One of the first things new kitten parents should understand is these adorable fur babies we love so much require a tremendous amount of energy. And the best place for them to get energy is calorie-dense food made specifically for cats. Young cats should be fed food that is high in protein and fat, loaded with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and made to stimulate growth. The good news for pet owners is that this is a pretty easy feat to accomplish. Pet owners can easily supply the unique nutritional needs for kittens by following some basic guidelines.
Separating Kittens From Cats: Do Not Feed Kittens Adult Cat Food
Two things to know right off the bat. First off, adult cats and kittens require different feeding schedules, kinds of food, and feeding amounts. Second, kittens should not be fed adult cat food, because their bodies are not equipped to handle the solid foods appropriate for full-grown felines. Do not feed them puppy food; cats need more protein than dogs in their diets.
Kittens weigh only a few ounces at birth and will grow over their first few weeks with rapid weight gains. After about seven months, this growth slows down and eventually stops at around 10-11 months. Proper food consumption in young cats not only drives growth, it also provides the right energy level. Mama Cat supplies a kitten’s first diet and after that pet parents have to take over.
It’s also important to know about the pet food you’re feeding your kitty. Pet food brands are required to list the life stage a product is designed for on the package. Always look for kitten food—canned or dry—that says “intended for growth” on the label. Canned food is often easier for the little fur balls to eat since they still have baby teeth and the food’s moisture increases hydration levels. Dry food usually stores easier and is more carbohydrate-dense to provide energy and weight.
Dry food should have about 35% protein and 12-24% fat content. Canned food will appear to have less because of the water it contains. Check food labels on premium food. Look for a high protein source in the first four ingredients (such as “chicken,” “turkey,” or “beef”). Some experts suggest that at least 30% of a kitten’s energy comes from protein. Some kittens may start with canned food mixed with larger and larger amounts of dry food until a complete switch is made as they become an adult. Others eat moist food their entire lives. Consider your options and consult your vet to make an enlightened decision.
To ensure a kitten’s food contains the necessary ingredients, make sure the package label contains the following: “Meets the nutritional requirements of kittens established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials.” AAFCO is made up of state and federal officials who regulate pet food. If the package also contains “Complete and balanced nutrition for kittens based on AAFCO feeding trials”, that means the product has been tested on animals with success.
A growing young cat also need taurine, an amino acid that supports feline heart and eye health. Reputable pet product companies will include all the nutritional needs for a cat of this age in their products and list all these ingredients on the package. There is no need to supply additional vitamin or mineral supplements or put a kitten on an all-meat diet. (To do this can lead to other health problems.)
Be careful with homemade kitten food. It may not meet all the requirements of complete nutrition. Not all protein meals will have proper levels of other essential minerals like calcium. If you go with homemade kitten food, make sure a reliable nutritionist formulates the correct diet.
Most kittens devour food and can eat as much as they want at one time. If they are still growing, they will not have weight issues. However, if you notice an enlarged belly or bloating, take your fur baby to the vet to have them checked for parasites and other medical problems.
Young cats need to get off the high-calorie, high-energy gravy train after they reach adulthood. Otherwise, they’ll gain too much weight as adults and increase risk of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and other illnesses. Making the food transition may require mixing both kitten food and next stage adult food at feeding time, gradually moving to all-adult chow. Check with your veterinarian about when to start this process (though a good time is often right after the spaying/neutering procedure).
Make sure your has access to fresh water. For a small investment, consider a continuous-flow fountain; this’ll provide clean, fresh water and encourage hydration. Milk is not necessary on a regular basis; in fact, kittens may not be able to digest this and they could subsequently develop diarrhea. Ironically, some cats are also lactose-intolerant, just like humans. You can try small milk treats with your kitten if you want, but watch for signs of illness.
