Best Kitten Food for 2018
Is there anything better than a tiny, playful, fluffball of a kitten? We can’t think of anything! Nothing will put a smile on your face and warm your heart faster than a kitten, but now that you’ve brought the newest member of your family home, are you ready to give him or her the best kitten food he needs to thrive? The pet food aisle may be a daunting please, but we’ve got everything you need in this comprehensive guide to find the best kitten food for 2018 for your new friend.
Kitten vs Cat Food
Kittens are weaned at about four weeks of age, though as early as three weeks if you’re raising an orphan (source). They take months to become full size and during that time, grow explosively. It’s important to make sure you’re feeding your kitten what he or she needs to grow correctly and prevent many of the people diseases she can encounter due to improper feeding.
How Kittens Grow
To understand what kittens need in their food, you first need to understand how they grow and develop. Unlike larger animals, cats develop rapidly. Though helpless and only a few ounces at birth, by ten weeks old they’ve grown by an additional 2lbs. (source).
After another four or so months of continued rapid growth, her weight will plateau somewhat. Males will continue to grow less quickly until approximately eleven months, while females stop just shy of nine or ten months (source). Don’t think things are quiet, though! During this time, your feline friend is busy playing all day long.
All of this growth works up a healthy appetite, and your kitten needs food to match! That’s why regular cat food just doesn’t work; it’s designed to help your kitten maintain her weight, but she needs to grow. Plus, kittens need some nutrients (or higher levels of nutrients) than full-grown cats.
Special Nutritional Requirements for Kittens
Kittens need much more protein in their food than cats (source). In fact, experts recommend that kittens receive thirty percent of their calories (energy) via protein, while cats only need twenty-six percent protein. Also, while adult felines need a calcium to phosphorus ratio equal to 0.6 : 0.5, kittens need a ratio of 1.0 : 0.8. Finally, kittens need higher amounts of Lysine and Tryptophan (amino acids) and Vitamin A than their full-grown counterparts (source).
Since the food requirements for kittens are so different than those of adult animals, experts highly recommend feeding a food designed expressly for kittens until your pet’s first birthday. Some foods are advertised as being appropriate for all stages of life, but make sure you read the label!
You’ll also want to keep a lookout for feeding tests on the label–if the food hasn’t been tested by kittens, it’s probably not a good choice for yours. We’ll explain a little more about this later, but it’s not uncommon for pet food companies to simply create kitten food from a recipe before releasing it for retail. The best companies, however, combine scientifically proven recipes and consultation with nutritionists and veterinarians with real-life testing (source).
Nutrition Warning Signs
How do you know if your kitten isn’t getting enough nutrients? There are many different signs to look out for, and causes can include anything from parasites to poor nutrition. Symptoms include:
- Distended belly or pot belly
- Overly bony (kittens are naturally slender)
- Goes several hours without eating (especially if she’s less than eight weeks old)
- Vomiting and diarrhea simultaneously
- Tiredness or seeming too quiet
- Poor quality skin or coat
- Loose stools
If your kitten experiences any of these symptoms, it’s time to check in with the vet. Sometimes, however, your kitten may experience less severe problems that are an indication that you need to change her food. You can ask yourself the following questions to help you make sure you’re providing the right food at the right age for your pet:
- Is my kitten alert? Does he appear healthy?
- Is my kitten gaining an appropriate amount of weight for her breed and developmental stage?
- Is his coat glossy and does it appear to be clean?
- Is she playful and active throughout the day?
- Are his eyes alert and bright?
Because kittens are so young and small, you’ll want to keep a close eye on her and review these questions frequently; things can change quickly! If, however, you can answer all these questions positively, congratulations! Not only are you raising a healthy kitten, but you’re feeding him the best kitten food for his little body.
Special note: if you do change his food, do it gradually. It’s not uncommon for pets to get upset stomachs when you change their food, so you’ll want to start by adding small amounts of the new food and gradually reducing the old food. Often, however, pet owners report that their cats love the variety, so it might be worth playing with fun new foods so your kitten can experience new textures and develop a wide palate.
How Often Should You Feed a Kitten?
Because of how much protein and how many calories kittens need in a day, it’s difficult for them to get all the calories they need in just one or two meals a day (source). Experts recommend feeding kittens more often than adults. Not only does this help make sure your pet is receiving adequate nutrition, it is also comforting to these small animals used to nursing on their mother at will.
A very young kitten should be fed as many as four or five times a day, but keep in mind this means small meals! As your kitten grows and can eat more to hold him over between meals, you can begin to put him on a more regular meal schedule–usually three meals a day–and then gradually work to two meals.
