Providing the right diet for your kitten means knowing how much to feed her as well as what to feed her. The right amount of nutrients will give your kitten optimal growth and development. Too much or too little of some nutrients can lead to disease and health problems. With some care and attention, your kitten will eat well and grow into a healthy adult cat.
So, what’s the right amount to feed your kitten?
Knowing your kitten’s weight will help you determine the appropriate amount of calories to feed her.
Kittens, which are cats up through 6 months of age, tend to be more standard in size than puppies. This makes things a bit easier when it comes to figuring out the best diet for kitten health and ideal kitten growth.
I have found that most kittens will gain about a pound a month, with the weight roughly matching the age. For example, the average 3-month-old kitten will weight about 3 pounds. Large breed kittens, such as Ragdolls or Maine Coon cats, may weigh more, while some oriental breeds, such as Siamese, may weigh a bit less. A digital scale will give you an accurate weight for your individual kitten.
The National Research Council suggests about 200 kilocalories (kcal) per day for a 5-pound kitten. A 10-week-old kitten may need as many as 100 kcal per pound of body weight — so about 250 kcal based on our “standard kitten growth.”
The exact volume of food that would provide those calories can vary dramatically between brands and types of foods. This is why you need to check labels and measure your kitten’s food accurately. Luckily, most pet foods now contain a measure of calories on the label.
Now that you know how much to feed your kitten, you need to figure out what to feed her.
Kittenhood is the time to introduce your kitten to a variety of diets. Exposing your kitten to different flavors of food and some different textures may be helpful as she ages. A finicky cat can be hard to manage!
Both kitten dry food and canned food, as well as balanced homemade diets, can be suitable for your kitten.
For store-bought foods, look for diets that say they are forumlated for kittens or at least balanced for all life stages. Kitten-specific diets are preferred, as they will be carefully tweaked to cover the exact requirements for growth. Kittens need a calcium/phosphorous ratio of about 1.2 to 1. Vitamin E and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are especially important in growing kittens for proper immunity and neurologic development.
Never feed dog or puppy foods to your kitten. Cats have some unique nutritional requirements, such as taurine (an amino acid important for visions and cardiac health), that won’t be met by canine diets. Cats also have a high protein requirement at all life stages, as they are considered to be almost pure carnivores. The Association of American Feed Control Officials recommends that 30 percent of your kitten’s diet on a dry matter basis should be protein. The ideal source of that protein is high quality meat ingredients.
If you decide to go the homemade diet route, you should consult a veterinary nutritionist. Creating a healthy diet for growth is trickier than you might think. You don’t want your kitten to miss out on essential nutrients.
Once you’ve settled on diet, you’ll want to feed it to your kitten three times per day. At about six months of age you can switch your kitten to two meals a day.
Feeding meals is preferable to free-feeding for almost all cats because then you know exactly how much your kitten ate, if she ate at all and what foods she prefers.
Always measure out your kitten’s food precisely. A “handful” could vary dramatically between your husband and your 12-year-old daughter. Measuring cups measure by volume and aren’t quite as precise as a food scale. Once you know your kitten’s ideal amount of food using the food scale, you can put that amount of food into a cup to determine how much to feed daily if you prefer not to weigh food daily. Remember to adjust as your kitten grows!
It is important to realize that other factors besides growth may influence your kitten’s dietary needs. For example, kittens are more likely to have parasites that drain nutrients than adult cats. If your kitten is being treated for a heavy parasite load, she may need some extra calories. Kittens who go outside and are subject to weather variations may also need some extra calories — especially in wet and cold weather.
Once you’ve determined what and how much to feed your kitten, monitor her to make sure she is growing appropriately. Your best guide to determining if your kitten is growing appropriately may be the “pound a month up to six months” adage. Keep in mind that the breeds mentioned above may vary a bit up or down from that standard.
Evaluate your kitten’s hair coat quality and body weight weekly. On a daily basis, evaluate her activity level and her eliminations. Changes in any of these could mean a need to adjust her diet slightly up or down. Feel her body carefully to evaluate her body condition and muscle mass.
By: Dr. Deb M. Eldredge
Featured Image: Via Marian Weyo/Shutterstock