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May 29, 2021

Care for Creation: Early puppy and kitten care

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By Dr Asia O’Neill, DVM

“Our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is ‘contrary to human dignity’.”—Laudato Si’, Pope Francis

So, you’ve been thinking of adding a fur baby to the family. This is a responsibility that comes with considerations that need to be carefully dissected beforehand. It would be best to formulate a plan using the following questions:

1) Where can it be kept?

2) What does it need to be fed?

3) What preventative measures may be needed?

4) What may be other miscellaneous needs?

5) What environmental enrichment may need to be provided?

If you’ve thought of these questions, you’ve actually been considering the ‘Five Freedoms’, in a nutshell.

Food and nutritional needs

When deciding to take a young one into your home, understanding how to reach its nutritional requirements is major. Young animals are constantly growing. Therefore, their bodies require a diet of higher nutritional value than a fully grown animal. This is because their bodies need all the nutrition possible to facilitate all round growth and development, as well as to meet energy requirements for everyday activities. which we know for the younger ones includes a lot of energy expenditure. Commercially made chows formulated to fit the needs of kittens and puppies would be advised, as opposed to adult chows.

It’s also important to note that giving milk, as primary source of nutrition, should be avoided. Puppies and kittens are lactose-intolerant—they do not have the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest the lactose in milk. Lactose is a type of sugar and undigested sugars can offset the natural balance of the gut leading to gastrointestinal upset. If one so wishes to give milk as a treat, goat’s milk would be recommended instead of cow’s milk. If there is need to soften the chow, soaking in water is preferred.

Canned meats and the gravies from it can be mixed with the chows or incorporated on their own. Keep in mind though that this may attune your puppy or kitten to ‘finer tastes’ and chows may not be favored if this is fed continuously. Feedings can be done up to three times a day, depending on the size of the puppy/kitten and their appetites. Food should never be left exposed for long periods of time. If some is left back it should be removed, covered and can be offered at a later time if so desired. This is important to prevent the encouragement of pests that can contaminate the food. Puppy/kitten formulated chows should be fed up until one year of age.

Comfortable physical space

A clean space should be allocated for them. Beds, blankets, pillows or towels can be provided to increase the comfort level of this space. Wee-wee pads or newspaper can be used to encourage potty training for puppies and litter boxes are well adapted to by kittens. These should be placed in an easily accessible area to prevent mishaps. It is strongly advised to keep our young pets inside or in an enclosed area that can be easily sanitised, until they have been fully immunised. This also includes keeping them from interacting with older pets, who may be immune themselves but can possibly be a source for exposure to the younger pets. This is where vaccination also comes into play.


Since our little ones have naive immune systems, they are unable to cope well with serious infections. it may even take a longer recovery time with more severe signs, if infection does occur. This is because puppies and kittens are not born with their own antibodies. They acquire some from their mother’s ‘first milk’, as they are not capable of producing their own as yet. These maternal antibodies last for about six weeks, acting as their defence in the interim. When they begin to wean is when your pup/kit becomes susceptible to serious disease. This is why vaccination is crucial to increasing your young one’s survivability.

When it is expected that the maternal antibodies begin to decrease, vaccines are given to kick-start the process of antibody production. Ideally, this time is when they are around six (6) weeks old. A vaccine can be thought of as intel being delivered to the body’s defence system, which is then used to produce ammunition i.e., antibodies, for any future invasions/attacks. Once these antibodies are produced, the body is now protected in case of infection. After the first dose is given at six (6) weeks, repeated doses three (3) weeks apart are required to ensure the immune system has been properly primed.

The aim is to expose the immune system frequently to a disease agent so that enough time is given for the development of immunity. This protocol is done since there is no exact known time in which we are sure the maternal antibodies are fully gone. If maternal antibodies are still present at the time of any dose, they will neutralise the simulation of the infectious threat. As a result, the immune system may not have had the adequate exposure to create the antibodies on its own. This is why the repeated doses at nine (9) weeks, twelve (12) weeks and fifteen (15) weeks is practiced and most effective. Usually, with each inoculation your puppy/kitten is also dewormed with an appropriate anthelminthic.

Next: Part two of early puppy and kitten care