Feeding a kitten involves more than simply filling clean bowls with fresh food and water. A kitten needs appropriate nutrition to grow into a strong, active and healthy adult cat. Here’s what you need to know about a kitten’s nutritional needs to get your feline friend off on the right paw.
Key kitten growth milestones
As a general rule, cats less than 1 year of age are considered kittens. They grow quickly, maturing into adulthood by the time they’re 10 to 12 months old. Cat breeds are more consistent in size and shape compared to dogs. Although kitten growth rates vary by breed, the differences aren’t nearly as dramatic as those seen with dogs of different breed sizes.
The feline growth phase also isn’t as rapid as the growth phase of dogs. But that said, kittens move into a stage of rapid growth after weaning (at around 8 weeks old) in which nutrient and energy needs exceed those for any other life stage except lactation. A kitten’s energy requirements are highest at about 10 weeks of age and gradually decline, although a kitten’s energy needs stay relatively high through 6 months of age.
Around the 6-month mark, a kitten’s growth rate begins to slow. Your kitten will likely reach 80 percent of his or her adult size at about 8 months of age. Cats reach skeletal maturity between 9 and 12 months of age, with the exception of Maine coon cats. Maine coon cats generally grow at a slower rate and may take up to 2 years (possibly longer!) to be fully grown.
Adult body weight is often reached when cats are between 9 and 10 months of age, with large breed cats taking longer to reach full size. Additional weight gain after 12 months of age may occur and typically represents muscle development and maturation.
How a kitten’s nutritional needs are different
Because kittens are growing during their first year, their nutritional requirements will be different from adult cats. Kittens’ needs for fat, some fatty acids and most vitamins are the same as adult cats’, according to Jennifer Larsen, DVM, PhD, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist at the University of California, Davis. But kittens have higher requirements for protein, calcium, phosphorus, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and vitamin A.
Cat owners know the importance of protein, particularly meat protein, for cats. While an adult cat’s protein requirement is already relatively high, a growing kitten’s protein requirement is even higher. Just as important, at least 19 percent of the food must come from animal protein sources to meet a growing kitten’s requirement for sulfur-containing amino acids (i.e., taurine, cysteine and methionine).
Meeting kittens’ energy needs during the early growth phase can be challenging. Like all pets, kittens need to eat an adequate amount of nutrients every day. But their small stomach capacity limits the amount of food they can eat during a single meal. To meet the needs of growing kittens, their food needs to be packed with nutrition and offered as three or four smaller meals. But as kittens grow and approach their adult size, you can reduce the number of meals provided throughout the day.
Choosing food for your kitten
To give your feline friend a healthy start, your kitten’s diet should be tailored to the specific needs of his or her life stage. Kittens can eat a food designed just for them or one that’s formulated for all life stages.
If you feed a kitten-specific formula, such as Diamond Naturals Kitten Chicken & Rice Formula, the food should be fed until your cat is 1 year old. Your kitten may start looking like an adult cat around 10 months of age, but he or she is still growing and needs the nutrition provided by a kitten formula.
Diamond Naturals Active Cat Chicken Meal & Rice Formula can also be fed to growing kittens, in addition to adult cats, because it’s formulated for all life stages.
Both Diamond Naturals cat foods provide all the nutrients growing kittens need for steady, proper growth while reducing the risk for obesity. Both formulas are fortified with added DHA which is vital for normal vision and nervous system development, taurine for heart and retina (vision) health, and cat-specific probiotics for digestive and immune support.
Nutrition during the first nine to 12 months of your kitten’s life is critical for proper growth and development. Selecting an appropriate food helps ensure your kitten grows into a healthy cat. If you have any questions about what, when and how much to feed your kitten, be sure to talk with your veterinarian.
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