As the proud parent of a new kitten, you need kitten food that aligns with her nutritional needs in order to keep her active and healthy as she grows up. And because these bundles of energy have different nutritional needs than their older, occasionally less active counterparts, you don't want to take a one-size-fits-all approach to feeding.
Consider your kitten's specifics (speak with your veterinarian first, especially if your kitten has any health concerns), and use the following guidelines to find the food that'll help her become the happiest and healthiest she can be.
Fatty Acids and Proteins
It's so important to find the right food because poor nutrition can increase your kitten's risk of obesity, poor muscle and bone development, and weak immune response. Luckily, pet food manufacturers are required to identify the life stage for which their product is intended, making your job a lot easier. As the pet parent, however, it's up to you to determine which kitten food product is best for your young cat, starting with nutrients.
When searching for the right kitten food, look for a product that contains the fatty acid DHA, commonly found in fish oil and helpful to brain and eye development, as well as folic acid for proper cell growth. Taurine, an amino acid, is another important ingredient that aids in the proper function of the heart, immune system, digestive process as well as with vision.
Look for a food that provides your little one with energy from protein for darting around the house when you're asleep or at work. Sources of protein come from meat and high-quality grains, such as chicken, tuna, corn, wheat or barley. Choose a product that has these in the top three or four slots on the ingredient list.
When you first bring home your furry friend, experiment with both dry and canned food. As PetMD points out, certain medical conditions that are common later in life, such as diabetes or kidney disease, may warrant canned food as part of a treatment plan. You'll want to offer your kitten both dry and wet food to familiarize her with a variety of textures so feeding is easier down the road if she's required to eat canned food for health-related reasons.
Your vet can advise you on whether dry and/or wet food is best for your kitty, but avoid supplementing or "wetting" your kitten's food with milk. It can upset her digestive system and may cause diarrhea.
Portions and Timing
Kittens have tiny tummies, as you can imagine, so aim for three small meals until they are 6 months old (then drop to 2 per day) rather than 24-hour "free feeding" access to their food, which can lead to bad eating habits in adulthood. Follow the recommendation on the pet food package and adjust to your kitten's needs.
Kittens' little mouths and teeth are another important reason not to feed your furry baby an adult cat food just yet; each large kibble can be a choking hazard. Dry formulas, such as Hill's® Science Diet® Kitten, is made in smaller, kitten-bite-sized pieces for your littlest housemate.
What to Avoid
In general, stay away from kitten food that doesn't contain the proteins, vitamins (Vitamins C and E help support a healthy immune system), and fatty acids necessary for your kitten's healthy growth and development. Pet food companies aren't required to provide information on the food label about the sourcing or quality of their product, so it's best to purchase products from reputable, well-known brands that can and will provide you with the information you need.
Starting your kitten off with proper nutrition is a vital step in ensuring she'll grow into an active, healthy cat and provide you with love and companionship for many years to come.
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mother, and pet parent to two Russian Blues. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.