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Feeding Kittens: What, When, How Much

Experts answer six common questions about kitten food and more.
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4. How do I switch from one kitten food to another? continued...

“It’s easier to switch foods if a kitten has been exposed early on to different textures and flavors,” Larsen says. “If exposed to the same food over and over, cats tend to get a fixed preference for a particular flavor and texture.”

If you’re trying to make a switch to a new kitten food, Larsen recommends not mixing it with the old food. “If the kitten dislikes the new food, this can put them off the old food, too,” she says. Instead, offer the new food and old foods in separate bowls. Over time, offer smaller and smaller amounts of the old food along with the new food. “A little bit of hunger will help them make the transition - and resign them to at least trying the new food.”

Remember that making rapid changes in food can cause stomach upset or “hunger strikes.” So you may need to make the transition to a new food over four to seven days.

5. What’s the best method for feeding my kitten?

“Young cats need more frequent feeding,” Bough says, “But as they get older, they can go to twice-a-day feeding.”

Larsen agrees that it’s fine for young kittens to “free feed,” by making unlimited kitten food available to them all day long, and then to transition to meal eating around four to six months of age. Free-choice feeding has the additional benefit of reducing stomach distention resulting from rapid meal eating. It also helps underweight or slow-growing kittens. Of course, it’s not the best option for overweight or obese kittens. For these kittens, measured portions offered as meals or until gone is a better choice. Check packages for suggested amounts. Even with the energy needs of kittens, overfeeding can become a big problem.

“Especially control intake around the time of spaying and neutering, which increases the risk for obesity,” Larsen says. “Preventing obesity is preferable to addressing it once it’s already occurred.”

6. Are there foods I should avoid giving my kitten?

It’s OK to feed your kitten treats, as long as you follow the “10% calorie rule,” Larsen says. This means that treats should make up less than 10% of your kitten’s total calorie intake. But this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to turn your leftover table scraps into treats for your kitten.  Also, take precautions with the following foods:

  • Raw meat or liver may contain parasites and harmful bacteria.
  • Raw eggs may contain Salmonella and may decrease absorption of a B vitamin, leading to skin and hair coat problems.
  • Raw fish may lead to a B vitamin deficiency, causing loss of appetite, seizures, and even death.
  • Milk may cause diarrhea in weaned kittens and cats because they lose the enzyme needed to break down milk.

In addition, onions, garlic, chocolate, coffee, tea, raisins, or grapes can be toxic to kittens and cats.

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Reviewed on April 27, 2012
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