So you’ve just brought home a new bumbling, meowing ball of fluff. Hooray! Quarantine life is about to get a bit more exciting.
A new kitten is a great addition to the family and now you’re probably thinking about what this tiny animal needs to eat. This guide is designed to help your kitten transition into its new life as smoothly as possible. Outlined below are some simple steps, going through kitten nutrition and what your kitten needs in order for it to grow into a healthy adult cat.
The kitten nutrition basics
It may come as no surprise that kitten nutrition differs from that of humans and even dogs. While not full carnivores, cats and especially kittens, require a very high level of protein in their diet. According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), kittens need at least 30% protein and 9% fat in their food. Protein and fat can come from a variety of different ingredients such as chicken, beef and fish. Even some plants can provide protein! In addition to protein and fat, kittens also require a higher content of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. This differs from adult cats, as kittens need these extra nutrients for brain, muscle and bone growth.
Even though kittens tend to find meat the tastiest, fruit and vegetable sources can also provide some nutritional benefits as well. Plant ingredients add vitamins and nutrients that help keep your cat healthy in the long run. Vitamins and antioxidant compounds found in fruits and vegetables help to reduce damage to cells and degradation of internal tissues. This inturn can potentially prevent debilitating diseases like diabetes and cancer.
The best way to know if a certain food meets your kitten’s nutritional needs, is to look at the label. If it says “formulated for all life stages” or “formulated for growth stage”, it is safe for your kitten. When a kitten is fed a diet that is too low in certain nutrients, it can lead to deficiencies which results in life long health complications. Different cats also prefer the taste of particular ingredients, so it is good to offer your kitten various options to determine which food they find the tastiest.
Different Food Types
Cats can sometimes be picky eaters. Elements like particle size, ingredient type and even cooking can sway a cat’s opinion on food. Luckily, there are multiple options for feeding.
Readily available, kibble is the most common option for pet owners. With kibble, all nutrients are packaged into dry, extruded food. It is an easy form of feed for pet owners to portion and store. Contrary to popular belief, kibble can be a healthy option for your kitten and some felines even prefer the crunchy texture. When it comes to kibble, it is important to read the label and avoid filler ingredients, as well as artificial colors and flavors. Furthermore, avoid diets with grains like corn or wheat, listed as the first ingredient. Protein ingredients should be the first ingredient listed on any form of cat food.
Kittens often find canned food extremely tasty and it offers a high protein content. Similar to kibble, canned food is easy to store, readily available and nutritionally balanced. However, canned food does usually contain a higher proportion of protein and fat than kibble. If kittens are overfed, the extra protein and fat can easily promote obesity. Over feeding canned food is quite common as it is a little more difficult to portion.
Raw cat food is designed to provide your kitten with a more ancestral diet, composed of raw meat and bones. This type of diet may be highly palatable to cats because of the high protein content. Some drawbacks to raw food include potential for bacterial contamination and nutritional deficiencies. If you are purchasing raw food, ensure that the label specifies that it is nutritionally balanced according to AAFCO guidelines and is packaged and stored in a safe way that reduces the risk of microbial contamination.
Fresh-cooked pet food elevates the option of homemade food. Less common than other traditional commercial cat foods, fresh-food takes whole foods and processes them in a way that destroys bacteria but preserves the integrity of vitamins and nutrients. Fresh food combines the nutritional variety and balance of kibble with the palatability of wet food. One drawback may be storage, if you do not have adequate freezer space. However, most fresh food is already pre-portioned to ensure that cats are not being over or under fed. Fresh food also contains a higher moisture content than most other forms of pet food. This can help reduce urethral blockages, which is a problem particularly in male cats.
How much should a kitten be fed?
Feeding a kitten isn’t quite as specific as feeding a dog but there are a few factors to consider. Below are a few things to think about before filling your kitten’s bowl:
What is the activity level of my kitten?
An active kitten will need more food in order to supply energy for exploring and zoomies. A lazy kitten will not be burning as many calories during their lengthy naps and will require less food.
Male or female kitten?
Male and female kittens have different nutritional needs based on their size, metabolism and activity levels. Male kittens will often require slightly more food than females of the same age.
Body condition score?
It is difficult to determine how much a kitten should be fed based solely on weight. A kitten may be a target weight for its age but if they have an overall larger body size, they may actually still be underweight. The same is true for obesity. This is why it is also important to consider body condition score. Below is a chart outlining kitten body condition score. Taking into account weight and body condition score, food should be proportioned accordingly.
Kitten Feeding Chart
Daily feeding requirements are mostly based on the calorie content of food. The following is a chart outlining the optimal calorie intake for a kitten and should be adjusted depending on a kitten’s specific body condition score and health status. Caloric content is based off of a cat’s resting energy requirement (RER) and is adjusted for kitten growth.
While some cats prefer grazing or eating at their own leisure, it is important to have an idea of how much and how frequent your cat is eating. This can help to monitor any changes in health. Below is a chart of the ideal feeding frequency for cats.
Accepting a new pet into your family is always an exciting time. Proper nutrition and the correct diet can go a long way in ensuring that your new kitten will live a long and healthy life.