How to feed puppies and kittens

6 April 2021 - 5 min read

When you take home a puppy or kitten it’s important to know exactly how and what to feed them. Cats and dogs develop fast and providing them with the right nutrients is key to ensuring their long-term happiness. What a pet at this age needs can vary considerably though, both between breeds and individuals, so most owners tend to need some guidance.

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How do puppies and kittens differ from adult pets?

A standard diet for an adult pet will not provide a puppy or kitten with the nutrition it needs. Both require a higher proportion of protein in their food to promote muscle growth. They also need to eat foods high in amino acids and other minerals, to ensure they develop healthy skin, bones and eyes.

Many brands for adult pets include poorer sources of protein, such as peas, or contain carbohydrates from grains, which can promote unhealthy growth in puppies and are not suitable for kittens.

A puppy or kitten will often feed exclusively on its mother’s milk or a specialised formula until it is six to eight weeks old. Once weaned, they may then need to be fed on puppy or kitten food for up to two years, depending on their size, breed and temperament.

Find out about how our animals eat has changed over time with our history of pet food.

What pet food brand should I go for?

There are hundreds of pet food brands out there, and they can vary greatly in terms of quality and ingredients.

One of the best ways to differentiate between them is to check their primary source of protein – ideally you want a specified source such as ‘chicken’, rather than a generic term like ‘meat’. It’s also worth checking whether they contain a large amount of grains or other plant-based ingredients, as a kitten’s diet should be entirely based around meat and fish.

Food rich in organ meats are especially good for kittens as they contain taurine and other amino acids that are essential for their development. Whatever brand you opt for, you should buy specialised puppy or kitten food and stick with the same brand if your pet takes to it – changes can often cause tummy upsets or confusion.

Should my puppy or kitten have wet or dry food?

Both dry kibble and wet tinned foods are fine. Tinned food is higher in moisture, which is especially good for cats. Wet food also tends to be easier to manage for very young puppies and kittens, as they have small teeth.

However, dry foods keep for much longer when left in a bowl and are generally more convenient to handle. A combination of the two sometimes works best, but you should take care not to exceed your pet’s recommended daily calorie intake if combining food types.

As a rule of thumb, a three-ounce can of dog food should contain about 90 calories and is roughly equivalent to a quarter cup of dried kibble.

How much should I feed my puppy or kitten?

With puppies this depends on their age and their breed’s average weight at maturity. In proportion to their size, most require about twice the daily calories as a fully-grown adult of the same breed, but every dog is an individual and overfeeding is a real danger, as it can promote fast growth without the mineral support a healthy skeleton needs.

A puppy at its ideal weight should have a slightly rounded physique with no ribs showing and should have enough fat reserves to see them through an upset stomach or a period of vomiting.

Portions for a kitten are less difficult to assess, and there should be a guideline amount given on the packet of any food you give them.

Can a puppy or kitten eat raw food?

The short answer is yes. Raw foods can have a higher meat content and contain more calcium and phosphorous than processed foods, which are important for skeletal development. Pre-packaged raw brands also tend to be minced more finely, so they are easier for small mouths to manage.

However, they have same drawbacks as raw food diets for adult pets, such as the potential for pathogens and parasites to be ingested and the fact that they need to be frozen. If you’re considering feeding a puppy or kitten raw it’s worth speaking to a vet about it first.

For more on raw, check out our guide to everything owners need to know about raw food.

How often and when should I feed my puppy or kitten?

Typically, you should feed a puppy four times a day from 8-16 weeks of age, then three times a day until they are about a year old, before reducing meals to two a day in their adolescent period, when they are about 12-18 months old.

Kittens should be fed three to four times a day when very young, then around five meals a day once over six months old. Cats tend to graze so a ‘little but often' approach tends to be recommended.

It can be difficult for some owners who work away from home to give a cat five meals but you can consider options such as spreading food around the house in separate bowls, timed feeders, using puzzle feeders or scatter feeding. Every pet is different though, so you should always consult a vet before putting together a meal plan.

For puppies, a key thing with mealtimes is consistency – if you can establish a routine your pet will feel more comfortable with any changes you make, and you will be able to judge their behaviour more accurately. A sensible way to do things is to feed them roughly whenever your meal times occur, though puppies should be fed their last meal of the day early, so they have time to digest and make a trip outdoors before turning in.

It’s also worth noting that you should never position a kitten’s litter tray anywhere near its feeding bowl – like us, cats prefer to eat in a clean environment!

How and when do I make the switch to a standard dog or cat diet?

You can make the switch to a standard adult diet overnight for the majority of pets. Some pets are fussy though and may need to have their old diet phased out over several days. Some pets that don’t take to their food can be enticed with supplements such as bone broth, which are specially formulated to appeal and can be poured onto their existing food.

As ever, each pet is an individual and it’s worth consulting your vet before you make the switch.

For more on switching read our guide to switching pet food. Or find out about the pet food brands you may not have heard of.

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Digby Bodenham
UK engagement team lead

Digby is an experienced journalist in various fields but has specialised in insurance for more than six years. Before joining ManyPets in 2013 he was part of the editorial teams of various magazines, including Retail Week and Drapers. He has a degree in journalism and a cat called Potato.