Feeding fresh food to your young puppy or kitten may seem daunting but it is literally the best start you can give them! And we’re here to help! This is your Start-up 101 Guide on feeding pups and kittens the perfect fresh food diet.
It’s a Myth that You Can’t Feed Young Animals A Raw Diet!
Have you ever heard that you should wait until your pet is a year or older to start feeding a fresh food raw diet? We disagree. If it’s done correctly, feeding raw as soon as your pet is ready for solid food it's a wonderful way to set them up for health and longevity. However, it is important to note that if the raw food you choose is not balanced, it can create problem for your growing animal. There are a few ways to ensure that you’re feeding your pet a balanced diet. Keep reading to learn about the options that fit both your pet’s lifestyle and yours.
How you feed your pup is largely based on their breed, size, and age. If you have a large breed puppy, they will need a slightly different diet than a small breed. This is because large breeds grow a lot faster and need more food and more nutrients to help them grow correctly. Common issues with improperly balanced diets for puppies include mineral deficiencies, vitamin excess or deficiency, and omega 3 fatty acid deficiencies.
Kittens need a wide range of nutrients, meat, bone, and other animal-based foods. They expend a huge amount of energy playing and growing so they need a healthy nourishing diet throughout their kittenhood to set them up for a long and healthy life. Many of the same mistakes are made with both puppies and kittens when it comes to nutrient deficiencies and excesses. Again, common issues with improperly balanced diets include mineral deficiencies, vitamin excess or deficiency, and omega 3 fatty acid deficiencies. Additionally, they can suffer from taurine deficiency but this is less common with raw food than it is with cooked food diets.
How to Feed Your Puppy or Kitten: The Options
There are two main ways to ensure that you’re getting all the important nutrients into your young pet. Either you purchase a reputable and safe raw diet that is already nutritionally balanced for you OR you ensure that their diet is balanced by putting all the pieces together yourself. Depending on how much work you want to do and what your food budget is will significantly depend on influence how you may choose to feed a fresh food raw diet.
1. The DIY Approach (Homemade)
There are a lot of very responsible and enthusiastic new pet guardians out there who want to completely customize their pet’s diet using whole food items and combining them to get the most balanced diet possible with the most variety possible. Some of you have spent countless hours researching and calculating the perfect raw food diet. This does require a significant amount of time, not only for research but also for food prep. This is the most time-consuming option but it often costs the least amount of money. However, please note that if you’re just looking to reduce your food bill, the DIY approach might not be your best option. The DIY method requires a LOT of careful mathematical calculations along with a range of a significant combination of whole foods and perhaps added supplements. It is easy for errors and, therefore, deficiencies to occur. If, however, you are a nutrition nerd (like we are!) and you enjoy in-depth research and prepping food from scratch for your pet, you might find this process very enjoyable and worth the effort. If you don’t know a lot about how to do this and would like help planning a custom diet for your pet, at Red Dog Blue Kat we offer comprehensive diet planning services for all life stages.
2. The Already-Prepared Meal Approach
This is the straight-forward, no-fuss option. If you are a busy, on-the-go kind of person, this might be the best, most convenient option for you. Purchasing a prepared raw diet that includes all the essentials means that all the grinding, mixing, prepping, AND math have already been done for you. It saves a LOT of time. This option is generally more expensive budget-wise but well worth it if a) you want to feed a balanced raw diet and b) you just don’t have time to do all the necessary research and prep work to make it happen.
3. Somewhere in Between
There are different ways that take into consideration both of the aforementioned options. One option, and that includes using a pre-ground balanced meat, bone and organ base like Red Dog Blue Kat’s base meals. This saves you a lot of work in the grinding department. A second option could be having your butcher grind up a mixture of meat, bones and organs (as long as you are prepared to have these mixtures them nutritionally analyzed). For either of the above choices, you would then need to add your own vegetables, extras and supplementation. A third option could be choosing to do a combination of prepared meals that you keep on hand in the freezer for busy times AND making fresh, home-prepped meals when you have the time to do so.
We encourage you to do whatever works best for you and your pet!
AAFCO Requirements For Puppies and Kittens
Most pet food companies refer to AAFCO requirements to ensure they are meeting nutrient minimums in their formulations so we want to briefly address those requirements here.
The American Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) have set out nutritional guidelines for pet food companies and the general public to follow in terms of nutrient minimums (1). Please keep in mind that these are minimums and that a properly formulated fresh food raw diet will exceed these minimums—in a good way—to ensure that your pet thrives. We are strong proponents of formulating optimal diets, rather than just meeting minimum passing all his nutrient requirements!
