Let's talk about Kitten Food

So, you’ve decided to bring a new fluff ball into your life? How exciting but before you rush ahead to set your new kitten their own Instagram page, let’s get down to the importance of kitten food, what and how much to feed your new kitten and why you need to feed kitten food, not cat food. Outside of food, there are lots of things you can do to ease the transition for your new kitten – check out our survival guide on bringing a kitten home here. A little read and prep now and your resulting healthy, strong feline with a catwalk worthy glossy coat, will thank you and become the talk of the town, you’re welcome ☺️.

eat, sleep, repeat - your kittens first few weeks

Before your kitten comes home, it’s mother would have been its primary carer. Kittens are completely dependent on their mother for nutrition and care up until 4 weeks old. Kittens eyes and ears aren’t able to function until around 2 weeks old, and until they are 6 days old, they haven’t even developed the shivering reflex so need a warm environment and lots of cuddles with their mum.

Like all mammals, cats produce special milk for their young, called colostrum, which provides nutrition and support for their kitten’s immune system. Kittens will develop quickly and at 4 weeks old they’re ready to be introduced to solid food and have more energy and awake time to explore the big wide world. 

when to wean kittens onto solid foods

It’s at 4 weeks old that they’ll start their weaning onto solid foods, slowly at first still mainly consuming milk from their mum. Their deciduous or milk teeth start to emerge from 3-5 weeks old, so until they’re at least 5 weeks old, they won’t yet be able to chew solid food, therefore mix with some warm water to soften. A lot of people ask whether they should soften solid food with milk. In short, no, water is best in this case!

Just as all food is not the same, all milk is not the same. Cow’s milk has a very different composition to cat’s milk for example cow’s milk is much higher in lactose and may cause diarrhoea, so shouldn’t be used for kittens. Whilst there are kitten milks available, these vary wildly, and are normally for helping orphaned kittens and never as good as the real stuff. Warm water is the best option for softening – after 6 weeks old, they can chew dry food without the need for softening.

your kitten has flown the nest - now what? what to feed your kitten?

Kitten food, right? A complete, high quality kitten food will provide your kitten with what they need to live well and develop into the cat they deserve to be. Typically, your breeder will give you some food or recommend a food that they’ve been feeding for you to continue to use. As your kitten’s immune systems is still developing when you get him or her and will not be fully developed until 16 weeks of age, so unless it’s something inappropriate, try to stick to what they’ve been weaned onto, particularly in those first few days where they’re getting used to their new home. It’s a stressful period for any kitty. You can always transition to your chosen kitten food after they’re 16 weeks old. If you really don’t like the quality of the food they’re currently on and wish to do it sooner, wait a few days once you kitten has settled in and then gradually introduce the new food in increments over a period of 7-10 days.

but, why do you need to feed kitten food?

Believe it or not, that cute tiny thing is going to increase forty to fiftyfold as they mature to adulthood – you’ll see the biggest changes during the first 3-6 months, so snap a way to lock down those memories. This is one of my fave of our Boo:

Siberian Kitten at the dining table

Rapid growth calls for support, more nutrients, higher protein requirement for building those new tissues etc. – with the exception of lactation the level of nutrient and energy needs during your kitten’s growth period exceeds any other stage of life, so a complete high-quality kitten food is crucial.  

what constitutes a high quality kitten food?

1. quality, digestible animal protein

Cats are carnivores and need meat protein. The first thing to check is whether your kitten food has a high level of meat protein – say no to pea protein or potato protein and always ensure it’s a named source e.g. chicken rather than “animal” or “meat” so you can trust and know what’s in the food. Secondly, is it a high quality and highly digestible meat protein? This is important for delivering sufficient levels of all of the essential amino acids your kitten needs. Percentages are a dangerous and confusing game – the rules of labelling are currently quite vague. Some manufacturers name the exact % of ingredients in the food, some quote the % of meat that makes up the overall protein level.

Always be sure to compare things on a dry matter basis for a level playing field. E.g. for fresh meat, take into consideration that roughly 70% of this is water. So, for example if a food has 20% fresh chicken, taking into consideration the level of water, this is equivalent to 6% of dry chicken. Optimal levels of protein should be between 30-36% for kittens and the majority of this from meat, not vegetable protein – look out for “pea protein” or “potato protein” in the ingredients list. Vegetable protein isn’t easy to digest for our feline friends nor contains all the amino acids they need.

So, there are lots of percentages to keep in mind. For example Scrumbles Kitten food is 35% protein with 77% Chicken composition but 97% Animal Protein relative to total protein – confusing eh?

