Bringing home a kitten is an exciting experience for the whole family. I’m sure you want to meet their needs as much as they meet yours. 

Kittens have different nutritional needs to adult cats, but with so many kitten food brands available, which do you choose? Don’t worry! We’re here to help you make a healthy choice for your kitten.

This article explains what to look for in quality kitten food, how much you should feed your kitten, and when to feed them. We also look at product naming, designer diets, and whether wet or dry food is better for your kitten. Finally, we’ll review our top five kitten foods.

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Best Cat Food For Kittens infographic

What to Look For in Quality Kitten Food

The growth stage of kittens is essential, so we want the kitten food we choose to complement their needs. Improper nutrition during the kitten phase can cause stunted growth. Nutritionally kittens need more calories, protein, and fat, due to their rapid growth and metabolism rate.

Life Stage

Check that the food you’re choosing is suitable for kittens.  Both wet and dry foods will be labeled for certain life stages. Cat foods for all life stages and kittens are both appropriate as long as you follow the feeding guidelines. Foods specifically for spayed/neutered kittens and cats are also available if you decide to sterilize your pet.

Grey and white tabby kittens in a basket
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Is it AAFCO approved?

The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guides manufacturers on the nutritional requirements for pet food. Look for a food that bears the AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy or is labeled “complete and balanced.” For a manufacturer to be able to describe their food as “complete and balanced” or display the statement, it needs to either:

  • Passed feeding trials set by AAFCO
  • Provide your pet with all the nutrients they need at the recommended ratios in the AAFCO nutrient profile.

Protein Source

Cats are obligate carnivores which means they need a meat-based protein source in their diet to survive. It’s recommended that kitten food contains 35 to 50 percent protein on a dry matter basis. Dry matter basis is the measurement of nutrients without including the moisture content in the food.

Manufacturers list ingredients in order of predominance. The first three ingredients are the most important as they make up most of your kitten food. The best kitten food always contains good quality protein in the top three.

Why Do Kittens Need Meat Protein?

Cats can’t synthesize some essential amino acids. Instead, they obtain them from meat and fish.

Taurine is an amino acid found in meat or included as an additive in kitten food. It helps maintain vision, heart function, and healthy digestion. Cats can’t produce taurine, so they need to eat meat to obtain it. If a cat is deficient in taurine, it can cause blindness, deafness, dilated cardiomyopathy, and digestive issues.

Arginine supports the liver and helps get rid of ammonia. A buildup of ammonia can cause ammonia toxicity; arginine is essential in preventing this buildup. Like taurine, it’s present in animal-based proteins.

Quality of Protein

The best quality protein source is always real meat. However, you may find other protein sources such as meat by-products or meat meals when searching for kitten food.

Meat meals can include all the tissues of a particular animal except for blood, hair, hooves, horns, hide, stomach, and rumen. The tissue has to be cooked, rendered, and dried before being added to pet food. Meat meals are often a great source of protein. However, be wary if the start of the meal isn’t specified. For example, chicken meal or beef meal is fine, but labeling it meat meal doesn’t inform us where it originates.

Meat by-products mainly consist of animal organs, as well as bone, blood, and fatty tissues. These are non-rendered and used as a cheap alternative protein source to raise levels, but by-products aren’t always good quality.

Tabby and white kitten stood on dirt
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Fat

Kittens need between 18 and 35 percent fat on a dry matter basis in their food. Dietary fats are obtained from animal fats, plants, and seed oils. Dietary fats contain essential fatty acids, which are a vital part of your cat’s diet. They promote healthy growth, cognitive development, skin, and coat. They also help provide energy and aid the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

Cats can’t synthesize omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. Therefore, they need to obtain them from their diet. All quality kitten foods should contain omega-3 and -6 at the recommended levels set by AAFCO in their nutrient profile.

Cats require linoleic acid and arachidonic acid from the omega-6 family. Omega-6 acids are present in plant oils and animal fats. Deficiencies in omega-6 can result in problems with your kitten’s skin and coat.