If you’re feeding dry food and you’re worried you won’t be home often enough for that many small meals, you can encourage free feeding. This isn’t something you probably want to continue as your pet gets older as it could lead to problems with obesity later, but this usually isn’t an issue for kittens. Please don’t do this with canned food, however, since leaving wet food out for more than five or ten minutes may cause it to spoil.
Best Kind of Food For Kittens
When you’re deciding what kind of food to feed your kitten, one of the things you’ll have to think through is whether you’ll feed him wet (canned) or dry food. The very young, small kittens cannot handle a diet of only dry food because of their very tiny teeth. They simply won’t be able to chew the dry food well! If they’re not receiving enough wet food, they won’t be able to thrive as they won’t be getting all the nutrients they need.
Another thing you’ll need to be aware of is quality and labeling. Make sure you carefully read the nutrition facts to make sure your kitten’s food hits the minimum protein, vitamin, and mineral contents. Another thing you should look for, according to WebMD Pets, is one of these statements: “Meets the nutritional requirements of kittens established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)” or “Complete and balanced nutrition for kittens based on AAFCO feeding trials.”
AAFCO stands for the American Association of Feed Control Officials. It is the organization responsible for regulating pet food. If AAFCO has certified that your kitten food provides complete and balanced nutrition, you definitely won’t need to talk to your vet about supplementing. Further, AAFCO feeding trials indicate that the product has been used satisfactorily by its intended market (kittens) and has successfully provided a high level of nutritional value.
One thing that always comes up for pet owners is whether or not they should be making food for their new friend, or supplementing with additional minerals or things like milk. Veterinarians recommend working with a pet nutritionist if you want to make your cat’s food yourself (source), and you should never supplement without a veterinarian’s supervision.
Further, you also shouldn’t feed your pet too much milk or fish. Too much fish in his diet could lead to health issues such as elevated levels of toxic mercury and selenium (source), and once he’s been weaned, his body doesn’t produce enough of the enzyme known as lactase, which breaks down milk (source). Feeding her milk could cause vomiting or diarrhea, both of which are unpleasant–and harmful if not controlled.
Treats are a fun way to bond with your kitten and show him you love him, but it’s very easy to overdo it. Keep in mind that only 5% of his daily food intake should come from treats (source)! That means almost nothing for kittens, so instead of tossing him something, try scratching that spot behind his ears or playing with him.
Finally, make sure your friend has access to lots of fresh, clean water all day long. Depending on how coordinated or clumsy he is, you might have to clean and refill his water bowl several times a day, but it’s important that he gets all the water he needs throughout the day.
Transition Your Kitten to Cat Food
When you’re choosing the best food for kittens, one thing that will come up is weaning. How do you do it, and when do you do it? The weaning process can seem daunting, but take heart! Every kitten has made it through to adult cat food, and yours will, too. Teaching her to no longer rely on the mother’s milk is worth planning out and doing carefully.
Usually, you won’t have to worry too much about this process, as your kitten’s mother will assist. If your pet has been removed from his mother too soon or has been orphaned, or the mother cat is expecting another litter, you’ll have to take over.
The entire process usually takes about four weeks, starting when the kitten is approximately four weeks old (source). Developmentally, kittens will indicate that they’re ready for weaning by being able to keep their eyes open and focused and walk steadily on their feet. Now it’s time to introduce solid food!
Whatever you do, try not to be abrupt with your kitten. She is used to her mother and being with other kittens, so impetuously cutting her off will also cause harm. If possible, she should remain with her mother, especially since the mama cat will be your best ally during this process and can help teach the young cat what to do.
At about four weeks old, beginning moving your kitten to another area, away from mama, for an hour or two. This helps her bond with you and get used to being away from mom. You’ll want to give her a litter box and separate bowls for water and food, just for her. Gradually, you can start increasing the time she spends apart from her mother until she’s eating meals on her own and no longer relying on mama for milk and comfort.
To teach your kitten how to eat solid food, you’ll want to start with a milk replacement. Cow’s milk is designed for large bovines and is not suitable for a tiny kitten; to avoid diarrhea or an upset stomach, choose a non-dairy alternative. You can give the kitten a shallow bowl of the milk, and either let her lick it off your fingertip or play around in the bowl. As time progresses, you can make mix kitten food to make the milk the consistency of oatmeal.
Don’t be alarmed if your kitten just plays with the milk and “oatmeal” and doesn’t seem to know what to do with it–just be patient, and he or she will catch on. Eventually, you should start offering the bowl first when they’re hungry, before mama’s milk or a syringe or bottle (if you’re hand feeding).