2. docosahexaenoic acid or dha

Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids DHA along with Arachidonic acid (AA) are essential both prenatal and postnatal for your kitten in order for normal retinal and neurological development. Salmon oil is an excellent source of natural essential omega fatty acids EPA & DHA whilst animal fat provides AA.

3. a complete diet

Cats are obligate carnivores but for a complete diet they can’t solely eat meat sources as this is deficient in essential nutrients like calcium and phosphorus.

should cats eat dry food or wet food?

I love the web, but when it comes to research and facts, it can be a dangerous tool. I was surprised (and elated) when I learnt that Kel from Keenan and Kel didn’t die in a tragic accident in 2006 after all – it’s just one of the many internet myths out there. In the same vein, there is a lot conjecture out there about dry food for cats. So let’s break it down…

One of the common motivations to choose wet food over dry, is that there is a belief that it will prevent urinary tract issues, which are sadly common amongst cats. It comes from the assumption that wet food, at around 75% water or above will avoid dehydration vs dry kitten food which contains less than 10%. Will feeding wet food help prevent urinary tract disease? Unfortunately, not. Dehydration is just one of many risk factors. Other risk factors include a poor diet, obesity, age and gender. Studies show the most common cause are uroliths or stones. A more acidic urine pH is favourable as a preventative method, and this can be achieved via the diet - an increase in animal or fish protein intake will contribute to a more acidic pH.  

Hydration reassurance is a benefit of wet kitten food and many kittens find wet food more appealing due to the texture and stronger smell but as every kitten has their own preference, you might find that yours like our Boo, prefers dry food. It’s important if you feed a dry diet to always have drinking water available as your kitten will need to drink more. A benefit to dry kitten food is that if your kitten prefers to free feed, it won’t spoil if left out for the day and vs wet food they’re less likely to overfeed and become overweight. Another belief is that dry food can help promote better dental health but the jury is still out on that. 

In short, it doesn’t matter if you choose to feed wet food or dry food to your kitten or cat. What matters is the quality of the food. Cats and kittens are obligate carnivores and require a diet high in meat. Assess the ingredient make up of your chosen kitten food and ensure it has meat first, is low in carbohydrates and watch out for mentions of vegetable protein like “pea protein” which may be tying to compensate for a lack of animal protein in the food – it’s a poor subsititute. There is a wave of natural, healthy kitten food available across both dry and wet food formats to give your kitten everything they need to thrive.

how much to feed a kitten?

How long is a piece of string? Every food has a different nutritional density and so it’s best to consult the manufacturers guidelines to understand feeding requirements. If you’re feeding Scrumbles, you can use our feeding tool on Scrumbles Kitten Food product page.

For the first few weeks of life, your kitten will have nursed up to 6 times per day. Small, frequent feeding times are crucial as they develop because of their tiny tummies. The debate is still out on encouraging grazers or not – cats have fantastic personalities and they’re daily routine will vary so establishing set eating times can prove difficult, albeit not impossible. If you’re a free feeder, fret not as once your kitten reaches adulthood, they’re pretty good at self-regulating their energy intake and typically will not overeat. Still stick to only dishing out their daily requirement, each day to avoid excessive weight gain.

As kittens, it’s important not to overfeed as this can lead to accelerated growth and predispose your kitten to obesity later in life. Regular weight checks and sticking to feeding guidelines should help you keep the bulge at bay. Similarly, whilst your kitten is growing, we’d recommend you steer clear of treats, supplementing their diet can actually be detrimental to their health. It’s additional calories your kitten doesn’t need and a lot of treats out there have all sorts of nasties including sugar and salt – lots of affection and play time is the best treat you can give.

should you give kitten treats?

A complete diet is all your kitten needs and we’d recommend against treats as many treats have added nasties like sugar and salt and are not nutritionally balanced. Play and affection is the best treat you can give to your kitten.

when to transition kittens to adult food.

Some kitties mature before others and might have fully matured as young as six months old. Your kitten’s transition to adulthood will bring with it changes in personality, not unlike a teenager which can be tricky at times. Be patient and continue to show him or her plenty of affection whilst they go through this teething period. Your vet will be able to help you determine when your kitten has truly reached adulthood but generally speaking, at 12 months you’ll be able to transition to adult food. As a rule of thumb, larger cats like Maine Coons mature more slowly so they will require kitten food for longer – in some cases up to 2 years. Treat the transition the same as changing any type of food for your furry friend with a gradual introduction, increasing the amount of adult food over a period of 7-10 days until your kitten is feeding the new food exclusively.

for our kitten ninjas

Have you recently introduced a kitty to your home, or do you know anyone who’s planning to bring home a kitten soon? If you do and think they might want to read our helpful guide, we’d love you to spread the kitty wisdom and share our blog. 

Thanks for reading!

Aneisha, Jack, Smudge and Boo x