Guide to Kitten Nutrition

Similar to human babies, kittens grow rapidly and require a special diet (kitten food) that meets their unique nutritional needs in order to develop properly. The kitten stage is traditionally defined as the first 12 months of a cat's life, and your cat should eat specially-formulated kitten food during this time. As your kitten grows, his/her dietary needs will evolve. It's important to strike the right balance of nutrients to keep your kitten happy and healthy so he/she can build strong bones and teeth and have the energy to learn and play.

There are countless types of kitten food on the market and differing recommendations. As a pet parent looking for information you'll likely come across varying opinions regarding when to feed, how much to feed, and which kitten food is best, but don't worry, we've got you covered.

What makes kitten food different from adult cat food?

Your new kitten is using most of his/her energy to grow and requires between two and three times the amount of food as an adult cat. Kitten food contains extra protein as well as different amounts of nutrients and vitamins to support muscular and skeletal development.

Dry food versus wet food

It is generally recommended that kittens start eating dry kitten food, like Blue Buffalo Healthy Growth Dry Kitten Food, at around four weeks, at which point their mother's milk is not providing them with the proper amount of calories. Weeks five and six should consist of dry kitten food and mother's milk, with the kitten being fully weaned from mother's milk by week eight. For kittens in between four and eight weeks, some pet parents choose to feed canned kitten food as it is easier for them to eat. Please keep in mind you should not give your kitten any cow's milk as this causes diarrhea.

How to choose the best type of food for your kitten

There are many brands that produce equally healthy kitten food options. No matter what brand you settle on, look for the AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) label on the bag that states the food meets nutritional requirements for kittens. All foods that bear that label will give your kitten the proper blend of nutrients, as regulated by the organization.

It is important to note, however, that many of the generic brands meet only the minimum requirements stipulated by the AAFCO, and you should consider a premium variety of food throughout the important developmental stages of your cat. These foods will also state that they provide a complete and balanced diet, meaning they have all the nutrients your growing kitten requires.

How much and how often to feed your kitten

Once you've found the right food, you need to understand how often and how much to feed your kitten. If you're feeding your kitten dry food, you can either feed three to four small meals a day or let your kitten free-feed when young (with a limited quantity of food). This can help a young kitten consume the proper amount of calories over the course of a day. Once your kitten is four to six months old, you can switch to feeding two meals a day.

Kittens eating canned food should be fed more frequently, up to four times a day. Please note that canned food cannot be left out for more than 30 minutes, so this may not be a good option for a cat that likes to graze throughout the day.

Consult the food label or your veterinarian to understand how much to give your kitten during each feeding. Do not over feed your kitten, as too much food can lead to diarrhea or obesity.

What about water?

Water is an integral part of kitten nutrition and should be available at all times. Many cats do not have a high thirst drive, so it is important to ensure your cat is drinking. If your kitten does not drink much water, you may want to incorporate more canned food into his/her diet as it has a higher water content than dry food. Some cats also enjoy drinking moving water, so a drinking fountain may encourage your cat to drink more.

Consider your pet's bowls

Admittedly less important than what goes inside, the cat food bowl also plays a role in pet nutrition. Ensure it's the right size to hold the proper portions and is made of a material suitable for your cat. A water bowl should hold enough water for an entire day for your cat. Some cats are picky and may prefer a certain material or shape, such as a ceramic plate, for a dish. The most important factors to consider are bowls that are easy to clean and are durable.

What about giving my kitten human food?

Cats cannot eat many common human foods, so we recommend skipping the human snacks and only giving your kitten specially formulated cat treats. Some common foods potentially harmful to cats include:

  • Raw meat and eggs - can contain harmful bacteria
  • Raw fish - can lead to vitamin B deficiency
  • Cow's Milk - can cause diarrhea
  • Onion, garlic, chocolate, coffee, raisins - are all toxic to cats and kittens
Rewarding your kitten with treats

While it's traditional practice to reward good behavior with cat treats, you should consider the ingredients the same way you would your kitten's food. Although treats can be given anytime, in between meals is ideal. Look for treats including real meat or ingredients kittens love such as fish. Note: Be mindful of product labels to ensure treats can be consumed by kittens.

Treats should not make up more than 5 to 10 percent of your kitten's calories for the day, so either look for low-calorie options or give treats sparingly.