Caring for Puppies and Kittens

Growing puppies or kittens need more calories or energy in relation to their size than normal adult dogs or cats.

The breeding bitch or queen (female cat) may also need up to four times more calories per day than usual when lactating so she can provide for her fast-growing young. Special diets can be used to meet these high energy needs.

Young growing animals also need special diets to meet their extra requirements for calories, protein and minerals to build strong muscles and bones.

Motherless Puppies and Kittens

If you can’t find a suitable foster mother to raise orphans, you can raise puppies and kittens less than six weeks old on a suitable puppy or kitten milk substitute.

You will also need to use a milk substitute diet if your bitch or queen is not able to provide suitable quantities of good milk, and you need to provide supplemental feedings for the litter. Puppies and kittens under 1-week old need to be fed 6 times a day, or every 4 hours day and night.

After they are 2 weeks old this feeding routine can be reduced to 4 meals a day or every 6 hours. You will need to use either a syringe or a puppy/kitten feeding bottle. By the time the puppies or kittens are about 3 weeks old, they may be fed by lapping the milk substitute from a bowl.

Puppies and kittens must also be kept warm but not too hot. Heat sources you may wish to use include heating lamps, hot water bottles covered with towels or blankets, or heating pads covered with blankets. The positioning of the heat source is also important, as puppies and kittens under about 10 days old will have trouble crawling away from a heat source that is too hot. Puppies kept together stay warmer.

Puppies and kittens under 3 weeks of age need to be stimulated to pass urine and faeces. Their mother would have licked them to clean them; you can simulate her behaviour by stroking their tummies and bottoms with warm damp cotton wool.

Weaning Puppies

For the first few weeks of their lives, puppies feed on their mother’s milk, which is very rich. Bitch’s milk is higher in calories, protein, fat and calcium than cow’s milk or goat’s milk.

At around three weeks, puppies are able to lap or nibble wet food from a bowl and you may choose to supplement their diet with a milk substitute that is specially formulated to suit their needs during the weaning period.

Puppies do not need individual bowls and may be fed together from one or two shallow dishes – competition encourages them to eat. Young puppies may need four or five meals a day. In the early stages of weaning the bitch’s milk is still an important part of the diet, but by 6 to 8 weeks most puppies can be completely weaned and are ready to leave their mother.

After Weaning Puppies

Once weaned, your puppy will continue to grow very quickly and will need about two to three times the energy intake (calories) of an adult dog of the same weight. The time for you to change the frequency and size of the feedings depends on the breed of your puppy.

Small and toy breeds reach their adult weight at six to nine months, whereas very large breeds like Great Danes are not fully grown until they are 18 to 24 months. Larger breeds have two distinct phases of growth and after 6 months of age should be fed an appropriate ‘Junior’ diet.

These diets have more calories than adult foods to meet their needs for maturation, but fewer calories than puppy foods to prevent too rapid a period of growth.

Alternatively, one of the newer puppy growth diets designed for larger breeds can be used throughout. If a special puppy diet is being fed, the label will show approximately how much to feed puppies of various ages and sizes. Alternatively, you may feed the amount that the puppy will eat in 10 minutes at three feedings per day.

Be careful not to overfeed your puppy; it should not be fat! Trim puppies will grow to normal adult size; fat puppies may grow faster but are more likely to have weight problems as an adult which can cause problems with their joints and legs.

You will want your puppy’s faeces to be well-formed and firm. They may be slightly soft because of the relatively large amount of food that puppies must eat. Feeding highly digestible food will produce smaller amounts of well-formed faeces.

Some puppies are particularly sensitive to alterations in their diet, so make any changes in the diet gradually, and don’t feed table scraps. Puppies should be fed three times a day until they are at least three months old, and at least twice a day after that. This is especially important in very small and large breeds of dogs.

Puppies should have clean fresh water available to drink at all times. As the puppy gets older you may find that giving it milk to drink causes diarrhoea. On the whole, milk is best avoided.

Weaning Kittens

For the first few weeks of their lives, kittens feed only on their mother’s milk, but by about four weeks of age, they will start to eat her food.

At this time you can gradually begin to wean them. Kitten milk substitute or a moist kitten diet may be fed in a shallow dish. The kittens will need a diet that tastes good and is highly nutritious – a special, concentrated diet kitten diet is necessary for them.

The queen may continue to suckle and clean her kittens until they are 6 to 7 weeks of age, but by then you should be providing them with 80 to 90% of their food requirements.

After Weaning Kittens

At about eight weeks of age, a kitten is ready to leave its mother. Until the kitten is a year old you should give it as much as it wants to eat. Unlike puppies, most kittens will not overeat, and they do not get the bone and joint problems with puppies that are fed too much.

If you feed a palatable, balanced, high energy diet your kitten should grow rapidly, and at about six months it will have nearly reached 75% of its adult weight. It is best to give growing kittens several meals a day or to leave dry food down for them all the time.

Kittens and adult cats should have clean fresh water to drink at all times. As the kitten gets older, feeding it milk may give it diarrhoea, and it is best avoided.

Caring for your Breeding Bitch

If your bitch is eating a well-balanced diet, she will not need any extra food or supplements for the first five weeks after mating.

Most of the growth of developing puppies takes place during the last three weeks of pregnancy, so you should start increasing the bitch’s daily feed intake by about 15% each week from the about the fifth week onwards. By the time the bitch is due to give birth, she may be eating 60% more food than usual.

If she loses her appetite during the last seven to ten days, encourage her to eat. A special concentrated diet, which you should feed as several smaller meals daily, is helpful at this stage.

It may be difficult for the bitch to eat large meals because of the pressure the puppies put on her stomach. Many bitches lose interest in food during the last couple of days prior to whelping. The day before she whelps her rectal temperature may drop slightly and she may start looking for a place to have her puppies.

You should provide her with a large, quiet and comfortable whelping box early in the pregnancy so that she is accustomed to it. Once she starts feeding her puppies, your bitch’s energy (calorie) needs will rise substantially.

By the third to fourth week of lactation, she may require up to four times her normal quantity of food. Her food should be fed in several meals. It is very important for her to have ample amounts of high-quality food so that she can feed her fast-growing puppies.

If you are feeding a well-balanced diet, the bitch should not be fed any mineral supplements. Some of the high-quality growth foods now available are suitable both for the bitch at this time and for the puppies too. It is also important that she has access to fresh clean water at all times.

Caring for your Breeding Queen

Your pregnant queen will likely gain weight steadily throughout her pregnancy. She should be fed as much as she desires of a suitably prepared pet food.

After she starts feeding her kittens, her food requirements will increase so that she can provide adequate amounts of good quality milk. At this time she may need two to four times more than her normal amount of food. She should be fed a good quality diet for several meals per day. A palatable concentrated growth type diet will be useful to feed your queen at this time.