The Best Kitten Food & Nutrition (Our Top 6 Picks)
So, you’ve adopted a new little feline into your family – good on you! Having a cute little kitten pouncing around your home can be a heart-warming sight to behold. But beyond the cuteness and fuzzy warm feelings, adopting a new kitten comes with a whole lot of responsibility. One of the most important things you need to take into account is their health.
Cats in general are prone to many different health conditions as they grow older. But making sure that they get the right nutrition while they’re young can help prevent a variety of problems that might arise in the future. So while your cat is a little kitten, it’s up to you to make the right dietary choices for him in order to lower the risk of disease.
There are lots of different options on the market, but which one is the best kitten food for your little guy? Discover the ins and outs of kitten food and find out our top picks with this comprehensive guide and review.
Quick Look: The 6 Best Kitten Food Options
Why Do Kittens Need Different Food from Adult Cats?
Just like human babies that survive mostly on breast milk and baby food during their first few years, so do kittens require a different diet compared to their adult cat counterparts. The main reason behind this is the fact that little cats still need to grow and develop. You’ll notice this when you read labels on cat food – choices intended for kittens should state “for growth and development.” Those for adult cats are formulated for “maintenance.”
As kittens grow older, their nutritional needs change. By the time they’re adults, you can completely switch them over to an adult cat diet to better meet these changing dietary requirements.
What are the Nutritional Requirements for Kittens?
A major difference between the dietary needs of kittens and grown cats is protein to fat ratio. As regulated by the FDA, kittens’ food needs to contain at least 22% protein and 8% fat. For adults, the suggested protein and fat content is at 18% and 5% respectively. The higher concentration in kitten food helps support its growth, giving it the foundation to build lean muscle mass.
In terms of caloric value, kitten food also needs to have quite a little extra compared to adult cat food. This is because kittens tend to play more and spend more energy compared to grown felines. But because they also have much smaller stomachs, kittens need to get enough calories even with their smaller eating capacity. So food that’s densely packed with macronutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, and fats can give just the right amount of calories even if a kitten eats just a small amount.
In terms of micronutrients, kittens also require a lot more than adult cats. Substances like phosphorus and calcium are essential for cats to help support bone growth and organ health. In adult cats, an excess of micronutrients might actually be harmful, as they can concentrate in the urine and cause kidney disease which is fairly common in older felines.
Wet vs Dry Food for Kittens
There has been a long-standing debate among cat owners on whether dry or wet food is best for kittens. Fortunately, there are a lot of regulations in place that help protect consumers from unscrupulous products and brands. So what you see on a kitten food’s label is probably exactly what it contains.
In terms of nutritional value, the labels don’t lie. With that, it’s safe to assume that both wet and dry food can meet the specific dietary needs of your kitten, as long as you make sure to read the labels. The only major distinction between these two forms of cat food is that wet food keeps your kitten’s hydration intact.
Keep in mind that most cats are prone to kidney disease as a result of poor maintenance of ideal pH balance. This occurs when you give them food that saps their system of necessary hydration. Experts suggest that it’s ideal to reinforce the renal system as early as possible in order to reduce the risk for kidney disease as your cat grows.
Then again, kibble is always more convenient. Dry cat pellets can be left out for hours without having to worry about spoilage. So if you’re a working pet parent and you need to leave your cat home for extended hours, dry food might seem like a practical choice.
It’s recommended that cat owners try to interchange between dry and wet food to get the best of both worlds. So if you need to leave your kitten home, you can leave out dry food. But as long as you’re home and available to keep an eye on your pet, it’s ideal to serve wet food.
Food to Avoid Feeding Your Kitten
Some pet owners like to dabble in making home-made food for kittens. In most cases, this might be the best choice especially if you spend some time studying what’s good for growing felines. Aside from that though, you might also want to stay in the know regarding the foods you should avoid giving your kitten at all costs.
1. Onions and Garlic
In a typical human diet, onions and garlic help add flavor to our favorite savory meals. But given to a kitten, these ingredients can cause damage to red blood cells, and consequently lead to anemia. In larger amounts, they can be toxic and cause weakness, general malaise, vomiting, loss of appetite, and blood in your kitten’s stool or urine.
In case your kitten accidentally ingests copious amounts of garlic or onion, be sure to send him straight to the vet’s clinic.
