There is a lot to consider if you are preparing to welcome a new bundle of fur into your home. Raising a kitten is an enjoyable and rewarding experience. It is also a lot of work. The decisions you make and the experiences your kitten has in their first few months play a vital role in determining their health and behavior as adults.
Understanding, when, how much, and what to feed your kitten is an important part of preparing to welcome a kitten into your home. Getting their nutrition right sets them up for strong physical growth, positive brain development, and provides them with the energy they need to play and learn. Kitten’s get the best possible start from their mother’s milk, but the work continues once they are weaned and are in their new homes.
The weaning process for kittens starts at between four and five weeks. At this age kittens are ready for solid food that has been properly moistened to create a slush like texture. By six weeks, kittens should be nibbling on kibble that has been moistened slightly with water. By seven weeks, the weaning process should be complete, and most kittens are eating solid food. During this process getting the right nutritional balance is essential.
As kittens should not be rehomed until after eight weeks, the work is undertaken by the breeder. Choosing a kitten from a reputable and experienced breeder is essential if you want to ensure that this process has been completed correctly. If you do find yourself with a kitten that is under eight weeks old, then discuss the kitten’s specific needs with your local veterinarian to ensure they get the feeding and developmental support they need.
What Can Kittens Eat?
Kittens require higher levels of proteins and amino acids than their adult counterparts. Around 30% of a kitten’s energy should come from high-quality protein. The same is true of minerals and some vitamins. Choosing a specially formulated complete food for kittens is the easiest way to ensure that they are getting the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Kittens should remain on specially formulated kitten food until they are a year old.
When checking food labels, look for one that meets the requirements of the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Also look for the term ‘complete and balanced,’ this means that the food contains everything your kitten needs to be healthy and will not need any supplements.
Take additional care if you decide to give your kitten a homemade diet, rather than a commercially available one. Working with a reputable nutritionist is one of the best ways to avoid giving your kitten an unbalanced diet. One of the main issues that surrounds homemade diets is that owners tend to provide all-meat diets for their kittens. Such diets can be low in calcium, leading to hyperparathyroidism. This is caused by a mineral imbalance and is often found in rapidly growing kittens.
Another feeding decision that you need to make is between wet and dry food. Small kittens have very small teeth and find dry food difficult to chew. Where offered dry food should be moistened, especially in the early weeks. Dry food tends to have a much higher carbohydrate content than wet food. This means that kittens feed a predominantly dry diet may gain weight more easily. If you are going to go down a dry food route, then you need to be aware of this and adjust how much you feed your kitten accordingly.
Feeding an all wet diet can help you to maintain your kitten’s hydration levels more easily. Good hydration is vital for kittens and helps set them up for a healthier lifestyle later in life. However, feeding an all wet diet can mean that your kitten misses out on some of their nutritional needs, particularly if the food does not conform to the ‘complete and balanced’ AAFCO standard. An all wet diet does not encourage chewing and can lead to tooth and jaw difficulties later in life if chewing is not encouraged in any other form. For these reasons, offering a mix of wet and dry food is suggested by many experts.
When and How Much Should You Feed Your Kitten
When you feed your kitten depends on their age. Most experts agree that very young kittens should be able to free feed. Young kittens should have food available to them throughout the day. Free feeding is extremely beneficial to slow-growing or underweight kittens. It also helps reduce rapid meal eating and consequently reduces stomach distention.
Avoid free feeding if your kitten is overweight or obese. A more measured portion approach is often better in such cases. All kittens should transition to set meals at between four and six months old. The transition from free feeding to a set meal schedule should be undertaken gradually, starting with three meals a day and then reducing to two meals by around six months.
When deciding how much to give your kitten at each mealtime, you need to begin by checking the guidelines of the particular food you are using. Check the recommended daily intake for your kitten’s weight or age and then divide this between the meals in their schedule. If your kitten is under or overweight, you will need to adjust the recommended amount accordingly with the guidance of your veterinarian. Take the same approach if your kitten has any specific health needs. Remember to include everything you feed your kitten when determining the amount of food that they need for the day.
Adding Treats to Your Feeding Schedule
Most living beings enjoy treats and kittens are no different. However, too many treats can fill them up and upset their nutritional balance. If they are eating high-calorie treats as well as their full food intake, then this can easily and quickly lead to obesity. Most experts agree that treats should not make up any more than 10% of your kitten’s daily calorie intake. The type of treats you offer is also important, and it is best to avoid human food scraps.
What Not to Feed Your Kitten
While it is good practice to avoid feeding your kitten any human food scraps as treats, avoiding specific foods is a must as they pose a specific risk to your kitten’s health. One such food that most new kitten owners are unaware of is milk. Once a kitten is weaned, they lose the enzyme needed to break down milk. This can lead to diarrhea, which can become dangerous over time as well as unpleasant for your kitten and you. You should also avoid raw foods, such as meat, liver, eggs, and fish. Raw meat can contain harmful bacteria and parasites, while raw eggs carry a risk of salmonella. Raw eggs and raw fish can also reduce the absorption of B vitamins, leading to a deficiency, which in turn can lead to loss of appetite, seizures, and in extreme cases even death.
In addition, the following foods can be toxic to kittens and should be avoided:
- Caffeine (including tea and coffee)
- Raisins and grapes
Giving Your Kitten the Best Possible Start
Getting your kitten’s diet right from the beginning gives them the best possible chance of growing into a strong healthy adult. While feeding is only one part of raising a strong and inquisitive kitten, it is an important part. If in any doubt, talk to your local veterinarian or a trusted breeder before you choose to become a kitten parent. Continuing the work done during the early stages of weaning by using the same style and brand of food helps avoid many of these issues and can help your kitten to settle into its new home. If you do decide to change to a different brand or type of food, remember to do so slowly; cut down the amount of old food you offer and increase the amount of new food, remembering to take into account any nutritional or calorie differences between the two.