How to Feed Your Kitten

Two Methods:Finding the Right FoodDetermining the Feeding Schedule

You’ve chosen a new kitten and you’re excited to welcome this cute new addition to your household. As a new pet owner, you are now responsible for the health and well being of Sir Whisker Lot, so you want to be sure you get the basics, like feeding, right to ensure he lives a long and happy life.

Part 1
Finding the Right Food

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    Ask the breeder or previous owner what they fed the kitten. A new home and environment can be stressful for your new kitten and may even cause an upset stomach. The risk of diarrhea and vomiting are lessened if you provide the kitten with the same food he is used to eating in his previous home. Whether you picked up the kitten from a breeder, a private owner, or a rescue center, ask them for a small supply of the kitten’s food, enough to last four to five days.[1]
    • Even if the previous food is far from ideal or what you would like to feed your new kitten, stick with it for a few days to ease the kitten into their new environment. Once your kitten is settled, you can gradually change his food.
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    Don’t start with adult cat food for your kitten. It’s important to feed your kitten an age appropriate diet, as kittens have different nutritional requirements than adult cats. As your kitten is still growing and has a smaller stomach than adult cats, they will need more calories per gram than the amount found in adult cat food and in smaller doses.[2]
    • Another issue with adult food is that it does not supply the needed protein for your kitten’s growing bones, organs, and soft tissue.
    • If a kitten is fed adult food for a prolonged period of time, he will likely have poor quality bones, with more of a tendency to fracture, and poor muscle tone. His coat will likely be dull and he will not grow as big as his litter mates or other kittens who are fed kitten food.
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    Recognize the benefits of commercial food over home prepared meals. While it may be tempting to make a home-prepared diet, it is very difficult to get the nutritional balance right for your kitten. Cats are carnivores, so it is essential they are fed meat, as they cannot survive on a vegetarian diet. But cats also lack the ability that other species have, such as dogs or humans, to synthesize certain proteins. So they need to be supplied with a wide range of amino acids in their diet to avoid developing deficiencies like blindness and heart disease.
    • The best diet for your kitten is a balanced one of calcium, vitamins, and minerals, all of which will be covered in good quality, commercial kitten food.
    • Avoid adding supplements to your kitten’s food, as it is difficult to get the amount of nutrients right. Too little calcium can cause your kitten to have weak bones and too much calcium can lead to calcium deposits in your kitten’s kidney’s, gut, and skin.
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    Get informed on the pros and cons of dry food. Dry food like “kibble” or biscuits used to have a reputation for causing bladder stones, but this is an outdated assumption and largely no longer an issue. Manufacturers of dry food keep the phosphate and magnesium levels in dry food low, as these minerals can lead to the formation of bladder stones.[3]
    • Dry food is better for the kitten’s teeth, as the food is less sticky and does not coat their teeth the way wet food does. This will also slow down tartar formation on their teeth later in life.
    • Dry food is also more convenient if you are leaving your kitten alone in your home for long periods of time, i.e. going to work or out at night. Dry food can be left in your kitten’s bowl and does not go bad, so your kitten can snack as he pleases.
    • Another big advantage is your kitten’s feces will be firmer, drier and less smelly than those from eating wet food, which will be a big plus when your kitten uses the litter box.
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    Get informed on the pros and cons of wet food. Wet food has a high moisture content, so a cat fed with wet food barely drinks water as he is able to hold onto the moisture in the wet food. You kitten will have more diluted urine, which is good for their urinary health.[4]
    • The major disadvantage of wet food is that your kitten will have smelly feces, so you will have to clean out their litter box more often.
    • As well, most kittens find wet food unappealing once it has been sitting in their bowl for longer than 10 minutes.
    • Another disadvantage of wet food is that it attracts flies and insects, so it is best eaten fresh. This can be inconvenient if you are not home often or away for long periods of time and not able to clean or top up your kitten’s bowl regularly.
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    Always feed your kitten good quality food. Regardless of the type of food you chose for your kitten, always go for the good quality brands. Cheaper, supermarket brands are often full of bulking agents like cereal or corn, which are hard for your kitten to digest and lack any nutritional value.[5]
    • Ask your veterinarian if they can recommend any good quality foods.
    • Look for the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) seal of approval when shopping for kitten food. These approved foods have undergone rigorous quality control to ensure the protein is good quality and the product is nutritionally balanced to provide a healthy diet for a growing kitten.[6]