By five to six weeks, you should have slowly begun to decrease the milk in the “oatmeal” and upping the amount of kitten food. Only just wet food is necessary by this age. Of course, don’t forget to feed her several times a day and keep water available (source), but by eight to ten weeks, he should be completely ready for unmoistened (dry) kitten food.
Choosing the Best Food For Your Kitten in 2018
Now that you know what your kitten needs to thrive let’s talk about how to choose different kinds of kitten food.
Wet Kitten Food
One of the most important things you should consider when choosing the best wet kitten food doesn’t have anything to do with the wet food at all, but rather your schedule. Are you able to feed canned food to your kitten several times a day? Depending on the age (and therefore the frequency of feedings) you might not be able to. In that case, many people feed their kittens a blend of canned food in the morning and night, and dry food during the day.
The advantages of canned for are extensive: first of all, most cats love wet food! They come running when they hear the can start to pop open. Also, it makes feeding kittens very easy, as you won’t have to pre-moisten anything or worry about the liquid content. Also, the high moisture content makes wet food a great option for a pet with kidney problems or who struggles to get in enough water during the day.
We prefer using grain-free or gluten-free mixes for kittens, and a lot of what differentiates the best products from each other is taste–what does your kitten like the best? Before you order anything in bulk, order a few cans and give your kitten some options so she can decide for herself which she prefers.
Here are some of our favorites in the best wet food for kittens roundup:
- Whole Earth Farms Grain Free Healthy Kitten Recipe
- Blue Buffalo Freedom Kitten Indoor Paté
- Wellness Kitten Paté
Dry Kitten Food
Dry kitten food is significantly more convenient and portable than wet; it also tends to be more economical. That said, the youngest kittens can’t eat dry cat food, and some kittens might entirely turn up their noses at it. If you prefer dry cat food, this video shows how you can use dry food to help wean your kitten: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9n3gUsA6sAU
When choosing the best dry kitten food, one thing that cat owners appreciate is how great dry food is for their kitten’s teeth. Keep in mind, however, that dry food isn’t a substitute for good oral health!
One of the downsides to canned food can be that the high water content means that your kitten will feel full faster. If he or she is underweight and struggling to get in enough calories at each meal, dry food may be a better choice (source).
One of the biggest problems with dry cat food is the high levels of starch, which can lead to obesity in pets. Starch is necessary to fill and bind the kibble, but too much can be a bad thing. We also prefer grain-free recipes for cats, since gluten can easily irritate sensitive stomachs.
Here are our top three picks for this category:
- Blue Buffalo Healthy Growth Kitten
- Natural Balance Original Ultra Whole Body Health Kitten Formula
- Instinct by Nature’s Variety Original Kitten Grain-Free Recipe
Raw/Frozen Kitten Food
Traditionally, your only options for feeding your kitten have been dry food or wet food, but raw (or frozen) kitten food has been steadily growing in popularity. Kitten parents have been finding that high levels of starches in wet and dry food can lead to health issues further down the line, such as arthritis, urinary tract diseases, inflammation, diabetes, and especially obesity.
Raw food, however, helps to eliminate all those. Thanks to many new brands on the market today, kitten owners can now feed their pets raw food just as easily as they’d feed canned food. Plus, they don’t need to worry about creating the right recipes or supplementing like they would if they made their cats’ raw food themselves. Raw food diets tend to be very high in taurine, which is often damaged during the cooking process. This explains why cats fed raw food diets tend to have healthier hearts (source).
Further, many people feel raw food helps cats tap into their natural instincts, which in turn makes them healthier. A note of caution, however: most vets recommend waiting until about six months to start your kitten on raw food, as her digestive tract may not be able to fully handle it until then (source). In fact, you will be hard-pressed to find raw food formulated just for kittens. This shouldn’t be a problem, however, as raw food is so naturally high in protein.
One final word of caution: even though some of our recommendations are freeze-dried, all raw food should be handled carefully. Wash any utensils or surfaces that come in contact with it with hot, soapy water, and do not let children handle it.
Here are our top picks for raw or frozen kitten food:
- Primal Turkey Formula Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Cat Food
- The Honest Kitchen Human Grade Dehydrated Grain Free Cat Food
- Stella & Chewy’s Duck Duck Goose Dinner Grain-Free Freeze-Dried Cat Food
Best Kitten Food Reviews
Whole Earth Farms Grain Free Healthy Kitten Recipe
Whole Earth Farms canned recipes get great kitten food reviews and are made in the USA (no ingredients from China). The product’s first five ingredients include chicken, chicken broth, chicken liver, natural flavor, and dried egg product, and contains no corn, wheat, soy, by-products, artificial colors, or artificial preservatives.
