Feeding Kittens and Cats

Feeding your kitten is more complicated than you may think. There are a number of do’s and don’ts and also some very advisable techniques to follow.

The most important point is that kittens and cats are obligate carnivores. This means that they are much less adaptable to different diets than most other species.

Here are the most common mistakes cat owners make:

  • Cats only being fed meat. Cats may be carnivores, but wild cats consume all of the prey, not just the muscle. The bone provides calcium, the innards supply B vitamins etc. Cats on meat-only diets will quickly develop weak bones prone to fracture, and grow poorly with a risk of lifelong deformities. Commercial cat diets allow for all the nutritional needs.
  • Feeding dog food to cats. Dog food is deficient in taurine, niacin, Vitamin A, fatty acids, antioxidants and protein. It also contains too much carbohydrate.
  • Making home-prepared food. While we are not opposed to this, it is very difficult to do well without a nutritionist. Human foods and diets which change are two big no no’s.
  • Feeding cows milk. Cats are naturally lactose intolerant and so water is always healthiest. However, adult cats can tolerate milk in most cases if the amount is kept small.
  • Feeding only fish or supermarket pet meat. Fish contains a thiaminase and supermarket pet meat often contains sulphite preservatives, both of which destroy thiamine (Vitamin B1). Cats fed exclusively on these diets can develop a fatal necrosis (death) of the grey matter in the brain.
  • Believing that a cat will only eat a particular food. Cats are fussy animals, but you can definitely feed them the cat food your vet recommends. Read how to tempt fussy cats and why cats will refuse to eat.

Feeding your kitten or cat involves three components:

Commercial Cat Food

cat chewing food
The best for your cat or kitten is a complete and balanced commercially available food. These come in a wide range of prices and types. We believe there is a clear difference between the foods available in the supermarket and those at pet centres and veterinarians.

We recommend either Hills Vetessentials or Royal Canin foods. It doesn’t matter with these foods if you feed tinned, sachets or dry food as long as fresh water is available at all times. Kittens get fixated on certain foods very quickly so if you want your cat to try new foods or appreciate a variety it is important to start them very young, preferably under 12 weeks of age.

Grass

kitten eating grass
By Kuba Bożanowski from Warsaw, Poland (om nom nomUploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

What?? No that is not a typo, cats really do seem to need access to fresh grass. Or at least they think they do, which is good enough for vets to recommend all cats be given the ability to eat some grass every day. If your cat is inside only, you can buy Cat Grass from the garden centre and grow it in a pot in a window. If cats don’t have access to grass, they will often chew cut flowers, many of which such as lilies are highly toxic.

Texture

This is optional but if you don’t supply a chewable food your cat’s teeth are likely to deteriorate and require dentistry. Adult cats have access to some very good complete and balanced dental diets such as Hills t/d. We recommend kittens be started on raw chicken necks. For more information, read our full article on using the diet to keep cats teeth clean.

Treats

If you want to feed treats, please read our guide to safe and healthy treats for cats and this page on how to safely give naughty treats too!

How Much To Feed

cat eating biscuits
The amount to feed is going to vary from cat to cat. If you are using a quality food, start with the recommended amounts on the packaging. Then check your cat’s weight and body condition every two weeks, and ask us if you are unsure. Ultimately, the amount fed is adjusted to be whatever is required to maintain a lean, healthy body condition.

Grendel (pictured) would be as fat as butter if he had his way. If you’re having trouble, visit our guide to getting a cat to lose weight and stay trim.

Water

Water should be available at all times and changed daily. Be prepared for your cat or kitten being very fussy about the water type. Read more at Getting cats to drink water.

Feeding Routine

Better to train them early. If you start your kitten on regular meal times you will both have a better life. Read here how and why to feed cats in meals.

How to Feed

Why do we feed cats in bowls? It’s a good point when there are so many more interesting ways. You can use Kitty Kongs, treat balls which release food as they roll, mazes or puzzles (we have a few in the clinic to show you).