Let’s face it, there are few things cuter than a tiny kitten. Though they look like teeny stuffed animals, they are actually baby carnivores, and it is important to keep this in mind when deciding what to feed your new baby kitten!
No matter how cute tiny kittens are, it is very important for a their long-term health for him or her to stay with their mom for as long as possible after birth, ideally until 10-12 weeks, but at least until 8 weeks. This way they can get all of the nutrition from the mom’s milk, as well as learn how to be a cat from their mom and littermates.
If a kitten is orphaned or abandoned, it is vital to replicate as closely as possible a mother’s nutrition. Colostrum, which is passed through mother’s milk within the first 72 hours, contains important antibodies that help build the kitten’s immunity. If a kitten does not get this from their mom they are susceptible to illness and disease. If you find a newborn cat without it’s mother, you need to find a way to replace the colostrum, either from another mama kitty or from a colostrum donor through their blood. Bovine colostrum can also be used in extreme cases.
If the kitten must be fed for several weeks before weaning, there are a variety of commercial feline milk replacements that can be used until the kitten is old enough to eat solid foods. NEVER use cow’s or human’s milk or formula. A little bit of yogurt can be added to the milk replacer to help with digestion.
Kittens begin weaning (transitioning from mother’s milk to solid food) around 4 weeks of age, and are usually on a solid diet at 8 weeks. During this time, it is important to find a high-quality food to help the kitten grow big and strong.
Cats are obligate carnivores, descended from desert animals and designed to eat mice and other small animals. Because of their evolution, cats/kittens do best on high protein, high moisture, and low carbohydrate foods. Raw meat is the ideal diet for a cat, and the younger you introduce a cat to it, the more likely they will be to enjoy it. Many commercial diets are currently available that are appropriate for young kittens.
After raw, dehydrated or freeze-dried diets are the next best food, as they maintain the majority of the nutrients in their ingredients through minimal processing, and often do not contain much carbohydrate. Canned diets are next on the list, particularly grain-free cans. Though they are processed at high temperatures, they contain high amounts of moisture and protein. Kibble is the most convenient and often least expensive food option, but also the least appropriate food for a cat, as it is low in moisture and often high in carbohydrates. Prolonged feeding of kibble to cats may eventually lead to serious health problems.
Make sure any food you choose is specifically for “Growth” or for “All Life Stages” to ensure that there is an appropriate amount of nutrients to help the kitten grow healthily! Never feed a kitten a food labeled for “adult maintenance.”