If your kitten is thriving well on the food she arrived with, then it’s wise to continue with this for the first couple of weeks whilst she settles in. The excitement of the new home and the stress of leaving the queen and litter mates can result in an upset stomach rushed. Once your kitten has settled, you can then consider a gradual change to your chosen diet. Most commercial kitten food brands suggest this change is undertaken over the period of a week or so to allow the digestion time to adapt to any new ingredients, and adjust to any differences in the nutrient balance too (i.e. the way in which the protein, fat and carbohydrates are proportioned). An earlier change could be considered if the original diet fails to be well digested; although it’s very important to bear in mind that when loose stools occur, it’s not always the fault of the food – infectious causes and many other factors can be responsible so do seek veterinary advice if there are problems.
We’d initially suggest following the breeder’s instructions. Bear in mind that kittens have tiny stomachs, but they also have a speedy metabolism so do require a surprising amount of calories. A concentrated diet fed little and often is ideal for them, and most kittens are fed 4 times a day whilst they are very small (usually up until 12 weeks of age), and then 3 meals a day until they are fully grown. After this time they can be fed twice daily, or free-fed if preferable.
For younger kittens, it is usually a good idea to feed kibble lightly soaked with a little warm water for about 20-30 minutes prior to serving. This softens the food and makes the initial work of the digestive enzymes easier. It also brings out the aromas of the food, and a soft texture is usually more appealing when a kitten is teething. Do take care not to soak the food for overly long periods otherwise it may be subject to bacterial growth or fermentation, especially if it is left somewhere warm or the weather is hot. For this reason, do not soak dry food if free-feeding.
This very much depends on the type of food and its calorific value. Commercial brands have their own feeding guidelines which are tailored to their specific products. You will need to weigh your kitten regularly so that you can ensure that her food intake is appropriate and make adjustments as and when needed. Just like puppies, as kittens get older their rate of growth slows down, and the requirement of those extra calories needed for healthy development starts to wane. This is why kittens require more food when they are growing and developing. If you are giving any additions to the main diet, don’t forget to reduce the food to allow for these extra calories. A good way to assess whether the feeding volume is suitable is to monitor your kitten’s appetite, weight, bodily condition, rate of development and faecal output. Very voluminous, frequently passed or loose stools (especially later in the day) may be indicative of a little too much food.
This very much depends on the brand and product. High quality complete and balanced kitten and cat food should not prove harmful per se. It may however be beneficial to feed wet food, or a combination of wet and dry food to ensure an adequate fluid intake. It is vital to ensure a good fluid intake to help to minimise the risk of urinary tract problems. An advantage of wet cat food is that on a gram for gram basis as fed, it’s significantly lower calorie than dry food. It’s important to keep kittens and cats at a healthy weight since obesity can predispose them to many health problems.
When kittens are weaned, they lose the ability to digest lactose (milk sugar) and thus lactose intolerance is not uncommon. This can result in diarrhoea. Dairy products are also one of the more common dietary allergens to affect cats, which is another reason why they are better avoided. If you want to encourage your kitten to drink more, then why not invest in a feline water fountain or purchase some special “kitten milk” to offer in moderation. Fresh drinking water should always be accessible even if kitten milk is given. Cats and kittens often will drink more if they have several water bowls in various different parts of the house.
Be very careful in situations like this because there are many reasons why kittens can go off their food. It’s important to rule out medical problems, attention seeking behaviour and cases whereby your kitten simply isn’t hungry because she’s getting plenty of calories from other sources such as treats, or her growth rate is slowing down and she simply needs a little less food than she’s being offered. Do seek veterinary advice in the first instance. Cats and kittens can be very discerning, and one thing they are sensitive to is the freshness of their food. For this reason it’s very important to store dry food properly in an airtight container in a cool dark, place. Smaller packs may not represent such good value, but they may retain more appeal to fastidious cats and kittens who often prefer food which has been newly opened.
Commercial complete kitten food should never be supplemented with vitamins and minerals unless advised by your vet to treat a deficiency. It is critical not to upset the ratio between the calcium and phosphorous, and also the levels of vitamin A and D in the diet. Too much of any of these minerals and vitamins can cause developmental problems.
Raw fish fed in excess is dangerous since it contains thiaminases, which are enzymes that breakdown thiamine (vitamin B1). If oily fish is fed excessively, then the cat may become deficient in vitamin E which is used up when the oils begin to go rancid. Liver is very high in vitamin A, and too much of it can cause a very nasty condition called hypervitaminosis A.
The answer does depend on individual manufacturer recommendations, but as a general guide, adult food is usually recommended once a kitten has reached optimal skeletal height (i.e. she is as tall as she will be as an adult and she is no longer “sprouting” upwards). Development can be variable, and is dependent upon the individual’s genetics, growth rate and metabolism. Neutering is usually carried out at the age of around 6 months (unless of course you intend to breed), and we would not suggest a dietary change around this stressful time. The change to adult food may be brought forward for overweight kittens and those who have been neutered early. Slow developers and underweight or inappetant kittens may fare better with an extended period on kitten food.