The Best Kitten Food - Cat Info Detective

The Best Kitten Food

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Greetings kitten lovers! Skye Blake here, reporting in about the best food for your kittens.

If you don’t know what nutrition kittens need, start by reading “Food for Kittens – Giving Them Good Nutrition“.

Then come back here to learn about the food that gives them the best nutrition.

paw prints coming in from a distance

What’s the Best Food for Weaned Kittens?

2 siamese kittens watching intently

Newborn kittens up to about four weeks old get all they need from mom, so the next question is “what’s the best food to give them when they’re weaned?”

Since kittens need significantly higher protein levels, more calories and higher amounts of nutrients like calcium and phosphorus than adult cats, they have to have complete and balanced diets specifically made for them.

They need those extra calories and proper proportions of nutrients for bone, organ, and systems development.

tabby, white kitten standing on stump meowing

Discuss your kitten’s particular needs with your vet or board-certified vet nutritionist, especially if there are medical conditions involved.

Kitten food should always be high quality, easy to digest, and packed with calories, formulated specifically for growth and development of kittens.

Don’t feed them puppy, dog, or adult cat food… no people food either!

Royal Canin canned wet kitten food

These will create nutritional imbalances, causing serious problems with proper growth and development.

Vets often recommend feeding both wet and dry food because this is a great way to get them used to a variety of textures.

This can be very helpful later in life if they need a specific medical diet.

Wet kitten food comes in different textures like chunks and flakes, while dry kibble is sized to fit little mouths and can be softened by adding water.

Reading the Labels

ginger, orange tabby kitten wearing collar, tag, bell

The label of any kitten food should clearly say it’s “complete and balanced”, along with a statement that the product meets or exceeds AAFCO and/or WSAVA recommendations.

Some labels say they’re for all life stages, including kittens, but these aren’t good for kittens unless there are feeding tests that support this claim.

The Purina Promise- dry cat food

It’s best to avoid these and look for foods made only for kittens that are complete and balanced.

You’ll most likely end up experimenting to see what your kitten will eat, just be sure it’s a complete and balanced formula.

Find things your kitten likes but don’t just cater to demands and end up with a picky eater.

tabby kitten looking through spokes of bike wheel

A few examples of reputable cat food brands that meet AAFCO and WSAVA recommendations are…

  • Hills®
  • Iams™
  • Purina®
  • Royal Canin®

Discover more about brands at “Reading Cat Food Labels” and “Cat Food Companies – Which Are Best?

How Much Food Do I Give My Kitten?

wet food quantity to feed

Kittens usually eat every few hours and should be given as much as they’ll eat.

Check the packages of food for suggested amounts, which are usually calculated according to the ideal weight as an adult and the age of the kitten.

Keep in mind, though, that every kitten is individual and feeding directions on cat food products are guidelines, which you can adjust to your kitten’s specific needs.

Pet store cat food aisle

Your vet can figure this out using metabolic formulas (number of calories required per day based on your kitten’s current weight).

Young kittens generally eat ¼ to ½ cup of food at a time, but this can vary by breed, since large breed kittens may need more.

Kittens should be hungry but not so much that they scarf down the whole thing in a few seconds.

label of wet canned food-turkey

Follow your vet’s guidance for making adjustments to the number of calories as they grow.

Fresh water should always be available either in bowls or fountains.

See “What’s the Best Cat Food?” and “How to Feed a Cat“.

How Often Do I Feed My Kitten?

cat & kittens eating from bowls

Young kittens need to eat frequently because they have tiny tummies.

You can leave dry food out all day (“free feed”) or divide the day’s food amounts into 3-4 small meals.

Free feeding helps kittens eat comfortably without eating too quickly, which can give them a distended stomach.

kitten asleep on lap

It can be helpful for those who are growing slowly or underweight and need extra calories.

Don’t leave wet food sitting out since it can spoil.

Give kittens as close to the amount they’ll eat as possible, so you’ll have less to clean up or throw away.

ginger, orange tabby kitten sleeping with pink fuzzy toy

This will also help you save money by not giving too much wet food.

At 6 months old, you can start feeding twice a day, but some cats prefer to stay with 3-4 small meals.

The number of daily calories will need to be adjusted for your kitten’s changing needs.

2 kittens in white basket

Check with your vet with any questions about changing your kitten’s eating habits.

See “How to Feed a Cat” for more, especially if you have other cats or dogs who might eat your kitten’s food.

Feeding When Spayed/Neutered

vet performing surgery-specialist

Most kittens are spayed or neutered between the ages of 2-6 months (weight is a factor).

Check with your vet about your kitten’s needs because hormonal changes can cause weight gain, so you may need to adjust the calories you give each day.

Young kittens rarely get overweight, but if you think yours is, have him examined by your vet.

kitten scratching at tree trunk

You can do measured meals rather than free feeding, but only with your vet’s guidance.

Preventing obesity is better than dealing with it later.

See more about obesity at “Fat Cats – Unhealthy or Cute?