2. Raw Meat, Its Bones, and Raw Eggs
Domesticated cats have come a long way from how they once were in the wild. So although you might think that a diet of raw meat, fish, bones, and anything else that’s raw works well for wild cats, they might not be the best choice for your domesticated feline.
Cats that live mostly indoors and that are fed mostly store-bought cat food will have different digestive bacterial flora than those in the wild. So their stomachs might not be prepared to process raw food.
Another potential problem here is that raw food can contain things like E. Coli, which can be fatal when untreated. When it comes to bones, larger ones can be difficult to crush and chew, so they become a choking hazard for house cats.
If you’re interested in making home-made food for your kitten, make sure to avoid raw meats and egg. If you still want to use them though, you should make sure that they’re cleaned thoroughly, and that you cook them slightly to kill off any existing bacteria.
3. Chocolate and Coffee
Chocolate and coffee both contain caffeine – a substance that’s known to increase blood pressure and heart rate. When taken in copious amounts, this can cause changes in your kitten’s heart rate and blood pressure, leading to an arrhythmia or palpitations.
Chocolate can also be doubly dangerous because it contains theobromine. This stimulant can cause seizures and tremors, and might even result to heart problems in the long run. Be sure to avoid these two ingredients – and any others that might contain caffeine or theobromine – when preparing food for your kitten.
If you thought you could give your kitten some store-bought, fresh cow’s milk, you thought wrong. While Tom – one of the most iconic cats from our favorite childhood cartoons – seemed to love his fair share of fresh milk, experts actually recommend against giving fresh dairy to your little kittens or adult cats.
A fact many of us don’t seem to know is that most cats are born lactose intolerant. Thus, giving dairy in any of its forms could cause diarrhrea. Once a kitten develops diarrhea, it becomes very easy to suffer dehydration. An early insult to a cat’s renal system could make it particularly prone to kidney disease in the future. What’s more, diarrhea can be fatal especially because it progresses quickly.
How Often Should You Feed a Kitten
According to experts, kittens should be fed at least three times a day. This should help it receive the right amount of calories in a day in order to meet his dietary needs for growth. So one meal in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening should be sufficient for proper growth and development.
Once your kitten reaches at least 6 months of age, it’s possible to feed it just twice a day. This should help prevent your cat from becoming overweight, and will prepare it for the shift in dietary needs for older cats.
Common Health Issues with Kittens and How the Right Food Can Help
Because of their small, often sensitive little bodies, kittens are prone to a variety of health conditions that might not commonly affect adult cats. Many of these conditions can be simple, but often turn fatal when they’re poorly addressed. Fortunately, certain changes to or aspects of your kitten’s diet can easily help you resolve many of these problems with little fuss.
Diarrhea in kittens can signal a variety of problems. But if you notice that your cat is experiencing diarrhea after a recent change – most commonly in his diet – you might want to consider how a cat adjusts to new food.
A kitten that has been fed the same kibble or wet food for several months will have a stomach that’s adjusted to that specific formulation. If you abruptly change your kitten’s diet, it’s possible to induce diarrhea because of the new formulation being introduced into your cat’s gut.
To resolve the matter, you may want to revert back to your kitten’s original diet for 2-3 days, and then slowly incorporate the new food into his bowl. Start with ¼ of the new food mixed with ¾ of the old food. Then work your way towards a complete change by adjusting the ratio slightly as the days go by. This will help your kitten’s system adjust to the new food with a lower risk of diarrhea.
Upper Respiratory Infection
Although older cats are equally prone to upper respiratory tract infections, kittens are particularly at risk. When a kitten develops an infection, it’s easy to diagnose by way of a runny nose, watery eyes, and a lack of appetite.
Fortunately, problems with the upper respiratory tract can be easily resolved with lots of care, water, medications, and a proper diet. At this time, you may want to switch your cat to wet food to be delivered from a syringe, as they will most likely refuse to eat on their own. Plus, wet food will provide extra hydration that also helps with recovery.
Upper respiratory tract infections in kitten usually ease up within 1-2 weeks, as long as they get enough rest, medication, food, and hydration.
Kittens should be dewormed regularly to get rid of intestinal parasites. In case you miss a scheduled deworming and find that your kitten is showing signs of a parasitic infestation of the digestive system, it’s vital that you seek urgent medical attention as this can be fatal.
On top of that, it would be helpful to keep your kitten on a high fiber diet to make it easier to flush out any parasites in its gut. It would be even better if you could give your kitten ground pumpkin seeds which are proven to help cats with digestive problems.
