Kittens and adult cats have different dietary needs. It’s important to be aware of these needs so that your pet is getting the nutrients they need to develop and grow.
Cats should eat kitten food until they’re at least one-year-old and technically adults, which can take 18 months to four years for larger breeds. When you switch away from kitten food, swap in 10% more adult food each day for the next ten days, so you don’t disrupt their digestive systems.
While cats are considered adults at one year old, they don’t stop growing at this time. Most cats continue to grow until they are 18 months old, and some for years after that! Read on to learn more about your kitten’s nutritional needs as she develops and ages into an adult cat.
A Brief Overview of Your Cat’s Development
Kittens age very quickly, going from tiny, blind babies to full-grown adventurers in just a year. For the first few weeks of your cat’s life, she is completely reliant on her mother. After this, she begins to gain a little more courage but is not quite independent. The next few months are spent gaining confidence until she reaches sexual maturity at just five months old.
You will likely spay or neuter your cat at this time, which will help control some behavioral issues that can arise after sexual maturation. Your pet will continue to grow rapidly for the next six months, getting taller and stronger, and more daring. Finally, your pet will reach adulthood once she hits the one-year mark, though she has more physical growing to do.
As your cat grows through these different development stages, her nutritional needs will change.
Nutritional Needs of Your Cat
Cats grow at a much faster rate than humans do. The first year of development for a kitten is equal to the first 15 years of development for a human. As such, a kitten’s nutritional needs are quite high and lower when they reach “adulthood” at one year of age.
Let’s take a look at the nutritional needs of your cat throughout her first two years.
1-2 Weeks Old
When a kitten first enters the world, they are blind and deaf and cannot regulate their temperature. A newborn kitty is completely helpless and reliant on her mother to feed and defend her. Kittens don’t stray far or move much at all during the first two weeks of their life; instead, staying by their mother and concentrating on the earliest stages of development.
Their eyes will begin to open at about one week old, and at ten days old, their ear canals will do the same. These first weeks are imperative to your kitten’s health. In the first 48 hours of your pet’s life, she will receive life-saving antibodies from her mother, known as “colostrum.” Your pet will only drink her mother’s milk, as it has all of the nutrients she needs.
3-8 Weeks Old
During the next few weeks of your kitten’s life, she will begin to eat solid food. You can introduce the animals to kitten-specific food, accompanied by fresh water. It is important for a kitten to still have access to her mother during this time, as nursing is still a major contribution to her health.
As you get to the seven and eight-week marks, your cat will stop nursing altogether, and she will get all of the nutrients she needs from her solid food. She will also have started to learn to use the litter box, and by the end of this period should have minimal to no accidents.
3-5 Months Old
Your kitten is now showing full personality and is ready to take on the world (or so she thinks). In reality, your pet still needs a lot of care and watching over and shouldn’t be left without some sort of supervision for hours on end.
As far as nutrition goes, standard kitten food will fulfill her dietary needs. Some of the features of kitten-specific food are as follows:
- The pieces of food are smaller for dainty kitten mouths
- The kibble is softer and easier to digest
- High in calories to aid in growth and supplement energy
- 35-50% protein content for developing strength
- Double the calcium of adult food for strong bone growth
- Vitamin E, selenium, phosphorous, and other vitamins and minerals
6-12 Months Old
Your kitty’s energy is at an all-time high, and she is gaining more courage and strength every day.
A feline during these months will be super-active and working on reaching new heights – literally. You will continue to feed your pet kitten-specific food for diet, but you will increase the portion size. You are welcome to treat your furry friend, and in fact, should give them treats to train them. Just make sure the treats don’t make up more than 10% of their daily caloric intake.
It’s important to consult with your veterinarian throughout your kitten’s first year. Your vet will know exactly how much is normal for your pet to be eating and will be able to advise you on when to increase and decrease their caloric intake.
1 Year to 2 Years
Once your cat is one-year-old, you should switch them over to adult food unless your vet tells you otherwise. Your cat’s growth rate will slow immensely, and the high-fat, high-protein content of her kitten food will be too much for her now. Feeding an adult cat kitten food can result in obesity and health issues from an over-intake of certain vitamins and minerals.
To make the switch from kitten to adult food, you should slowly mix in her adult food with her kitten food over ten days. Each day, put 10% less of the kitten food in her bowl, and supplement that amount with adult cat food. By day five, you should be at a 50-50 ratio of the kitten to cat food. Continue to decrease the amount of kitten food in the dish until you eventually feed her 100% adult food.
2 Years and Up
For most of her adulthood, your cat will have the same diet. You should consult with your vet to determine which type of cat food is the best for your cat and if it’s worth investing in any supplements for her diet. Some cats get wet food mixed in with their kibble, while some have kibble topped with a teaspoon of fish oil.
There are many acceptable options for your cat’s diet; you’ll just need to find which works best for her and keeps her at a healthy weight.
Senior cats have different nutritional needs than kittens and adult cats. As your pet gets older, her activity levels will drop greatly, and so will her need for high levels of fat and protein in her food. While these things are still imperative to her health, she won’t need them in such great quantities.
Senior cat food has the following features best-suited for aging felines:
- Taurine, which aids in heart health
- Omega 3s, which decreases joint inflammation
- Lower calorie count but a higher fiber content
- Antioxidants to aid in general health and the ability to fight disease
As the owner of a house cat, you’ll need to feed her nutritional food that meets all of her dietary requirements throughout her life. Your kitten will only drink her mother’s milk for the first two weeks of her life.
After that comes high-fat and high-protein kitten food, which she will continue to eat until she is 12 months old, then you’ll slowly switch her over to adult food. She will eat this for most of her life until she is around ten years old, at which time you will make the gradual switch to senior cat food.
- Farmer’s Almanac: Cat Age Chart
- PetMD: 10 Interesting Facts About Kittens
- Aspen Grove Veterinary Care: Developmental Stages of Kittens
- Fetch by WebMD: The Right Way To Treat Your Pet
- PetMD: 6 Signs It’s Time to Change Your Cat’s Food
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.