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Can Adult Cats Eat Kitten Food? Vet-Verified Facts & FAQ

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on July 2, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat and kitten eating in one plate

Can Adult Cats Eat Kitten Food? Vet-Verified Facts & FAQ

VET APPROVED

Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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You already know it is important to feed your kitten age-appropriate food, but what if you accidentally feed kitten food to your adult cat? Can adult cats eat kitten food? Yes, you can feed kitten food to your adult cat; however, only under specific circumstances. If you want your cat to live a long and happy life, you must understand the specific dietary requirements your pet needs. In pursuing that knowledge, pet parents often discover that the food they feed their furballs changes over their lifespan.

For example, kitten food is recommended for cats up to the age of 12 months (24 months for Maine Coons), upon which you have to switch to a food formulated for adults. Why is this the case, and why would giving kitten food to an adult cat is a bad idea?

Here is everything you need to know.

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The Differences Between Kitten and Adult Cat Food

Adult cat food and kitty food are formulated differently since they serve the needs of different physiologies. The following are the main differences between them:

1. Number of Calories

Kitten food contains more calories than adult cat food. This is because kittens are still growing, and there is more going on in their bodies than mature cats. As such, they have a higher energy requirement.

Additionally, it does not help that kittens are endless balls of energy, burning through calories rapidly. They must consume a lot of food to avoid a calorie deficit, which can compromise their well-being. However, their tiny stomachs cannot allow them to hold down a lot of food. Therefore, the solution to that problem is to make their food as calorie-dense as possible.

On the other hand, adult cats do not have any more growing to do. Therefore, their food is strictly for maintenance purposes, and mature cats are not as playful as kittens, meaning they do not expend as much energy. They do not need nearly as many calories in their food as kittens. You have to remember that any unused calories are converted into fat. So, if your adult cat eats kitten food it can promote unhealthy weight gain due to it being so high in calories.

However, pregnant cats should be on a high-calorie diet to take care of their unborn babies. The average adult cat requires 50–70 calories per 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of their body weight every day to remain healthy. Your vet should help you determine your cat’s ideal daily requirements.


2. Amount of Protein

As is the case with calories, kittens also require higher levels of protein in their food to facilitate the tissue-building process. That is why commercial kitten food has a much higher protein content (35%–50%) than adult cat food (25%–40%).

norwegian forest cat eating cat food from a bowl
Image Credit: Astrid Gast, Shutterstock

3. Fats and Fatty Acids Content

Unlike dogs, cats are obligate carnivores; they eat meat and meat products exclusively. This can make it difficult for a pet parent to ensure their cat gets all the necessary nutrients from their food. This is especially true when it comes to fats and fatty acids. Since cats do not consume starch, they need high amounts of dietary fat in their food for energy.

Kittens, especially, need much higher amounts of fats in their diet due to how active they are. Fatty acids, on the other hand, are crucial for optimal growth and development. They also support organ functions. As a result, kitty food has a higher fat and fatty acid content than adult cat food.


4. Minerals and Vitamins

Regardless of age, any cat requires a healthy amount of minerals and vitamins to stay healthy. Nonetheless, kittens require almost twice as much phosphorus and calcium to facilitate the process of bone-building. That is why kitty food has higher levels of these minerals than adult cat food does.

cat food in red bowl
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

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Can Kitten Food Be Beneficial to Adult Cats?

After comparing the nutritional profile of kitten food to that of adult cat food, it would seem like an adult cat has no business eating kitten food. However, there are certain times when an adult cat can eat kitten food and receive its benefits.

When adult cats become seniors (past the age of 11 years), they become susceptible to a number of diseases, some of which cause a decrease in their appetite, hence resulting in weight loss. If your senior cat is losing weight due to a lack of appetite, you should consider giving them kitten food. The benefit of kitten food is that the cat does not have to eat much of it to meet its daily caloric requirements. Also, you will not have to force-feed the cat.

Additionally, cats find it extremely tasty, thanks to the fatty nature of kitten food. The taste alone will be enough to get your senior cat eating again, and the same goes for choosy cats. True to their feline heritage, some cats will not eat food that does not interest them, which might cause them to lose weight. If that is your cat, consider using kitten food as a temporary solution since they cannot resist it.

Nonetheless, before getting your senior cat on a kitten food diet, make sure that you have consulted with your vet.

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How to Introduce Kitten Food to an Adult Cat

If you decide that kitten food or treats could do your adult cat good, introduce it gradually to them. Restrain from abrupt changes, as they can cause gastrointestinal problems thanks to the sudden calorie increase.

The best way to transition is by mixing equal parts of their standard food with kitten food. After doing that for about 2 weeks, you can increase the portion size of kitten food while decreasing that of their regular food until their entire meal consists of pure kitten food.

Grey domestic cat being given food in a bowl
Image Credit: Valeri Vatel, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

Adult cats can eat kitten food. However, it is not recommended since its calorie-dense nature promotes obesity in adult cats. Pregnant or senior cats with appetite issues are the only two groups of adult cats that should be fed a kitten diet. Healthy adult cats should not eat kitten food, and kittens should not eat adult formulations. Before switching your cat’s food, check with your veterinarian to ensure it’s suitable for your pet.

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Featured Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

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