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Cat Food Is Not for Kittens

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

Karma and Chai at 14 weeks.

It’s been a long while since I had kittens in my house. I have to watch where I walk because they are always underfoot. I also noticed their eating habits are different from older cats. Searching for kitten food at pet supply stores and at my local grocery is a bit difficult. The varieties are slim.

My local supermarket carries one brand of dry kitten food. Finding wet food is harder. If you go to a major pet supply chain, you can find lots of cat food varieties. At two major pet supply chains in my area, I found three different brands of kitten food.  I also noticed that whatever they are eating gives off an odious scent after they use the litter box. So, I got curious and decided to ask Thomas Dock, CVJ and Managing Editor of Veterinary News Network, American Society of Veterinary Journalists and Practice manager/Veterinary Assistant for Mobile PetDocs, about kitten food versus cat food.

Pet News and Views: Why do kittens need kitten food instead of cat food?

Tom: It really depends on the brand.  If you look on the side of the bag and the AAFCO  http://www.aafco.org/ statement says that the food is “formulated to meet nutritional requirements for all life stages,” you are probably okay feeding that diet to the kittens.  Some brands are more focused on “life stages” than others, and their kitten food may truly be a kitten food if the statement reads it is “formulated to meet nutritional requirements for growth and lactation/reproduction” versus “formulated to meet the needs for adult maintenance.”

Kittens do have a slightly higher energy requirement than adult cats, thereby needing a more energy dense food with the appropriate levels of nutrients.

PNAV:  My two new kittens are famished. They are quite healthy, but they did not eat much at the pound. I know a lot of other people who have told me that when their cats (and dogs) get home from the pound and they are presented with food, they wolf it down. They eat fast, and I think would continue to eat if I constantly put down more food (which I don’t). Is this normal behavior?

Tom: That’s a great question and I will leave the science of it to the docs, but I would have to wonder if the shelter (like most shelters) are feeding donated foods, which, for the most part, tends to be the lower cost products that people pick up at Walmart or the local grocery store.  If that’s the case, the kittens may have learned that they need to eat more in order to meet energy needs.  Once they are on a good, high quality diet, this behavior may diminish.

PNAV: What suggestions do you have so pet owners won’t over feed their cats?

Tom: The most important thing a cat owner can do is to portion control.  Far too often, pet owners find it easier to just fill up the bowl whenever it’s empty and this means that the cat has access to too much food and may eat out of boredom or because the food is especially palatable. Another thing to do is to split the cat’s daily portion into multiple small bowls and then “hide” those bowls around the house.  This better mimics the cat’s natural “grazing” behavior and makes the cat “hunt” for food.  This activity can help burn calories and keep weights down.

 PNAV: Is wet food better than dry? I personally prefer wet food to dry for my cats. I give them some dry for their teeth. Does it matter?

Tom: First fallacy is that dry food helps clean teeth; dry food probably limits the amount of plaque formation when compared to sticky canned diets, but it won’t help clean teeth unless you buy one of the specific diets designed for “cleaning” teeth.

There is a big debate in veterinary medicine right now about dry versus canned diets for cats.  The canned diet proponents say that the canned diet matches the nutrient profile of “natural prey” better and also helps with insuring that the cat is taking in enough water each day.  This then helps to minimize risks for obesity, diabetes and chronic kidney problems.  The other side says that ANY food (canned or dry) can lead to obesity and then to diabetes.

I think you will have to decide what works best for you; if you are okay with the canned diet and you dispose of any uneaten portions soon after the cats finish, I think this is just fine.

PNAV: I’ve been trying a few different kitten food brands. After they digest their food and use the litter box, the house smells awful. I know people don’t usually talk about this, but what can be done to eliminate the bad odor, and is it okay for their poo to smell so bad? I realize cats are not vegetarians—and should not be—but their poo stinks.

Tom: This is a common question and often is related to the diet. So, first, how long have you had these two kittens and how long are you trying each diet?   People will often switch diets frequently trying to find the one that their cat “likes,” or reduces litter box odor or for whatever reason.  What you need to remember is that the kittens need time to adjust to the new diet. If you are switching diets every week or so, the kittens’ bodies may not be fully adjusting to the new diet and this could be the reason for the excessively odiferous stool.

Editor’s Note: What are you feeding your cats or kittens? If you live with puppies, have you had a similar problem finding puppy food? What do you feed your puppy or dog? Please let us know, and thanks.

9 comments to Cat Food Is Not for Kittens

  • Tom

    Good information. Thanks. And we have a new puppy, and there are more dog food choices than puppy food in the stores.

  • John

    I agree that finding kitten and puppy food is not as easy as finding cat and dog food. I give my dog Science Diet and my cat gets a special prescription diet, also from Science Diet, which I pick up from my vet.

  • Carol

    Our cats eat Purina because it is cheap. We have four cats, and that is a lot of food. I don’t think it is as high quality as other brands,but it is affordable.

  • Felice

    Thanks for posting this. We found fewer puppy food selections at our grocery and pet store too. Now, that our dog is older we feed him Iams and Science Diet. It depends what is on sale.

  • Elizabeth

    Price does matter, and so does quality. When Blue Buffalo and Halo are on sale, we buy those. I heard Halo now has a vegetarian dog food, which I would not buy. The people in our house are vegans. The pets need meat.

  • Donna

    I really thought dry food cleaned teeth. Thanks for clarifying.

  • Jackie

    Interesting point about their poop. It makes perfect sense. Their little bodies need to get used to a steady diet.

  • Nancy

    We buy Iams, Purina, and Science Diet when they are on sale.

  • Great information…thank you.
    We buy a locally produced high quality ProSeries food for all of our cats. This way we’re pretty certain about what goes in it. We go through a bag a week. We give them the odd can of wet food but it’s a high-paced activity to produce 9 bowls at the same instant, lol.
    We don’t have any kittens right now, but spring is up next and that always involves a new family member.
    We can only offer food for urinary tract protection because of Fang’s condition and that he won’t stay out of any other food