Friday, January 2, 2009
Nutrition for Puppies & Kittens: Common dietary requirements
I always say and you have to admit, puppies and kittens are just like human babies in many ways. They can get cold very easily, they can get sick easily, and they require frequent meals. They rely on their mother for care and food in the initial weeks after they are born. In most cases, puppies or kittens go home with someone new between 6 and 8 weeks of age. This is where we come in as new puppy or kitten owners. It can be very difficult to choose the right puppy food or kitten food, but with some knowledge of the importance of diet to your new puppy or kitten’s health, you can easily make the right decision. When feeding dry or canned food, a good quality growth formula is very important for your rapidly growing puppy. New advances in pet nutrition allow you to provide your puppy with optimal nutrition for optimal health. Small and medium breed puppies should be fed differently than large or giant breed puppies. The primary difference is the fat and calorie content of the foods that are appropriate for the different sized breeds. Small and medium breed puppies benefit from higher fat levels or formulas with greater energy density. Because these tiny puppies do not eat a large volume of food, they should be fed a diet that contains at least 15% fat to achieve optimal growth and development. Large and giant breed puppies should be fed diets that are lower in fat and calories to help them grow more slowly so that they are less likely to develop bone and joint abnormalities. While genetics is the most important factor affecting the health of the bones and joints of these puppies, diet can play a role by promoting too rapid of a growth rate. Keeping puppies in lean body condition is something that will help keep them healthier throughout their lives. For more information regarding developmental abnormalities of the skeletal system, please read our companion articles: Developmental Orthopedic Disease or Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy and Panosteitis. Kittens benefit from kitten foods that are high in protein and high in fat. This type of formula is lower in carbohydrates than diets that are lower in protein or fat. Cats are carnivores, designed to consume high protein diets with very little, if any, carbohydrate content. Dry pet foods must contain carbohydrates, this is just a requirement of the manufacturing process. However, feeding your kitten a kitten food that is greater than 30% protein and greater than 18% fat will help provide your kitten with optimal nutrition for growth, development, and health. Antioxidants are important additions to any puppy food or kitten food. Vitamin E and selenium are recognized as two of the most critically important antioxidants for the health of your pet. Look on the Guaranteed Analysis for nutrient guarantees of these two important antioxidants. As food is digested and metabolized, one of the by-products of this process is a particle called a free radical. The formation of free radicals is just part of everyday living. Because young animals take in such a large number of calories, their bodies produce free radicals at a higher rate. Young animals have more natural mechanisms to rid themselves of these pesky particles, but benefit from a diet that includes some additional help in neutralizing these charged oxygen molecules. Free radicals damage healthy cells by injuring the membrane, or covering, around the cell. Neutralizing the free radicals with antioxidants will help minimize this effect. Your puppy’s health and your kitten’s health can be positively influenced with fatty acids. Fatty acids are components of fat sources within the puppy food or kitten food that you select for you new pet. There are two primary groups of fatty acids that we are interested in: Omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are required nutrients and are present in all puppy foods and kitten foods. Omega-6 fatty acids keep the skin hydrated so that it does not become dry and flaky. However, if omega-6 fatty acids are not balanced with omega-3 fatty acids, they may promote inflammation within the body. There are cells that respond to different insults or attacks within the body. These cells are inflammatory cells. Sometimes though, these cells respond to a non existent threat and cause irritation or damage in otherwise healthy parts of the body. Omega-3 fatty acids help prevent this indiscriminate inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are not always added to puppy foods or kitten foods. Ingredients such as flaxseed, fish meal, and fish oil include omega-3 fatty acids. Look on the guaranteed analysis for omega-3 fatty acids. They should be present in a 5:1 to 10:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids for optimal health effects. Let’s talk just briefly about ingredients. Ingredients are only as important as the nutrients that they provide to the formula. Fresh meats are appealing to your puppy or kitten because they improve the flavor of the food. However, these fresh meats should be followed with a protein meal that is animal sourced, such as chicken meal, chicken by-product meal, or lamb meal, to name a few. Fresh meats are great, but they are very high in water. So, when the food is cooked, the water is removed and much less of the fresh meat is left behind. This is why dry protein meals are critical to providing adequate protein levels for your rapidly growing puppy or your carnivorous kitten. Natural preservatives include among others mixed tocopherols (vitamin E), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and rosemary extract. The technology behind natural preservation has come a long way. We now can safely and effectively preserve pet foods for many months using only natural ingredients. Many puppy foods and kitten foods now include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These ingredients may help promote a healthier metabolism and also provide natural sources of vitamins and minerals. Your puppy’s health or your kitten’s health does not rely solely on ingredients such as these and some pets do better on diets that are simpler, more basic and do not contain so many varied ingredients, especially when these foods contain the nutrients that were mentioned above. Feeding your puppy or kitten for his optimal health is not difficult with so many choices of high quality puppy foods and kitten foods. All puppies and all kittens cannot eat the same food with the same results and some trial and error may be necessary to find just the right food, but with the right choice, your puppy or kitten will grow and thrive and become a happy and healthy adult.