March 9, 2023 |0 min read
Can Kittens Eat Adult Cat Food?
When you’ve got a new kitten on the premises, it takes all of two minutes for them to start their mischief-making after you’ve left the room. If you’ve just caught your kitten red-pawed and robbing your adult cats’ breakfast bowl, don’t panic—while kittens shouldn’t always eat off their elders’ plates, curiosity won’t kill your kitten.
So, can kittens have adult cat food? Generally, kittens should stick to food formulated for their age group (or for all age groups) until they’re 10 to 12 months old.1 Young cats have considerably different nutritional needs than older ones, and raising them on a diet that’s not suited to this voracious development phase could compromise their long-term quality of life.
New kitten owners have many questions about their kitten’s nutritional needs. For example many wonder how much wet and dry food to feed a cat.
If you’re a cat owner who just witnessed your little furball swiping bites from their senior roommates’ bowl—or you’re simply deciding which food is best for your kitten—understanding the essential nutrients your kitten needs and why they need it is a fundamental step in ensuring a long, healthy life of troublemaking.
Why Shouldn’t Kittens Eat Adult Cat Food?
When you are caring for your kitten, you may intuitively know that you may need to adjust your cat’s diet at each new milestone in their life. Just like humans, nutrition is a fundamental component of health—and as our bodies change, so do our dietary needs.
Veterinarians typically recognized four stages of the feline life cycle, each of which corresponds with a different set of nutritional needs:2
- Adult cats
- Senior cats
- Geriatric cats
At kittenhood, your feline needs to acquire much more energy from their food than an adult cat does—to the tune of three times extra calories than their older peers.2
Their basic energy needs are much higher, and growing kittens require a specific suite of nutrients to facilitate healthy physiological development. So, while some dry adult cat food may furnish kittens with adequate protein, it doesn’t always contain the other vitamins, and minerals young cats depend on to thrive.
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Kitten Nutrition 101
Every newborn kitten’s growth rate will differ depending on a variety of factors, from their species to their individual genetic inheritance—and eating the right food is just as important.
Since nutrition is one factor cat owners can control, nourishing them with food formulated to fulfill their age group’s needs help them grow to their fullest, heartiest potential.1 With that, let’s take a look at three essential components of any complete meal suited to kittens.
Felis catus, otherwise known as cats, are a species known to be obligate or true carnivores1. This means that they must eat animal proteins to live (and you’d be hard-pressed to ever meet a vegan cat).
In kittenhood, protein should provide 35 to 50% of their energy on a dry matter basis (meaning, if you were to extract the water content of their food, the dry matter would contain 35 to 50% protein). At least 9% of that protein must be derived from animal sources.3
Some excellent sources of protein for kittens include:
When weighing kitten food options for your feline, it’s important to veer towards those with a mix of animal proteins. This is because young cats require 11 essential amino acids—those building blocks of protein that must be acquired through food sources since their bodies can’t produce them themselves.3
Essential Amino Acids: Taurine
One of the most important amino acids for both kittens and older cats is taurine, which can only be derived from animal tissues.4 Taurine is elemental for:4
- Eye health
- Heart health
- Digestive health
- Reproductive health
These days, all cat food available on the market is supplemented with taurine. Unless you cook for your kitten at home, it’s highly unlikely you’ll need to worry about them developing a deficiency.4
A source of fat-soluble goodies like vitamins A and E, fats are also one of the most energy-dense nutrients in a kitten’s diet.1 They’re also a vital source of essential fatty acids like omega-3s.
Two of these are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which are crucial for preventing the development of inflammatory illnesses like:1
- Skin conditions (e.g., dermatitis)
- Kidney disease
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- Certain cancers
As nutritionally vital as fats are for kittens’ diets, it’s important not to overdo it on the fat!
Overindulging your kitten could put them on the road to maximal growth (growing as quickly as they can) as opposed to optimal growth (growing at a gradual, healthily-paced rate). This can lead to excess weight gain, obesity, and a slew of other long-term health conditions related to carrying too heavy body weight, such as:1
- Difficulty handling heat
- High blood pressure
- Depressed immunity
- Bone conditions (e.g. osteoarthritis)
- Heart conditions
To avoid these conditions, aim to put your growing kitten on a regular feeding schedule (rather than letting them graze and nibble as they please). Pre-measured portions administered three or four times daily should put their paws on the path to optimal growth.
Vitamins and Minerals
Because they evolved to depend on meat, cats of all ages require certain vitamins and minerals plentifully found in animal food sources. While many of these nutrients can be found in plant sources, they won’t be bioavailable for cats to use.
Let’s take a look at several of the most essential nutrients your kitten should have their fill of.
Calcium assists with healthy bone growth, muscle contractions, and speedily transmitting nerve signals—yep, those same ones that help build kittens’ storied “cat-like reflexes.”5
Kittens need between .8% and 1.6% of calcium on a dry matter basis.1 It’s also crucial that they receive sufficient amounts of phosphorus, as a low or off-kilter calcium-to-phosphorus ratio has been linked to feline kidney disease.6
Like humans, kittens need vitamin D in order for their bodies to put the calcium they consume to use.7 This means it’s as important to check that they’re receiving adequate amounts of vitamin D as it is to ensure they’re meeting their calcium quota.
