April 18, 2011 7:42 PM   Subscribe

What should we feed our new kitten?

We will soon be adopting a ten-week old rescue kitten. What is the current best practice on diet for kittens? Our local supermarket offers a dry kitten chow but we assume that we should be offering wet food as well, perhaps primarily. We can find kitten-specific wet food only in the pet supply store. (We are willing to purchase this if so advised.)

Do you have any recommendations?
posted by Sissinghurst to Pets & Animals (16 answers total)
my vet advised its best to feed kitten specific food for at least first 6 months because kitten food is higher protein and calorie to handle the fast growth of young cats.

we fed our kitties (obligatory pics!!!) a set serving of wet kitten food twice per day, plus grazing high-quality kitten crunchies until age 9-10 months.

post pics!!!
posted by supermedusa at 7:47 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wet food is generally better than dry.

Look for food where the first ingredient is meat! Cats get all their nutrition from meat, but a lot of cheaper cat foods fill it up with grains which is basically useless filler.

I've been feeding my cats Halo, some other good brands are Natural Balance and Wellness. But you'll have to weigh price/etc.
posted by wildcrdj at 7:47 PM on April 18, 2011

Our kitties mainly get Purina One crunchies mainly(they love the salmon flavor). They also get a small serving of fresh cat food from the refrigerated section of the grocery store daily. The vet asked what we feed them because they're so healthy and pretty.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:14 PM on April 18, 2011

(Oh, and definitely kitten food while it's a kitten.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:14 PM on April 18, 2011

The currently philosophy is that wet food is better. Stick to kitten food the first year. Good brands are Blue Buffalo, Wellness, Evo, Natural Balance. They are more expensive brands but your kitten will eat less, give out less poop and be healthier than with any store brand. You are unlikely to find them in the grocery store. If food from a grocery store is your only option, I'd buy Purina One (I've been told it's usually the best on offer at a grocery store by a vet).

I would feed your kitten the wet food as regular meals with dry food on free feed until they're adults. You can continue with that provided it's not too much food for them. Taper off the dry food if they gain too much weight. Your vet can tell you what weight is optimum for your kitty.

Also, if possible, consider getting a second kitten at the same time. Cats, for the most part, do better in pairs. If left alone, they'll spend their time keeping each other entertained, etc. The other kitten does not have to be a litter-mate, but a similar age would work best.

Don't forget to post photos when you can!
posted by deborah at 8:52 PM on April 18, 2011

Wet is best but be on the look out for digestive issues. At 4-5 months, our kitten started to get consistently 'sloppy' poos and was leaving blobs of it around the house. We tried everything and even took him to the vet and didn't get anywhere. His breeder suggested going entirely on to a dry, biscuit diet. This cured everything and he's been great for the last year. Any time we try a little meat on him, it's diarrhea city again. So my recommendation, don't worry too much as long as he's happy and eating, but be prepared to totally change your plans and experiment if things turn sour.
posted by wackybrit at 9:39 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

i did this last year. (obligatory four-week-old-kitten pic) wet food only is what my vets have all told me through the years. we supplement that with raw chicken and fish while we're cooking.

word of warning: kittens apparently eat everything, all the time. i thought she'd never stop eating. it was a delight, but... kind of harrowing? we were like, "tapeworm?" but no. just a kitten. you've been warned.
posted by patricking at 9:40 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wellness is okay, but they've gone really mainstream lately and their quality's been dropping.

I've had good success with Go! and its associated foods; it's also about THE most expensive out there. Felidae, Nature's Variety (they make a raw food that the kitten may or may not ADORE -- I'd give it a try), Innova/Evo (I had limited success with this). Halo is ... eh, okay. Wellness is eh, okay as well with the bonus of being more widely available. I have always had more luck finding high-quality cat foods at local pet stores rather than the big-box stores. (Bonus: Supporting your local small business! Hooray, economics!)

Avoid: Pretty much anything you can get at the grocery store. Fancy Feast, Nine Lives, Friskies? Forget it. It's like feeding your kid McDonald's every day. Sure they'll grow, but it's not the healthiest. (If you seriously have no other option, or it's a matter of 'Crap, I'm out of the good stuff and the good pet store is closed', buy a can. Like the occasional cheeseburger, it won't kill 'em.)

If you want to make the cans go farther, you might try grinding up dry and mixing a bit in with the gooshyfood. I do this with HereticalKitten and she loves it. Seriously though, you DON"T need much.

And what patricking said. Kitten stomachs are actually black holes; they can eat and eat and eat and shit, and they'll STILL look (and act) like they're going to starve to death in ten minutes. (Kitten stomachs are also never-ending poop and fart factories.) Just go ahead and buy the tuna-can sized ones and avoid the little half-sized 'snack packs' -- because that's what those little teeny ones are. Kitten snacks. HereticalKitten could put four away in ONE DAY when she was that tiny.
posted by Heretical at 1:13 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Heretical and deborah above got it right. At the shelter we recommend kitten food until about a year old. Both wet and dry. You basically can't overfeed a kitten, let the kitten eat as much as she can until about a year old. Later on a high quality dry food is enough. I give my cat some wet once in a while as a treat.
posted by Ferrari328 at 5:43 AM on April 19, 2011

I don't know anything specifically about cat food or kittens, but stay away from the garbage they sell at the grocery store. You don't need to go hog-wild and buy super-organic-hippie food, but there is some decently-priced stuff available at regular pet stores (Petco, etc). Something like Nature's Recipe or Nutro.
posted by radioamy at 6:58 AM on April 19, 2011

When fostering 4-6 week tiny kittens, we typically have dry kitten food available all the time, and feed wet food 2-3 times a day. For a ten week old kitten, dry kitten food is sufficient to keep them growing*.
Historically, my fellow foster parents and I have gotten quite excited for the day when we can ditch the wet food because the whole house smells better.

