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How To Feed Your Kittens

Kitten Food 

By Ann Roberts

Your newborn kitten has a lot of growing up to do! A kitten grows amazingly rapidly in the first six months of his or her life, developing 75% of adult body weight. A kitten's body has to manufacture muscle, bone, hair, teeth and a fully developed immune system extraordinarily quickly. So it's hardly surprising that they're going to need the highest quality nutrition, and plenty of it, to get there.

During the initial eight weeks of life, the mother cat's milk is the best food for a kitten. After that, it's time to offer a nutritious kitten food formula to your pet. The first year of a cat's life is marked by rapid growth. During this time, adequate nutrition is vital to feline development. Food formulas specifically manufactured for the "kitten" period have taken into account this need for concentrated nutrition.

Kitten Nutrition: Why It's Important to Feed Kitten Food

Why should you feed kitten food to cats who are less than a year old? Perhaps you already have one or more adult cats and are thinking it's more convenient to feed the same adult formula to your new addition. This may be convenient, but in doing so you might be sacrificing your kitten's nutritional needs.

Ultimately, kittens have very small stomachs, so they tend to pick a few bites and go, rarely eating a full meal in one sitting. Combine this eating habit with the type of rapid growth kittens experience in that all-important first year of development, and it's easy to see why they need a formula that's packed with optimum nutrition in every bite.

Kittens are full of curiosity about the world around them and need lots of energy to explore it. A specially formulated kitten food will contain abundant protein to support healthy tissue and organ development, and higher levels of essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc and iron to help them build strong bones and teeth. Cats also have a unique requirement for taurine, an essential amino acid that promotes a healthy heart and vision.

Kittens also have smaller mouths than adult cats. The smaller kibbles in most manufactured kitten foods will make it easier for them to chew and release all the essential nutrients.


Nutritional Advantage

Kitten food differs from adult cat food because higher percentages of protein and fat are used in the formula.

The following is only a general comparative analysis, and these percentages may vary from one brand to the next.

Comparison of Cat and Kitten Dry Food Analysis


Adult Cat Diet

Kitten Diet

Crude Protein, not less than



Crude Fat, not less than



Crude Fiber, not more than



Moisture, not more than



Ash, not more than



Magnesium, not more than



Taurine, not less than



Linoleic Acid, not less than





Of course, mother's milk makes the ideal first food for every kitten and is naturally rich in everything they need, especially the building blocks for their own natural defenses. But although they won't be ready for weaning until they are between six and eight weeks old, most kittens will start to nibble solid foods at three or four weeks. This is the best time to start offering a specially formulated kitten food - wet or dry. If you choose a dry food, it should be moistened and mashed. With less adventurous kittens, you may need to spread a small amount their lips to encourage them to give it a try.

Don't be tempted to wean too early. Switching to solid food too soon can be damaging for a kitten's immature tummy. Start with about a tablespoonful five times a day, and adjust if your kitten is leaving food in the bowl or is still hungry. Throughout the process they will inevitably supplement their food with mother's milk. Kittens generally know how much they need, whilst the mother will soon make it clear if she thinks her kittens have had enough milk!

As at all ages, a kitten requires a frequent supply of fresh water from a clean ceramic bowl. Commercial kitten milk is a food and not a replacement for water, so if you decide to feed kitten milk remember to adjust the quantity of their food accordingly.


Kittens have small stomachs (they're about the size of a walnut at 8 weeks old) but large appetites, so feed small amounts on a frequent basis. This should suit your kitten's eating habits as well.

  • Initially, your kitten will eat at least four meals a day. This provides a steady source of fuel throughout the day. If you are unable to accommodate this feeding regime, feed three times a day but also leave a little dry food out as a snack for the day.
  • As kittens get older, gradually reduce their feeding to three meals a day and then, by six months old, to two meals a day.
  • Cats are natural 'grazers'. They do not adapt well to eating just one meal a day, as some dogs do.
  • Cats prefer food that is fed at room temperature, so it's better not to feed wet food direct from the fridge. Leave it to warm up a bit before serving.

By the time they reach 10-12 weeks the transition to solid food should be complete.

Wet or Dry?

For years, conventional feeding wisdom has lead people to believe that a dry food formula was better for cats because it provided some teeth cleaning action during chewing. While this may possibly provide some dental benefits, the fact is that dry cat food is largely made from carbohydrates, an ingredient that can contribute to feline obesity if your cat over indulges, as some cats tend to do.

By comparison, a quality wet cat food formula is divided nearly evenly between protein and fat, with the correct percentage of vitamins and minerals in the mix. Since this is much closer to the natural diet cats would receive in the wild, it is digested much more efficiently.

Conflicting information still exists regarding whether dry food truly helps to prevent dental disease more than wet food. Dry food is often touted as the means for cleaner teeth. However, there are cats who do not grind and chew dry food well enough to effectively clean their teeth. Moreover, the carbohydrate residue left behind by dry food may actually contribute to tooth decay. Currently, no conclusive studies have been executed on this topic.

So should you feed dry or wet kitten food? It's your choice, but perhaps it's best to have a bit of both worlds, and have dry kitten food available throughout the day, while offering a premium blend wet cat food for the evening meal. If you're still in doubt about which type of food is best for your cat, ask your vet for his or her opinion.

Your kitten's nutritional needs are much more demanding than those of an adult cat. Whether it be wet or dry, choose a quality kitten food blend that will help your baby grow into a healthy and strong cat.

Changing diet

For the first couple of weeks of settling in your new kitten, you should stick to the same brand of kitten food, unless there is an obvious problem. Change is stressful, and a diet change can cause tummy upsets in a youngster. If you want to change your kitten's diet after a couple of weeks, you should do so gradually.

  • Put a little of the new food in with the current food and mix it all together.
  • Over the course of seven to ten days, gradually increase the amount of new food added, whilst reducing the amount of the former food until a complete change over has been made.

Moving on to adult food

Even though most cats look fully-grown by six months, they're still kittens on the inside. Their bones are becoming stronger and their bodies filling out. Kittens shouldn't transfer to a commercially produced adult food until they are 12 months old. This should be done gradually, again to avoid stomach upsets.

Fresh water - not milk

Make sure fresh drinking water is always available for your kitten, but don't give cow's milk. Contrary to popular belief, cow's milk isn't good for cats as most cats lose the ability to digest lactose shortly after weaning. Only feed specially formulated 'cat milk' and check that it is suitable for kittens, as some are designed for adult cats only.


Unlike dogs, who can live quite happily on a balanced vegetarian diet, cats will go blind, suffer other debilitating conditions and ultimately die if fed on a vegetarian diet. Cats are obligate carnivores - meaning they must eat meat to survive!

Fussy eaters

Kittens are generally straightforward where eating is concerned and most will happily eat whatever they are offered. However, some can develop food fads and even addictions as they get older. A lack of a varied diet throughout can lead to fussy eating, so it's worthwhile getting your cat used to eating many different flavours of food and, occasionally, different types of food early on. If you only feed one type or flavour throughout their life, you can encounter problems if that food is discontinued or if a health complaint dictates a change of diet.

If your cat looks decidedly unimpressed when you put down some food, don't be put off and replace it with something else (especially fresh chicken, prawns, and other 'human' food). Cats are clever and will soon realize that they can dictate what you bring them.
If your cat goes off food for more than 24 hours, or you notice other unusual signs of ill health, consult your vet.


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