Ignore those adorable illustrations in children's books that show kittens gleefully lapping up a saucer of milk. There’s so much more to providing your kitten with a nutritionally balanced diet than meets they eye and cow’s milk didn’t even make the list!
As with humans there's no real substitute for the benefits of a mother’s milk. A queen’s milk provides her kittens with essential nutrients and vital antibodies needed to protect against various diseases. Your kitten should be fed their mother’s milk until they are at least three weeks old.
Feed orphan kittens on milk replacement with the help of an eyedropper or small syringe. Do not feed them cow's milk as they lack the correct enzymes to break down lactose. If you use a nursing bottles be aware that some kittens cannot suck the contents through the small nipple so you may need to actually squeeze the milk out for the kitten while having the nipple in the kitty's mouth. Make sure you warm it up in some hot water first.
By the time your kitten is seven weeks old they should be completely weaned from their mother and it becomes your responsibility to ensure that your kitten receives the right balance of vitamins and nutrients. After all, most cats never learn to cook for themselves.
How does a kitten's diet vary from an adult cat’s?
Your kitten's weight is likely to double or even triple in the first few weeks of it’s life. You should take this and your kittens level of activity into account when feeding your kitten as they will need more energy than adult cats to sustain their rapid growth. This also means that kittens require more protein, amino acids, minerals and other vitamins than an adult cat. Something has to fuel that endless energy! By six months their development has slowed down and you can start transitioning to an adult diet.
What’s for dinner?
Kittens develop 75 per cent of their adult body weight in the first six months of their lives so providing them with enough proteins, fats and oils, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates and water is essential for nourishing a healthy body.
The best way to ensure that your kitten gets the right nutrition is with a high quality commercially-produced cat food, specifically designed to meet the needs of growing kittens. Look for a food especially formulated for kittens, with a protein source such as chicken listed in the first four ingredients. Supplement this with the occasional healthy, nutritious treat. The RSPCA recommends that you avoid feeding too much raw meat to your kitten until it is 20 weeks old.
It’s also an idea to allow your kitten access to grass as this can be a source of vegetable matter and nutrients. Grow some cat grass inside, or let your cat out to pasture in an outdoor cat enclosure. But beware of toxic plants and keep them out of your yard and your home.
Dry food vs wet food
Both dry and wet food have their advantages for cats but are both beneficial to your kitten's development. Incorporating wet food into your kitten’s diet when it is first weaned will help it obtain the nutrients that it needs to grow. A bit of variety doesn’t go amiss either.
Giving your cat raw bones to chew on during the teething period (4 to 7 months old) can alleviate pains and provide some extra calcium. Bones should always be raw and introduced gradually, they should be big enough so your kitten can’t fit the whole thing in their mouth at once. Always supervise your kitten when they’re eating bones.
I just fed you...didn’t I?
If you feel like your kitten is constantly eating you’re probably not wrong. As we mentioned earlier kittens need as much as three time more energy that their adult counterparts- the RSPCA suggests offering your kitten food four times a day.
Alternatively, leave some dry food out for your cat to snack on when it wants. Cats are natural grazers and can eat up to 15 small meals a day. However, you should discard any uneaten wet food after 20 minutes and uneaten dry food after 12 hours or less.
Kittens generally dislike their food being refrigerated - remember that cats used to hunt for their food, and there’s nothing tastier for them than a fresh, warm kill. Food should be kept and served at room temperature or even lukewarm.
Be careful when making changes to your kitten’s food, done too quickly it can cause stomach upset or hunger strikes. It’s a good idea to make introduce the new food gradually over 4 to 7 days.
By the time that your kitten reaches 12 months it’s earned the title of full-grown cat. Congratulations! For more on taking care of your kitten click here.