How to Tell If Your Kitten Is Healthy

Siamese kittens with mother cat

There are signs that tell you whether your kitten is healthy or struggling.

These are important to be aware of because when kittens go downhill they can quickly die.

Good Health

dark tabby kitten, white whiskers

Signs your kitten is in good health…

  • Shiny full coat
  • Healthy looking skin
kitten asleep in clay pot
  • Lots of energy
  • Good poop – brown and firm but not hard
  • Appropriate weight for age
tabby kitten sleeping on a cat tree shelf
  • Growing well
  • Thin (according to breed)
  • Normal belly size

Poor Health

young tuxedo kitten ready to eat from dropper

If your kitten has any of these signs, especially if she’s under 8 weeks old, get her to the vet immediately.

This is especially true with low energy, diarrhea, vomiting and/or no appetite.

  • Dull, thin coat
vet holding kitten
  • Dry, flaky or dull skin
  • Low energy – tired, lethargic, or just quiet
  • Diarrhea or inability to poop
kitten pooping in litter box
  • Too thin, bony
  • Potbelly (could be parasites)
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting

Kittens & Water

kitten curious about stream of water from faucet

Newborn kittens don’t need extra water because they get everything they need from mom’s milk.

But mom needs easy access to fresh water daily.

Once you begin the weaning process, be sure shallow bowls of water are available for both mom and kittens.

cat drinking from half full glass of water

Just put them where spills and upended bowls won’t be a problem.

Fountains can be a fun way for kittens to get water, since they can satisfy their curiosity and either drink or lick it off their paws.

Kittens & Milk

2 calico cats drink milk from bucket

During the first month or so, kittens get their nutrition from mother’s milk or, if you’re hand feeding, from kitten formula.

As kittens grow and are weaned, their bodies lose the ability to process milk because the necessary enzymes decrease.

This can cause diarrhea if kittens then drink cow or other milk.

Discover more about cats, milk and water at “Can Cats Drink Milk?

What’s the Difference Between Kitten & Adult Cat Food?

wet cat food-Blue Buffalo Wilderness

The main difference between kitten and adult cat food is the proportions of protein, fat, and other nutrients.

Kitten food has more calories and fat than adult food because kittens are growing very fast and need extra calories for all that energy.

Reputable pet food companies tailor their kitten food to the immature digestive ability, developing immune system, and baby teeth of kittens.

Is It Safe to Feed a Kitten Raw Cat Food?

raw pork

There are people who claim raw food is best for kittens as well as adult cats, but so far, this claim has no scientific proof.

If you insist on creating a raw food diet for your kitten, talk to your vet and/or consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist for advice and to set up a proper diet for each stage of growth.

kitten licking lips wearing chef hat

Don’t be surprised if they recommend not to do this, because if you do it wrong, your kitten will pay the price.

Vets have valid concerns about two problems with attempting to feed kittens raw food.

Risks of Bacteria & Parasites

bacteria - vet medicine; nematodes

One big problem is the real risk from bacteria and parasites found in raw foods, both to kittens and people.

You need to carefully consider how to handle this risk before deciding if this is worthwhile for you and your kitten.

Remember that kittens have immature immune, as well as other, systems, that might not be able to handle certain bacteria.

bacteria under microscope

No matter what they eat, kittens need to be dewormed, especially if they go outside, so talk to your vet about it.

Read more about raw food diets at “Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks” and “Raw Cat Food – Good or Bad?

Difficulty In Creating a Complete & Balanced Diet

drawing of cat wearing apron, cap, holding meat pie

The other major problem is the difficulty and work involved in creating complete and balanced meals day in and day out over the months that kittens grow.

This is true for both raw feeding and cooked homemade meals.

Since kittens grow quickly, their nutritional needs change from week to week and month to month.

graphic of cat pointing to food bowl

Unless you’re a vet or veterinary nutritionist, you won’t have the knowledge to create a consistently complete and balanced meals, with all necessary amounts of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

It’s unrealistic and unnecessary for the vast majority of people to try to feed kittens raw food.

The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University published an article about the dangers of doing it wrong.

cartoon girl reading book

A Cautionary Tale of Nutrition” is well worth reading to get an understanding of how important it is to do raw diets properly or not at all.

And don’t feel guilty if you decide it’s not for you.

Read more about raw food diets at “Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks” and “Raw Cat Food – Good or Bad?

More About Cat Nutrition & Food

man in grocery store aisle, food

Now that you’ve learned a bit about feeding kittens, you might like to understand more about types of cat food and nutrition at these related pages…


Cat Food!How Is Cat Food Made?
Cat Food Companies – Which Are Best?Cat Food Recalls – What Do They Mean?
Meat By Products In Cat FoodPet Food Regulations & Oversight
Reading Cat Food LabelsHow to Feed a Cat
Cat Food & Water BowlsCat Food Puzzles
What Nutrients Do Cats Need?Are Carbs Bad for Cat?
Can Cats Drink Milk?Food for Kittens – Giving Them Good Nutrition
What Vitamins Do Cats Need?What’s the Best Cat Food?
Dry Cat Food (Kibble)Homemade Cat Food
Raw Cat Food – Good or Bad?Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks
The Best Cat Food BrandsBig Cat Food Paying Off Vets & Other Myths
Wet Cat FoodCat Food Allergies & Sensitivities
Dental Care for CatsFat Cats – Unhealthy or Cute?
What’s a Veterinary Nutritionist?

