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Feeding Fundamentals: Brands Offer Insights on Nutritional Needs for Puppies, Kittens

Glenn Polyn//January 1, 2024//

Feeding Fundamentals: Brands Offer Insights on Nutritional Needs for Puppies, Kittens

Glenn Polyn //January 1, 2024//

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Adding a kitten or puppy to the family is an exciting time. However, it can also be overwhelming, especially when it comes to the youngster’s diet. First-time parents of a kitten or puppy may not understand the different development life stages and how breeds affect the process. While feeding a complete and balanced diet is important, pet parents need to understand that puppies and kittens have specific nutritional needs that are essential to building a strong foundation that can help prevent obesity and other future diseases.

Puppies and kittens require high-calorie foods with specific nutrients to promote healthy growth and brain development. According to ZIWI, it’s important to start a puppy or kitten with a diet that is rich in high-quality proteins, has moderate fat levels and low levels of carbohydrates to help them grow. All ZIWI Peak air-dried and canned recipes are complete and balanced. They also meet the AAFCO nutrient profiles for all life stages, including the growth of large breed puppies. ZIWI Peak is versatile and can be introduced to kittens and puppies as young as 6 weeks of age – just scoop and serve, including as a topper.

When it comes to puppies and kittens, nutrition during development is critical because it sets the foundation for an adult dog or cat to live a long and happy life. Growing puppies and kittens need specially balanced diets to ensure essential nutrients are provided for normal growth and, ultimately, normal ideal body composition.

According to Dr. Danielle Opetz, Doctor of Companion Animal Nutrition at Fromm Family Foods, food formulations are a critical foundation for growth.

When we look specifically at formulations, in general, those that are tailored for puppies and kittens include the correct balance and proper levels of essential nutrients to support growth and development and ensure the growth curve is accommodated properly,” she explained. “These nutrients play different, but important, roles for the development of essential systems such as skeletal, nervous, digestive and beyond. Puppies and kittens also have a greater need for essential amino acids and dietary protein, compared to their adult counterparts, because growth puts one of the greatest demands on the body.”

Fromm Family Foods offers puppy and kitten recipes that, in addition to being complete and balanced, they also include nutrients essential to growth, such as high-quality proteins and fatty acids, including omega fatty acids such as EPA and DHA, to support brain and vision development and enhance skin and coat health. Fromm’s foods also include antioxidants, which are important to help keep the immune system strong, and pre- and probiotics to support healthy digestion. And, when a pet reaches the end of their growth curve, it’s a seamless transition from Fromm puppy or kitten food into a Fromm adult formulation.

Dr. Opetz advises that the breed of the companion animal play a role in the appropriate diet, as large breed puppies and kittens have more specific nutritional needs.

Another important thing to remember for maturing puppies and kittens is to choose a food that’s formulated for their size” she added. “Calcium is important as it supports strong bones and teeth and even more important when it comes to large breeds as they have unique calcium needs. It’s important to feed a large or giant breed dog a recipe formulated to accommodate their longer and more pronounced growth phase, so they don’t grow too fast, putting them at a higher risk for skeletal abnormalities. For example, a giant breed like a Great Dane may require a large breed puppy food for up to 24 months, while larger cats like Maine Coons may need a kitten food for up to 18 months, or until they are considered to have reached maturity.”

While it’s understood that a complete and balanced diet is vital for puppies and kittens to thrive, pet parents might not realize the importance of their decisions regarding what, when and how to feed their puppy and kitten. After all, these are factors that can impact everything from how the companion animal looks, feels and even it longevity.

Such brands as Nulo feel that their goal is to help consumers set their puppies and kittens up for the best quality of life possible from the start.

Heather Mendoza, Ph.D., Nulo’s director of research & development, says that nutrition, as well as the sensory attributes of the food, are important to the young pet.

“Puppies and kittens require about 40 essential nutrients in a highly digestible form and often in higher amounts than adult pets to support the high demand growth phase,” she stated. “Nulo’s puppy and kitten formulas deliver industry-leading animal-based protein levels – up to 90 percent, in fact. This means that of the 40 percent crude protein in a kitten recipe, up to 90 percent of that is coming from animal [versus plant] sources. This, in combination with low carb levels, low-glycemic carb sources and a patented probiotic not only provides the necessary qualities of a premium food, it also delivers the nourishment puppies and kittens need to help them live long and healthy lives.

“Puppies and kittens are particularly sensitive to aromas and textures but have a less well-developed sense of taste compared to adults,” she continued. “For example, if you’re feeding kibble, the texture, shape and size suitable for your pet can help to make eating an easy and enjoyable experience. Young animals also have sensitive digestive systems, so feeding high quality proteins with a gentle fiber system can help establish a healthy and stable microbiome early on. Nulo’s puppy and kitten dry foods feature several functional ingredients including pre-, pro- and postbiotics to support digestive and immune health, and salmon oil as a source of DHA for brain and eye development.”



When it comes to puppies, they require nearly four times the energy than adult dogs, and they need extra protein to help build new tissue. Therefore, an energy-rich diet including protein, fat, calcium and phosphorous is important during this phase.

A puppy’s needs also vary according to breed. Toy and small breed dogs need higher levels of these nutrients, while large breed dogs need less to control their growth rate, and medium-sized dog breeds are between the two. Too little or too much of these nutrients can cause problems with canine skeletal structure and possibly lead to obesity.

