Your essential kitten feeding guide
You’ve got a new kitten and she is, of course, adorable. But what should you feed her? How often do you need to feed her and how much each time? What should you be looking out for on food labels? Here we answer all those questions and more, helping you make the best possible choices for feeding your gorgeous, fluffy new addition to the household.
Getting the basics right
Cats are quite particular in what they do and don’t eat, and there are a few important basics to know right from the start.
- Readily available drinking water: Your kitten should have constant access to clean drinking water. Clean out and refill the water bowl once or twice a day to keep the water topped-up and fresh. Your kitten will need to drink more water if she mainly eats dry food (see more below). Don’t give your kitten cow’s milk – it is difficult for her to digest and can lead to diarrhoea.
- A meat-based diet: Your kitten cannot be vegetarian. Cats need meat to survive.
- Kitten food, not cat food: Because kittens have slightly different dietary requirements to adult cats, it is generally recommended you feed your kitten specially formulated kitten food (rather than cat food) until she is one.
- No human food: The food we eat usually does not contain the right nutritional mix for cats. Indeed, some human food is poisonous to cats.
- Keep where she feeds and goes to the toilet separate: We wouldn’t like to do these in the same place – neither do our cats!
Finding the right food – what to look for on the label
Try to find high quality kitten food that is well-balanced and nutritional. But what exactly are the nutritional needs of your kitten? Well, all cats need food that is high in protein, amino acids (taurine and arginine), fat and some fatty acids (arachidonic acid), and vitamins. But kittens have a higher requirement for protein, amino acids, and minerals, as well as for some vitamins. Specially-formulated kitten food should have the right balance of nutrients.
When you look at the label on cat or kitten food, the ingredients will be listed in order of their percentage weight. These are a few things to look out for:
- Protein source. The protein source should be listed first. Look for a specific protein source e.g. chicken, salmon, lamb etc. rather than a generic “meat” source.
- Additional taurine source. Red meat and poultry are good sources of taurine. But there may be organs listed as well e.g. chicken liver or chicken heart – these are very rich sources of taurine.
- Fat source. Look for a named fat source, such as chicken fat, sunflower oil, or other oils.
- Carbohydrates, such as grains. Kittens do not need grains – such as corn or wheat – in their diet, and some can have trouble digesting them. However, these are often used as “fillers” in cat food, particularly in dry food, so you may want to look out for low grain quantities or completely grain-free food for your kitten.
How often and how much should I feed my kitten?
Every kitten is unique and the amount of food they have will depend on several factors, including age and activity level.
However, generally it is advised to feed very young kittens (3-6 months) three to four times a day, and to scale this down to twice a day once they are over six months old.
In terms of how much you feed your kitten each time, every package of kitten food should have feeding guidelines. Use this as a starting point and divide the recommended daily amount into the number of meals in a day. Remember, if you are feeding your kitten extra treats, you should cut back a little on the kitten food to manage her overall calorie intake. In terms of appropriate treats for kittens, you can’t go wrong with diced cooked chicken or bits of tuna, and there are also commercial cat treats available.
It is a good idea to try and get your kitten into a regular routine. Pick feed times that are likely to be convenient for you on most days and try to stick to those if you can.
Natural vs artificial preservatives
Some kitten foods contain natural preservatives, such as Vitamin E and ascorbic acid, and some contain artificial preservatives. Both are safe. Artificial preservatives have been used in cat foods for over 30 years.
Food containing natural preservatives may have a shorter shelf life and is generally a little more expensive.
Wet vs dry food
There are advantages to both wet (canned) and dry food. Canned food is around 80% water, so helps to keep your kitten well hydrated. Dry food is more convenient to feed and can be left for a longer period in the food bowl.
However, wet food is easier for small kittens to eat. So while your kitten is young, with small developing teeth, it is important she has at least some wet food to eat to ensure she gets all the nutrients she needs.
Home-made vs shop-bought
Making food for your kitten at home may seem appealing because you get to decide exactly what she eats, ensuring only high quality produce going into the cat bowl.
However, working out exactly the right balance of foods and food groups (e.g. protein, fats, amino acids etc.) is a difficult task, and something the cat-food manufacturers have spent years perfecting. For that reason – and particularly for a young kitten – we would recommend buying quality commercial kitten food from a shop or your vet to ensure your kitten has all the nutrients she needs
Now that you’ve got the feeding sorted, read some handy hints and tips on keeping your cat happy in our guide to caring for your cat!