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Best kitten food: Prepare your kitty for a long and healthy life

A kitten enjoying the best kitten food
(Image credit: Getty)

Giving your little furball the best kitten food is essential for both their health and happiness. But with so many options out there, it's easy to become overwhelmed. 

Just like the best cat food for bigger furkids, manufacturers make a wide variety of food to suit many kitten diets, from grain-free options to those containing antioxidants that boost the immune system. Some have live bacteria for digestive health and Omega-3 DHA to promote brain development. As such, the choice goes beyond the simple decision of whether to give your kitten dry kibble or wet food.

Even so, that remains an important consideration, so what's it to be? Well, dry cat food is a great option. It is perfect for maintaining the health of your kitten's teeth, not least by removing plaque and tartar build-up. It will also give your furball all of the vitamins, minerals and protein they need, with the bonus of it not smelling as much as the wet variety and also being easier to store. 

That said, wet cat food remains important in the early stages and it too provides everything your kitty needs. Although kittens are able to eat solid food from the age of three weeks, wet food is much easier to chew and digest. It means if you do feed dry food at this stage, you'll need to add some moisture to it so that it becomes softer. In either case, you should also supply your kitty with plenty of fresh water throughout the day, with extra moisture definitely needed if your kitty develops medical issues such as a urinary problem.

One thing to bear in mind is that a kitten's diet must contain meat products. Cats are obligate carnivores and they gain nutrients such as Taurine and Arginine solely from animal meat. Both are essential for your cat's health and only complete kitten food will ensure they get the correct amount, alongside the perfect balance of vitamins, fat and minerals. Just as with the best puppy food, you will want to ensure your kitten develops healthy bones, muscles and teeth so please don't consider a meat-free diet made at home by yourself. Manufactured products really are the best option.

So how much food do kitties need? In general, you should aim for a couple of small portions each day and step it up to five by the age of eight weeks. That's because kittens are fast-growers and they increase their weight three-fold within the first month or so. They need higher levels of calories than adult cats. Manufacturer-made food rather than home-produced meals ensure you can keep up with the demand while providing the correct balance. So, what’s the best kitten food on the market? Here are our top picks.

PetsRadar's pick of the best kitten food

  • Best overall kitten food: Royal Canin Kitten
  • Best budget kitten food: IAMS Proactive Health
  • Best kitten food for sensitive stomachs: Hill’s Science Diet Kitten
  • Best raw kitten food: Nature’s Variety Instinct Original Kitten
  • Best gourmet kitten food: Applaws Tuna Wet Kitten Food
  • Best variety kitten food: Purina Pro Plan Kitten Favorites
  • Best kitten food for protein: Blue Buffalo Wilderness Kitten Chicken Recipe
  • Best kitten food for weaning: Royal Canin Mother & Babycat Ultra-Soft Mousse

Royal Canin Kitten food gravy review

(Image credit: Royal Canin)

Royal Canin Kitten

Best overall kitten food

Item Form: Wet (Gravy) | Protein: 11% min | Fat: 3% min | Moisture: 80% max

Thin slices make it easy for young kittens to eat
Excellent protein, fat, and carbohydrate ratio
Antioxidants boost immune system
High price point for a staple diet

If you’re keen to ensure that your new four-legged friend has a balanced and nutritious diet, it’s hard to look past Royal Canin’s Kitten food. 

Royal Canin is a hugely respected cat food brand, earning praise from owners and veterinarians alike for its specialist formulas. It may be a little pricier per can than others on this list, but there’s little substitute for knowing that you’ve got your kitty some quality dinner from a trusted brand. 

The ratio of proteins to fat and carbohydrates, and other essential nutrients, in Royal Canin’s Kitten food is perfectly set up to deliver everything a growing kitten needs. This means that unless you’ve found yourself a fussy little fluff ball who craves a bit more variety, Royal Canin can easily be your kittens-only food. Though it’s useful to note that Royal Canin’s dry kitten food is formulated to complement the wet stuff so you can add a bit of crunch to your little one’s diet.

The meat comes in gravy (which can be a bit messy), and is deliberately sliced small and thin to make it easier on tiny mouths transitioning to solid food.

Of course, we do have to return to that price point, a kitten will need to be going through three or four of these cans a day to get everything they need. That might mean it’s a little much for some people to keep as a staple diet – it is worth noting that Royal Canin is often prescribed for kittens with digestive issues though. So, as long as you manage it properly, Royal Canin Kitten food could work well as part of a regular rotation. 

