Providing your kitten with the proper nutrition goes way beyond just putting fresh food in a clean bowl. Your kitten’s nutritional needs will change as their body develops through adolescence and into adulthood. Proper nutrition during these critical growth periods will help your kitten mature into a strong, healthy adult cat.
The nutritional needs of kittens and cats are vastly different, and it’s critical to give your pet premium age-appropriate nutrition. Here’s everything you need to know about kitten food vs. cat food and how to feed your growing kitten.
What to Feed a Kitten at Each Stage of Development
Rapid Growth Stage: 2 to 6 Months
After kittens are weaned, they enter a stage of rapid growth, which lasts until they’re 6 months old. They need a high-quality, balanced diet with every bite packed with the nutrients and energy needed to sustain such rapid development. The best choice is a premium kitten food with animal-based proteins. It should be highly digestible, nutrient-dense and designed to meet kittens’ unique nutritional needs, such as
Opens a new windowIAMS™ PROACTIVE HEALTH™ Healthy Kitten with Chicken.
Kittens require twice as much energy as adult cats on a per-pound basis. But their smaller mouths, teeth and stomachs limit the amount of food they can digest during a single meal. It’s best to divide the total daily food amount recommended on the kitten food packaging into three or four smaller meals.
Adolescence Stage: 6 to 12 Months
As kittens approach adult size, their nutritional requirements begin to change again. Their rate of growth begins to slow, activity levels may decline and they can start eating fewer, larger meals each day. During this stage, kittens begin to look like adults, but they are still growing and need the special nutrition found in kitten food. Continue feeding your adolescent kitten a high-quality kitten food, such as
Opens a new windowIAMS™ ProActive Health™ Healthy Kitten with Chicken.
During the adolescent growth stage, many cat owners are tempted to change a kitten’s food for variety. But cats do not get bored with a consistent diet of high-quality dry food, and giving a kitten “human food” and table scraps can lead to undesirable behaviors, such as begging or stealing food.
Additionally, feeding homemade diets, food formulated for adult cats (especially formulas designed for weight loss) or supplementing an already complete and balanced diet with vitamins could cause nutritional disorders. You can, however, supplement your kitten’s dry food with a nutrient-dense
Opens a new windowwet kitten or all-life-stages food for a nutritious — and tasty —
Adult Stage: 12 Months and Beyond
At about 12 months of age, your kitten will reach their full adult size. Your young adult cat no longer needs calorie-dense kitten food to fuel growth and is ready for a diet of adult cat food.
When to Stop Feeding Your Cat Kitten Food
When your cat is about 12 months old, it’s time to switch to a maintenance formula adult cat food, such as
Opens a new windowIAMS™ ProActive Health™ Adult Original with Chicken. At this age, cats no longer need the extra calories and nutrients found in kitten food. As with any change in a cat’s diet, remember to gradually transition from kitten food to adult food over a period of several days.
How to Transition from Kitten to Adult Cat Food
To avoid intestinal upsets, make the change from a kitten formula to an adult diet over a period of four days with the following method:
- Day One: Fill your cat’s dish with 75% kitten food and 25% adult food.
- Day Two: Mix adult and kitten food in a 50/50 ratio.
- Day Three: Feed your cat a mixture that's 75% adult food and 25% kitten food.
- Day Four: Switch to 100% adult formula.
Because cats generally eat only what they need, free-choice feeding is fine for most cats. (With free-choice feeding, you can provide food to your cat around the clock and let them eat when and how much they need.) Indoor cats that don’t get much exercise, however, may overeat if fed free-choice. For them, portion-controlled feeding twice a day is a better routine.
To determine how much food to give your cat, check the recommendations of the pet food manufacturer on the label. Use the guidelines, monitor your cat’s weight and body condition during the transition, and adjust feeding portions if necessary. If your cat is gaining or losing weight and shouldn’t be, slightly adjust their daily intake and weigh them again the following week.
How to Choose an Adult Cat Food
Make sure to choose an adult cat food that provides the same high-quality nutrition as a premium kitten food. Downgrading to a basic nutrition brand at this stage of your cat’s life may upset their digestive system and won’t provide them with the same type of nutrition they were raised on. Premium foods like IAMS™ are formulated to meet all of your cat’s needs and provide additional benefits. They’re specifically designed to provide your cat with a formula that features:
- High-quality ingredients
- Complete and balanced levels of protein, fat, moderately fermentable fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which make costly supplements unnecessary
- High-quality recipes and great taste
- Standards that meet or exceed Association of American Feed Control Officials standards
- Nutrient-dense formulas that are right for each life stage
- Product guarantees
All of these premium features add up to a happy, healthy cat. With premium dry cat food, you can expect to see these important indicators of good health:
- Exceptional muscle tone
- A shiny, luxurious coat
- Healthy skin and bones
- Clear, bright eyes and clean teeth
- Small, firm stools
Founded on decades of research, premium formulas from IAMS™ help maintain your cat’s health and help provide her with the nutrition she needs for a long life.
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Confused by the ingredient list on your kitten’s food? You’re not alone. Marketing pet foods that have “human-grade ingredients” is becoming commonplace. While appealing to many pet owners, it is important to be aware that the term “human grade” has no legal definition and is used primarily for marketing purposes.
Foods, typically meats, are labeled either as “edible” or “inedible, not for human consumption.” Once a food leaves the human food chain, even if it is of outstanding quality, it has to be labeled “inedible, not for human consumption.” Therefore, meats used in pet food must be labeled as “inedible,” regardless of the source or quality of the meat. The only way to make a pet food with ingredients deemed “edible” is to never let the meat leave the human food chain and actually manufacture the pet food in a human food facility and transport it using human food trucks. Therefore, advertising a product as containing “human-grade ingredients” is untrue if it is not manufactured in a human food facility. However, just because a pet food isn’t marketed as being “human grade” does not mean that the ingredients are poor quality.
Here are some tips to help understand ingredient labels:
- The ingredient list is not the only method you should use to select a pet food, because it doesn’t provide pet owners with enough information about the quality of the ingredients or the nutritional adequacy of the overall diet.
- Instead of concentrating on ingredients, pet owners and veterinarians should look at the AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement and the quality control protocols of the manufacturer. For more information, see the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s brochure “Selecting the Best Food for your Pet,” available at
Opens a new windowwww.wsava.org/nutrition-toolkit.
- The ingredient list may be arranged to make foods as appealing as possible to consumers by the order of the ingredients (e.g., having lamb first on the ingredient list) or inclusion of seemingly desirable ingredients in the diet, but often in such small amounts that they have little or no nutritional benefits (e.g., artichokes and raspberries listed after the vitamin and mineral supplements).
- Having more ingredients does not make a diet more nutritious.
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