Kittens aren't simply little versions of cats; they are growing babies who need more nutrients and calories than their adult counterparts. Foods designed for kittens provide them with the ingredients they need to grow into healthy adults. Until your little one reaches 1 year of age, feed him kitten food.
Foods formulated for kittens state on the label that they are designed "for growth and reproduction," while foods for adults state that they are for "adult maintenance." The labels should also note that the manufacturer has adhered to the nutrient profiles designed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. This ensures that they will provide adequate nutrition for your kitty based on his life stage. These foods can provide a growing kitty with the nutrition he needs based on evidence from clinical tests and trials. Those for adults give your furry buddy just enough of the ingredients he needs, without overloading him on those he doesn't.
Protein and Fats
One of the major differences between foods designed for kittens and those designed for adult kitties is the proportions of proteins and fats they contain. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, kitten food must contain a minimum of 22 percent protein and 8 percent fat. Adult cat foods contain a minimum of 18 percent protein and 5 percent fat. The extra amino acids and essential fatty acids contained in these ingredients help with healthy tissue growth for your little one. Kittens who don't get enough protein won't develop properly, which is why food for them contains higher amounts of it, according to Catster. Adults, on the other hand, don't need these excess nutrients in their diet, although they aren't necessarily harmful for them, according to "Starting Out Right With Your New Cat: A Complete Guide."
Vitamins and Minerals
Kitten food contains higher amounts of vitamins and minerals to support healthy bone growth and teeth, according to Purina. Minerals like calcium and phosphorus are included in larger amounts for kitten food, according to the FDA. These minerals are needed for healthy growth. Adult cat food contains fewer of them because they are no longer needed for growth. In fact, too much of them can be harmful to adults, according to the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. Because of these nutritional differences, only kittens should be fed foods designed for them.
Kittens need up to three times more calories than adult kitties, according to WebMD. The increased proteins and fats contained in kitten food give the younglings the extra calories they need for healthy growth. They also get 30 percent of their energy from the larger amount of protein, fats and calories. Kittens have small tummies, so their foods need to be densely packed with more calories than adult food has. While this is healthy for their growth, if kitten foods are fed regularly to adults, obesity could result.
Feed your kitty appropriately for his life stage so that he maintains a healthy weight and develops properly as a baby. While some foods claim to be appropriate for all life stages, AAFCO recommendations specify feeding guidelines only for kittens, pregnant or nursing mothers and adult kitties, not a catchall category. Kitten foods, in addition to the differences in ingredients, also tend to have a softer consistency for canned foods and smaller kibble pieces for dry ones. This makes them easier for your little guy to chew and digest than an adult food. Once your little one reaches 1 year old, you can switch him over slowly to an adult food to accommodate his changing nutritional needs.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Selecting Nutritious Pet Foods
- National Research Council of the National Academies: Your Cat's Nutritional Needs [PDF]
- Catster: Feeding Kittens: A Guide
- Purina: Feeding—Nutrition Information
- Starting Out Right with Your New Cat: A Complete Guide; Kim Campbell Thornton
- Maine Coon Cats; Carol Himsel Daly, D.V.M. and Karen Leigh Davis
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images