A Kitten's Kitchen
Your kitten's day is jam-packed with activity, so it needs the right amount of nutrition to fuel its playful pursuits. Not only that, but your kitten is also growing, seemingly by the minute. Every bite of its meals must include highly digestible protein to support this growth. Your kitten, therefore, has different dietary needs than a grown, less active adult feline. To help ensure that your little powerhouse is eating correctly, try following these dos and don'ts.
Don't judge your kitten by its cover
While your kitten may appear full-grown at about six months of age, it is still growing and maturing on the inside. The most rapid growth actually occurs during your kitten's first nine to 12 months. In fact, your kitten has twice the energy needs and nutrient requirements of an adult cat on a pound-per-pound basis.
Do feed three or four small meals daily
Your kitten might seem to have a lion's appetite, but its smaller mouth, teeth and stomach limit the amount of food that it can digest in a single meal. It may be best to divide its daily intake into at least three or four meals. Be sure to provide fresh water at all times.
Do remember that your kitten is a tiny carnivore
All cats, including kittens, are true carnivores, which means that they need meat in order to survive. This is especially true for the energetic kitten that depends on the essential amino acids provided by meat-based protein sources to fuel their activity and rapid tissue growth.
Do learn how to read pet food labels
Cats have a higher minimum requirement for protein in their food than dogs (26% to 30% vs. 18% to 22%), and these figures hold true for kittens as well as for adult cats. Besides protein, there are other important nutrients and ingredients vital to your kitten's diet:
- Taurine This amino acid is essential to cats for maintaining healthy eye and heart function, reproduction, and fetal growth and development. Taurine is found naturally only in animal protein sources such as chicken and fish.
- Essential vitamins and minerals They help support the immune system and help your kitten stay healthy during this critical stage of growth.
- A fiber source, such as beet pulp This helps maintain your kitten's digestive system health, producing less litter box waste and odor.
These are important building blocks of nutrition. Look for them whether you choose dry or canned cat food and when you select treats.
Don't feed your kitten these foods:
- Cow's milk A feline's system may not be able to completely digest it, so milk can lead to digestive upset and diarrhea.
- Human foods and table scraps They might contain potentially harmful ingredients that are fine for you, but not for your kitty.
- Chocolate It can be toxic to animals.
- Onion powder and onions They contain oxidizing agents that can damage feline red blood cells and cause anemia.
- Raw eggs They contain a protein that blocks the body's use of one of the B vitamins, which may lead to dermatitis, hair loss and neurological dysfunction.
- Tuna This supposed feline favorite, unless especially formulated for cats, is low in calcium and too high in phosphorus. If fed exclusively, tuna may even lead to rubber jaw, a form of osteoporosis.
Do switch to adult food at around 12 months
Your kitten enters adolescence at approximately 6 months, so, like a hungry teenager, it's still growing and in need of kitten food. As its rate of growth declines, your cat is able to eat fewer, larger meals. When your cat is about 12 months old, gradually switch to adult food. Start by mixing 25% new food with 75% kitten food, adding more and more adult food over the next week until your cat is accustomed to eating 100% adult chow. During and after this transitional phase it is not necessary to change your kitten's food for variety. If you wish to supplement its diet, serve a nutrient-dense wet food for a nutritious change of pace.