Good nutrition is essential if a kitten is to live a long and healthy life. The following five tips are key to getting kittens started off right.
1. Do Not Wean Too Early
For the first four weeks or so of life, mother’s milk should be a kitten’s primary source of nutrition. It is ideally suited to meet a kitten’s needs and contains antibodies that help protect them from potentially deadly infections. Kitten milk replacer is available but is not ideal.
At around four weeks of age, kittens should start eating solid food. Canned kitten food is the best option to start with. Over the next four to six weeks, kittens will naturally eat more solid food and drink more water as they mature and their mother limits their access to milk. By eight to ten weeks of age, kittens will only be eating solid food and drinking water.
2. Feed Kitten Food
Kitten foods are more calorie-dense than are foods designed for adult cats, and the differences don’t stop with calories. Kitten foods also have more protein, more of certain types of amino acids, and more calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin A, and vitamin D in comparison to adult cats.
Kittens are at risk for nutritional deficiencies if they eat foods designed for adult cats. High-quality kitten foods also contain optional ingredients to optimize development (e.g., docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is important for eyes and brains).
3. Variety is Key
Cats can develop strong dietary preferences at an early age. These preferences include texture (dry versus canned) and flavor. Many owners prefer to feed dry food because it is cheaper and more convenient in comparison to canned foods.
While many cats appear to do quite well on a dry diet, canned foods are superior when it comes to preventing and/or treating several common feline health problems, including obesity, chronic kidney disease, lower urinary tract disease, and diabetes mellitus.
If you choose to feed a primarily dry diet, I recommend you regularly offer canned meals to keep all of your options open in the future. It also doesn’t hurt to alternate between several high-quality canned and dry foods so that cats don’t become “addicted” to a certain flavor or formulation.
4. Feed Multiple Small Meals
Cats are built to eat multiple small meals throughout the day and to work hard to catch those meals. While it is tempting to simply leave food out all the time, this puts many kittens at risk for obesity.
An automatic feeder that dispenses small amounts of food at set times throughout the day is a simple way to increase the frequency of your cat’s meals. Place the automatic feeder as far away as possible from your kitten’s favorite resting place to encourage exercise.
5. Watch Weight After Spay/Neuter Surgeries
Research has shown that cats want to eat more after they have been spayed or neutered. At the same time, their caloric needs are declining—perhaps as a result of the surgery or simply because their growth rate is naturally slowing. This is a dangerous combination when it comes to maintaining a healthy body weight.
Keep a close eye on your kitten’s body condition and adjust the amount of food you are offering accordingly. After your kitten has been spayed or neutered, ask your veterinarian when he or she recommends you start offering a food formulated for adult cats.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Image: Ljupco Smokovski / Shutterstock