Written by Dr. Jill Cline, Ph.D.
Caring for your new kitten includes providing a comfortable and loving home environment, scheduling regular veterinary visits for routine examinations and vaccinations, and providing optimal nutrition to support healthy growth and development.
Selecting the Best Food for Your Kitten
Today, most owners prefer the reliability and convenience of feeding a commercial pet food. The food that you select for your kitten should support optimal growth and health and produce a lustrous coat, healthy skin condition, and proper body physique and muscle tone. High quality kitten foods also support normal gastrointestinal functioning and produce regular, firm, and well formed stools. Here are a few more tips:
- Read labels and select a kitten food that has been designed to be complete and balanced for growth and development or for all life stages.
- Three types of commercial foods are available; dry, semi-moist and canned. The decision of which type of food to select can be made with an understanding of the benefits of each:
- Dry cat foods work well with kittens, in combination with canned. Kittens tend to be “occasional” eaters as they take a large number of small meals throughout the day. After consuming a small portion of the food, the kitten leaves and returns at intervals to eat.
- Soft-moist cat foods are softer in texture than dry foods, yet do not spoil quickly and so can be used in free-choice feeding. These foods come in convenient meal-sized packages and also are suitable as treats for rewards during kitten training.
- Canned cat foods have the advantage of a very long shelf-life prior to opening. These foods are usually very appealing to kittens because of their texture and because they contain a relatively high level of fat and protein. Canned foods also have a much higher water content, so they provide a good source of dietary water to the kitten.
Feeding Tips for your Kitten’s First Year
Kittens are completely weaned and ready to enter their new homes when they are between seven and nine weeks of age. Kittens this age are capable of obtaining all of the nutrition that they need from a commercial kitten food. Consider these guidelines for your kitten’s first year:
- If the food you choose for your kitten differs from the food he received during weaning, transition to the new food gradually over several days to prevent gastrointestinal upsets. Begin by mixing a small amount of the new diet with your kitten’s weaning diet and increase the proportion of the new food in the mixture each day.
- Feeding Dry Kitten Food – Some young kittens prefer dry food that is moistened with warm water. This is especially helpful if your kitten has been recently weaned and is less than 10 weeks of age. Moistening softens the food and makes it easier to eat. As your kitten develops, the amount of water in the food can be gradually decreased.
- Feeding Canned Kitten Food – Provide three or four meals per day and do not leave uneaten food in the bowl after a meal. If the food comes from an open can that has been refrigerated, warm the food to room temperature prior to offering it to your kitten. Cats prefer food that is at room temperature or slightly warmed.
- Kittens can be fed free-choice (i.e. having food available all day to nibble), or using portion-controlled meals. Free-choice feeding can be used with dry and semi-moist foods, but not with canned foods. When using portion-controlled meal feeding, growing kittens should be fed at least three to four times daily until they reach six months of age.
- Meal Feeding – Allow your kitten at least 20 minutes for each meal. Cats are nibblers by nature and most prefer to eat slowly. After your kitten has finished eating, discard any excess food and thoroughly clean the food bowl.
- Cats are considered mature when they are between 10 and 12 months of age. Monitor your kitten’s weight and body condition throughout growth. Provide a quantity of food that maintains optimal body weight and prevents overweight conditions. Instructions on the kitten food label provide general guidelines for estimating an initial volume of food to offer. You can adjust this amount in response to your kitten’s weight and body condition.
- If your kitten shares his home with a dog, do not allow your kitten to consume your dog’s food. Cats have unique nutrient requirements that differ from those of dogs, and so require foods that are specifically formulated for cats (see Box).
- Kittens require a daily source of clean and fresh water. Some kittens enjoy lapping water while others prefer a flowing source of water. Provide several sources of fresh water in clean bowls or as a kitty water fountain.
FEED YOUR KITTEN LIKE A CAT (NOT A PUPPY)!
Like its wild ancestors, the domestic cat is considered a true or “obligate” carnivore. This has resulted in certain nutrient requirements that are specific to that evolutionary history and which differ significantly from the requirements of dogs.
- Cats require a higher level of dietary protein than dogs. Foods formulated for dogs may not contain adequate protein for cats.
- Cats have a dietary requirement for the amino acid Taurine. Taurine levels in dog foods are too low for a cat’s needs.
- Cats require two essential fatty acids (arachidonic and linoleic), while the dog requires only one (linoleic only). Dog foods may not have sufficient levels of arachidonic acid to meet a cat’s needs.
- Unlike dogs, cats require a source of pre-formed Vitamin A in their diet. Cat foods (but not dog foods) are specifically formulated to provide this essential nutrient.
Feeding Practices to Avoid
It is important to establish proper eating habits and to avoid improper and potentially hazardous feeding practices as soon as you bring your new kitten home. Here are a few things to avoid:
- Feeding Baby Food to Kittens – Some owners feed baby food to their new kitten as a weaning diet or a transition food. However, baby food is formulated for human babies (not cat babies!) and so is not nutritionally complete for kittens. In addition, some flavors of baby food contain ingredients that may cause an upset stomach or a food intolerance reaction in cats.
- Supplementing – When a nutritionally complete and balanced food is fed, supplementing the diet with other ingredients or with a vitamin/mineral supplement is not necessary and may imbalance the diet.
- Contrary to popular belief, although they enjoy the taste, kittens do not have a requirement for milk. As a food for cats, milk is deficient in several essential nutrients that kittens need. Moreover, milk should never be provided as a substitute for fresh water – kittens do require access to fresh water daily.