The most rapid growth in kittens occurs in the first nine to 12 months. Even though your kitten may appear full-grown at about 6 months of age, she's still growing and maturing on the inside. In fact, kittens can have twice the energy needs and nutrient requirements of an adult cat on a pound-per-pound basis.
How Often Should You Feed Your Kitten?
Kittens' smaller mouths, teeth, and stomachs limit the amount of food that they can digest during a single meal. It may be best to divide their daily amount into three or four meals. Because a kitten requires a diet specifically formulated for growth, every bite must be packed with highly digestible protein. Remember to always have fresh water available.
Important Nutritional Needs of Kittens
Kittens are strict carnivores and need the nutrients found in animal protein sources. Proteins provide amino acids necessary for energy and tissue growth. Sufficient amounts of taurine help cats maintain healthy eyes, heart, and reproductive organs.
Choosing the Right Kitten Food
Cats have a higher minimum requirement for protein in their food than dogs (26 to 30 percent vs. 18 to 22 percent). Besides protein, there are other important nutrients and ingredients vital to your kitten's diet:
- Taurine, an 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 to help support the immune system and help your kitten stay healthy during this critical stage of growth
- A fiber source, such as beet pulp, that will help maintain your kitten's digestive system health for 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.
Kitten Feeding Don'ts
Avoid feeding human foods and table scraps to your kitten. Here are some common human foods and their side effects.
- Cow's milk – A feline's system can't completely digest it; it can lead to digestive upset and diarrhea.
- Chocolate – This can be toxic to animals.
- Onion powder – This contains 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 and could cause dermatitis, hair loss, and neurological dysfunction.
- Tuna – It is low in calcium and too high in phosphorus; if fed exclusively, it may lead to rubber jaw, a form of osteoporosis.
When to Switch to Adult Cat Food
Your kitten enters adolescence around 6 months and may seem to have reached her adult size, yet she is still growing and needs the special nutrition found in kitten food. However, as the rate of growth begins to decline, she is able to eat fewer, larger meals each day. Around 12 months, you may switch to maintenance formula adult cat food. You can help ease the transition by gradually introducing the adult food. Try mixing 25 percent of the new food with 75 percent of her kitten food, and then change the proportions over the next four days until she's eating 100 percent adult food. While you may be tempted to change your kitten's food for variety, it is not necessary. Cats do not become bored with a consistent high-quality dry food. If you wish to supplement her diet, serve a nutrient-dense canned food for a nutritious change of pace.