Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have fed my 7-week-old kitten adult food. Will he be okay? He’s playing as normal and seems okay. I am just worried as its not the right food for him.
Siouxsie: First, let us assure you that if you feed your kitten with adult cat food by accident, you’re not going to do any harm. However, it’s not a good idea to feed a kitten a regular diet of adult cat food.
Thomas: Kitten food is specially designed to help give kittens the extra nutrients they need to grow and develop into healthy cats. It contains more protein, taurine (an amino acid vital to cat health), and vitamins and minerals than adult cat food does.
Dahlia: Kitten food also has more calories per serving than adult cat food. This is very important, since growing kittens need all the extra energy they can get.
Siouxsie: Kittens depend solely on their mother’s milk for nutrition for the first five weeks or so of their lives. Over the next few weeks, they gradually begin eating solid food and drinking less of their mother’s milk. By eight weeks, kittens are fully weaned and ready to go to their new homes.
Thomas: Start setting out canned kitten food at the fifth week of their lives. Canned food is better for kittens (and lactating moms) than dry food because it contains more moisture and is more nutrient-dense.
Dahlia: Make sure your canned food has a specific meat source such as lamb, chicken, or beef as the first ingredient. We’d recommend that you avoid fish-based foods such as tuna, because they have a very strong flavor and cats can become “addicted” to them and subsequently refuse to eat anything else. And fish is definitely not the best protein source for your little carnivore, whose ancestors ate red meat and birds–and whose outdoor-living cousins still do.
Siouxsie: As a side note, pregnant and lactating mother cats should also be fed kitten food in order to give them the nutrients they need so they can give birth to healthy kittens and nourish them properly with their milk. If you set out kitten food and the babies aren’t interested yet, the mother will take care of it.
Thomas: So, Claire, the short answer to your question is that If you accidentally fed your kitten one or two meals of adult cat food, it’s not going to harm him. But you should not be feeding him a regular diet of adult cat food until he’s at least a year old.
Dahlia: Some folks think that once a kitten starts looking like a small version of an adult cat, it’s OK to switch to adult cat food. But even if your kitten looks like a miniature adult, he still has the nutritional needs of a kitten.
Siouxsie: If you feed your older kitten a diet of adult cat food, he’ll need to eat more to get the nutrients he needs. This could result in obesity or other medical conditions.
Thomas: Also, keep in mind that kittens’ eating schedules varies as they continue growing. Young kittens such as yours need to eat several times a day to keep their energy levels up, so divide the recommended daily portion (it’s listed on the cat food can or bag) into appropriate amounts.
Dahlia: Kittens from 6 to 12 weeks of age should receive at least four small meals divided evenly throughout the day.
Siouxsie: At 12 weeks of age, you can divide the food into larger portions and feed the kitten three times a day. And at 6 months, your kitten’s meals can be spaced out to twice a day.
Thomas: Some people prefer to “free feed” their cats on dry kibble and put down canned food once or twice a day. However, we think it’s easier to monitor how much your cat is eating if you provide meals instead of just leaving food out for him to eat.
Dahlia: This is especially important for households where two or more cats live. It’s very hard to monitor food intake if you’ve got more than one cat working on the free-feed bowl.
Siouxsie: Changes in appetite and eating habits can signal potential health problems, so being able to track your cat’s food consumption will help you to be a more aware and proactive “pet parent.” For example, a couple of weeks ago I got sick, and Mama noticed it because I barely ate my supper and the next morning’s breakfast. I’m fine now, but if Mama had been free feeding the three of us, she might not have noticed that critical sign that told her something was wrong.
Thomas: Anyhow–good luck, Claire, and we hope your kitten grows up to be big and strong and healthy!