The Growth and Development of Puppies and Kittens

In the first 6 months of life puppies and kittens do an incredible amount of growing. A rough guideline as to how much growing and developing puppies do in the first 8 weeks alone, is highlighted below:

 

  • Born blind and deaf, they are completely dependent on Mum.
  • At 2-3 weeks they will be able to start to hear and see different things, slowly mimicking Mum’s noises as they learn to talk. That develops over time from small whining noises, to barking before they are 8 weeks old
  • In the 3rd week of life they start to walk and wander around, they learn important socialisation skills from Mum and littermates and their teeth will start to come in
  • 3-4 weeks they will start to have control over their own excretions and leave the bed to toilet
  • Between 4-8 weeks breeders will start to wean puppies from Mum onto puppy foods
  • By 7 weeks they will have physical co-ordination and full muscle control meaning they can walk, play and run quite happily.

 

It is crucial during these stages, and for the following 6 months of life they receive a balanced diet with the correct nutrition. Dogs are omnivorous, meaning they can eat both meat and plant-based foods to survive, if it is a balanced diet. Puppies need 25-29% of their metabolic energy to be supplied by protein. Using a complete puppy diet (whether that be a dried biscuit, tinned wet food or RAW) is paramount to ensure correct growth and development. A decreased protein content in food will lead to a stunted or slowed growth rate. Off the back of this, a decreased calcium intake will also slow growth rate and decrease mineral bone content and strength, making them more susceptible to pathological fractures.

These nutritional deficiencies would affect any dog, of any size, however large and giant breeds would be more susceptible to skeletal abnormalities.

There is also evidence now to suggest that feeding your dogs ad lib (having food down all the time, all day so they can graze when they like), can also be detrimental to their musculoskeletal development. Dogs should have set feeding times 3-4 times a day as young puppies under 4 months of age, slowly decreasing to 1-2 times a day by the time they are 6 months old.

Kittens develop in a very similar way to puppies, however their initial development is quicker before slowing down, below is a rough guideline of when things start to happen:

  • They are born deaf and blind, completely dependent on Mum
  • In the 2nd week they start to open their eyes and ears, their teeth also start to come in during this week
  • During the 3rd week of life, they begin to learn how to purr and start walking
  • Week 4, they begin to develop a better sense of balance and become more co-ordinated
  • At weeks 4-5 they start to toilet without the assistance of Mum
  • Between 5-9 weeks of age, the breeder will start weaning them off Mum
  • 6-8 weeks their confidence soars and they become much more playful and curious so this is the perfect time to start their socialisation

Unlike puppies and dogs, cats and kittens are obligate carnivores (meaning they digest and utilise meat proteins differently), there are 11 essential amino acids and cats are unable to synthesise these internally without being derived from a meat based product, not plant based. Taurine, arginine, methionine and cysteine are 4 of those essential amino acids, these are not found in plant products, only in meat products. A taurine deficiency over 6 weeks long, will cause blindness and can cause heart damage.

 

Much like dogs, a decrease in calcium will lead to poor bone development and growth, which could result in pathological fractures occurring. Cats are less susceptible to issues from feeding ad lib, it is recommended cats are fed ad lib as this is a more normal and natural eating patten for them. However, if a cat is not fed a commercial diet and fed only meat products this can cause huge musculoskeletal issues. For example, hypervitaminosis A is caused by feeding too much liver and this results in long bone pathological fractures and over production of bone (most commonly in the neck). Therefore, it is incredibly important to feed your kitten a balanced, kitten food appropriate for their life stage.

 

If you have any questions about feeding your puppy and kitten ­at any age of life, all the way through from birth to senior, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our nurses would be happy to discuss their nutritional needs on a case by case basis and help devise a suitable plan.

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