Part 2
Determining the Feeding Schedule

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    Monitor any ad-lib feeding of your kitten. Filling your kitten’s bowl with dry food and letting him snack when he wants is called ad-lib feeding. Cats are snackers, so they like to nibble often. For this reason, dry food is great for ab-lib feeding of your cat as it doesn’t dry out and is appealing to eat no matter how long it’s been sitting in his bowl. However, if your kitten is bored, he may eat too much and put on unhealthy weight.[7]
    • If you are worried about over-eating, weigh out the recommended daily amount of dry food, put it in your kitten’s bowl, and then do not fill it again until tomorrow.
    • Another way to deter unhealthy weight gain is to provide plenty of play and mental stimulation for your kitten (maybe even consider getting another kitten for him to play with!) so he has plenty of exercise and his time is occupied by more than snacking at his bowl.
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    Bond with your kitten through set meal times. Some owners prefer the routine of a set mealtime as it creates a bonding experience and social interaction.[8]
    • If you use a set feeding schedule, you can easily feed your kitten wet food, as it will be fresh for each meal.
    • Keep in mind that a kitten needs to eat 4-6 times a day, so if you go for set meal times, you will need to maintain a flexible and open schedule to accommodate little-and-often feeding.
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    Calculate how much food your kitten needs. The exact amount of food for your kitten will depend on the calorie content of the brand and type of food.[9]
    • Take note of the feeding guidelines printed on the packaging of your kitten’s food.
    • Weigh your kitten, either on a kitchen scale or at the vet clinic.
    • Use this weight to work out the recommended feeding amount per day, based on the information on the food’s packaging. This amount is only a guide, as some kittens will need more or less food.
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    Determine your kitten’s body score. Body scoring is a technique to identify how much fat coverage there is on the kitten’s ribs and backbone. When you run your fingertips over your kitten’s chest and back, you should feel individual bumps for each ribs and vertebra, but they should not feel sharp. If there is a layer of fat that you have to smooth over in order to feel their bones, your kitten is overweight so you need to feed them less. If your kitten has sharp feeling bones and a hollow tummy between meals, he is underweight and needs to eat more.[10]
    • Assess your kitten's body score once a week. If he is getting plump, cut his daily food intake by 5 -10%. If he is too skinny, increase his daily food intake by 5- 10 %. It is important to gradually add more food or less food, as slow changes are better for the health and well being of your kitten.
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    Change up your kitten’s food gradually. If you want to shift or change the type of food you feed your kitten, you will need to ease them into this change. Stick to the previous food for a few days, and then gradually introduce the new food so the bacteria in his gut gets used to the new diet.[11] Make these changes gradually over four days.
    • Day one, feed him ¾ old food, and ¼ new food.
    • Day two, feed him ½ old food and ½ new food.
    • Day three, feed him ¼ old food, and ¾ new food.
    • Day four, feed him the new food exclusively.
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    Move your kitten over to adult food as he grows. Pet food manufacturers recommend kitten food for kittens up to the age of 12 months. Most cats do the majority of their rapid growth by six months, so you can switch them to adult food at around six to seven months, especially if they have been neutered.[12]
    • If a kitten is neutered at six months old, his metabolism will slow down and he will be at a greater risk of becoming overweight. Factor this in when determining your kitten’s feeding schedule and the amount of food you give him.

Sources and Citations

  1. Nutrition for the Growing Kitten. Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia- Maryland
  2. Nutrition for the Growing Kitten. Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia- Maryland
  3. Waltham Book of Companium Animal Nutrition. Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition. Publisher Butterworth-Heinemann
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Categories: Cats | Feeding Cats