Formatted specifically for kittens, this Healthy Kitten Recipe contains 9% crude protein, 4% fat, 3% fiber (important for pushing hairballs through your kitten’s system), and 27% moisture.
Thanks to its high moisture content, kittens love this canned, grain-free option. Pet parents especially appreciate that it is formulated in the United States.
- Designed specifically for kittens
- Convenient canned packaging
- High-moisture means perfect for very young kittens
- Low protein, might not meet kitten’s total nutrient requirements
- No taurine
Blue Buffalo Freedom Kitten Indoor Paté
The first five recipes in the Blue Buffalo Freedom Kitten Indoor Paté almost sound like a recipe for humans: chicken, chicken liver, chicken broth, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Kitten owners report appreciating how well the paté flakes; it doesn’t stay in a congealed heap like some others do.
In addition, this product contains cranberries to help keep your pets urinary tract healthy. If your kitten has had problems with this in the past, or if you are concerned about the possibility, you’ll appreciate this pick.
Also, in addition to being grain- and gluten-free, this product also contains no chicken or poultry by-product, corn, wheat, soy, artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. It contains high levels of flaxseeds for great omega-3 and 6 fatty acids for your kitten’s skin and coat, as well as 10% crude protein, 7% crude fat, 1.5% crude fiber, 78% moisture, and .1% taurine.
- Great paté texture for maximum palatability
- High fat content, which means high calorie intake, great for older, active kittens
- Cranberries for healthy urinary tracts
- Taurine included for heart health
- Low protein, might not meet kitten’s total nutrient requirements
- No extra DHA or Omega 3 or 6
Wellness Kitten Paté
Another made in the USA product, this Wellness Kitten Paté has been named the #1 Natural Wet Cat Food by Nielsen/GFK. At 11% crude protein, 7% crude fat, 1% crude fiber, 78% moisture, and .1% taurine, it also contains magnesium to help your kitten’s urinary tract function at optimal levels. The paté makes it easy for kittens to eat (even when they’re very young). The first five ingredients are: chicken, chicken liver, chicken broth, carrots, and natural flavor.
This product does contain carrageenan, a food additive made from seaweed that’s often found in human and pet food thanks to its thickening properties. Some research indicates that degraded carrageenan might serve as a human carcinogen based on tests performed on lab animals. However, there is a difference between food-grade carrageenan and degraded carrageenan, so pet owners should take caution but not necessarily avoid this ingredient altogether.
- Paté texture very appealing to kittens (thanks to high moisture content)
- Contains taurine
- High protein content for wet food
- Contains carrageenan
- Very high moisture content means kittens might struggle to get enough calories
Blue Buffalo Healthy Growth Kitten
Another product from one of the best kitten food brands, the Blue Buffalo brand, this one contains a two-part food technology the company refers to as LifeSource Bits. To preserve the potency of the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in these small kibble pieces, they are processed at a lower temperature than the other protein-rich bits that make up the bulk of the food.
Superfood ingredients include such diverse foods as blueberries, pomegranate, and cranberries, you’ll also see fish meal in the ingredient list, which is great because it adds loads of omega 3 fatty acids. The first five ingredients in the list include: deboned chicken, chicken meal, fish meal, chicken fat, and brown rice and at .2% taurine, it has one of the highest taurine levels of dried food available.
Crude protein is 36%, crude fat is 20%, crude fiber is 3.5%, and moisture is 10%.
- LifeSource Bits provide extra nutrients
- Diverse protein sources
- Superfood ingredients
- Low moisture mean won’t be suitable on its own for very young kittens
- Dry food not always palatable for young cats
Natural Balance Original Ultra Whole Body Health Kitten Formula
Kitten owners appreciate this product from Natural Balance because it obtains its protein from more sources than just chicken; ingredients include duck, salmon, and pea protein (in addition to chicken) to add variety to your pet’s diet.
This kitten formula is specially designed for the smallest cats, so its kibble pieces are smaller in shape than they would be for adult cats. Pet parents report that it is universally well-liked and well-received by kittens’ sensitive tummies. It is gluten-free, and lists its first five ingredients as chicken, chicken meal, pea protein, dried peas, and chicken fat.
Crude protein is 38% (one of the highest we’re reviewing today), crude fat is 20%, crude fiber is 3%, moisture is 10%, and taurine is .15%.