IAMS Proactive Health is the best kitten food on a budget

(Image credit: Iams)

IAMS Proactive Health

Best budget kitten food

Item Form: Dry | Protein: 31% min | Fat: 21% min | Moisture: 10% max

Omega-3 DHA promotes brain development
Natural fiber and prebiotics
Taurine promotes strong vision
Contains animal by-products

Dry foods often work out on the cheaper side when it comes to cat and kitten foods, because you get so much of it in a pack. IAMS Proactive Health dry kitten food is well priced even among its direct competitors.

Affordability is IAMS whole thing. They’ve got a reputation for putting together solid, nutritionally strong pet food at a price that won’t put a strain on your wallet. This is not different.

The nutrition profile here is strong, with taurine to help develop your kitten’s vision, natural fibers and prebiotics for digestion, omega-3 DHA for promoting brain development and Vitamin E for boosting immune systems. 

Kittens seem to be big fans of IAMS Proactive Health’s taste but some pet owners might take issue with how the product is made. With the inclusion of animal by-products some people may have ethical concerns. 

This food isn’t grain-free, and while a small amount grain as part of a well-rounded diet shouldn’t be problem, it’s worth baring in mind for cat parents. It’s also worth noting that while this product does claim to be free of fillers (foods that bulk up a product while adding little nutritional value), corn grain and whole grain sorghum are ingredients that many consider to be fillers. 

Of course, that doesn’t take away from the fact that IAMS is a very popular and well-trusted brand. If those issues don’t affect you, then in IAMS Proactive Health you have a well-rounded, nutritious dry kitten food at a very reasonable price.

Hill’s Science Diet Kitten is the best kitten food for sensitive stomachs

(Image credit: Hill's)

Hill’s Science Diet Kitten

Best kitten food for sensitive stomachs

Item Form: Dry | Protein: 33% min | Fat: 19% min | Moisture: 8% max

High-quality proteins
Vet recommended
DHA from fish oil supports brain development
Some kittens might find it a bit bland

There may be some steel-stomached felines out there, but in our experience most cats and kittens have delicate digestive systems. If you have a fur baby with a particularly sensitive tummy, or just want to play it safe, Hill’s Science Diet Kitten is likely your best option.

Hill’s is the number one recommended brand by veterinarians and their foods are often prescribed for cats and kittens struggling with sickness or less than ideal bowel movements. Their formulas are developed by a team of vets, food scientists, and nutritionists with the aim of keeping your fur babies healthy; on the nutritional front you know you’re going to be picking up a quality product.

The Science Diet for kittens is stuffed full of high-quality proteins, DHA, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants to give your kitten everything it needs to grow up big and strong. While it also features no artificial preservatives, flavors, or dyes.

In fact, this food’s nutritional value is so high that it’s often recommended not just for kittens, but for adult cats that are pregnant, nursing, or have other health needs. The kibble is small enough for little mouths, though we’ve seen some things written online that mention that it might be a bit too hard to crunch for some cats. 

Its other most-cited criticism is that it may be a bit bland for some kittens. It’s possible that the nutrition-focused blend might be lacking in some other ingredients that make food look or smell exciting to kitties. Although any experienced cat owner will know that regardless of whether it tastes great, is good for them or they liked it yesterday, sometimes cats just turn their nose up.

Nature’s Variety Instinct Original Kitten is the best raw kitten food for raw diets

(Image credit: Nature's Variety)

Nature’s Variety Instinct Original Kitten

Best raw kitten food

Item Form: Dry | Protein: 42.5% min | Fat: 22.5% min | Moisture: 9% max

100% natural ingredients
Made without grain, potato, corn, wheat, soy, by-product meats, artificial colors, or preservatives
Made with cage-free chickens
Not enough moisture for kittens

It’s sometimes difficult to know what’s actually in the foods we feed our four-legged friends. Foods that make it easy for us are always welcome; Nature’s Variety’s commitment to raw ingredients make their Instinct Original Kitten dry kibble super easy to understand.

The Instinct range from Nature’s Variety is committed to 100% natural ingredients, although it might be easier to demonstrate the Original Kitten lines commitment to nutrition by first telling you what’s not in it. This dry kibble is grain free and contains no soy, wheat, corn, potato, by-product meals, artificial preservatives, or colors. 