*As a disclaimer: I've exclusively fed 1/4 cup dry purina cat chow (sometimes with water added) -- twice a day -- to everyone for 22 years, and I feel like it's worked excellently for my own cats & fosters.
That said, I keep reading from multiple respectable sources that wet is far superior, and I am considering switching.
posted by MeiraV at 8:58 AM on April 19, 2011

My kitty has had dry food her entire life and, at 4 at least, has no health problems of note. Certainly kitten food for the kitten. My vet's advice was to look for the food with the highest meat content possible - grains aren't really a natural part of a cat's diet, so anything bragging about Whole Grains! is kinda full of shite. My adult cat eats Wellness Core and ate ScienceDiet as a kitten, which is not the best, but like I said, she survived kittenhood just fine. The trick with dry food is to always, ALWAYS make sure the cat has lots of fresh water available.

All that said - my kitty has never been a particular black hole for food. She always leaves a little in the dish. She did this less as a kitten, but she did not like to eat alone. And playing was always more fun than eating. So don't panic if your cat is not vacuuming up kibble, but be aware of it.
posted by maryr at 9:05 AM on April 19, 2011

Response by poster: If the dry we have available is specifically for kittens, does the wet need to be specifically for kittens?
posted by Sissinghurst at 10:16 AM on April 19, 2011

does the wet need to be specifically for kittens?

Yes. Kittens have different nutritional needs than adult cats and so should be fed only kitten food.
posted by essexjan at 11:43 AM on April 19, 2011

Wet is better because it provides water, but I'd feed a bit of dry food, too, just as a treat, in case you ever need to switch your cat's food in the future. It's not good to get them overly used to one texture, or you could be in for trouble later on. That being said, I always refer people to the work of Dr. Lisa Pierson (who advocates for no dry food at all) when it comes to cat nutrition - www.catinfo.org.

There are definitely brands that are superior to supermarket ones, but note what Dr. Pierson writes about lower-end wet foods:

"By-products are always a controversial subject but it makes much more sense to feed animal-based by-products to a cat than it does to feed grains. Therefore, do not shy away from the more economical foods like Friskies or 9-Lives if you cannot afford the more expensive canned foods without by-products. I would much rather see a cat eating an all-by-product canned food than any dry food. This is because even the cheaper canned foods have the 'Big Three' covered:

1) high in water
2) usually low in carbohydrates
3) the protein is from animals - not plants"
posted by analog at 5:32 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with analog about wet food, and also a bunch of other points made upthread. We recently switched our 2 cats from free-fed dry to scheduled wet (with a wee amount of dry left out overnight) due to concerns about one of the cat's weight and reading up on pretty much the catinfo.org type stuff (it's in other AskMe threads on feeding cats too, you may wanna hit up the archives). In short it sounded like in the interest of keeping indoor cats at a healthy weight and preventing later urinary tract problems (particularly if your cat's male, which one of ours is) wet food is almost always better than dry. This is true even when comparing, say, Fancy Feast (and in fact there's a chart out there somewhere, maybe linked off the catinfo site, comparing protein levels across brands, that indicates as store-brand goes Fancy Feast is the decent option provided you pick cans where meat/fish is the first ingredient and no grains are in the top 3 or something) to higher level dry food brands. My favorite vet confirmed this for me, said pretty much the exact same thing about the Fancy Feast specifically being the ok mainstream brand as long as I picked the right flavors. I'd tried some of the premium dry foods mentioned above before (and in portioned amounts, not free-fed) and didn't see a difference, but the difference as soon as we started the cats on Fancy Feast has been tremendous--the overweight cat who was 21 pounds (!) has lost something like 4 or 5 pounds already and can do things he hasn't been able to in a long time--climb up the dresser, play with the other cat, leap and jump and run around. It's been wonderful watching him become so frisky and happy. The other cat's coat is shinier and she seems happier and more playful too. As long as you provide a way to handle their teeth (the supposed reason vets recommended dry for a while, but is being questioned these days) via vet cleanings and maybe the occasional dental treat, wet food seems the way to go.

I do however agree about maybe keeping both around while your cat's young because if for any reason you need to switch from one to the other later it might prevent a headache as cats are known to be creatures of habit and extremely stubborn, to the point they'll starve themselves rather than change their eating habits. It's why we still give ours a tiny bit (like less than 1/4 cup for both of them) of dry food overnight. It took months to get them to switch over to wet food, but it was worth it. If you start early and keep the cat exposed to both, the chance they'll freak if you emphasize one or the other later might be less.

So in short: yes definitely kitten food right now (and don't freak when they eat tons and poop and fart tons because that's what kittens often do); emphasis on wet food if you can afford it (and Fancy Feast is ok, really, as these things go) but might want to keep a bit of dry so the cat is used to both in the event they need one or the other exclusively later in life; if you must use dry then get one that emphasizes protein and has very little to no filler/grain/corn; don't literally mix wet and dry together (I didn't know this initially...getting dry soggy wet increases bacterial growth and can lead to stomach problems); if it seems like your cat's not drinking much water, keep water and food separate from each other (for some reason cats often don't like their water source to be near their food) and obviously both far away from their litterbox.
posted by ifjuly at 6:47 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

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