Growing Up Strong: Nutrient Essentials for Puppies & Kittens

by | General Pet Care |

Guest blog by Dr Emmanuel Fontaine, Scientific Communications Veterinarian at Royal Canin North America.

As a seasoned veterinarian, I’ve witnessed firsthand the joy and excitement of welcoming a new puppy or kitten into the family. And during this crucial growth period, I’ve seen many well-intentioned pet owners make common mistakes when it comes to nutrition. The love and devotion they have for their furry companions is undeniable, but the abundance of misinformation available can lead even the most well-intentioned pet parents astray. One thing I am sure of today: the foundation of a healthy life starts with proper nourishment. This blog is a heartfelt effort to share some knowledge and insights to help you navigate the intricacies of your pet’s nutritional needs. Here are some important take-aways that I hope will empower you to make the best decisions for the health and well-being of the four-legged members of your family!  

#1 Fuel Growth with Nutrients  

The key to successfully nourishing our beloved puppies and kittens lies in focusing on their nutrient requirements. One might wonder though: what do we mean by “nutrient”?  

Nutrients are the essential components found in food that sustain life and promote growth, such as proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. These are the building blocks that support our pets’ development and overall well-being. 

Science has provided us with invaluable insights into the nutrient requirements of puppies and kittens, serving as a compass that guides us towards offering them the optimal balance of essential elements they need to flourish. 

When it comes to dog and cat nutrition, the discussion often gravitates around ingredients… so there is one thing I want you to remember here: while ingredients may vary, it is the nutrients they contain that ultimately determine the suitability of a particular food for our growing pets.   

By focusing on nutrients, you can make informed decisions about the food you choose for your puppies and kittens, ensuring that it meets their specific needs.  

This approach allows for flexibility in ingredient selection, as long as the food provides the necessary balance of essential nutrients. And again, this is the only thing that truly matters in the end here!  

nutrient essentials, royal canin

#2 Nourish growth = complete & balanced  

A complete and balanced diet is like a perfectly assembled jigsaw puzzle, with each piece representing a different nutrient essential for the healthy growth of our puppies and kittens. A complete diet provides all the necessary nutrients our pets need, and a balanced diet ensures those nutrients are present in the correct proportions. Together, they create a harmonious blend of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals that work in concert to support the overall well-being of our pets. 

During the growth phase, puppies and kittens undergo rapid development, including the formation of their bones, muscles, organs, and immune system. This stage is akin to laying the foundation for a sturdy and resilient building. Just as we need the right materials in the right proportions to build a strong structure, our pets need a complete and balanced diet to support their development.  

To check if a diet is complete and balanced for growth for a puppy or kitten, pet owners can look for a statement on the label that the food meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards for “growth” or “all life stages.” This statement confirms that the food meets the minimum requirements for nutrients essential for growth and development.  

Pet owners can also consult with their veterinarian to discuss the specific nutritional needs of their puppy or kitten and to ensure that the diet they have chosen is appropriate.  

#3 Proteins fuel healthy growth  

A common mistake among pet owners is the assumption that puppies and kittens can be fed an adult maintenance diet without any consequences on their growth. This misconception can hinder the development of your furry companions, as they may not receive the necessary amount and quality of protein their bodies need during this critical period.  

Protein is indeed the foundation upon which the intricate architecture of a growing puppy or kitten’s body is built. Like the framework of a house that supports its walls and roof, protein provides the essential structure for their developing muscles, organs, and immune system.   

Growing puppies and kittens require a higher percentage of protein in their diets compared to adult pets. This is because their rapidly developing bodies need the essential amino acids provided by protein to synthesize new tissues, repair damaged cells, and produce the enzymes and hormones responsible for regulating growth. 

On the other hand, an adult maintenance diet contains lower levels of protein, as it is intended to maintain the health and body condition of fully grown pets.  

Feeding a growing puppy or kitten an adult maintenance diet may result in insufficient protein intake, potentially stunting their growth and negatively impacting their overall health. 

The quality of protein is as crucial as the quantity. High-quality protein sources contain the right balance of essential amino acids, making them easily digestible and readily available for your pet’s body to utilize.  