Omega-3 acids such as alpha-linolenic, eicosapentaenoic, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are essential for cats. Found in flaxseed, salmon, chicken, fish oil, eggs, and other marine sources. Omega-3 deficiencies may cause neurological abnormalities and reduced quality of vision.

Although all of these are essential for cats, DHA is vital for kittens. Kittens require more DHA in their diet than older cats. It supports cognitive development and retinal function.

Vitamins and Minerals

AAFCO recommends several vitamins and minerals to be present in cat foods. 

Vitamins and minerals are an essential part of a feline diet helping with weight control, vision, skin issues, and growth. Vitamin deficiencies can lead to many health problems such as heart failure and rapid weight loss. The vitamins that cats gain from meat protein are; niacin, vitamin A, and vitamin D.

Most manufacturers will add minerals as supplements, but many can also be found in the ingredients. Pet foods that bear the AAFCO statement will carry all the minerals needed at their minimum requirements.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Prebiotics and probiotics help support digestion and immune system health by promoting good bacteria in your kitten’s gut.

Moisture Content

Cats were originally desert animals, and they typically don’t drink a lot of water. As well as providing fresh water daily, the hydration they need must be present in the food they eat. It’s a good idea to feed them wet foods containing a high moisture content to supplement their natural lack of thirst. If you prefer providing your kitten dry kitten food, adding water or complementing it with a wet cat food can help prevent dehydration.

How Much Food Should I Feed My Kitten?

Black and white kitten laying on white shelf
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Kittens require more food per pound of body weight when compared to adult cats. Requirements differ due to the rapid growth and high energy levels a kitten experiences in the first year of its life. 

The weight of a kitten can more than double during the first few weeks. Supplementing their quick weight gain with the appropriate amount of food is crucial.  

Kittens usually begin to display hyperactive outbursts at approximately ten weeks old. It’s normal for kittens to have what seems to be a limitless amount of energy. However, this exertion needs replenishing with a good diet and feeding schedule. 

The cat food you eventually choose for your kitten will have recommended portion sizes you can use as guidance. Like humans, metabolic rates, activity levels, and food intake differ from one cat to another. Monitor your kitten’s physical response to the suggested routine and portion size and adjust it if needed.

Tabby kitten with pink toys infographic
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Dietary Requirements of Sterilised Kittens

If you’re planning on sterilizing your kitten, there are several things to consider regarding their health and diet. 

Sterilization has several benefits that include preventing reproductive emergencies, behavioral problems, and unwanted pregnancies. Kittens reach sexual maturity at around five months of age. Dr. Philip A. Bushby, DVM, suggests that the optimal age to sterilize a kitten is four and five months.

When a kitten is neutered or spayed, their dietary requirements change as they become less able to regulate hunger. Food intake can increase by approximately 30 percent within 48 hours of sterilization, and metabolic rate decreases. Your kitten may also become less physically active.

These factors lead to an increased risk of obesity. Your kitten’s diet needs adjusting to prevent this. Kitten food that caters to spayed/neutered felines is available, containing all the nutrients needed but with reduced calories. 

The MSD Veterinary Manual website contains this great calorie calculator to help you determine how many calories your cat needs.

When Should I Feed My Kitten?

Tabby kitten laying on its side
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Gradually, you’ll get to know your kitten and figure out what time of day they enjoy feeding. Typically, kittens under six months old will need feeding three times a day to support energy levels and growth. Their daily portion should be split into three and fed at intervals throughout the day. 

Some cats prefer to eat little, and often, recommended portions could be split into more meals if necessary. We all know how hectic life can be, and routines that require multiple feeds can be difficult to upkeep. Automatic feeders can be programmed to stagger feeds while keeping food fresh throughout the day.

Tabby kitten stalking on grass
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Keeping Meal Times Interesting

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recently explored the medical, social, and emotional problems related to how we feed our cats.

Most households feed their cats in one location, but it’s natural for cats to hunt and forage for food. Mimicking foraging by placing food in different areas around your home keeps mealtimes interesting. Foraging relieves boredom and can help prevent or alleviate stress-related health issues like cystitis and urinary tract infections. 

