Fooding individuals …
The age at which puppies and kittens are weaned will vary depending on several factors. These including the ability of the mother to produce milk, the size of the litter and the individual’s size and thriftiness. Consequently, the age at which puppies and kittens move to their new home will vary as a result.
Regardless of age, the complete change of environment, linked with loss of mother and siblings, places enormous stress on these tiny creatures. Change in diet and fooding regime at this point only adds to the stress, pushing many over their stress threshold and leading to digestive upsets. If at all possible, the original food(s) and timing of meals should be adhered to for the first few days, after the new parent may gradually change to a raw or species appropriate diet and regime that he or she prefers.
Puppies and kittens have tiny stomachs so need feeding little and often. Generally speaking, the younger the fur kid at weaning, the smaller and more frequent the meals should be. As they grow, their stomach capacity increases and frequency of feeding can decrease. A good plan to follow in the early stages is to provide food for a period of 10 – 20 minutes per feed, removing what is left at the end of that time and offering fresh food at the next meal time. When pups and kittens move to their new homes they will probably be on four meals a day. As they grow they will gradually show less interest in one of the meals during the day; this can then be dropped and the intervals between the remaining three meals increased. Similarly, in time, one of these three meals is likely to become less popular and the meal frequency for the growing animal can be reduced to two meals per day. There are, of course, always exceptions to rules, and some fur kids will continue to eat whenever food is put before them. In these cases, pet parents will have to exercise restraint on the fur kids’ behalf if you want to prevent obesity in your fur kid. While skinny youngsters clearly need extra care, the “roly-poly pup” image should never be considered the ideal puppy shape.
When your fur kids reach adulthood, it is worth thinking about how dogs and cats feed in the wild. Despite their many thousands of years of domestication, basic traits still prevail, perhaps not too surprising considering that until the middle of the twentieth century, proprietary commercial pet foods, such as kibble, where not available and most pets still had to fend for themselves to a large degree.
Most cats tend to be “snackers“. This reflects their natural feeding pattern – expend energy catching mouse, eat small meal, sleep to recover, expend energy catching another mouse / bird, etc.
Dogs tend to act as “scavengers” – find carrion, eat as much as possible because who knows when the next meal will appear, or hunting as a pack – eat as much as possible before someone else pushes me out. In the wild, they will also snack between meals on small animals, fruits, etc. – sounds familiar?
Although a generalization, this does go some way to explaining the difference in feeding habits of the two species and indicates that limited mealtimes are best for dogs and food left permanently available for cats best. Cats usually are much better at regulating appetite. Typically, the amount of cat food on offer should be measured out at the beginning of the day to guard against obesity in those cats which are not quite so good at regulating their appetites, or where high palatability of the food is likely to override satiety factors. These systems do tend to break down in multi-pet households where the top cat will eat more than its fair share and dogs empty all bowls in one sitting on the “just in case” principle. Competition also seems to encourage overeating.
Meal feeding can be subdivided into time-restricted feeding and food-restricted feeding. The former provides an unrestricted amount of food for a restricted time, after which period the remaining food (if any) is removed. This may encourage the fur kid to gulp the food down in order to eat as much as possible in the given time. The latter supplies a specific amount of food at specific times of the day and gives the pet parent more control over the amount eaten. The latter is what we prefer and recommend to our pet parents, guardians and slaves.
There is a third method that is encouraged by a great many fur kids, who manipulate their helpless parents with the aid of huge sorrowful eyes. It is “feeding on demand” and needs no explanation. It should not be encouraged at all. Given a complete, balanced diet, your fur kid has no need for treats or titbits and the attention it seeks can be provided (in theory) by a pat, a cuddle or by a short time spent playing with a toy.
Traditionally, historically most adult dogs are fed only once a day, even though twice daily is better for several reasons:
- your fur kid is less hungry after 12 hours than 24 hours and so is less likely to gorge itself;
- a second meal adds interest to the day and reduces boredom. Dogs who are left alone during the day are more likely to sleep after a meal;
- having two meals usually reduces the amount of titbits fed – pet parents often share the breakfast toast (really bad habit) but will be less tempted to do so if the dog has its own food!
- two small meals are easier on the digestive system than one large one.
The daily ration can be divided into two equal portions or into a thirds and two-thirds portion. The very large breeds of dogs in general appear to have relatively limited digestive capacity and so should ideally be provided with a highly digestive food source such as our minced raw meals at least twice a day. The daily amount should always be divided into two portions to avoid over swelling of the stomach and to ensure correct digestion.
As your fur kids age, their appetite often decreases and their digestive system is less able to cope with large amounts of food. They should be fed a minimum of two meals daily and with increasing age the daily ration should, whenever possible, be split into smaller portions so that they receive three or four small meals throughout the day.