When they’re first born, kittens basically eat and sleep—and grow. From birth to about 7 weeks old, kittens grow from about a quarter of a pound to about 2 pounds. That means they’re gaining half an ounce a day. This amazing growth is fueled by their mother’s milk.
How to feed a kitten?
After that, kitten food takes over as fuel. Kittens need a growth formula food for a simple reason: By the time a cat is 9 months old, she is basically full-grown and sexually mature. It takes humans about 13 years to reach the same level of growth. And it takes a lot of nutrition to make that fast growth possible.
Ten-week-old kittens require about twice as much protein and 50 percent more calories per pound than do adult cats. At 12 weeks of age, a kitten’s energy needs are three times those of an adult cat. The growth rate slows by the time the kitten is 6 months old, but she still needs 25 percent more nutrition than an adult cat. High protein and high calories are really important, and kittens who don’t get a good start may have health and development problems all their lives. Accordingly, it is important to feed a nutritionally complete diet specifically formulated to support the growth of kittens.
A kitten’s body uses protein to build muscles–including heart muscle. Protein also plays an important role in circulation and coat growth. Rapid growth, along with the bursts of energy kittens display, uses up a lot of calories, and that’s where the fat comes in—fat is the most concentrated source of calories. Vitamins and minerals are important as well, especially vitamin A, which is critical for growth and metabolism. And water is vital for the health of cells and skin.
If you have purchased a pedigreed cat, the breeder should supply diet guidelines with a new kitten. This should be followed, at least for the first few days, since an abrupt change in diet can cause indigestion.
Labels on cat food packages provide recommended daily feeding amounts. They are useful guidelines but are not applicable to every kitten. As a rule, young kittens should be fed as much as they will eat. They burn calories and absorb nutrients so quickly that it’s almost impossible to overfeed them.
Kittens can be fed free choice—which may be preferable when feeding a litter—or they can be fed at specific meal times. Spread their food out over at least three meals a day, because little stomachs can only hold so much at one meal. If you’re using canned food, feed three times a day until kittens are 7 months old. Leave some dry kitten food out for snacking, too. However, with the trend toward early neutering, it’s important to realize that neutering decreases metabolism by at least 25 percent. This means that standard feeding recommendations may not be correct for a kitten neutered before 6 months of age. You need to check with your veterinarian about correct feeding practices for your kitten.
Kittens tend to gain about 1 pound a month until they reach 8 to 10 months of age. They should stay on kitten food until about 1 year. Growth slows down a bit at 6 months and levels off at about 9 months of age, but a cat is not fully an adult until about 1 year. And some cats, especially larger breeds such as Maine Coon Cats and Ragdolls, continue to grow, especially their muscles and bones, until they are 1.5 or even 2 years old.
Food preferences are generally established before a kitten is 6 months old. Therefore, it is important to accustom your kitten to eating a nutritionally complete diet at an early age. You should choose two or three products in different forms (dry and canned) that fulfill these requirements and then use them interchangeably.
Vitamin and mineral supplements are not necessary if you are feeding a nutritionally balanced diet. In fact, they may even be harmful. If your kitten is a poor eater and you think these supplements may be needed, discuss this with your veterinarian.