Puzzle feeders are another way to stimulate your cat’s mind at mealtimes. There are different designs to suit wet food or dry food, varying in complexity. You could even try and make a puzzle feeder at home! 

Environmental stimulation keeps your cat occupied, which suppresses their urge to overeat. It also prevents long periods of inactivity, reducing the risk of obesity.

Product Naming

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There’s a lot in a name; it’s the first thing you usually look at when purchasing pet food. Although the naming of a product might just seem superficial, there’s meaning to it. Manufacturers must adhere to four rules set by AAFCO when labeling pet food, they are:

  1. Ninety-five percent rule – If the food has a short name such as “Chicken for Kittens,” the named ingredient must account for 95 percent of the product. That equates to 70 percent when including water and condiments.
  2. Twenty-five percent rule – Additional words such as dinner, platter, and entree change the ruling. When named something like “Chicken Dinner for Kittens,” the named ingredient should account for a minimum of 25 percent. That equates to at least 10 percent when including water and condiments. 
  3. The ‘with’ rule – Using the word ‘with’ for example, “Kitten Dinner with Chicken,” the ingredient only needs to account for three percent of the product.  
  4. Flavor rule – Using labels such as “Chicken Flavor” means it must be detectable using animals trained to recognize particular flavors.

Designer Diets

Tabby kitten in a tree
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Designer diets cater to set aims, such as allergies or pesticide avoidance. Examples of these diets are; grain-free, organic, or novel protein. 

Grains contain essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fatty acids. Although cats are carnivorous over time, their digestive tract has adapted and become more efficient at digesting carbohydrates. Unless your kitten has a sensitivity to grain, there’s no reason to avoid them.

The most common food allergy in cats is to protein. If you suspect your kitten is sensitive to protein, trying a novel protein diet may benefit them. These diets contain protein sources that your kitten is not likely to have tried before. The aim is to eliminate the protein source that is causing the problem. 

Should I Feed My Kitten Wet or Dry Food

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Both wet foods and dry foods have benefits and disadvantages when it comes to your kitten’s health. The main thing to remember is your cat is carnivorous, so make sure the food you choose contains a meat source.

Wet food contains plenty of animal proteins and fats, and fewer carbohydrates are needed to produce them. Dry cat food usually has a higher carbohydrate content due to the grains used to manufacture them. An increased carbohydrate intake can make your cat more susceptible to conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

As we mentioned earlier, the moisture content of cat food is crucial as cats and kittens don’t usually drink very much. Cats on an exclusively dry food diet are more likely to suffer from dehydration and constipation. They are also at a higher risk of developing urinary tract infections which can lead to kidney disease. Wet cat food increases your cat’s water intake, which can help prevent these health conditions. 

In general, wet food is much tastier and more enjoyable for your kitten to eat. However, it isn’t great for your cat’s teeth as it tends to coat the enamel. In comparison, the abrasive nature of dry food is fantastic for oral health.

Another point to consider is cost. Keeping up with the expense of a canned cat food diet can be difficult, whereas dry food is much more cost-effective.

A combination of wet food and dry food is something you may want to consider. This way, your cat will gain the benefits of both.  

Our Top Five

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#1

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5/5

Our Overview

Royal Canin kitten food is perfectly nutritionally balanced wet food for your kitten’s needs. Available in a range of pack sizes from six to 24 packs of 3-ounce cans. The small thin slices of this food make it easy for your kitten to eat and enjoy.

This particular recipe caters to kittens between four months and one year. Royal Canin produces specific diets for younger kittens and sterilized kittens alongside this.

The first three ingredients are chicken by-products, chicken, and chicken liver. Although the first ingredient is by-products, the nutritional balance meets AAFCO standards, and it contains the ideal ratio of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. The other meat-based ingredients included in this diet are reassuring and provide rich, high-quality protein content.

Pork plasma is used as a natural binder; it’s rich in protein and supports the digestion of other ingredients. In addition to pork plasma, this wet kitten food also contains fiber and prebiotics that aid digestion and growth. Fish oils in this recipe provide DHA, which helps support your growing kitten’s brain development.

