There is an overwhelming choice of pet foods on the shelves of most pet shops and supermarkets. Choosing the right food for your kitten can be daunting, so in this blog we’ll take a more detailed look at it.
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Most kittens arrive at their new home at 8 weeks. These kittens are fully weaned off their mother’s milk and eating solid food. When you acquire a kitten, keep them on the food that the breeder or rescue centre fed for the first few days. This reduces stomach upsets and diarrhoea. Leaving mum and the rest of the litter for a new home can be a stressful time. Everything suddenly changes, so a familiar food can bring comfort and reduce stress.
Kittens usually start eating solid food from 4-5 weeks of age. If your kitten is orphaned or left mum early, they may still need some cat milk substitute added to their kitten food.
Kittens have specific nutritional needs.
They grow rapidly and have a high energy demand but a small stomach and small teeth. So, their food must be nutrient dense and high in calories.
A high-quality protein source is vital for muscle growth, repair and energy. Cats are unable to manufacture some essential proteins, such as taurine and arginine, so it is important to feed cat food rather than dog food, which may not contain arginine, for example.
Growing animals need higher levels of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and iron in their diets. Inappropriate or unbalanced diets lead to severe disease. For example, an all meat diet will be too low in calcium causing abnormalities in bone growth and broken bones.
Giving your kitten a balanced diet
A balanced, complete commercial kitten food will meet all your kitten’s needs. In the UK, the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) provide guidelines and quality control for pet food. So, a pet food producer registered with the PFMA must prove that their diets are complete and balanced. Look out for the PFMA symbol on any kitten food you choose. The terms complete, balanced and nutritionist are not protected by law in the UK, so it is important to look for PFMA registration.
As these diets are complete, there is no need to add cows’ milk or any other milk or calcium supplementation. Dairy products cause diarrhoea in some cats and kittens. Kittens should always have access to fresh, clean water.
Other diets are of course available but are much harder to balance successfully.
Kittens achieve 75% of their adult bodyweight by 6-8 months of age so kitten or junior food should be fed until they are 10-12 months.
How should I feed the kitten food?
Most kitten food is available in wet and dry formulations. When kittens are small, wet (tinned or pouch) food is easiest for them to eat. Introduce new foods slowly and do not mix foods. Mixing foods can make cats food averse i.e. if they don’t like the new food, they will refuse to eat the old food.
Dietary changes should be introduced slowly with a small amount of new food offered on the first day then the amount slowly increased over 4-7 days. It is useful to introduce kittens to all sorts of different textures and flavours during kittenhood. This can make cats less fussy.
Wet food often comes in single serving portions. These can be convenient as wet food cannot be left down when uneaten as it dries up and attracts flies.
Dry kitten foods are usually formulated as a small kibble which can be introduced from 6-8 weeks. Kittens fed dry food will drink more water as wet food contains a high percentage of water. Dry food is convenient as it can be left down for free feeding (the kitten grazes whenever they want).
How much to feed?
Kittens have small stomachs which can become bloated if they overeat at a mealtime. The daily ration should be fed in 3-4 meals if wet food is used, or dry food left down for free feeding with 2 wet meals a day. This allows kittens to regulate their own intake.
Use the feeding guidelines on the food container as a measure of how much your kitten should be eating. Divide the ration into meals and feed over the day. If your kitten is putting on excessive weight then reduce the food slightly, similarly if the kitten appears too slim or has reduced energy increase the amount of food.
Place their food bowl in a quiet, easily cleaned part of the house. Kittens can be messy eaters. Keep other cats’ food bowls separate if they are unsure of each other. Always keep food bowls away from litter trays.
If your kitten is not eating well or stops eating, take them to the vet promptly.
You may want to give your kitten treats. Use the 10% rule to ensure their diet remains balanced. Never feed more than 10% of their diet as treats. Take care with adult cat treats as some are too hard or large for kittens. Feed a small amount of tuna or cooked meat as a treat. Raw foods can contain harmful bacteria, such as salmonella or campylobacter and parasites such as tapeworm, which can make kittens ill.
Some normal foodstuffs in our home are toxic to cats – never feed onion, garlic, chocolate, grapes, sultanas, currants, tomatoes or most mushrooms. Never give your cat cooked bones or the fat from a meat joint. Take care with the string around meat joints and the absorbent pads under uncooked meats. Cats can eat these and develop an obstruction in their digestive tracts.
Growth slows down around 9 months. This often coincides with neutering so your cat will need less calories as their metabolic rate falls. Obesity is common in cats in the UK and prevention is easier than dieting. Changing them to adult food will provide less calories. Free feeding may not be appropriate for cats who overeat. Adult cats can be fed twice daily. You can also introduce puzzle feeders to slow down feeding if their weight is a concern.
Your kitten’s diet should keep them in good health with steady growth and plenty of energy. Feeding a balanced complete kitten food approved by the PFMA will provide all they need. If you have any concerns about their general health or diet, contact your vet for advice.
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