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If your adolescent cat eats food meant for kittens, will you end up with a fat cat? And when is the right time to let senior cat food out of the bag?
These are just a few questions you must grapple with now that major pet food manufacturers offer kitten chow, adult food and even a geriatric diet, formulated for different stages of your cat's life. The pet food industry also manufactures foods for cats with different ailments, from obesity to allergies.
“In the old days, we just basically fed our cats one diet. You started them on a food and kept going for the rest of their lives,” says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, a professor at the Texas A&M University Veterinary College. “They did OK, but now they can do even better.”
From Kitten Food to Adult Food
Pet food manufacturers have invested considerable time, research and money in developing foods that fulfill your cat’s particular nutritional needs during each life stage. “Growing kittens have bones that are actively expanding,” says Dr. Beaver. “Their needs in developing their nervous system are also different than they are for an adult cat.” As a result, kitten foods often contain extra calcium for bone development, fat to aid growth, and important vitamins and minerals.
Pet nutrition experts say the best time to transition your pet from kitten food to adult cat food is somewhere between 9 and 12 months of age. Dr. Beaver explains that most cats’ bones stop growing when the feline is around 14 months of age, with about three-fourths of that growth completed at 9 months.
Other factors that should influence your decision about when to transition your furry friend to a new diet include:
From Adult to Geriatric Diet
An adult cat’s energy levels usually decrease over time. “Geriatric animals don’t need as much fat in the diet, and you need to be careful that they can digest the kinds of protein in their diet,” Dr. Beaver says. “Plus, their kidneys are also notorious for giving out as they get older.”
Pet nutrition experts say the time to transition your cat from adult food to senior food starts as early as 7 years and can go as late as 10 years. But not all pets will age at the “textbook” time. Keep these two factors in mind:
Help Your Cat Transition Between Foods
The two biggest risks of transitioning your kitten or cat to a new life-stage diet are that your pet will reject the food or develop gastrointestinal problems. These steps can help prevent these problems from happening:
Life-stage foods are no gimmick. These foods have been formulated based on many years of research to meet your pet's changing needs at different points in their lives. “As these nutritional needs change,” Dr. Saker says, “the diet should change.”
Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.
Cats reach full skeletal development when they are this old: