Do Kittens Need Kitten Food? A Look Into A Popular Marketing Ploy


So you’re looking for kitten food for your new addition to the family, and are stumped on a certain question: “Do I need to feed my kitten a diet made specifically for kittens?” Well, the short answer is NO. You do not have to feed your kitten kitten food. If you’re interested in finding the best wet cat food for your kitten through their life as an adult, I wrote a comprehensive list about my top 10 choices here.

This just a marketing tactic brands use to play to your concern about certain characteristics of your cat. I promise I’m not wearing a tinfoil hat.

For example, if your cat has hairball problems, you feed them a hairball diet (which I highly recommend you don’t do that, especially if it is a dry remedy.) Or you feed your ageing, senior cat a food that has lower protein to protect their kidneys. Of course, do not do that because older cats need more protein for stronger muscle mass.

I’ve got the myth of “high protein causes kidney failure” covered HERE if you want to read up on it.

Despite this, sure, there are definitely different nutrional needs in a young, developing cat versus an older and mature feline. That doesn’t mean you can’t get those nutritional needs from “regular” cat food.

Just a reminder before I continue, you should still try to feed your kitten the best wet cat food you can find! If you are persistent in trying to feed your kitten wet kitten food made specifically for them, there are some holistic brands that do make kitten food.

First of all, what exactly are “Life Stages?” And what ARE the nutritional differences for a kitten to adult cat? Let’s get this myth busted.

A three day old kitten

What are Life Stages?

To be specific, realistically there is only kitten and adult. A senior cat is an adult, no matter how aged they are. There aren’t quite as many stages as a human, of course, where the brain is continually developing through our twenties.

In the wild, a kitten would never say “I’m sorry mom, but this meal doesn’t fit my nutritional requirements. Feed me something else.” No, by the time they are weaned off their mother’s milk, they are already eating the same diet for the rest of their lives.

This goes for the same concept of diets for different breeds. At least for domestic cats, this is a ridiculous concept and just another marketing tactic to play to your concerns.

Growing kittens naturally need more calories and carbohydrates for more energy. Yes, carbohydrates, but these are all instanly absorbed from the mothers lactose, and not stored much at all. This is for a very small portion of their life as we know that cats become lactose intolerant once weaned off of their mother’s milk.

To dig further into this, we need to learn about AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officers) who set the standards of US pet food manufacture.

If you want to make your search easy for wet cat food, you look for the label that AAFCO requires brands to put on cat food. They will generally go along the lines of:

“SOULISTIC CHICKEN DINNER IN GELEE is formulated to meet nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for Adult Maintenance”

OR for “All Life Stages” you would find:

” (product name) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for (life stage or stages)” (gestation/lactation, growth, maintenance, or the words “All Life Stages”).

When it says “All Life Stages” the food must follow strict nutritional guidelines to promote growth for the kitten. Does adult cat food provide this? Well, most likely. I don’t want to make such claims, but I am confident a kitten would turn out OK, especially if you were to feed a kitten the most nutrional and high protein food you could find.

The best solution is to look for food that says “All Life Stages” if you are really concerned about your kitten’s growth, since that is what ALL cats are usually eating anyways. A wild rabbit is “All Life Stages” if you want to look at it that way.

What are the Different Nutritional Needs between Kitten and Adult?

There isn’t much difference, except for the fact that a kitten is constantly growing and spending more energy. A high quality diet is always important, but it is certainly the most important as a   kitten. This will start your kitten off in the right direction of a life of wholesome, good nutrition!

An adult cat

After drinking mother’s milk from birth to four weeks, a kitten will start eating solid food, and in the case of a domestic cat, wet canned food.

A kitten will only stay a kitten for about 6 or 7 months from birth. In that time your little friend is going to rapidly gain weight until around that time, spending as much as energy as they can (exhausting you!)

No matter the life stage, a cat will always need the basics:

  • Protein

Amino acids, like Taurine, make up proteins. The food that kitten needs to eat has to be 30% protein at the LEAST, but it should be more than that, in my opinion. Any less and you are doing your kitten a disservice.

Adult cats should get at the very least 26% to 30% but of course, obligate carnivores thrive on protein, so please feed more protein than that. 26% is what a cat with kidney problems usually has in their diet, to put it into perspective. You don’t want that.

I’ll say it again, higher levels of GOOD QUALITY protein won’t hurt the older cat.

  • Fat

Always a controversial topic. Regardless of life stage, cats can keep the same requirement for fat due to their relative high requirement for it, but of course it varies in the individual.

Fat is a requirement for energy, which are calories. Without the right amount of Omega-6 and Omega-3 alpha linoleic acids, your kitten will not grow in the right way and will not be able to spend the energy it needs.

Interestingly, Omega-3 acids don’t have a requirement for adult maintenance in cats. It is still extremely useful, but certain commities could not come to an agreement on the right amount for adults.

  • Vitamins and Minerals

Calcium is crucial for growth in animals. With any vitamin or mineral, any deficiency will seriously harm your cat, but it is calcium that will give your kitten those strong bones and teeth.

