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A guide to feeding kittens

Kittens have unique nutritional needs and require higher calories and increased levels of many vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

If you’ve recently added a young feline family member to your home, then you may already know that one of the best ways to give your kitten the right start to a great life is by providing proper nutrition. But with an overabundance of choices in kitten foods, you may be feeling unsure of the best selection for your new friend. Or, if you own more than one cat, you may be considering feeding them all the same food. Unless your cats are all at the same life stage, this is not recommended.

Thanks to modern research and technology, we have achieved a much better understanding of the precise needs of growing cats. Properly balanced nutrition is essential to the appropriate development of both mind and body, but unfortunately, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to nutrition. However, there are some general guidelines that can be followed to get you and your cat on the right track.

  1. Kitten nutritional needs versus adult cat needs: Kittens need more calories than the average adult cat. In fact, a kitten’s weight may double or even triple in their first few weeks of existence. A high-quality kitten food will contain higher calories to meet a young cat’s needs. Most kittens will need three to four meals per day to meet energy requirements. Kittens also require a higher level of many critical vitamins, minerals and amino acids. In addition, they need more protein than adult cats. You can read more about the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutritional guidelines for growing kittens here.

  2. High-quality kitten food: Select food from a trustworthy source, preferably recommended by your veterinarian or another trusted person. These foods are made with high-quality ingredients and are generally proven to provide superior health benefits. Check the label for a statement from AAFCO. Ideally, it will also contain the phrase "complete and balanced."

  3. Wet versus dry food and how much to feed: Very young kittens should be fed some canned food to supplement their diet. This is because they have small teeth and are unable to chew dry food well. As far as how much to feed, it is generally recommended to follow the pet food label guidelines based on your cat’s age. Do not overfeed.

  4. How long to feed kitten food: Generally, cats are considered kittens until they reach one year of age. They should be fed a kitten formula up to this point. Still, there are exceptions to every rule; one example would be a large breed cat like the Maine Coon. They are not considered adult cats until they reach 1.5 to 2 years of age and should be fed kitten food until that time.

  5. Switching food: Cats are notoriously considered extremely picky eaters. They can develop a static preference for flavors and textures, so it is recommended to offer some new food and old food in separate bowls when attempting to make a transition. Over time, smaller amounts of the old food may be offered while simultaneously offering more of the new food. It is important to remember that changes to a cat’s diet should be made gradually (five to seven days is commonly recommended) to avoid stomach upset.

It is critical to avoid overfeeding your cat. Like the human obesity crisis, pet obesity in the U.S. has reached epidemic levels. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 59 percent of cats in the United States are overweight or obese. This is entirely in your control as a responsible owner. Even a few extra pounds can lead to chronic health issues and a shortened lifespan. Follow recommended guidelines for feeding, even for treats, and provide ample exercise opportunities to keep your cat at a healthy weight.

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