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Everything you need to know about a kitten's nutrition

black and white kitten eating from a bowl advice
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Kittens develop 15 times faster than human babies and by one year old they are adults. But they need great nutrition to get there. Find out everything there is to know about kitten nutrition.

By Nick Whittle

To feed a kitten the right kind of food is to give him the very best start in life. His body needs calories, protein, fatty acids and vitamins to grow.

Imagine not giving your cat any food or giving him the wrong sort of food. What do you think would happen? He wouldn’t be very well, without question.

He would become dehydrated and malnourished. His bones would grow but with lots of abnormalities; his eye sight wouldn’t develop very well and more than likely his lack of a decent immune system would allow a nasty disease to take hold.

But then it isn’t just the immediate effects that matter. An adult cat that wasn’t looked after as a kitten is a contender for a whole host of diseases. For instance, he is more prone to cancers and kidney disease, and his liver and kidneys may not work as well as they should.

All in all, he would be in a sorry state, because he wasn’t given the right start in life.

So, kitten nutrition is about as important as it gets. And here we’re going to look at exactly what people mean when they talk about the right kind of kitten nutrition.

Weaning

Let’s first talk about weaning. When he reaches one month old you should begin to train your kitten to eat food rather than to suckle his mum. This process - called weaning - is concerned with gradually introducing the kitten to what will be his adult diet and at the same time withdrawing the supply of his mother's milk.

Weaning has to be done gradually: to properly wean a kitten takes around eight weeks.

Remember: kittens grow fast. In the first few weeks of life their weight can triple. Once he is weaned, in order to help him along the way, you have to feed him good quality nutrients and minerals, and a food that contains good sources of calories.

A fully-weaned kitten will be happiest with three or four meals a day. Most of their requirements are then the same of those of an adult cat, but not all of them. Kittens still need more protein, amino acids, and minerals than adult cats and should get about 30% of their calories from protein (as opposed to 20% for cats).

Food

After weaning, kittens should be fed a mixture of kitten food and formulated milk. Food for kittens is more nutritious than mother’s milk, and it should be fed to the kitten throughout the day to avoid him eating too much and feeling full.

To feed your kitten cat food at this early stage of his life will not provide him with the best start. Don't give your kitten dog food either. Cats and dogs have different dietary requirements.

Because cats are carnivores they need to eat meat, and their bodies are designed to process a lot of protein. Cat food is accordingly a lot higher in protein than dog food; it is also meatier, fishier and usually smells stronger.

Begin your kitten on soft, wet food. If he does not eat this within half an hour take it away and put it in the fridge. It will do for next time. At the same time you can put out a small bowl of dry kitten kibble and leave it for him to graze on.

The ideal dry kitten food should contain about a third of protein and a quarter of fat.

Kitten feeding guide

Until he is three months old you should put out four meals a day for your kitten. From three to six month reduce this to three meals and then finally two meals. It is important to let young kittens eat whenever they want.

They are voracious eaters but will not understand your need for a routine. Not yet, at least.

A kitten is general assumed to be a ‘cat’ at around one year old. They are still growing but the rate at which they grow has slowed significantly. During this time you should reduce the daily meal times from three to two.

You should begin to look at how much food you are giving your cat and take away the come and go option. Your cat can over-eat if bowls of food are left out for him all day.

You have a choice of foods going forward: you may choose to mix the wet and dry food, but you may choose either wet or dry food. There is also raw food, which is usually a mix of raw meats and some ballast vegetables or fruit. It is at this stage of his life that you can decide what he will eat during this adult life.

Problems to look out for

There are a few medical problems that are seen of young kittens; sometimes associated with a bad diet but other times without cause. Here are just three of the commonest.

If you notice odd symptoms or your kitten stops eating altogether you should have him checked out as a matter of urgency:

Upper respiratory infections

• Sneezing
• Eyes running
• Nose running
• Anorexia
• Lethargy

Ear mites

• Dark brown discharge from the kitten's ears
• Ears and face itching
• Inflammation around the head and neck

Parasites (worms)

• Visible signs of worms
• Diarrhoea
• Vomiting
• Loss of appetite

Your kitten relies on you to provide meals that are both nourishing and enjoyable. No matter what you think of the intelligence of lower animals, all animals (and especially meat-eaters) enjoy food that tastes and smells good. Your cat will respond well to food such as this and will be happier because of it.

Food is for us all a source of enjoyment and nourishment and its importance in the development of a healthy mind and body should not be underestimated, even of cats!

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