AAFCO has guidelines specifically just for puppies and kittens (the GROWTH category). So, if you are really keen on learning about making your own fresh food diet, you’ll want to use their requirements as a reference point. A quick additional note: although some nutrients have maximums that are important not to exceed, most don’t. If you choose to feed Red Dog Blue Kat food, we have already crunched the numbers for you to ensure that your pup or kitten is getting everything they need. You are also welcome to check out our FREE Online Feeding Guide where you can opt to receive a personalized Complete Feeding Guide Template for what and how to feed your young pet a properly formulated, balanced, fresh food diet.
Calcium and Phosphorus for Healthy Bone Growth
It is absolutely critical to make special mention of calcium for young animals because it’s the number one thing that people tend to miss when they are creating a raw diet at home. If you’re not sure how to balance calcium and phosphorus, you may want to hire a professional or go with a prepared raw diet that already has a good balance of these two important minerals. A calcium-deficient diet can lead to irreversible and devastating health issues that can affect your pet for the rest of their lives. Too much calcium can also have negative results.
Your perfect calcium : phosphorus ratio is anywhere from 1.5 : 1 to 1.7 : 1 for pups and kittens. AAFCO’s minimums for calcium and phosphorus for pups and kittens are as follows:
Calcium Pups: 1.2% (dry matter basis)
Calcium Pups: 3 g per 1000 kcal or 0.3% (caloric basis)
Phosphorus Pups: 1% (dry matter basis)
Phosphorus Pups: 2.5 g per 1000 kcal or 0.25% (caloric basis)
Calcium Kittens: 1.0% (dry matter basis)
Calcium Kittens: 2.5 g per 1000 kcal or 0.25% (caloric basis)
Phosphorus Kittens: 0.8% (dry matter basis)
Phosphorus Kittens: 2 g per 1000 kcal or 0.2% (caloric basis)
We recommend using the caloric requirements rather than the dry matter requirements. When you’re feeding raw, it is critical that you’re feeding a rotation of different foods. Some which foods may be a bit higher or lower than these calcium : phosphorus requirements in any given meal. That’s ok! Your job is to make sure that you rotate through foods on a weekly basis that average out to these numbers.
IMPORTANT NOTE! The ancestral diet (2) which is the term used to describe the available nutritional data we have for wild canines and felines actually contains more calcium (and virtually every other nutrient) than AAFCO recommends:
Calcium: 1.7 % (caloric basis)
Phosphorus: 1% (caloric basis)
If you’re going with prepared raw foods, Red Dog Blue Kat’s nutrient analyses are all available online.
If you’re creating your own raw diet from scratch, you will need to search the USDA food database (3) to get the nutrient profiles for the foods you want to feed your pet and ensure that they are getting adequate amounts of calcium, phosphorus, and all the other nutrients listed by AAFCO.
Low Starch Diets are Best for Bone Growth
The beautiful thing about starting your pet out with a protein-rich, low starch, fresh food diet is that your pet’s blood sugar will stay stable throughout their growth phases. This is especially particularly important for large and giant breed dogs because of the rapid rate at which they develop. Insulin is a hormone that regulates our blood sugar to keep it from when it increases increasing to unsafe levels. Insulin is also considered to be an “anabolic agent” (a growth agent) — which means that when it increases in the bloodstream (as blood sugar levels increase), it can increase the rate of bone growth (4). Therefore, it’s extra important to ensure that blood sugar stays stable during the growth stages of your puppy or kitten because you DON’T want your pet to grow too quickly. This can cause abnormalities in the structure of both the bones and the joint tissues. This is , especially true for giant breed puppies! Having balanced blood sugar levels can literally change the way your pets’ bones and joints develop. Keeping your pet’s blood sugar stable is also a great way to ensure that your pet doesn’t develop diabetes later in life.
Special Foods and Supplements for Puppies and Kittens
Baby pets can benefit greatly from a few simple food additions to their diet. The following foods are great options to consider adding into the diet:
Organic raw goat’s milk
Benefits: A great source of probiotics and enzymes, aids in digestion in young animals and is a great transition food for getting your young pet onto a raw diet.
Sources: Check with your local raw pet food provider for the best options.
Benefits: Helps diversify your young pets’ microbiome.
Sources for young animals: Fermented foods such as OLIE Naturals New Beginnings, apple cider vinegar, kombucha, kimchi, and goat kefir. Check out our probiotics blog for more info.
Benefits: Decreases joint inflammation during growth, aids in brain and neurological development, promotes digestive health, and urinary health and contributes to healthy immune system development.
Sources: Canned sardines packed in water (not oil), fish oil, fermented fish oil, Olie Naturals Flax Unleashed, organic eggs, chia seed and oil.
Still Need Help?
Hire a Nutritionist! – If you’re not sure how to feed a balanced fresh food diet, we are here to help.
(1) AAFCO Guidelines for Dogs and Cats
(2) Nutrient Composition of Whole Prey Fed in Zoos
(3) USDA Food Nutrient Database