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How long should cats eat kitten food for?

Cats eat kitten food
(Image credit: Getty)

Feeding your kitten so that they grow up to be healthy, strong adults seems obvious, but the knowing the answer to the question "how long should cats eat kitten food for?" can be tricky.

A newborn kitten will feed on its mother’s milk for the first four weeks of its life. Once they are around a month old, they can slowly be introduced to a good quality kitten food until they are completely weaned off of the milk at around eight weeks old. 

Until your kitten grows into a cat, they need enough calories from their food to be able to maintain their high activity levels. “Most kittens want to eat at least three or four meals a day,” explains Jennifer Larsen, DVM, PhD, nutritional consultant and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California. “It’s also a comfort thing – kittens are snackers at heart.”

As with cats, kittens need fat, some fatty acids, and most vitamins. However, kittens also have a higher requirement for protein as well as amino acids, minerals, and additional vitamins. Did you know, kittens should in fact get around a third of their energy from protein? This is why choosing the right food at the right stages of your feline's life can be crucial.

At what age does a kitten become a cat?

The general rule as to when kittens are classed as adult cats, is when the kitten turns one. By this point your kitten would have gone through their rapid growth stage, which begins once they are weaned and lasts until they’re six months old, and the adolescence stage, which lasts until they are 12 months old.

Until they reach their first birthday, your kitten will require a very specific diet that is suitable for their small teeth, mouths, and stomachs, as well as being filled with all the right nutrients that will help them develop properly. 

As with all animals, there are of course some exceptions, which includes larger breeds such as the Maine Coon. These cats tend to reach maturity between the ages of 18 months to two years old. 

But how do you know which kitten food to try?

Mindy Bough, CVT, senior director of client services for the Midwest Office of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), doesn’t recommend feeding the generic or store branded kitten foods to your little feline. “Research has determined these kitten foods [the ones from reputable companies, often recommended by vets] provide excellent health,” explains Bough.

Always read the label to ensure that they comply with regulatory standards and that your kitten will not require additional vitamin or mineral supplements. If completely necessary, these should only be given if recommended by your veterinarian. 

When can kittens eat dry food only?

Most vets recommend a diet of dry and wet food, as cats have a tendency to under-consume water and wet food can help keep them hydrated. Speak to your vet to make sure a dry food-only diet is appropriate for your cat. If that's the case, kittens can start to have dry kibble at around three to four weeks, but they are fully weaned from their mother's milk by six to eight weeks and can eat just dry or wet kitten food.

When to switch from kitten to cat food

During their life as kittens, these cute furballs will often feed on small amounts of food at frequent intervals throughout the day. As they get older and mature into fully-grown cats, this tends to change to eating just two meals a day - and what they eat should change, as well. 

Cat food is different from kitten food, as the latter is higher in calories and contains important nutrients that will help your kitten grow. If an adult cat eats kitten foot, they'll be getting way too many extra calories in their diet, which could ultimately affect their weight. And kittens can't eat adult cat food, as it doesn't include the vital nutrients they need. 

Around your kitten's first birthday is the right time to switch to adult cat food. You'll need to transition your kitten, as cats have quite the reputation for being fussy eaters. That's why, for some pet owners, switching them to adult food can be quite the challenge. 

In order to avoid intestinal upset, it's best to slowly swap over from the kitten formula to the adult food over a period of a few days. Consult your veterinarian for the best way to portion out the food, but it's usually a ration of 75/25 kitten to cat food, then 50/50, then 25/75, then 100% adult formula. Again, consult your vet for the best process for your cat. 

If you were to instantly change what they eat, without a gradual introduction, this has the potential to cause your cat to experience stomach upset or even trigger them to go on hunger strikes (yes – they can be that fussy and stubborn). 

Choosing the right food for your adult cat

With so many options out there, it can be quite complicated knowing which ones to try and which ones are to be avoided at all costs. 

It’s important to find the best cat food that offers your feline the same-high quality nutrition as their kitten food used to. For happy and healthy adult cats, you should consider the following things:

  • Have high-quality ingredients been used to make the food?
  • Does it provide a complete and balanced diet with appropriate levels of protein, fat, fibre, vitamins, and minerals?
  • Has the brand met or exceeded the regulatory standards?

No matter what the packaging says, your cat will in fact be the best indicator as to whether a particular type of food is purr-fect for them. Be sure to look out for:

  • Bright eyes and clean teeth
  • Small, firm, stools
  • A shiny, luxurious coat
  • Healthy skin and bones
  • Exceptional muscle tone

Foods to avoid giving your feline

Cats eat kitten food

(Image credit: Getty)

As with many animals, treats should only be given if they make up a small portion of their total calorie intake – in this case it’s less than 10%. However, this doesn’t mean that they can finish the last scrap of chicken or salmon from your plate once in a while as something special. Plus, this may also encourage begging or even the stealing of your food, which is best to avoid at all costs. 

It’s important to ensure that your kitten or cat isn’t able to get their paws on things such as onions, garlic, chocolate, tea, coffee, grapes, or raisins as these can be toxic. It’s also advised to take precautions when it comes to raw meat or liver, which can contain harmful bacteria; raw eggs, which can lead to problems with their skin and coat; raw fish, as this can trigger a vitamin B deficiency, seizures, or be fatal; and milk, which can cause diarrhea. Read five human foods that are poisonous to cats to learn more.

For more information on any of the above, please seek professional advice from your vet.

Chloe Petrylak

Chloe is a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, who has more than eight years experience in media. With a passion for creating content all about wildlife and the environment, she can be found at www.chloemaywrites.com or @ChloeMayWrites on social media.