Kitten Food: A Complete Guide to Feeding Your Growing Cat

A cat's diet is especially important during the early stages of their lives. Just like human infants, kittens have different nutritional needs to older felines.

To keep them healthy kittens need nourishing food to help them grow, as well as fuel to provide energy for those endless play sessions.

With many choices on the market, from wet to dry food, it can be difficult to decipher which is the healthiest option.

Newsweek spoke to experts to find out how to choose the best kitten foods, so you can keep your new arrival properly fed.

What Your Kitten Needs

Teresa Keiger, Creative Director at The Cat Fanciers' Association told Newsweek about the importance of understanding kittens' digestive needs.

"Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they cannot synthesize the essential amino acid taurine; they must get it from the food that they eat. In the wild, this is meat; in the not-so-wild it's their cat food. Taurine is essential for growth and development at every stage. Also, without taurine, the cat can develop vision and heart issues," she explained.

A kitten's diet should include: taurine and "high quality food with lots of protein and just enough fat."

kitten eating
Kittens need to be fed a diet made up of cat food which is designed for their life stage. Nils Jacobi/Getty Images

What to Feed Your Kitten

Samantha Taylor, Feline Medicine Specialist and Academy Lead at the International Society of Feline Medicine told Newsweek:

"Kittens need to eat an age appropriate complete diet. Complete means it contains all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to meet the kitten's needs. Diets designed for kittens have been formulated with growth in mind, so by feeding a complete kitten diet you won't need to worry - they will grow! Having said that, it is important to monitor a kitten's weight to ensure they are growing as they should be."

Graham Lewis, small animal vet at Paragon Veterinary Group suggests owners use Royal Canin or Hills kitten food. He told Newsweek: "These are very good quality complete diets, however we would always advise seeing your vet with your new kitten to get the best local advice."

Kitten bottle feed
A small kitten being bottle fed. Kitten owners should avoid feeding their pets cow's milk, as most cats are lactose intolerant. Thais Ceneviva/Getty Images

How Much Should You Feed Your Kittens?

As with any pet, their feeding needs develop with their age and owners should be mindful not to overfeed, or underfeed, their young kittens.

"Very young kittens have big growth needs but smaller stomachs, so they can be fed three-four times a day. " Keiger said.

Dr. Gabrielle Fadl, DVM, Bond Vet's Medical Director agreed, telling Newsweek: "Good quality kitten foods should have a feeding guide on the packaging, based on age and weight of the kitten. The amount listed would be the total amount of food they need per day. However, this should be divided into at least two meals per day (and 3-4 meals for younger kittens)"

Owners should also bare in mind that every young cat has a unique requirement based on their "individual metabolism, the type of food they are eating, their activity level, and their growth rate."

"Veterinarians usually don't restrict food intake for young kittens. Free feeding is typically okay so long as they don't eat too much at once (so much that they vomit the food up) or start to become overweight (which usually doesn't happen until their growth rate slows down)", Fadl said.

Kitten grey
Blue Tabby Maine Coon kitten standing on cat furniture tilting its head. Nils Jacobi/Getty Images

Wet or Dry Kitten Food?

Each kitten has their individual preferences, which should be reflected in their diet, so it's worth keeping track of your kitten's weight as well as food preferences, according to Taylor.

"Kittens learn about food from their mothers and at weaning should be offered foods with different textures so they are flexible with the type of food they like. If a kitten doesn't seem to like their food, consult your vet as this could be a sign of illness," she pointed out.

Fadl explained: "Very young kittens may have difficulty chewing dry food/kibbles while they are teething, and thus wet food would be much easier for them to eat. But once a kitten is able to safely and comfortably chew their dry food, either option is okay."

It is worth noting that if you combine wet and dry food, this will affect the total amount for each. Fadl said: "For example, if you add just a little wet food, subtract a similar volume of dry food. Or if you feed half dry and half wet, look at the total recommended amount per day for each type of food, then feed half of each. Together, each half will add up to the total daily requirement."

Many cat owners feed their kittens a combination of the two. As long as the kitten food is nutritionally balanced, wet or dry is completely up to the preferences of you and your feline. The only exception would be for cats with certain health conditions but this would be unusual for a kitten.

Lewis added: "Breeds more likely to have kidney disease or cats with cystitis issues will often benefit from a wet food."

Can Kittens Eat Adult Cat Food?

Despite a kitten's growth, experts advised against feeding your kitten adult food prematurely, as Taylor added it can mean "they miss out on essential nutrients for optimal growth."

Keiger expanded on that, and added that feeding a kitten adult food is "not the best idea, at least not until the kitten is more mature and then, slowly transition the kitten over. Kittens specifically need the fuel – and vitamins and minerals– for their growing bodies. Lack of fuel can delay their growth. Adults, on the other hand, have completed their growth, and are maintaining their body size."

British shorthair cat
It can be difficult to know when to switch from kitten to cat food. Nynke van Holten/Getty Images

When to Switch From Kitten to Cat Food

On the subject of transitioning to adult cat food, Fadl, said: "It's ideal for a kitten to eat a kitten food until they are nearly at their adult size, around 10-12 months of age."

"However, because obesity is a very common problem in pets, it's not unusual for cats to begin gaining excess body weight prior to this age, especially while eating kitten food (which is higher calorie than adult cat food). For this reason, many vets recommend switching to adult cat food sooner, between 6-9 months of age or soon after a spay/neuter surgery."

Beware of Gastric Upset

Constantly changing and mixing up a kitten's diet is detrimental to their growth and development. "Look at keeping a kitten's diet relatively the same, at least initially. Changing foods isn't bad for most cats, but it can create gastric upset. That's why it's always recommended that one mixes the new food in with the old for any cat.

"For a growing kitten, that gastric upset is more difficult to handle than for an adult as their digestive system is smaller and more sensitive. Variety and change isn't bad; it just should be handled appropriately," Keiger said.

A bottom view of a cute blue tabby maine coon kitten licking glass. Nils Jacobi/Getty Images