Royal Canin is a respected brand, and their food is formulated with a lot of consideration for your growing kitten. Consumers say their kittens love the taste of this food and find it highly digestible, although it is a bit pricey.

Pros:

  • Perfectly balanced nutrients.
  • High protein content.
  • High moisture content.
  • Quality protein.
  • Contains prebiotics.
  • Contains essential fatty acids.

Cons:

  • Contains meat by-products.
  • Expensive.

Our Overview

Blue Buffalo presents a mouth-watering meal in a 24 pack of 3-ounce cans. This high-protein recipe has been carefully formulated to meet the nutritional needs of your kitten. 

Cats can be picky eaters, and sometimes it’s a case of food texture aversion rather than taste. The Blue Buffalo Wilderness kitten food is available in a range of flavorful cuts, so you’re sure to find the perfect choice for your cat. 

The first three ingredients in Blue Buffalo are real chicken, chicken liver, and chicken broth. This alliance forms a fantastic protein-rich diet for your kitten to enjoy. The choice of a pate makes it easy for kittens to eat, and it’s high in moisture to help keep your furry buddy hydrated.

This kitten formula is enhanced with vitamins, minerals, and other welcome additions such as salmon oil, a quality source of DHA to help support your kitten’s cognitive development. It also contains flaxseed which contains dietary fiber that benefits intestinal health and helps prevent constipation.  

This tasty dish is grain-free and has no added by-products, artificial preservatives, flavors, and colors, making it highly digestible. 

Pros:

  • Quality protein.
  • High protein content.
  • Contains DHA.
  • Grain-free.
  • Free from artificial preservatives, color, and flavors.
  • High moisture content.

Cons:

  • Upset some kittens’ stomachs.

Our Overview

Wellness Complete Health dry kitten food provides a nutritionally complete and balanced diet for your growing kitten. Available in two sizes; 2.25-pound or 5.5-pound bags, which are resealable to lock in freshness and flavor.

This kibble is free from everything you want to avoid feeding your kitten, like artificial preservatives, colors, and flavors. It’s also free from grain, replaced with carbohydrates like peas, a highly digestible alternative. 

Peas contain vitamins B1, C, K, and dietary fiber. They also contain minerals; manganese, copper, potassium, and iron. All these nutrients are great for the overall health of your kitten and help support the digestive tract. 

Wellness is well known for not using by-products in their foods. Deboned chicken is the first ingredient, followed by chicken meal in this protein-rich recipe. This healthy protein blend promotes lean muscle while supporting your kitten’s growth. 

Cranberries are another great ingredient! These are naturally rich in vitamin C, which helps prevent bacteria from developing in your kitty’s urinary tract. This food contains flaxseed which is high in fiber, excellent news for your little one’s digestive system. The essential fatty acids necessary for healthy cognitive development, vision, skin, and coat are also contained in this food.

Most kittens adore this excellent quality kibble, and consumers love the ingredients. Unfortunately, this food isn’t for every kitten, and some pickier eaters won’t eat it.

Pros:

  • Quality protein.
  • High protein content.
  • Contains DHA.
  • Grain-free.
  • Free from artificial preservatives, color, and flavors.

Cons:

  • Low moisture content.
  • Some kittens don’t like it.

Our Overview

Hill’s science diet dry kitten food comes in a range of pack sizes from 3.5-pounds to 15.5-pounds. The pack is resealable to lock in flavor and freshness, and it’s formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO.

Chicken is the first ingredient which is an excellent source of protein and amino acids. However, brown rice and wheat gluten are second and third, while chicken appears to be the only meat-based protein. Nevertheless, egg is also included, which is another highly digestible protein. 

This recipe also contains chicken fat which is high in linoleic acid, great for maintaining healthy skin. As well as DHA sourced from fish oil which helps support vision and cognitive development.  

It’s rich in fiber and minerals such as phosphorus and magnesium, gained from brown rice. It also contains whole grain oats that provide your kitten with B vitamins and minerals like manganese. In addition, oats are a fantastic source of dietary fiber, which helps prevent constipation.