Sources

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own. Sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

5 Tips On Proper Nutrition For Your Pregnant Cat” by Lisa Selvaggio, PetGuide, August 14, 2014

77 Things to Know Before Getting a Cat by Susan M. Ewing, Fox Chapel Publishers, Ltd., 2018, pp. 79-95

A-E

A-Z of Cat Diseases & Health Problems by Bradley Viner, Bvet Med MRCVS, Howell Book House, a Simon & Schuster/Macmillan™ Company, New York, NY, 1998, pp. 53-57, 61, 72, 74, 103-4, 110-11, 214-18

The American Animal Hospital Association Encyclopedia of Cat Health and Care, Executive Committee with Les Sussman, Alan Dubowy, DVM, The Philip Lief Group, Inc., Hearst Books, NY, 1994, 35, 62-66, 144, 149, 165-69, 180, 223-4, 238

Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook by Delbert G. Carlson, DVM & James M. Giffin, MD, Howell Book House, New York, NY, 1995, pp. 345-354, 386-7

A Cautionary Tale of Nutrition“, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine (tufts.edu), August 30, 2022

Complete Guide to Feeding Kittens” by Amanda Simonson, DVM, PetMD, February 11, 2021

Do Kittens Need Special Food? Kitten Nutrition Requirements“, Purina

The Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies by the editors of Prevention Pets™ Books, Rodale Press, Inc., Emmaus, PA, 1996, pp. 181-184, 192-194

Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Secrets to the Natural Health of Dogs & Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, and Susan Hubble Pitcairn, Rodale, New York, NY, 2005, pp. 3-118

F-H

Facebook Nutrition Groups: “Feed Cats Like Cats – Feline Nutrition“, “Feline Nutrition & Cat Food Discussion

Feeding a Kitten: Kitten Food Types and Schedule“, webmd.com, 2009

Feeding the Pregnant Cat” by Krista Williams, BSc, DVM; Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM, VCA Animal Hospitals

Feeding Your Cat“, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, July 2017

Feeding Your Cat: Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition” by Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, CatInfo.org, Updated Nov 2016

Feline Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians by Bonnie V. Beaver, DVM, MS, Dept. of Small Animal Medicine & Surgery, College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University, W.B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia, PA, 1992, p. 103, 109, 171-186, 189-191

The Holistic Cat: A Complete Guide to Natural Health Care by Holly Mash, The Crowood Press Ltd., Ramsey, Marlborough, Wiltshire, England, 2014, pp. 60-61, 78-81, 99-115

“Homemade Kitten Milk Formula Recipes And How to Bottle Feed a Newborn Kitten” by Franny Syufy, Reviewed by Petal Smart, VMD, thesprucepets.com, updated on February 7, 1922

How Does Too Much or Too Little Vitamin D Affect Cats? (Vet-Approved)” by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, petful.com, January 15, 2019

How To Start Your Kitten On A Raw Diet – The Ultimate Guide” by Paws of Prey, YouTube, March 16, 2021

Key nutrients for kittens“, Royal Canin

I-Z

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Cats by Angela Rixon, Quarto Publishing, 2020 Edition published by Chartwell Books, New York, NY

The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health, Home Edition, Cynthia M. Kahn, BA, MA, Editor, Scott Line, DVM, PhD, Dipl ACVB, Associate Editor, with Editorial Board, Merck & Co., Inc., Whitehouse Station, NJ, 2007, pp. 337, 440, 453, 493, 1058, 1194, 1246

Natural Cat Care by Celeste Yarnall, Ph.D., Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc. & Castle Books, Division of Book Sales Inc., Edison, NJ, 2000, pp. 47-102

Natural Health Care for Your Cat by Dr. Rudolf Deiser, Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., Hauppauge, NY, 1997, pp. 12-15, 106-7

Nutrition Basics for Your Kitten: What You Should Know” Vetstreet, January 27, 2015

Nutritional Deficiencies in Cats” – Tufts Catnip, Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, October 19, 2015

“Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats” by National Research Council (Author), Division on Earth and Life Studies (Author), & 3 more

“Nutrition & Nutritional Disorders” – Veterinary Pediatrics: Dogs and Cats from Birth to Six Months by Johnny D. Hoskins, DVM, PhD, Professor, Veterinary Clinical Medicine, Louisiana State University, School of Veterinary Medicine, W.B. Saunders Company, a Division of Harcourt Brace & Company, Philadelphia, PA, 1995, 2nd edition, pp. 511-524

Pet Food Decisions: How Do You Pick Your Pet’s Food?” by Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (Nutrition), Clinical Nutrition Service, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, Petfoodology, Dec 16, 2019

Updated January 13, 2023

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