Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.
A kitten, on average, weighs just a few ounces at birth and reaches eight to 10 pounds — or more — by his first birthday. When I adopted Casey, my orange tabby, he weighed barely four pounds at four months old. Eight months later, he transformed into a long-legged, lean feline sporting 11 pounds of solid muscle.
I promised to keep Casey from morphing into a fat cat who walks with more waddle than wiggle. You can do the same for the new kitten in your life. Every extra pound your feline friend packs on escalates the odds of him being at risk for a host of pricey problems: obesity, diabetes, and, eventually, joint pain and arthritis.
How can you keep your fast-growing kitten from turning into a feline foodie? What is the best food to feed your kitten? For answers, I turned to one of the country’s top kitten experts: Gary Weitzman, D.V.M., a veterinarian and chief executive officer of the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA — the same shelter where I adopted Casey.
Each year, Dr. Weitzman oversees a dedicated staff and army of volunteers who feed more than 2,000 orphaned kittens. These are not-yet-weaned kittens, separated from their moms for a variety of reasons, who must depend on round-the-clock feedings to not only survive but thrive and be healthy enough to be adopted. Dr. Weitzman is also the author of the best-selling book, How to Speak Cat: A Guide to Decoding Cat Language.
Catster: What are some tips on bottle-feeding very young kittens?
Dr. Weitzman: Kittens are very cold sensitive. To bottle-feed a young kitten, you have to be sure he is warm before you feed him, as a cold kitten cannot digest food properly. He should be lying prone (on his stomach).
Use warm milk (not too hot, not too cold), then cup and gently rub the kitten’s cheeks to encourage him to latch. Once you get a good latch, the kitten’s ears often start to twitch, and you’ll see bubbles in the bottle.
One tip we learned is that feeding a kitten alongside a buddy is a good way to encourage sibling competition for the nipple, which also encourages them to latch because kittens with a mom often compete for the same nipple.
Why is it vital to feed a newly adopted kitten quality commercial food manufactured specifically for a feline under the age of 1?
Just like any young animal, kittens need vital nutrients to ensure they develop appropriately. Kitten food generally has higher protein for muscle development, extra lysine for vision, and other vitamins and minerals needed for healthy growth.
Should a kitten be fed both canned and wet food?
At our kitten nursery, we feed underage kittens formula, which closely mimics milk they would normally get from their mother. At 31/2 weeks of age, we introduce wet and dry food, but wet food is often more palatable for young kittens, making it easier for them to get adequate nutrition as they develop.
What’s going on inside a growing kitten in terms of growth and caloric needs?
Keeping body temperatures up is critical, so growing kittens need additional calories for proper development. Their organs are developing, their muscles are becoming stronger and more coordinated, and they tend to be much more active than adult cats. That is why it is vital that they get proper nutrition and calories to ensure they grow into a healthy and happy adult cat.
How can I prevent my kitten from becoming obsessed with food and becoming overweight?
To keep your kitten from morphing into a feline foodie, we recommend against free feeding. Kittens 8 weeks or older should be fed two to three times daily (multiple small meals are best) in controlled amounts. Measure the food out at each meal, and weigh your cat once weekly to gauge development and prevent obesity.
Is it safe to occasionally provide a meal inside a food puzzle rather than in a bowl for a young kitten?
Food puzzles are always a great way for pets to stay entertained and develop those little brains! Using puzzle feeders encourages kittens to use all their senses.
If you notice your kitten can’t quite figure it out, and you’re worried he isn’t getting enough to eat, you can offer him his food in a bowl and keep the puzzle feeder for enrichment. A nice compromise and good tool for enrichment throughout their lives.
About the author: Arden Moore is a pet-behavior consultant, author, and master pet first-aid instructor who often teaches hands-on classes with her cool cat, Casey, and very tolerant dog, Chipper. Each week, she hosts the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Follow Arden on Facebook and on Twitter at @ArdenKnowsPets. For Catster print magazine, she promises to give advice about healthy eating habits for your feline. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org