81% of this kibble comes from real animal ingredients and oils, which puts its protein content at a whopping 42.5% and fat at 22%. That’s exactly what a calorie-hungry kitten needs. The food includes taurine, DHA, and probiotics for promoting everything from healthy brain and vision development to nice soft fur.

The remaining 19% of the product is made up from vegetables, fruits, and what Instinct calls ‘other wholesome ingredients, and while some have criticized the product for including ingredients like carrots, deeming them unnecessary, the kibbles nutritional profile is very strong.

Given this food’s raw and natural ideology, we think we’d be remiss in not mentioning that Instinct have had to issue recalls on their food twice for potential salmonella. The last of these coming in 2015 after a confirmed FDA test, though we have no reason to believe this is likely to happen again.

As with most dry cat foods, Instinct Original Kitten isn’t going to give your kitten all the water it needs, while a good cat house will feature some water sources for your feline, you may want to think about pairing this with a wet food rather than as your kitten’s sole diet.

Applaws Kitten Tuna Fillet in Broth is the best top quality kitten food

(Image credit: Applaws)

Applaws Tuna Wet Kitten Food

Best gourmet kitten food

Item Form: Wet (broth) | Protein: 13.5% min | Fat: 2% min | Moisture: 82.4% max

Dolphin-friendly tuna
High in protein
No artificial additives
Not nutritionally complete

You could be forgiven for being skeptical when a brand claims to supply everything your kitten needs – most of them are doing that, after all. Refreshingly, Applaws isn’t one of them. Instead, it has built its reputation on creating fresh tasty meals that are designed be part of a well-rounded diet, rather than a staple of it.

Applaws’ whole brand is centered around using simple ingredients that haven't been tampered with, using human-grade meat with no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. Indeed, very little of anything is added. For example, the Applaws Kitten Tuna Fillet in Broth had just three ingredients; tuna fillet, fish broth, and rice. This way, you're left in no doubt as to exactly what you're getting.

While this is all great, like we said previously, this isn't a staple, so you shouldn't be providing it in every meal. It simply doesn't provide everything your kitten should be consuming as part of a balanced diet, so this high-protein tin should be treated as a gourmet treat rather than something to be included with absolutely every meal.

Moreover, this additional treat doesn't come cheap, and you'll find that the cost mounts up with every 24 cans you buy – quite a lot more than is normally the case with many other brands, in fact. Regardless, what you're getting for this is a protein-rich gourmet experience for your kitten, and there's nothing wrong with treating them once in a while. As long as you only dish these out once a day at most, you'll get plenty of longevity out of it, and your mini cats will definitely thank you for it.

Purina Pro Plan Kitten comes in many varieties

(Image credit: Purina)

Purina Pro Plan Kitten Favorites

Best variety kitten food

Item Form: Wet (Pate) | Protein: 12-13% min | Fat: 5-6% min | Moisture: 76.5% max

Made with real poultry and fish
3 meaty flavors
DHA for brain and vision development
Larger meat chunks

Many kitten food brands these days tend to stick to one or two products that they identify as the best things you should be feeding your little meow machine. This is a great approach that allows a consumer to know, pretty much, exactly what they’re getting – but for the little ones, it can get a bit samey. Purina’s Prop Plan Kitten Favorites variety pack has 3 flavors to choose from. Variety is the spice of life after all.

The three flavors, Chicken & Liver, Ocean Whitefish & Tuna, and Salmon & Oceanfish are made with real poultry and fish as the number one ingredient. They add taurine for eyesight and DHA for brain development, as well as a blend of vitamins and nutrients to develop a healthy immune system. 

There is a slight difference in protein and fat between the chicken and fish flavors – with the Chicken & Liver having slightly less protein and slightly more fat – but all within what works for healthy kitten growth. 

We have read that some people have had trouble with larger meat chunks in the pate, meaning their kittens struggle or give up. Not all kittens have a problem with larger chunks, but if yours do, this might be one to wait until they’re a little bigger. 

Lastly we’ll point out the perennial problem with variety packs, you may end up with a flavor your kitten doesn’t like. This will happen to us all at some point but sometimes kittens don’t react well to the unfamiliar, so either try introducing the flavor again slowly with another or find yourself a fellow cat parent to swap foods with. Either way, the benefit of a variety pack is that you wont be wasting the whole case.

