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How long should cats eat kitten food?

how long should cats eat kitten food
(Image credit: Getty)

Most cat owners wonder how long should cats eat kitten food for? It's a common question, and it's just as important as feeding your cats the best kitten food.

Feeding your kitten the right amount of food is incredibly important to ensuring they grow up to be healthy, strong adult cats. But how long should you feed your cats kitten food? AT a certain point, kitten food can be detrimental to your cat's health, as it is usually high in calories. Choosing the right time to transition your kitten onto adult cat food is essential for their growth and development. So, when is the best time?

A newborn kitten will feed solely on their mother’s milk for the first four weeks of their life. Once they are around a month old, they can slowly be introduced to kitten food. By the time they reach about eight weeks old, they'll have weaned off milk altogether. 

Kittens spend a lot of time running around, playing and generally looking for mischief. Therefore, they need enough calories from their food to maintain their high activity levels and to help nurture their growing bodies. Kittens need to get around a third of their energy from protein. "Most kittens want to eat at least three or four meals a day," explains Jennifer Larsen, DVM, Ph.D., nutritional consultant and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California (opens in new tab). “It’s also a comfort thing – kittens are snackers at heart.” 

Once they’ve grown into adult cats, they’re much better at maintaining and regulating their blood sugar levels, so they can have larger, less frequent meals. Having said that, many cats are grazers, preferring to pick at their food throughout the day. Both cats and kittens need to get fats, fatty acids, and most vitamins from their food, but kittens also have a higher requirement for protein and amino acids, minerals, and additional vitamins. This is why knowing how long cats should eat kitten food is so important. 

At what age does a kitten become a cat?

When a kitten turns one, they are generally considered adult cats. By this point, your kitten has gone through their rapid growth stage, which begins once they are weaned and lasts until they're around six months old. They’ll also have gone through the adolescent stage, which lasts until 12 months old. Until they reach their first birthday, your kitten will require a very specific diet that is suitable for their tiny teeth, mouth, and stomach and filled with all the right nutrients that will help them develop properly. 

As with all animals, there are some exceptions, which include larger breeds like the Maine Coon. These cats tend to reach maturity between 18 months and two years of age. 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 dry and wet food diet, as cats tend to under-consume water, and wet food can help keep them hydrated. Speak to your vet to ensure a dry food-only diet is appropriate for your kitty. If that's the case, kittens can start to have the best dry cat food 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 kitten food.

When to switch from kitten to cat food

During their time as kittens, cats often feed on small amounts of food frequently throughout the day. As they get older and mature into full-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. The latter is higher in calories and contains essential nutrients that will help your kitten grow. If an adult cat eats kitten food, they'll be getting way too many extra calories in their diet, which could cause them to pile on the pounds. 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 a challenge. 

To avoid intestinal upset, it's best to slowly swap over from the kitten food to the adult food over a few days. Consult your veterinarian for the best way to portion out the food, but it's usually a ratio of 75/25 kitten to cat food, then 50/50, then 25/75, then 100% adult formulation. 

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 pretty complicated knowing which ones to try and which ones to avoid. 

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
  • Exceptional muscle tone

Foods to avoid giving your feline

Cats eat kitten food

(Image credit: Getty)

As with many animals, you should only give treats occasionally and in small amounts. Treats shouldn’t make up more than 10% of your kitty’s total calorie intake. However, this doesn't mean they can’t finish the last scrap of chicken or salmon from your plate once in a while. Just make sure that anything you offer them is cooked thoroughly and free of any sauces, seasonings, or other ingredients. Be aware, though; this might encourage them to beg or even steal your food. So, if you’re keen for mealtimes to be peaceful, it’s best not to start a bad habit. 

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

Summary

Choosing the right diet for your kitten at every stage can seem daunting, but this article should have helped answer any questions you might have. Remember that cat food and kitten food are different things and it's important to feed your cat the appropriate meal for their life stage. If you’re concerned about whether you’re feeding your little ball of fluff the right food, ask your veterinarian for advice. 

Chloe is a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, who has more than ten years’ experience in creating animal-focussed content. From National Geographic to Animal Planet, Chloe’s passion for creating fact-filled features all about wildlife and the environment is evident. But it’s not just wild animals that Chloe’s fascinated by. Having written more than 75 articles for PetsRadar - and having her very own four-legged friend by her side - it’s no wonder that her love of dogs (and, of course, cats) has grown exponentially.  

Her website, www.chloemaywrites.com, and social media pages - @ChloeMayWrites on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter - showcase her knowledge through daily facts and trivia tidbits. For example, did you know that snails have teeth?! 

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