Puppies should have food with a proper balance of calcium and phosphorus, as well as amino acids and vitamins. Antioxidants also are important for puppies to prevent growth abnormalities and improve overall health. Other beneficial ingredients in puppy food are fish and vegetable oils, which are high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

Pet brands such as Open Farm offer pet parents web blogs that present valuable tips on a wide range of topics, including puppy nutrition. In its “Puppy Feeding Guide for New Owners,” Open Farm notes that the best food for a puppy in its first month is mother’s’ milk. Puppies typically begin weaning after three to four weeks, which is when they typically begin to develop teeth. After that, monitoring what a puppy eats is vital to its development and overall health. In addition to feeding a diet formulated for puppies, the recipe should be appropriate for the puppy’s breed and size, and it’s vital to avoid under-feeding or over-supplementing.

Open Farm recommends referring to the feeding guide labeled on the puppy food packaging, and the brand also has a feeding guide posted on its website to help determine the perfect portions and feeding schedule to help it maintain the ideal weight.



According to “Learn How to Feed a Kitten,” a web article on the Purina Canada website, newborn kittens get their nutrition from nursing or, if separated from their mother, from a milk replacement. When a kitten is between 3 to 7 weeks old, it can be introduced to moistened kitten food – one part of warm water and three parts dry or canned kitten food –  for it to nibble on. The consistency of the moistened food should look similar to oatmeal. Over the next week or so, gradually decrease the amount of water and increase the amount of food to help with the transition.

Compared to adult cats, kittens require two to three times more protein, fat and other nutrients, notes Purina. However, due to the small size of their mouths and digestive systems, kittens can’t eat much at one sitting. Their food should be high in easily digestible animal protein and other important nutrients, such as fiber, essential vitamins and minerals, and taurine, an amino acid found in chicken and fish sources. Since they are in the process of developing their immune system, adequate protein is essential for the development and ongoing maintenance of a nimble defense system. Kitten foods should be slightly higher in certain minerals like calcium and phosphorus for bone growth and development.

Other brands, including Dr. Elsey’s and Tiki Cat, agree with the notion that food fuels growth.

Inspired by the protein levels found in natural prey, Dr. Elsey’s cleanprotein naturally optimizes a cat’s appetite and body mass through simple, high-quality ingredients. After being weaned, Dr. Elsey’s believes an introduction to soft foods like cleanprotein recipe paté is best, slowly introducing cleanprotein kibble over time.

Dr. Elsey’s cleanprotein notes that a kitten’s diet requires up to two times the recommended daily feeding amount for kibble, and up to two and a half times the recommended amount for paté. A kitten will continue to gain weight rapidly until 6 to 7 months of age. After that, weight gain will continue slowly until about 10 months of age.

Meanwhile, Tiki Cat’s Born Carnivore life-stage nutrition takes kittens from nursing, to weaning, to eating whole foods on their own. Tiki Cat Baby includes an energy/weight gain supplement for newborns, a finely shredded/mousse starter food for weaning kittens and two whole food recipes that provide complete nutrition for growing carnivores to 12 months. High protein from real sources, supplemental taurine, extra hydration and an enticing flavor get kitties started on the right paw.

Tiki Cat Born Carnivore for Kittens is high in protein from real chicken combined with highly digestible egg and nutrient-packed chicken liver for taste. The grain-free Chicken & Egg Luau flavor includes Omega-6 and Omega-3 essential fatty acids from salmon oil and flaxseeds, as well as pumpkin to help support healthy digestion. In addition, the recipe includes added DHA and folic acid for healthy brain and eye development.



It’s important for pet parents to know that maximal growth is not optimal growth. Overfeeding and excessive weight gain are risk factors, especially for large breed dogs that can develop orthopedic conditions such as hip dysplasia.

Experts agree that retailers should remind customers that while it might be tempting to spoil their adorable puppy or kitten with extra food, treats or table scraps, feeding the proper portions of an appropriate diet and limiting snacks is vital to healthy growth and a reduced risk of obesity.

“We often are asked how retailers can better support their customers when it comes to pet food and nutrition,” explained Dr. Opetz from Fromm. “It’s a good practice for a retailer to know the products they carry and take advantage of the tools and training materials manufacturers provide. Our hope is that retailers lean on their manufacturers to learn about the products they formulate. Many brands, Fromm included, put forth a lot of educational materials that can help with the selling process including signage, sell sheets, shelf talkers, and even one-on-one trainings to better educate on product offerings the benefits or unique attributes of those products. A clear understanding of the foods they sell can help a retailer better start a conversation with a shopper and forge what we hope will be a lifelong relationship. There’s an element of trust a retailer can earn with their clientele, and that starts with being able to help them choose a strong foundation for nutrition from an early age.

She also gives this advice on how to help pet parent avoid mistakes when offering feeding recommendations.

“It’s important to keep a careful eye on feeding recommendations. A retailer would be well-served to know if the manufacturer’s feeding recommendations published on the packaging are based on current weight or expected mature weight, as this can vary from brand to brand, product to product. One of the most common things we see is a pet parent struggling with diarrhea when feeding a new puppy or kitten, due to inadvertent overfeeding,” she noted. “Even with premium nutrition, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.”

As pet parents become better educated on their companion animal’s needs, they will look to retailers to help connect them with the best food that best suits their puppy or kitten. With better education, consumers will be able to meet their pet’s nutritional needs and ensure the proper development that will lead to a longer, happier and healthier life.