What to feed a kitten: choosing a food for your little guy
Got a new little furry one at home? Congratulations to you, proud parent!
Many people are asking what I would choose for kittens food-wise. My official answer is surprisingly simple.
Marketing gimmicks and the one thing you need to know
One of my cat nutrition heroes, Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM, says in her book, Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life, that the “life stages” foods are an unnecessary marketing gimmick. And she used to be a lead nutritionist for one of the biggest cat food manufacturers around! (Until she went renegade and spilled the beans.)
Instead, after weaning, cats and kittens of all ages should be eating high protein, low carb, grain-free foods.
The only catch is serving size: kittens typically need twice as much food per day as an adult cat.
So when someone says kittens need a bit more of a particular nutrient, the truth is your kitten should get that simply by eating the kitten-appropriate amount of a good cat food every day.
In other words, all high-quality cat foods are good for kittens after they’ve weaned, but here’s what’s most important:
Be sure to follow the kitten feeding amounts instructions on the label to make sure they get enough food.
How often to feed a kitten?
Because of their small tummies, it’s generally advised that kittens may need to eat 4 times per day to get all the nutrition they need.
As you may know, I believe wet food is much healthier for cats than dry food. But, busy people may need to have some dry food around if they can’t always be at home to feed their kitten around the clock.
I’m just being realistic here.
So for a supplemental dry food option, I would go with one from this Best Dry Cat Foods list. Orijen is a great, economical option that even says “cats and kittens” on the label.
I wouldn’t worry about letting your kitten nibble throughout the day because he’s a growing boy who should instinctively know how much to eat. Exception: If your kitten has a food obsession rooted in a starvation experience, as some “lost and found” kittens (like our Joel) do, then you will want to control portions more. This is rare though.
If your kitten has sensitive digestion (many do)
Seeing loose stools in the litter box? Sometimes this happens simply because kittens need to transition to a new food more slowly.
Because of all the vaccines and meds shelter kittens are often subject to, and because they may not have received healthy gut flora from their mom, all of which can damage digestion, my personal favorite cat foods are always the foods that have the most simple ingredients.
It always helps to serve simple high-quality formulas like Stella and Chewys (raw) and Life’s Abundance Instinctive Choice (canned), Hound & Gatos, and Tiki Cat Koolina Luau canned and Puka Puka Luau.
More about all those on the Today’s Best Cat Foods page.
Transitioning your kitten to a raw food
A great food for your kitten, after they are weaned, is a raw food like Primal raw frozen cat food. That’s because raw food still has the live enzymes that make nutrient assimilation easy.
Here are Primal’s instructions for transitioning kittens to raw as they wean off milk.
- At 4-5 weeks of age, you can begin to introduce your kitten to a packaged raw cat food.
- Kittens should be fed one to two small (1 teaspoon) raw-food meals daily in conjunction with either the milk they consume from nursing and/or other foods you may be supplementing.
- Gradually increase the quantity every 2-3 days until at 8 weeks of age, when the kittens are consuming two tablespoons twice daily.
- At 8 weeks, the kittens should be fully weaned and can be fed a diet solely of Primal Feline Formulas.
- Kittens 8 weeks to 1 year of age should be fed approximately 4% of their body weight daily in Primal Feline Formulas. Use the super-handy feeding calculator.
- Monitor your kitten’s dietary needs and adjust the feeding quantities accordingly.
One last tip
After kittens are weaned, get started early – and gradually- introducing variety into their diet. They are more open to different types of food when they are little, and will be more open to those foods when they’re older if you start introducing them now.
I’m a vegetarian myself and I don’t want to let my cat eat processed foods. We live at Orange County and she came from an animal shelter but my love for her is great that I want her to be healthy. Thanks for this, hope to try this for Snippy.
I have a cats, this is 5 year old. I always try to give the best food as well as healthy food. Actually, this was a great info and hopefully it’ll be the best.
I have changed over from dry food to Soulistic good karma chicken. My cat is just over a year old. He loves the food, but he has had diahrrea and loose stools for 3 weeks. I bought some forti flora and have started using that with his food but there has not been a change. My vet says it would be an allergy to something in the food. Any thoughts on what it could be? I thought this canned food was supposed to be healthier.
I think you nailed it when you said that the best cat food is wet, high in protein, low in carbs, and grain-free. I agree entirely.
To your list I might add “organic”. Free range is nice if you can’t locate organic wet food.
Interesting tidbit about the life stages foods being unnecessary. Thanx, I learned something new.
The transitioning steps toward the end of your post were helpful.
We put out wet food for the main meals and leave a little dry food out during the in between hours so our cats can nibble on something crunchy and snack if they are hungry between meals.
=^-^= Hairless Cat Girl =^-^=
I am about to adopt a kitten, he seems to be really under the weather so far; he was given all the required vaccines of course, intestinal parasite medications, flea treatment, and presently undergoing a course of antibiotics to ward off what it seemed to be the beginning of a respiratory infection.
He was dropped at a shelter with siblings and may be 10 weeks old now. I am afraid he did not have a good start in life! He will be home with me in a week and I want to restore him to health.
I already feed my other cat Nature’s Variety can food mixed with free range raw turkey, would that be a good diet for the newcomer overall? do you have any other suggestions as to strengthen his immune system and restore his intestinal flora?
Thank you for all you do Liz! You are my kitty Guru, I followed the natural control flea program from your book for my cat and it works! I am impressed! no poison, better health!
Thank you! We just brought him home earlier and he’s doing really well. I just gave him a little food (He got neutered and came home today so I wasn’t sure if he was hungry and if he was if he could handle it yet) and some water and he ate all his food, drank some water, even knocked over his Kitty Cube – such a good little boy! 🙂
I’m about to get a kitten on Friday (His name is Noodles) and bought 3 3oz cans of Soulistic grain free canned cat food yesterday, would you recommend this brand? I got Good Karma Chicken, Pure Bliss Tuna Whole Meat, and Aqua Grill Tilapia & Tuna. By the way, the kitten’s only 2 months and 3 days old today.
Makayla, I hope Noodles is settling in well in his new home with you! Yes, I have investigated Soulistic canned and will be adding it to my “best” list. Plus, the ingredients are more simple than most cat foods, so that’s a bonus for kitten digestion.
I have two cats–a 5 year old and a 1 year old. Both cats began eating a raw meat diet as kittens. They are healthy and happy and beautiful!
That’s great to hear, Betty. Lucky kitties – dining so well from some a young age!
Awwww…as the mommy to 2 7 and 8 year old kitties I must say…I miss the kitten days!
Jessica, me too. They really grow way too fast.