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Keeping Your Kitten Well Fed

By: Ed Kane

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Kittens bounce off walls and pounce at warp speed on anything that moves. The only time they seem to slow down is when they stop to refuel. Make sure your kitten gets the best food available so that she can stay a bouncing, pouncing joy for years to come.

Your Kitten's Growth

At birth, your kitten weighs only about 3 ounces and gains about half an ounce every day. By 10 weeks of age, she'll weigh more than 2 pounds, which is a tenfold gain in 10 weeks. Although males and females grow similarly at first, males begin to outweigh females after 10 weeks. Males tend to increase in weight until they are 11 months old. So, with all that growth, nutrition is critical.

Starter Food

Kittens live on mother's milk, which is nutritionally balanced for them, until they are 7 weeks old. But they will try to start eating solid food when they are 3 or 4 weeks old and still have few teeth and tender stomachs. This is a good time to start feeding your kitten soft meat-based canned food.

When Weaning Ends

After a kitten is weaned off her mother's milk, she needs a balanced diet to get all the energy, protein, vitamins and minerals she needs. Some pet foods are designed with the kitten in mind and are more nutrient-dense than "adults only" pet foods. However, a kitten diet or an "all stages of life" food will suffice. Besides the basic nutrients, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D, thiamine, essential fatty acids and taurine are especially important. A diet that is missing just one of these elements, such as zinc, can result in poor growth, skin lesions and other deformities. She needs it all and well balanced cat food gives it to her.

It Has to Taste Good

In order to get your kitten to eat her food, you need to make sure she likes it. She goes by aroma, texture and taste. Stick with one food that she seems to like to avoid upsetting her stomach. You can add a complete and balanced dry food to canned food but if the dry food is too tough for her, add warm water and mush it up.

Your Meat-loving Buddy

If you had any ideas about making your cat a vegetarian, forget it. Cats are true carnivores; they must eat meat to get all of their vitamins. Humans, who are omnivores, are able to obtain some nutrients from plants and turn them into other nutrients that they would normally get from meat. For cats, it's meat or nothing. They either can't get enough of the nutrients they need out of plants, or they can't convert them to what they need. For example, cats cannot convert carotene from plants to vitamin A and therefore must get vitamin A from the meats they eat.

Beware of "Adults Only"

Another thing to watch for when choosing food for your kitten is food marked "maintenance" or "adults only." This type of food does not contain enough nutrients for young kittens. Food that is specially formulated for kittens is higher in protein and energy density than adult food. For example, dry kitten food contains about 35 percent more protein, is 25 percent higher in calories and has a higher fat content than adult food. However, if the food is labeled "100 percent complete and balanced for all life stages," it's okay to feed it to your kitten.

Can You Overfeed?

From a few weeks old up to 3 or 4 months old, it's almost impossible to overfeed a kitten because her growing body is constantly craving nutrients. Later, things start to slow. For example, at 10 weeks of age a kitten needs 250 kilocalories of energy per kilogram of body weight each day. That's equivalent to about 2.5 to 3 ounces of dry food, or 8 to 9 ounces of canned food a day. At 4 to 6 months of age, kittens needs drop to about 100 to 130 kilocalories per kilogram of body weight. Between 8 months to a year of age, most kittens reach adult body size and weight and require the same amount of food as adults, 70 to 80 kilocalories. At this point they need only about 1 ounce of canned food or one-half ounce of dry food per pound of body weight.

If your kitten starts to turn her nose up at her food, keep an eye on her. It may be nothing to be concerned about, but call your veterinarian anyway. If your cat stops eating for 24 hours, it can lead to serious problems, even death. For kittens, they have even less time so err on the side of safety.

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