Feeding a kitten is simple, right? You just open the bag and scoop some kibble into a bowl. Oh, and change out the water once in a while. Well, yes, those are the basics, but in order to really understand how to feed your kitten a healthy diet, you need to look a little bit deeper.
The first thing you need to know is that cats are obligate carnivores. Because they evolved to be carnivores, they lack certain enzymes needed to convert vegetable proteins into the amino acids they need. Your kitten cannot live on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Not now, not ever. She must eat meat in some form or another, or she will get sick and likely die.
Adult cats’ diets need to have at least 26% protein and at least 9% fat. Kittens, because they’re growing so rapidly, need much higher amounts of energy in their food. By the time your kitten is six months old, she still needs about 25 percent more nutrition than adult cats. This is why you should feed your kitten a food specifically designed for kittens’ nutritional needs, and you should continue feeding kitten food until your baby is about a year old.
The label on your cat food contains feeding instructions. These guidelines are very general recommendations, and it’s possible that your kitten may need more or less food than the label suggests. Talk to your vet to be sure you’re feeding your kitten the right amount and type of food.
Cats’ food preferences are generally established by the time they’re six months old, so you need to get her used to eating a nutritionally complete diet at an early age. In order to avoid the “tuna addict” phenomenon, choose two or three different products, in different flavors, in both dry and canned formulas, and feed them interchangeably.
Feed your kitten three times a day until she’s at least seven months old. Kittens’ stomachs are very small and they need to fill up regularly. Free feeding with kibble may be acceptable if you can’t be around all day to feed them. Do keep in mind, however, that spaying or neutering decreases your kitten’s energy requirements by 25 percent, so standard feeding recommendations may not work as well for cats that were fixed before 6 months of age. Check with your vet to see how you can give her the nutrition she needs without overfeeding her.
You shouldn’t need vitamin or mineral supplements as long as you’re feeding your kitten a nutritionally balanced diet. In fact, overdoses of certain vitamins can actually do harm. If you’re concerned that your cat isn’t eating enough to get proper nutrition, discuss this with your vet and get his or her opinion before giving supplements.
Cat foods are made with cats’ nutritional needs in mind and are fortified with amino acids like taurine in order to keep your cat healthy. However, dry food has a lot more carbohydrates than a cat needs. When assessing your options, note that canned foods have a higher percentage of meat.
Feed your kitten the highest-quality food you can afford. Good food is health insurance, and it’s worth the extra cost to buy products that have better-quality meats and few if any chemical additives. Some people recommend a raw-food diet, but don’t go for it unless you really know what you’re doing in terms of nutrition and food safety. If you do eventually choose to use a raw diet, work closely with your veterinarian and get your recipes from established authorities on the subject.