A kitten dietary needs differ somewhat from a full-grown adult cat. In a kitten’s first few weeks (approximately four weeks) of life, it will receive all the necessary nutrients from its mother’s milk. As they begin to wean off milk, however, they will need to be provided with food that will give them the energy and nutrition they need to grow up healthy and strong. Commercial milk replacers can be used to moisten dry food (for easier consumption), and the amount of milk replacer used should be reduced over the span of a few weeks until dry food is palatable for the kittens. By the time they are completely weaned off milk, they will be around eight weeks old.
As kittens go through a rapid growth rate, they are likely to have double – and even triple – the energy needs of an adult feline. In order to make sure that the kittens have consumed enough calories in a day, they should be fed three to four normal sized meals throughout the day, as opposed to one or two large meals, as larger meals may be challenging for kittens to finish. Compared to adult cats, kittens have approximately the same requirements for fat and most vitamins, but have considerably high requirements for proteins, amino acids, and other vitamins. The kittens will need to consume about 30% of their energy from sources of protein.
Most veterinarians and experts recommend that kittens be fed kitten food that are high in quality and specially formulated for their needs. Kitten owners should discuss with their vets over feeding kittens canned food, dry kibble, or a mixture of both. Kittens should have some canned food in their diets, as they may encounter some difficulty chewing dry kibble. Kitten food should be purchased from reputable companies, not generic store brands. In the United States, high quality kitten food should have labels with the following claim(s):
“Meets the nutritional requirements of kittens established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).”
“Complete and balanced nutrition for kittens based on AAFCO feeding trials.”
The AAFCO is an association that regulates pet food. If the kitten food claims to have complete and balanced nutrition, it will usually mean that no additional mineral or vitamin supplementation will be necessary.
Homemade diets for kittens are considerably harder to prepare compared to that for adult cats due to the high requirements of a kitten’s diet. If one does choose to prepare homemade meals, however, a nutritionist with a good reputation should formulate these meals. Treats can be fed to kittens, but the total calorie content of treats should not exceed 10% of their daily total calorie intake.
The following foods should be avoided, as they can lead to various parasitic diseases, vitamin deficiency, and toxicity.
- Raw meat: can contain parasites as well as harmful bacteria
- Raw eggs: can contain salmonella and may negatively affect the absorption of vitamin B. A deficiency in vitamin B can cause problems in hair and coat health, along with a loss of appetite and potential seizures.
- Raw fish: can cause deficiencies in vitamin B.
- Milk: can cause diarrhea in kittens who have weaned off milk due to the loss in enzymes required to break down lactose.
The following foods are not formulated for cats, and can cause various problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite:
- Coffee and tea
- Raisins and grapes
Always make sure to have enough fresh, clean water in your kitten’s water bowl. As kittens grow into adults, their dietary requirements will become much simpler to deal with – it only gets easier from here!