Congratulations on your newest addition (or two)!
Among the many decisions you will encounter during your pet’s life, what you feed your kitten is hands-down one of the most important. Your kitten’s nutritional needs are just as special as they are! Starting them off on the right foot (err, paw) with a high-quality diet will help their body and brain grow to its best potential.
Kittens experience an explosive growth trajectory and thus have extremely high energy requirements – three times that of an adult, in fact. During their first several months of life, your little purr-pot’s caloric and nutritional needs are the highest they will ever be due to the high metabolic rate and energy demands associated with growth.
Think of metabolism as how fast or efficiently calories are utilized. In the adult animal, whose growth is complete, calories are being used for day-to-day energy to run the machine. In the growing animal, these calories are not only being used to fuel the machine, but to build the machine from the ground up!
To build that purring machine, kittens need the same essential ingredients they will require throughout life, but the proportions of these ingredients need to reflect the demand of rapid growth. Likewise, caloric needs are substantially higher in immature animals.
An ideal kitten diet should offer high-quality and high-proportion animal meat proteins, healthy fats, appropriate fiber content, and supply the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids essential for complete and balanced nutrition.
- Proteins: to build tissues and support the developing immune system
- Fats: energy-dense ingredients; omega-3 fatty acids, DHA, and EPA to support skin, brain, and coat health
- Vitamins, Minerals, and Amino Acids: Vitamins A & D; Taurine, etc. to create a complete and balanced diet
How often to feed
When kittens are little, their stomachs are tiny as well and cannot hold the volume of food that their adult stomach will be able to accommodate and their GI tracts are still immature. However, kittens require more food on a daily basis than their adult selves. Feeding multiple small meals throughout the day circumvents this issue. Kittens are “grazers” by nature and tend to do well with free-feeding, which provides a more consistent supply of energy. Moistening the food or adding in canned food can also make the meals more palatable and readily digestible.
When your kitten reaches 4 months of age, she has already achieved the majority of her adult size (with the exception of large breed cats like Maine Coons). At this point, you can transition to scheduled meals and twice a day feeding. If you have more than one cat or kitten, it is wise to provide them each with their own personal bowl, so that feeding can be individualized as needed.
How much to feed
High-quality commercial diets like Nulo have suggested feeding amounts listed by body weight and age in the feeding guidelines sections on the bag and website. Remember, these are guidelines. Every kitten is special, down to its individual metabolism and body type, so nutritional requirements will vary.
Ideally, we want to feed a diet that supports an average growth rate. We certainly want to ensure that we are feeding enough, but we also want to be mindful that we are not overfeeding. Having an awareness of your cat’s body condition score (“how well she fits in her clothes”), will help you gauge an appropriate amount to feed. When we overfeed young cats, we can set them up for a lifetime of battling obesity. In humans, the number of adipose (fat) cells that are acquired in our immature years are the number that we will keep as we proceed into adulthood. Essentially, the number and size of our adult fat cells is “set” during childhood; it is the amount of fat that is stored in those cells that fluctuates as we age. When a young cat is overfed, that excessive number and size of fat-storing power can more readily result in obesity as an adult.
Your vet will be seeing your kitten regularly through her first several months of life for wellness checks and vaccines. Your doc can be an excellent resource to determine the appropriate daily volume to feed.