Published on July 25th, 2017 | by Debbie Martin0
If any living organism is to prosper, then the right nutrients are essential. This is as true for cats as it is for every other member of the animal kingdom. Nutrition is especially important when an animal is growing at its fastest; all of that new tissue has to be built from something, and so it’s essential that young cats provide their growing bodies with the right building blocks.
Let’s examine just what these building blocks might consist of – starting from the moment the kitten is born, and moving all the way up to adulthood via a series of incremental, gradual changes.
When the kitten is first born, its survival instincts will direct it immediately to the nearest (and indeed, only) source of food: its mother. The mother will lactate for around a month while the kittens develop their first teeth. When these come through, the kitten will lose its ability to digest lactose (the sugar found in milk) and so will need to be moved onto a commercial, balanced diet which meet its nutritional requirements.
Over the course of the months which follow the development of the first teeth, you’ll want to gradually wean your kitten onto a solid diet. Present a meal alongside formula milk that’s expressly designed for kittens (as other milk might be rejected), or water. Gradually, you’ll be able to decrease the level of liquid, until the kitten is subsisting solely on solid food. At this point the kitten will have been successfully weaned.
It’s at this period that the kitten’s growth is at its most explosive. This is where the bones and muscle will develop to their fullest, and new sets of teeth will grow and be replaced. Consequently, the kitten’s body will require a steady stream of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fats.
During this period, the kitten’s immune and digestive systems will not yet be fully functional. For this reason, it’s important to exercise special care when choosing which foods to give them. Choose foods which are specially formulated for kittens – such foods will usually come with an age and portion recommendation printed on the side of them.
Unlike adult cats, whose stomachs are larger and more forgiving, kittens benefit from smaller portions spaced evenly throughout the day. This will ensure that the cat’s body will be provided with a steady supply of the nutrients it needs to grow. By the six-month mark, you might move to two meals a day – but even then, cats have evolved to eat small amounts often (their natural prey, after all, is small rodents and insects.)
Since a kitten’s digestive system is more vulnerable to harmful microbes than an adult’s, it’s important that special emphasis be placed on hygiene. Ensure that wet food is eaten within thirty minutes, and that the dish is thoroughly washed before another meal is placed there. Even if the bowl appears clean, those harmful bacteria will still linger.
Don’t allow wet food to sit there all day – it’ll provide those microbes with the perfect environment in which to thrive. Where dry food is concerned, you’ve greater room for manoeuvre – but leaving it out all day might cause it to become less palatable. Water bowls should be regularly changed, and kept slightly away from food bowls, as cats generally prefer to drink somewhere other than where they’ve eaten.
Suffice to say, all food and drink should be consumed well away from the cat’s litter box, and well away from the sleeping area.
What about multiple kittens?
For the good of their psychological development, it’s often best that kittens are raised alongside other kittens. But this can raise a few minor problems when it comes to mealtimes – particularly if one is in the habit of barging the others away and stealing their food. Try to ensure that you keep your cat’s food bowls spaced a metre or so apart from one another – this will prevent cross-contamination.
As a general rule, you’ll want to put out one water and food bowl for each cat in the house – plus an extra one of each to spare. This will allow them the luxury of choice when you put their food down, and reduce the chance of them eating out of the same bowls when you aren’t looking!
Many of us are tempted to supplement our own diets with protein shakes, fibre-rich pills and the like. Older cats with specific nutritional needs might benefit from the same thing. But in the case of small kittens, nutritional supplements probably end up causing more harm than good.
Final transition to adult food
Of course, a cat can’t survive on kitten food alone for the entirety of its life – there comes a point where they will need to switch from their so-called ‘growth’ diet to a ‘maintenance’ one that’ll keep them at their ideal body-weight (and thereby fight off obesity, and related conditions like heart disease, diabetes and osteoarthritis.)
Most kittens reach this weight at around twelve months old. Ideally, the cat will be neutered during the first year, and this will also have an effect on their metabolism. The diet will need to be adjusted in order to guard against weight-gain.
Just as you weaned your new-born kitten from liquids to solids, you’ll also need to gradually wean your kitten from one sort of food to another – as abrupt changes might cause undue stress to the cat’s digestive system.
Keep an eye on weight
You’ll need to keep a close eye on your kitten’s weight throughout its formative year. Unfortunately, there’s little way of being sure of what the ideal weight should be, since they’re growing so fast! Generally speaking, you should get used to frequently picking your cat up and handling it, so that you can be aware of any sudden changes in body composition. Fortunately, most owners will relish the opportunity to pick their kitten up and cuddle it – provided that they’re gentle about doing so!