Hill’s science diet is free from artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, and by-products, with no unnecessary ingredients. Consumers say their kittens are very robust when fed on this diet. Although, I feel the meat-based protein content could be better.

Pros:

  • Quality protein.
  • Contains DHA.
  • Rich in fiber and minerals.
  • Added taurine.
  • Free from artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.

Cons:

  • Low moisture content.
  • Low meat-based protein content.

#5

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5/5

Our Overview

Purina pro plan comes in a 24 pack of 3-ounce cans. There are a variety of flavors including, chicken and liver, ocean whitefish and tuna, and salmon and ocean fish. This pack also contains classic and flacked textures, which gives you an excellent opportunity to try your kitten with new things.

Fish and chicken are the first ingredients in this entree, depending on the flavor. Other meat-based proteins and liver are also included in the top three, creating quality protein content. However, meat by-products are also close to the top of the ingredients list; we consider these inferior as we can’t be sure of the quality.

This kitten formula has added taurine to maintain healthy vision and DHA to support cognitive development. Purina pro plan is a well-balanced recipe that contains the nutrients needed to nourish your little one’s immune system development.

Consumers say that kittens love the taste of this food, although some have reported bouts of diarrhea. Some kittens’ stomachs will be more sensitive than others; it’s just a case of trial and error when trying new foods. 

Pros:

  • Quality protein.
  • Well-balanced.
  • Contains DHA.
  • Added taurine.

Cons:

  • Contains meat by-products.
  • It caused diarrhea in some kittens.

FAQs

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Can I Give My Kitten Milk?

No, most cats have an intolerance to lactose, the sugar in milk. Young kittens produce the enzyme lactase that enables them to digest lactose and thrive from drinking their mother’s milk. 

As young kittens become adult cats, they produce less lactase, and eventually, most cats can’t digest lactose. A lack of lactase can result in milk intolerance. Drinking it can cause diarrhea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal problems in felines. The best drink you can give your cat is water.

Grey and white kitten laying on green textile
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How Do I Change My Kittens Food to Another Brand?

Switching from one diet to another isn’t as straightforward as it seems. When adopting or purchasing a kitten, be sure to know what your kitten is being fed. If you choose to change your kitten’s diet, it will need to be phased out gradually, so it doesn’t cause gastrointestinal upset.

According to the Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, transitioning food is best done over seven days. The general guidelines for switching foods begin with a ratio of 1:9 new food to old food. The percentage of new food should gradually increase day by day until day seven, when your cat should have transitioned entirely to the new food. 

When Can I Change My Kittens Food to Adult Cat Food?

Transitioning from kitten food to adult cat food is dependent on age, weight, and breed. Usually, a kitten will reach their adult body weight at around 12 months old, which is an excellent time to change foods. 

However, some large cats like Ragdolls and Maine Coons don’t reach adult weight until much later. Consult your veterinarian to discuss the best time for transitioning larger breeds.

Cream kitten asleep in plant pot
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Let’s Wrap it Up!

Overall, our favorite wet food is Royal Canin. This kitten food is high in protein and contains all the nutrients your kitten needs and more. Royal Canin’s recipe is rich in fiber, prebiotics, and other nutrients that help support and aid digestion. Not only is this food exceptionally well balanced, but kittens also adore the taste.

If it’s a dry food you want, Wellness Complete Health Natural, grain-free kitten food is a fantastic choice. It’s an excellent recipe, great if your kitten is sensitive to grain. Grains are substituted for highly digestible carbohydrates, and it has a good quality high protein content.

We all want the best for our pets, and the best begins with keeping them healthy. We hope we’ve helped you find suitable food for your beautiful growing kitten.

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Molli Ze

Molli's mission is to help cat parents care for their fur babies, in the easiest way possible. To do this, we share a plethora of guides and unbiased reviews to help you get what you need. She hopes that through our site, she can make life a little easier, and perhaps more affordable, for cat parents by helping you dodge expensive mistakes and mishaps.

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