Fortunately, your kitten should obtain sufficient amounts relatively easily—vitamin D is plentiful in a variety of feline-favorite foods like meats and oily fish. Since vitamin D can be toxic in high doses, cat owners are discouraged from supplementing unless they get the go-ahead from their vet.8
Many mammals are able to produce vitamin A organically, but felines lack sufficient amounts of the enzyme necessary for converting it.9 As such, it’s important your growing kitten gets their fair share of this fat-soluble vitamin through diet.
Vitamin A promotes the healthy development of vision,and your kitten’s fur coat and skin.10 Even so, felines can develop vitamin A toxicity.This is often caused by vitamin A-heavy diets like raw liver or feeding them excessive amounts of fish oil supplements (e.g. cod liver).11 Fortunately, most symptoms associated with vitamin A toxicity dissipate with a simple change in diet.
When Can You Feed Kittens Adult Cat Food?
So, at what point can kittens eat adult cat food? There are some factors to consider when deciding whether to give your kitten adult cat food:
- Their age
- Their weight
Most cats reach this turning point around 10 to 12 months old, when they’ve achieved 90% of their ideal body weight. That said, this timeline will vary according to your cat’s ideal weight, which depends on their breed. Your 11-pound Russian blue may take longer to reach this milestone than your next-door neighbor’s 6-pound Munchkin cat.
If you’re unsure whether changing cat food for your kitten is right, your vet can help you ascertain if you’re on track. Timing the transition correctly is vital for your kitten’s well-being, as feeding them an adult diet too early can result in deprivation (while transitioning them too late could result in weight gain).
How to Transition Kittens to Adult Cat Food
If you haven’t been raising your kitten on food that is formulated for every phase of life, transitioning their food will involve gradually introducing them to small portions of grown-up food alongside their usual kitten fare.
Here are some basic guidelines you can use to avoid disrupting their sense of routine (and digestive systems):
- Choose a week to transition – It’s generally recommended that food transitions be made over the course of 1 week to 10 days. This should be a sufficient amount of time for your kitten’s (now a junior cat!) gut to get accustomed to their new food and for their palate to get acquainted with new tastes and textures.12
- Keep an eye out for symptoms – Several signs may indicate the adult food you’ve chosen isn’t working for your young cat, from the behavioral (e.g. lethargy) to the cosmetic (like a loss of luster to their coat). Likewise, a change in bowel behavior—like loose stool or excess gas—may indicate a different adult cat food is in order.13
Please Every Age, Breed, and Palate with PrettyLitter
One way to put the kibosh on your kitten’s appetite for their elder roommate’s chow? Equalize their eating stations by serving up a family dinner of PrettyLitter’s signature blend. With omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, a variety of animal proteins, and 24 essential vitamins and minerals, you’ll support your cats’ nutritional needs from kittenhood to their golden years.
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- VCA Animal Hospitals. Feeding Growing Kittens. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feeding-growing-kittens
- Better With Cats. Is It OK That My Kitten Keeps Eating My Older Cat’s Food? https://betterwithcats.net/how-to-stop-kitten-eating-older-cats-food/
- Cats.com. Can Kittens Eat Adult Cat Food? A Vet Explains. https://cats.com/can-kittens-eat-cat-food
- The Spruce Pets. Taurine for Cats. https://www.thesprucepets.com/taurine-for-cats-5073841
- VCA Animal Hospitals. Hypocalcemia (Low Calcium Levels) in Cats. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/hypocalcemia-or-low-calcium-levels-in-cats
- National Library of Medicine. Evaluation of phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium content in commercially available foods formulated for healthy cats. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6979088/
- VCA Hospitals. Vitamin D Poisoning in Cats. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/vitamin-d-poisoning-in-cats
- Petful. How Too Much (or Too Little) Vitamin D Affects Cats. https://www.petful.com/pet-health/vitamin-d-cats/
- Cumming School of Veterinary Medicine. Cats are not Small Dogs: Unique Nutritional Needs of Cats. https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2018/12/cats-are-not-small-dogs-unique-nutritional-needs-of-cats/
- PetCoach. Fat Soluble Vitamins: A, D, E & K in Dogs and Cats.https://www.petcoach.co/article/fat-soluble-vitamins-a-d-e-k-in-cats/
- PetMD. Vitamin A Poisoning in Cats. https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/toxicity/c_ct_vitamin_a_toxicity
- Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association. AAFP–AAHA Feline Life Stage Guidelines. https://www.aaha.org/globalassets/02-guidelines/feline-life-stage/felinelifestageguidelines.pdf
- PetMD. 6 Signs it’s Time to Change Your Cat’s Food.https://www.petmd.com/cat/centers/nutrition/evr_ct_6-signs-its-time-to-change-your-cats-food