old, and thereafter 

Foods you should not feed your kitten

To prevent potential health issues, don’t feed your kitten these foods:  

  • Milk and dairy products (most kittens are lactose intolerant) 
  • Tuna (a steady diet of tuna can cause malnutrition and mercury poisoning) 
  • Table scraps and bones (fat can cause digestive issues and bones can splinter, causing intestinal cuts or blockage) 
  • Dog or puppy food (doesn’t provide the correct nutrients for kittens) 
  • Raw food (this can be a source of bacteria and make humans sick)

Some foods are toxic to kittens and cats and should be avoided at all costs: 

  • Caffeine 
  • Chocolate 
  • Grapes and raisins 
  • Onions and garlic 

Nutrition is just the first step in keeping your new puppy or kitten healthy. Check with your veterinarian to determine the best choice of food for your puppy or kitten and to determine their vaccination schedule and start a parasite protection and prevention plan to shield them from potential parasite infections in their new home. 

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