This article is sponsored content brought to you by Royal Canin.
Almost two thirds of Australian households have a pet, with Australia being home to an estimated 5.1 million dogs and 3.8 million cats1. A supplemental report by Animal Medicines Australia in 2021 spoke to an unprecedented boom in pet ownership of 8% in just over 12 months through COVID-19, predominantly led by a surge in dog ownership, with over a million dogs added to Australian households2. With an increase in the number of new puppy and kitten owners, it is even more important for veterinary professionals to recognise and advise on optimal nutrition, to help support healthy growth and development.
Nutrition for Growth
The goal of feeding puppies and kittens is to ensure a healthy adult, with nutrition in the post weaning period (2 months onwards) being critical. Key focuses are healthy growth, optimal immune function, minimising obesity and avoiding developmental orthopaedic disease. Nutritional assessment should be performed at every consultation, with special attention paid to large and giant breed puppies, who are more susceptible to malnutrition and developmental orthopaedic disease.
While growing animals may have increased requirements for nutrients, ‘more’ is not always better. For example, excess protein is unlikely to cause concern, however excess calcium or energy during growth can be detrimental, predisposing puppies and kittens to skeletal malformations and obesity.
Key nutritional factors for young growing animals include:
- Selection of a diet that is labelled as complete and balanced for growth, and advise pet owners to feed this diet for the required period of time relevant for that pet’s species, breed and/or size. For example, small breed dogs and cats are able to transition to adult food as early as 10 months, however large breed dogs will benefit from staying on a puppy diet until 18 months of age.
- Growth diets are high calorie to help support both the energy required for maintenance and growth.
- Not only do growing animals require relatively more protein in their diet, but certain amino acids may be key. For example, arginine is essential for puppies, but only conditionally essential for adult dogs.
- Minerals such as calcium and phosphorus should be present in the correct amounts and ratios to support healthy growth and development. Addition of mineral supplements to a diet is not recommended, and is not benign. Many mineral interactions occur at the level of the gastrointestinal tract, that may lead to developmental orthopaedic disorders, and/or mineral deficiencies.
- Prevention of obesity is essential and should start at an early age. Teaching pet owners how to perform fortnightly body condition checks at home is key so they can make adjustments to the daily portions as required.
The Impact of Neutering
A critical milestone for many growing pets is neutering. While there are many widely accepted benefits to both the pet’s health and behaviour, neutering is considered to be a predisposing factor for obesity.
Neutered pets are two to three times more likely to be overweight compared to intact pets. Therefore, education of pet owners on the impact of neutering on their pet is key.
On average neutered pets require 30% less calories per day, and have a tendency to be more sedentary. Advising pet owners to feed a specific diet formulated for neutered pets can help pets maintain an ideal bodyweight, and helps avoid obesity in future.