Blue Buffalo Wilderness Kitten Chicken RecipePets Radar Approved Award

(Image credit: Amazon)

Blue Buffalo Wilderness Kitten Chicken Recipe

Best kitten food for protein

Item Form: Dry | Protein: 40% min | Fat: 20% min | Moisture: 9% max

Full of natural ingredients
Very high in protein
Supports healthy oxidative balance
Not the cheapest

Blue Wilderness claims to provide kittens with the finest of food, using real chicken as its first ingredient and promising not to use any poultry by-product. This dry food is also free from soy, wheat and corn and there are no artificial flavors or preservatives. It's as healthy a food as they come, making use of a host of natural ingredients.

At the very least, you can be sure your kitten will get an abundance of protein to support their muscle development and energy. The food also contains fish oil which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and DHA so your kitten will not only retain a healthy coat but benefit from improved cognitive function too.

Vitamins A and C along with potassium and fiber are provided by the inclusion of blueberries. Potatoes boost the vitamin C and potassium levels while also providing vitamin B, iron and magnesium.

Pumpkin is included because it's rich in beta-carotene, vitamin A, and zinc, while spinach is thrown into the mix along with apples for carotenoids, quercetin and dietary fiber. What's more, the blend of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals are not exposed to huge amounts of heat, which means most of the fresh nutrients are retained. 

It's all created to help kittens to grow by boosting their immune system, ensuring a healthy heart and eyes and giving them lots of energy to play. It comes highly recommended.

royal canin kitten foodPets Radar Approved Award

(Image credit: Royal Canin)

Royal Canin Mother & Babycat Ultra-Soft Mousse

Best kitten food for weaning

Item Form: Wet | Protein: 9% min | Fat: 4% min | Moisture: 81% max

Soft mousse texture
Contains DHA for brain development
Ideal for pregnant or nursing mother cats too
High price point for a staple diet

If you're looking to gradually introduce your young kitten to kitten food, then Royal Canin Mother & Babycat Ultra-Soft Mousse is a great choice. It features a soft mousse-like texture which makes it easy for both kittens and nursing mothers to consume. It's a bit like pâté in consistency; this wet kitten food is ideal for supporting healthy hydration.

As a specialist product for mother and kitten, Royal Canin look to pack a few extras in the can. There's the inclusion of nutrient DHA, which studies have shown helps brain and vision development in kittens, as well as additional vitamins including Vitamin E, B1 and B6.

Essentially, there's everything here your kitten needs to get the best nutritional start in life - providing you're willing to fork out a little extra.

Royal Canin can be a little pricier than some other leading brands and once your kitten has had their daily fill, that could really start to add up. 

Fortunately, however, there are few a options. The brand does offer the cans in multipacks of 6-24, making it a great way to stock up in advance to feed hungry mouths. 

How to choose the best kitten food

When choosing the best kitten food, there are several things you need to think about. 

Firstly, nutrition. You want to make sure you’re hitting the right protein to fat ratio, and getting enough of both. For dry food you want to be hitting more than 30% in protein content and 15-20% in fat. For wet foods you ideally want between 10-15% for protein and around 3-6% for fat. 

You may want to be more aware of foods with high grain content, while the debate rages about exactly how bad grain are for cats, they can be an indicator that a food is full of filler or high in difficult to digest carbohydrates, rather than all the more preferable ingredients for a kittens development. 

When it comes to intolerances and allergies, it’s actually fish, chicken beef and dairy products that are the most common in felines. So while you should expect to see a little bit of a digestive reaction to any new food, if it goes on too long you may want to investigate further.

Ideally, you’ll pick out a mix of dry and wet woods. While dry food can be more cost effective and easier to manage, it won’t provide the moisture your cat needs to stay hydrated. If you’re going dry only, make sure your house is full of water sources for your cat to find, though they’ll need to be refreshed daily.

Lastly, the best kitten foods will recommend a transition period when switching. This will avoid most cases of digestive distress which, if prolonged, can be dangerous to kittens. Take a week, and slowly introduce the new food alongside the old to allow their systems to get used to it. Of course, if your kitten seems to be experiencing problems, or you’re worried that they may have a food sensitivity or other health problem, consult your vet.

Geraint Evans

Geraint is a freelance writer and editor with 10 years of experience; starting with comedy and football, these days he tends to specialise in words about business and technology. His three young cats - Tora, Uru and Dyfi - occasionally allow him to get on with some work.