Caitlin UltimoNutrition / Pet Diet Tips

The Ages and Stages of Cat Food

When it comes to cat food, one size doesn’t fit all felines. “Cats have different nutritional and caloric needs depending on their age and any chronic conditions they might have, such as kidney disease,” says Susan Wynn, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist at BluePearl Specialty & Emergency Pet Hospital in Sandy Springs, Georgia. “A single-diet approach doesn’t fit all cats.” Here’s a guide to optimum cat nutrition in each life stage:

Kittens (up to 12 months)

“In general, kittens have a higher calorie and protein requirement than older cats,” says Wynn. “They need to be fed a complete and balanced diet with all forty nutrients.” When shopping for the best cat food, look for a brand that’s formulated for “kittens” or “all life stages.” One formula made specifically for kittens is Blue Buffalo Wilderness Kitten Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food. Be sure to follow the serving size recommendations on a cat food’s label; some are based on weight while others based on life stage, such as a kitten or pregnant/lactating cat. If your kitty’s diet doesn’t meet her nutritional requirements during this time, her growth may be stunted.

Adults (1 to 6 years)

Adult cats should follow a complete and balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight and help avoid illness. Look for cat food brands that are formulated for “maintenance” or “all life stages.” Healthy wet grain-free cat food options include Wellness CORE Grain-Free Chicken, Turkey and Chicken Liver Recipe and Wellness Complete Health Grain-Free Turkey Formula, while a nutritious dry kibble choice is Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Grain-Free Dry Cat Food. In general, you’ll want to limit table scraps and treats to help your cat avoid weight gain. Many table scraps are high in calories and don’t provide the essential nutrients that a cat needs. Another pet nutrition no-no: Don’t continue to feed your cat food designed exclusively for kittens during this time. It’s a highly concentrated source of calories that may lead her to become overweight.

Pregnant or Nursing Cats

Your pet’s nutrition is especially vital when she’s expecting. Not only does she need extra calories, but she also requires extra nutrients. Some brands suggest that pregnant or lactating cats consume three times more than the adult serving. If your cat doesn’t get enough, she may not be able to produce enough milk for her kittens. During pregnancy, a diet rich in calcium is especially important. If she doesn’t have enough stored, she’s at higher risk of developing eclampsia while she’s nursing. This serious condition, marked by a drop in blood calcium levels, may cause tremors, weakness, fever and disorientation. If you notice these signs, you need to take your cat to the vet immediately.

Seniors (typically 7-10 years and older)

“Cats, as they age, slowly develop chronic health problems and lose muscle,” says Wynn. Even though cats slow down now, they do typically require the same number of calories as they did a few years back. Some wet cat food, like Purina ProPlan Focus Adult 11+ Salmon & Tuna Entrée, is specifically formulated for older cats—this one, in fact, is for cats age 11 and over. If your cat suffers from diabetes, digestive problems, kidney disease or other serious health concerns, her veterinarian will able to guide you to the best cat food.