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Feeding Your Kitten

Deciding how what to feed your new pet can be a challenging and frustrating process. With so many options to choose from, you’ll do best by arming yourself with good information about nutrients that are important to your rapidly growing kitten.

Meals or Free Choice? This debate will likely never be settled. Some people are allied to the meal feeding camp, while others strongly believe in free choice feeding. Personally, I feed my cats two meals per day and this works really well for them. However, many veterinarians believe that feeding free choice (allowing your kitten or cat to nibble throughout the day) protects the health of the urinary tract because it mimics the more natural feeding pattern of a cat in the wild. One thing to consider with meal feeding is that if your cat develops a health problem and needs a special diet and you have multiple cats in the household, it is much easier to separate for meals if they are already accustomed to this. Many people become frustrated when they have to use a prescription diet for one feline member of the household and their cats are free-feeders. It can become very expensive to feed a prescription diet to 4 cats, when only one needs it. Also, some prescription diets do not provide the best nutrition for normal, healthy cats.

Protein Protein is a very important nutrient for all cats, but particularly so for kittens. Cats are carnivores, with digestive systems that are designed to process mice, birds and other small creatures for optimal nutrition. Because of this, it is important to look for high levels of protein and high quality animal protein sources. Your kitten should eat a diet that has at least 30% protein. Animal protein sources such as fresh meat combined with chicken by-product meal or chicken meal will provide your kitten with the necessary amino acids for proper growth and development.

Fat As a nutrient, fat provides the majority of the calories to the formula. High fat levels will help provide necessary calories in a reasonable volume of food. Kittens have very high energy levels intermittently. Feeding a high fat diet will help your kitten maintain proper growth and proper energy levels for active play. Most fat sources provide a source of omega-6 fatty acids to the diet. Fatty acids are very important for the health of the skin and coat.

Taurine All diets that are formulated for cats contain taurine. Taurine is an amino acid that is an essential nutrient for cats. Dogs have the ability to manufacture taurine from two other amino acids. Cats lack this ability. Look for taurine in the ingredient panel and make sure it is guaranteed on the package. Without taurine, cats will develop blindness and heart disease. Because dog foods don’t contain taurine, make sure that your kitten does not develop a habit of eating your dog’s food.

Urinary Tract Health Kittens do not need to be fed a diet that is formulated for urinary tract health. Kittens have very acidic urine. It is not recommended that you feed your kitten a diet that is heavily acidified as some over the counter diets for urinary tract health are. An acidified diet may cause a disruption in the normal acid balance within your cat, leading to growth and development abnormalities. If you have an adult cat that is eating a prescription formula for urinary tract health, make sure that your kitten eats mostly a kitten formula. An occasional snack of the prescription diet is not a problem, but your kitten should not eat one of these formulas on a regular basis.

Hairballs Most kittens do not have problems with hairballs, even long-haired kittens. Make sure that you start brushing your kitten from a very young age to prevent excessive ingestion of hair. Hairball formulas typically have high levels of dietary fiber. This helps control hairballs by attracting the hair and pulling it through the digestive tract. Kittens should not eat high fiber diets. Fiber in these diets interferes with the normal absorption of nutrients. Kittens need all the nutrients from their diet for proper growth and interfering with the absorption by feeding high fiber may cause dietary deficiencies.

Starting Right Choose a high quality formula for your kitten from the beginning. Do not give your kitten bowls of milk as an alternative to water. This can lead to urinary tract problems as your kitten grows. If your kitten seems to be having digestive upset, talk with your veterinarian. Kittens can become dehydrated easily if they are not drinking and are having diarrhea. Proper veterinary care and good nutrition will help your kitten grow into a happy, healthy adult cat.

Please note that this information does not replace professional veterinary care. It is solely for educational purposes. Your pet's medical condition should be evaluated by a veterinarian before any medical decisions are implemented. If there is a potentially life-threatening emergency involving your pet, take your pet to a veterinarian or veterinary facility immediately.

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