To ensure that your growing pets receive the protein they need, choose a growth diet specifically formulated for puppies and kittens. These diets are designed to meet their increased protein requirements, providing them with the necessary building blocks to sculpt strong muscles, resilient organs, and robust immune systems.  

#4 Portion-control for health  

Energy is the driving force that fuels the spirited adventures and ceaseless exploration of our growing puppies and kittens. 

A growth diet is tailored to meet the specific energy requirements of puppies and kittens, taking into account their size, breed, and activity levels. In contrast, adult maintenance diets contain fewer calories, as they are designed to maintain the health and body condition of fully grown pets. This difference in energy content is crucial to understanding the risks associated with feeding a growing pet an adult maintenance diet… or overfeeding them their growth diet.  

Indeed, one of the most common mistakes pet owners make is overfeeding, inadvertently providing excessive energy to their pets. 

Overfeeding can be likened to overwatering a plant: although it may seem beneficial at first, the consequences can be detrimental in the long run. Rapid growth, fueled by excessive energy intake, can strain developing bones and joints, leading to orthopedic issues in the future. 

To prevent these issues, it is vital to monitor closely how much you feed (daily!) your puppy or kitten and ensure they are receiving the appropriate amount of food from a growth diet.  

Start with the feeding guidelines provided, and if you have any doubts or want a more tailored approach, consult with your veterinarian. 

#5 Optimal calcium for bone health  

When it comes to the health of our growing puppies and kittens, the phrase “too much of a good thing” can be a stark reality. Just as a delicate sapling can be overwhelmed by excessive sunlight, our young pets can face health challenges if their nutritional balance is disrupted.  

One of the most common mistakes I encounter as a veterinarian is the unnecessary supplementation of calcium during growth. 

Calcium is an essential mineral, playing a crucial role in developing strong bones and teeth. However, there is a delicate balance that must be maintained. Before six months of age, puppies and kittens are unable to regulate their calcium intake effectively. If too much calcium is given, it can lead to an over supplementation that may cause joint disorders and negatively impact their development. 

Calcium supplementation should only be considered if advised by your attending veterinarian and is typically reserved for very specific medical conditions. The growth diets formulated for puppies and kittens are designed to provide the appropriate balance of calcium and other essential nutrients. 

By avoiding unnecessary calcium supplementation and adhering to the advice of veterinary professionals, we can nurture the growth of our puppies and kittens, ensuring a future filled with strong bones and healthy joints. 

#6 Nourishing Body and Mind  

Among the many nutrients required for their development, there are some specific ones that play a vital role in supporting brain development, immune function, and gastrointestinal health.  

  1. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): This omega-3 fatty acid supports brain development. DHA promotes cognitive function, learning ability, and vision in growing puppies and kittens. Ensuring a diet rich in DHA lays the groundwork for a lifetime of mental acuity and healthy neural connections. 
  2. Antioxidants, betacarotene, and betaglucans: These nutrients help support our young pets’ developing immune systems. Antioxidants neutralize harmful free radicals, while betacarotene and betaglucans support the maturation of immune cells. By providing these nutrients, we bolster their defenses against illness and disease. 
  3. Prebiotics: Nourishing the gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome, the community of beneficial bacteria residing in our pets’ gut, is essential for their overall health. Prebiotics (like fructo-oligosaccharides – FOS) serve as food for these beneficial bacteria, promoting their growth and activity. A healthy GI microbiome supports digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function as well.  

By focusing on these nutrients, we can create a strong foundation for our puppies and kittens, fostering their growth into healthy, thriving adults.  


EmmanuelFontainegraduated from the Toulouse Veterinary School in 2004, he continued his studies at the Alfort Veterinary School (Paris) as trainee Vet in the domestic carnivore unit of the Reproduction Department. From 2005 to 2011, he worked at the Centre d’Etude en Reproduction des Carnivores (CERCA) [Research Centre for Reproduction in Carnivores], a unit specializing in pet breeding assistance. Emmanuel Fontaine is also qualified at the European College for Animal Reproduction (ECAR) and completed his PhD in 2012 on the use of GnRH agonists in canines. From September 2011 to September 2018, he worked as Technical Services Veterinarian for the PRO team at Royal Canada. He then was in charge of Scientific Communication for the Americas until August 2022. He now works as Senior Scientific Communications Veterinarian for Royal Canin North America.   


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