Related Article: Super Kitten Saves the Day! >>
Stick to a Kitten Feeding Schedule
IIdeally, your new kitten should eat their food specifically designed for cats their age three or four times a day, but most mini-felines can be free-fed so that food is out at all times. Kittens are growing at an immense rate, so dividing the day’s ration into three or four equal parts means there’s always some fuel in the machinery.
If you’re feeding your kitten canned food, it should only sit out for about 20-30 minutes before it is discarded. Dry food can be kept out longer, but if you have other adult cats or dogs in the household, it is imperative to monitor the kitten’s consumption of any food. The other animals would love to help the mini-cat polish off this tasty, high-calorie snack and add to their own waste lines.
Because constant supervision of animal food is a problem in many households (especially those with multiple animals, full-time jobs, and busy schedules), the kitten may have to be kept separate from other critters during the day or at least during feeding times. This means some pet parents might be forced to put their day’s ration out in the morning for the kitten to consume all day in their absence. Many pet owners are faced with this dilemma. In this case, pet parents may have to provide canned food in the morning and leave dry kibble out for the rest of the day until they return home. On weekends or evenings, pet parents can monitor meals more regularly. Ideally, keeping track of what the kitten eats helps control long-term weight and allows for observation of potential health issues, too.
Kittens: On the Go and On a Mission for Fun
Half the fun in having a kitten comes from playtime. You can help create an exercise pattern for your young cat very easily. Establish some playtime before feeding so they’re ready to eat well. Play time after a nap will also help build the bond with your fur ball. Feathered dangling toys, fake mice, jingle balls, and other small do dads bring out the best in kitten recreation time. Laser pointers and flashlight light chase really work up their heart rate, too. Some kittens even enjoy games of hide and seek with the pet parent having to seek out the hidden fur baby that then jumps out in mock surprise. Of course, every cat is different and will develop individual preferences for toys and games. For pet owners, a lot of fun is derived from figuring this out.
Check out our selection of cat toys below.
Taking Over for Mama Cat
In the case of orphaned kittens, a human mama may have to intervene and provide the feedings daily. In situations where they still need their mother’s milk, work with your veterinarian to find a commercial milk replacer specially formulated to replace a mother cat’s milk. The vet can also help establish a feeding schedule to meet the nutritional needs.
The good news is the situation should only last a few weeks before the kitten can start eating the food designed for them. Depending on the age of the kitten, their human parent may need to help them go to the bathroom since she will lack the ability to do this on her own. Mama cat stimulates this process by licking. Humans can activate it by using a warm, damp cloth or cotton ball and then cleaning up with a clean cloth.
Finicky Feline Feeding
It’s no secret that cats have a reputation as picky eaters. Pet parents can start from the beginning and expose the baby feline to different, healthy options. Protein can come from chicken, turkey, beef, fish, and salmon. Adding different textures and flavors will mix it up for the kitten. Some experts suggest offering old and new diet options in two bowls at the same time. That way the cat can keep trying the new food and eventually the portion sizes of the old food can be eliminated entirely.
Treat Your Kitten Right (Meaning, Only Feed Them Safe Food)
Avoid overfeeding when spoiling any of your pets. Try to keep treats to a minimum and account for them in their daily calorie count. And when it comes to human food, never give them grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, chocolate, coffee, and tea. If you’re not sure if a food is safe for cats to eat, consult your veterinarian.
Be careful with raw foods like meat and liver because they may contain parasites and bacteria that can lead to disease. Likewise, raw eggs and fish add to the risk of compromised feline health with Salmonella, decreased Vitamin B absorption or deficiency. Severe cases can result in death. Milk products can also aggravate the gastro-intestinal tract in kittens unable to break down milk.
From your kitten’s perspective, life should simply be a daily smorgasbord of calorie-dense, protein-packed food designed to get her growing and energized. Yes, it is a feeding frenzy for a few short weeks, but it makes all the difference in getting kitten off on the right paw nutritionally. Pet parents need to stock the cupboards and keep them full with the proper chow. After all, a baby cat’s motto is definitely eat, drink (water), and be merry!