- Very high protein content
- Very high fat content
- Includes taurine
- High moisture content might limit shelf life
- Peas included as ingredient (some cats are sensitive to peas)
Instinct by Nature’s Variety Original Kitten Grain-Free Recipe
What’s unique about this kitten food is that each kibble piece has freeze-dried raw nutrition. If you’ve wanted to test the benefits of raw food for your pets, this is a great way to start. It has the highest protein level available on our list of dry kitten food today, and also utilizes only cage-free chicken.
Instinct is made in the USA and contains no grain, potato, corn, wheat, soy, by-products, artificial colors, or artificial preservatives. It’s first five ingredients are chicken, turkey meal, salmon meal, fish meal, and chicken eggs. If you prefer your kittens’ protein sources be varied, and you want that extra DHA boost, this is a great option thanks to the seafood.
Crude protein is at 43.5%, while fat is 20.5% and crude fiber is 3%. Moisture is a tad less than our other dry food picks (9%) but taurine is high (.4%).
- Raw ingredients added for additional nutrition
- Very high in protein and taurine
- Convenience of dry food
- Varied protein sources (poultry and fish)
- Raw ingredients require special handling
- Low in fiber
Primal Turkey Formula Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Cat Food
Thanks to its nugget formulation, Primal Turkey Raw Cat food is incredibly convenient. The packaging is resealable and the nuggets, themselves, have been freeze-dried, making this a terrific option for people who want the benefits of raw without the hassle.
The recipe uses primarily turkey for its high protein formula, but the entire recipe is free from grains, and the turkey itself is free of antibiotics, steroids, or hormones. Thanks to the certified organic produce used in this product, your kitten will get a range of minerals and vitamins untouched by heat.
Finally, the product utilizes coconut oil, which is well known for provided saturated fatty acids for your kitten, which mimic the natural bacteria found in her gut and help to keep her digestive processes at an optimal elve.
While not specifically formulated for kittens, at 57% protein, this should not be a protein. Low moisture content (just 3%), however, means that it will not be suitable for the youngest kittens. Crude fat is 23% and crude fiber is 2%.
- Raw nutritional boost
- Extremely high protein and fat content
- Coconut oil for better gut health
- Low fiber, which might cause a hairball problem
- Not specifically designed for kittens
The Honest Kitchen Human Grade Dehydrated Grain Free Cat Food
The Honest Kitchen specializes in human-grade cat food! It’s also dehydrated, so while it contains 70% free-range chicken, you’ll need to water, mix, and rehydrate for a few minute before feeding.
This product’s first five ingredients are chicken, eggs, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and organic flaxseed, and thanks to its less-processed makeup, many pet owners prefer this over something like canned/wet food. Again, this product isn’t specifically designed for kittens, but because of the high moisture content once you’ve rehydrated it, and thanks to its high protein content, it should be adequate to meet your feline’s needs.
Finally, this is an AAFCO complete recipe with no GMO ingredients, made in the USA. It has 39% protein, 29.5% crude fat, and 2.38% crude fiber.
- AAFCO complete recipe
- Non-GMO ingredients
- Organic flaxseed for DHA and Omega 3 and 6 boost
- Must be rehydrated prior to feeding
- Low fiber
Stella & Chewy’s Duck Duck Goose Dinner Grain-Free Freeze-Dried Cat Food
Another conveniently-packaged option, this freeze-dried food from Stella & Chewy’s comes in a resealable package for easy pet plating. You’ll be adding variety to your kitten’s diet, too, thanks to a mix of poultry ingredients (the first five ingredients are duck, turkey, turkey liver, goose, and turkey gizzard). Thanks to the fact that this recipe includes ground bone, gizzards, and livers, you can feel confident your kitten is getting the nutrients she needs (including .25% taurine).
A whopping 98% of this recipe comes from farm-raised duck and goose, so if your primary goal is to minimize fillers and additives for your kitten, this is a great option. Also, all fruits and vegetables used are 100% certified-organic, and batches are made in the USA with no grains, glutens, fillers, artificial preservatives, or artificial colorings.
It has 40% protein, 30% crude fat, 1% crude fiber, and 5% moisture.
- 98% comprised of duck and goose
- Fully raw ingredients
- High amounts of taurine
- Raw ingredients make handling inconvenient
- Not designed specifically for kittens
The Kitten Food Winner
There are lots of fantastic kitten food options on this list, but for us, the winner is Instinct by Nature’s Variety Original Kitten Grain-Free Recipe. We appreciate that it combines some of the benefits of raw food with all the convenience and versatility of dry food, which means you’ll be able to use it to feed your kitten at almost any age (when doctored with a milk alternative, of course).
With a high protein and taurine content, and a strong ingredient list with some great added DHA benefits, we think you and your kitten will love this product!