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Welcoming a new cat or dog is an exciting moment for any household and it can bring a lot of joy and love to a family. It does however come with significant responsibilities. Right from the beginning, pet owners are faced with numerous challenges as the time between birth and adulthood is extremely important to pets. It is during this time that kittens and puppies go through numerous stages that can have a major impact on their wellbeing in their later life.

“At Royal Canin, we advocate for health through nutrition, and want to assist pet owners to help drive healthy habits from puppyhood and kittenhood, as we believe this is a crucial period for a pet’s physical and behaviour development,” said Corporate Affairs Director, Ursula Ndhlovu.

Start of life

Numerous adult cats and dogs suffer from various illnesses that started in the earlier stages of their lives. Therefore, it is important for pet owners to invest a lot of time and effort on their new pet’s behaviour and health from the start, as it will help the pet to have a happy and healthy life.

According to pet care experts, some of the main things to focus on when adopting a pet is establishing good habits such as brushing their teeth, grooming and exercise. It is also important to socialise pets early on and develop certain behaviour.

Dr Debby Bain, a Veterinarian and Scientific Communications Manager at Royal Canin, advocates for regular check-ups and says, “There are numerous risks facing our pets that can be very hard for owners to discover. That’s why veterinary visits shouldn’t be limited to treating an illness, rather, check-ups should start within the two first weeks of adoption and be followed up bi-annually or annually at a minimum. When it comes to the health of our pets, prevention is better than cure.”

Obesity – a main health concern in pets

A serious concern in pet health worldwide are weight issues. This is a problem as pets that are overweight may have a shortened life span and affected quality of life. They are also at greater risk of long-term issues such as diabetes, lower urinary tract diseases and osteoarthritis.

A study by Banfield1 shows that this problem often occurs during the pet’s early stages of life and develops over time. Research conducted in the UK by Professor Alexander German from the Royal Canin Weight Management Clinic concluded that 37% of dogs under 18 months were overweight2. Even though a chubby puppy or kitten may look cute to some, the extra weight puts the pet at risk of diseases.

Bain adds, “Overfeeding or not regulating the food intake of puppies and kittens can be dangerous. When they reach adult age, they are already predisposed to become overweight because of high number of fat cells. The start of life phase is therefore crucial in preventing weight issues.”

Dr Debby Bain holds a furry friend. Photo: Supplied
Dr Debby Bain holds a furry friend. Photo: Supplied

Nutrition needs during the growth phase

The right nutrition for puppies and kittens is the basis of good health for life. During the growth period (0 – 24 months according to species and breed), it is therefore key to understand the pet’s nutritional needs. Meeting those requires a carefully prepared, balanced and complete diet, and the nutrient requirements of a cat or dog change with their life stage.

At the start of the pet’s life, the milk from its mother plays an important role in building an immune system meant to protect the puppy or kitten even after weaning, and during the transition from milk to solid food when they become able to develop their own response. Once the transition has taken place, (anywhere between 2-4 months), it is important that they are fed an adapted nutrition for young pets, including the right levels of proteins, minerals and energy.

Despite food designed explicitly for puppies and kittens, 70% are fed adult food3 while some kittens and puppies fed with the right nutrition switch too early. This can lead to numerous long-term consequences as food with the wrong set-up of nutrients can hinder the development of the pet, causing joint disorders, fragile bones, digestive issues and size distortion later in life.

According to Royal Canin, there are several things puppy and kitten owners can do to make sure their pet is receiving the right nutrition:

  • Develop a good relationship with your shelter, breeder and veterinarian. Ask for advice and recommendations about food type, quantity and quality according to the age, breed and medical condition of your pet.
  • Always look at the product bag for indications about what type of pet the food targets and quantity recommendations.
  • Do your own research, there is a lot of available information from pet food companies and associations. Make sure to ask if the food is appropriate, balanced and safe.
  • Take into consideration that balanced nutrition is difficult to achieve with homemade food.
  • Monitor food portions in order to avoid overfeeding your pet. If your pet for any reason cannot spend the amount of energy it is used to, adapt the food portions accordingly.
  • Avoid supplements that would not be recommended by your veterinarian, such as calcium as it may negatively impact the health and development of young pets.

References

1 “Understanding the Health Risks of Obesity”, available at https://www.banfield.com/pet-healthcare/additionalresources/article-library/conditions-illnesses/understanding-the-health-risks-of-obesity

2 “Dangerous trends in pet obesity”, published January 5, 2018. Available at https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/3017699/.

3 Nielsen 2017, GTC – Top 16: USA, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, China, Australia, UK, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Argentina, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands / Mars PN “Metrics 2017” – aggregation of >50 countries

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