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Feeding Kittens: What, When, How Much

Experts answer six common questions about kitten food and more.
By
WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM

When it comes to cuteness, few critters can compare to kittens. If you’ve just acquired a kitten (or two), you’re probably learning all about kitten care. You want to do what you can to ensure that your adorable baby grows into a healthy adult. Proper feeding is a big part of the health equation. After the first four weeks of mother’s milk, a kitten gradually transitions to kitten food, and is completely weaned at about eight weeks. Here’s what you need to know once you’ve brought your kitten home.

1. How do kittens’ nutritional needs differ from those of adult cats?

A kitten’s weight may double or even triple during the first few weeks of life. To support this explosive growth -- as well as high activity levels -- your kitten may have triple the energy needs of an adult cat.

These high energy needs make it harder for kittens to get enough calories in one meal, says Jennifer Larsen, DVM, PhD, nutritional consultant and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis. “So most kittens want to eat at least three or four meals a day,” she says. “It’s also a comfort thing -- kittens are snackers at heart.”

Kittens’ needs for fat, some fatty acids, and most vitamins are the same as for adult cats, Larsen says. But kittens have a higher requirement for protein, amino acids, and minerals, as well as for some vitamins. For example, kittens should get about 30% of their energy from protein.  

For these reasons, most experts recommend you feed your kitten specially formulated kitten food until age 1. Although some cat foods are labeled as appropriate for kittens and cats of all life stages, these aren’t appropriate for your kitten unless feeding tests support the label claim.

And don’t forget to provide plenty of fresh water -- it’s a key to keeping cats of all ages healthy.

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