If you want to be doubly sure, you might want to check in with your cat’s doctor to get a professional opinion on the most ideal vet recommended kitten food for your little feline’s specific case.
Advice on Buying Kitten Food
Read the Label
Remember that kittens need more protein, fat, and calories compared to their older, adult counterparts. Read the labels before you make a purchase and be sure you’re choosing something that’s at least 22% protein, and 8% fat.
Research has found that organic pet food might be slightly more beneficial than those that are made from non-organic ingredients. Pet food formulations that make use of real animal meat and that contain as close to zero additives, flavorings, colorings, and other synthetic ingredients as possible are closer to natural and provide better nutrition. Cat food that’s at least 95% organic will have a seal from the USDA for your guidance. So be sure to keep an eye out for that stamp.
Your kitten will start establishing preferences as soon as it can start to take solids. So add some variety into its diet by purchasing different types of cat food in small amounts. Once you notice a preference, you can go ahead and stock up on what your kitten likes best to make sure he finishes up his food every time it’s served.
Know Your Brands
There are some cat food brands out there that are just better than others – and that’s not all subjective. To guarantee quality for their consumers, the best kitten food brands undergo AAFCO trials which help ensure the safety and quality of cat food. You can read more about these trials here.
The Top 6 Kitten Food Reviews
You’d be surprised how well kitten mixers can be at providing your cat optimal nutrition. Take Instinct Freeze Dried Raw Boost Mixers for example which we find to be the best frozen kitten food. Intended as a topper for your kitten’s usual diet, these morsels are packed with 36% protein and 26% fat, meaning each serving can satisfy your kitten’s needs and more.
Aside from being packed with the right macronutrients, these freeze dried toppers are also full of micronutrients that help keep a kitten healthy from the outside in. Plus, these also make it insanely easy to mix up your kitten’s diet by offering it a variety of textures as a base and then adding the toppers as a pop of texture and crunch.
What better way to start your kitten out on a solid diet than with a Fancy Feast? Known to be one of the best canned kitten food, the brand leverages appealing formulations for cats of all ages. Their savory recipes are often a big hit with cats, so you can be sure your little kitten will gobble down every last bite when a Fancy Feast is served.
This particular formulation was developed specifically for growing cats, so it gives just the right amounts of protein, fat, and calories in order to meet those daily needs.
For pet owners who want a reliable dry food to leave behind with their little kitten while they’re away at work, we think the Iams Proactive Health Healthy Kitten kibble is the best dry kitten food there is.
Made with real chicken and zero fillers, this formulation promises to provide the right amount of protein for your growing cat. What makes it a great pick is the fact that it also provides the right micronutrients to support eye health, cognitive development, a strong immune system, and healthy digestion.
While it might not be specifically for kittens, the contents of Stella & Chewy’s Freeze Dried Food for Cats might very well be one of the better picks for your growing feline. With up to 45% protein and 25% fat, this particular formulation works best as a topper. But you can be sure that when your kitten finishes his serving of this particular cat food, he’s consumed all the protein and fat he needs in order to sustain healthy growth.
Another top pick from Purina, ONE Healthy Kitten Formula, a dry food that's packed with nutrition from real fish, poultry, and meat, and boasts a balanced formulation to keep your kitten in top health. It also comes in several other recipes that are developed to give your kitten the right care for his specific dietary and nutritional needs.
Finally, the Purina ONE Healthy Kitten Formula is one of the cheapest on our list. So if you’re looking for quality nutrition at a reasonable cost, this might be the right choice for you.
The final pick on our list is Purina’s Pro Plan Focus Wet Kitten Food. Made with a similar formulation to their dry kibble, this specific wet kitten food boasts a complete nutrient profile to keep your little feline healthy and satisfied. The wet formulation also helps keep kidney health intact, making it a great starter food if you feel that your cat might be predisposed to kidney disease.
The only reason why we couldn’t rank it any higher is because of its price tag, but if you’ve got a little extra to spare, then it might be a good pick.
It’s important to start your kitten out on the right foot when it comes to his health and wellness – so be sure to make the right choice. The best kitten food based on our standards is the Take Nature’s Variety Instinct Freeze Dried Raw Boost Mixers. There are a lot of other great choices too though, so be sure to scan through our recommendations to find a pick that’s perfect for your little kitty.