By Lorie Huston, DVM
Feeding your new kitten properly is one of the most important things you can do to make sure your kitten grows into a healthy cat. Choosing the right food for your kitten is one of the first things to consider. Let’s talk about what to feed your kitten and what is the best feeding schedule for your kitten.
What to Feed Your Kitten
Kittens have nutritional needs that are different than those of mature cats. Feed your kitten a food that is made specifically for kittens. Pet food labels are required* to carry a statement identifying the life stage (or stages) for which the food is intended. Choose a food that is intended for growth.
Also look for a food that has been substantiated by a food trial. The means of substantiation will be stated on the label too. Foods substantiated through a food trial are preferable to those substantiated via laboratory analysis or through comparison with a similar product.
As for what to feed your kitten when it comes to choosing canned or dry food, kittens can do well eating either. Each has advantages. Canned food provides more moisture than dry, which can be useful in keeping your kitten well hydrated. This may become very important for your cat later in life. Dry food tends to be more convenient to feed and can be left for a longer period in the bowl without having to worry about spoilage.
Dry food does tend to have a higher carbohydrate content than some canned foods, which means that your cat may gain weight easier on dry food than wet, if allowed to overeat. However, cats can gain excess weight on either dry or canned food. Obesity is currently the most common nutritional disease seen in cats. Feeding your cat to remain lean is an important part of keeping your cat healthy.
Feeding Schedule for Your Kitten
Many people feed their new kitten by simply filling a bowl with dry food and leaving the food available the entire day. However, establishing a feeding schedule for your kitten is a good idea. A feeding schedule for your kitten allows you to control the kitten’s diet more easily and make sure your kitten does not overeat and gain too much weight.
Your new kitten should eat three times daily. Morning, afternoon, and evening is a good choice. You can arrange the schedule to fit in with your own routine, although it is best to keep a consistent routine from day to day.
Use the feeding guidelines on the food label as a starting point to determine how much to feed your kitten. Split up the daily portion into three equal parts and feed 1/3 at each feeding. The feeding guidelines provide a starting point but you’ll need to monitor your cat’s body condition and adjust the feeding amount accordingly. If your cat is gaining too much weight, decrease the amount of food. Conversely, increase the amount of food offered if your cat is too thin or is not gaining weight as expected.
Encouraging your kitten to exercise may not be a problem. However, as your new kitten ages, it may become more difficult to get him to exercise. Some cats do become couch potatoes and these cats are at risk of becoming overweight or even obese. Here are some tips that you can use in feeding your kitten that may aid in keeping your kitten lean.
- Use a food puzzle when feeding your kitten. These puzzles are devices which are hollow and can be filled with food. Rolling the puzzle causes small portions of food to be dispensed to your cat. Your cat needs to roll the puzzle in order to get the food. By doing so, your cat gets exercise as well as entertainment.
- Do not feed your cat in the same place each time you feed. Try hiding small quantities of food in different locations and letting your kitten hunt for the food. Again, your kitten will get exercise and will be entertained at the same time.
Canned food should be left out for your kitten no longer than 20-30 minutes maximum. Discard any uneaten portion. Dry food can be left out for longer periods.
However, if you make the decision to leave dry food available at all times for your cat, it is imperative to make certain your cat is not overeating. If so, you’ll need to portion your cat’s diet appropriately and establish a feeding schedule for your cat if you haven’t already done so as a kitten.
Image: Graça Victoria / via Shutterstock
*Visit AAFCO.org for a full list of pet food label requirements