You don’t want excess though, or else it can cause hypercalcemia. This shouldn’t happen if you’re not giving your kitten any extra supplements anyways. I wouldn’t recommend giving a kitten supplements at such an early point in their life, just stick to their food.

  • Carbohydrates

In a kitten’s case, carbohydrates are for spending energy. An adult cat doesn’t need the carbs. Not much more needs to be said, except do not give them any extra source of carbohydrates.

Give them their normal food and don’t give your kitty any extra supplements. Treats are OK, just make sure it’s got good protein and is good quality.

To sum up, a kitten just mostly needs very high protein and extra calories to keep them going!

If you want the pure scientific outlook on your cat’s nutritional needs, check this PDF out

Lifestyle Determines Food Intake

After a workout, you tend to eat a lot more and get that protein and energy back. The same applies for cats!

Growing kittens are certainly an extreme example of this and they will eventually slow down as they grow older. But the theory remains the same.

If your cat or kitten is more active throughout the day, they need to intake more food. If they were more sedantery, they should require a little less food. This is where watching your kitties weight comes into play with their health.

If you overfeed your cat and don’t match their calorie intake with their activity level, they will gain weight. Simple, right?

Vary your cat’s food intake by their needs and activity level. Your kitten will flourish into a healthy adult if you stick with this principle. Also,don’t just think that feeding your cat the same way you fed them as a kitten will keep your cat lean; your cat will rapidly gain weight like that.

This is especially important if you choose to buy specific “kitten food” for your kitten. If you keep them on a kitten food diet well into their adult life, they WILL become over weight because of the excessive calories.

If you are giving your kitten “kitten food,” I would transition to “Adult Maintenance” or “All Life Stages” cat food at 4 to 6 months, around the time they are spayed or neutered. If you keep them on kitten food through the entire first year of their life, it gives them an early path towards obesity.

This is another reason why I believe feeding “All Life Stage” food is best! Keep an eye on your cat’s activity level and use your common sense and judgment. This is important for any food you decide to feed your kitty.

Average Daily Energy Needs For a Cat

  • A five pound kitten after weaning needs about 200 calories in a single DAY.
  • A Lean Domestic Cat weighing around five pounds needs around 170 calories. That’s a big decrease in calorie intake already coming out of being a kitten. This is really underweight though for a domestic cat.
    • At 10 pounds, the average for a domestic cat, they need around 280 calories to sustain their weight and energy.
  • An overweight domestic cat weighing around 15 pounds needs 360 calories to maintain that weight. At that point, you need to start feeding less so they they can lose weight. Get them active!

Before kittens are weaned of their mother’s milk, they generally need around 20 to 25 calories for every 100 grams of body weight.

A kitten at 3 weeks to 4 weeks old is when you, the owner, should start supplementing your kitten’s diet with wet food, since the mother cat’s milk is starting to become insufficient.


How Do I Feed My Kitten? Don’t Overthink It

OK, OK, don’t stress about it too much. Your cat will only be a kitten for so long.

As long as you are feeding them a high protein, high moisture, and low carbohydrate diet, you are good to go. You just have to feed your kitten MORE of it- as in double or triple the amount of calories, depending on the type of food.

I mean, feed them A LOT. You really cannot force-feed a kitten. If they don’t feel like eating, they won’t eat (be careful if they refuse to eat. Not good.) Your kitten will burn through those calories like no tomorrow, so feed them more food more frequently than an adult cat needs to eat.

For example, Shadow, my cat, needs to eat about one and a half to two cans of 5.5 oz cans of food in one day to maintain his weight. A kitten might need up to three and half cans in one day, depending on calories, fat,  and protein count of the can.

Free feeding is actually OK for a growing kitten even. Transition to meal feeding times around 6 months of age- as your cat gets older, you can stop feeding them so frequently, and just go to only twice a day or whatever you feel is most suitable for your situation.

Use Your Common Sense

It seems a lot to take in and to remember, but the most important thing is to listen and pay attention to your kitten. Remember, some cats are more prone to weight gain and weight loss, it’s up to you to try and figure out your kitten’s needs as early as possible. Every cat is different, and the same rules may not apply to a different cat!

Genetics play a big role too, like in humans, and can determine certain diseases your cat may get in the future. Do not feel guilty if this happens to your cat. Sometimes it is unavoidable, but that is why paying attention is of utmost importance!

Get to know your kitten’s habits.

If you can take care of your kitten in the best way during this crucial time of development, you are paving the way towards a healthy future for your kitty, and less veterinary bills too.

I would recommend investing in a decent quality baby scale to track your kitten’s weight, and adjust accordingly, so you don’t have to keep paying to see a veterinarian to check on your kitten’s weight. Of course, take them for check ups as usual, but at least you can track your cat’s weight at home.

Thank you for reading, I hope you were able to make some sense out of this information. Helping a kitten reach their full potential as a cat is all I could ever hope for.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to leave them in my comments section!