Skip to main content

Kitten Nutrition


If you want your kitten to live long and stay healthy you need to feed the food that it is designed to eat. Growing kittens should be fed the quality and quantity of food that will not only maintain health but provide the dietary foundation for a lifetime of excellent health.

Wild or domestic, kittens have essentially the same digestive system and nutrient requirements as adult cats. All felines require a diet that is high in protein and fat. They must eat a form of vitamin A that has already has been converted from carotenoids to its active form by a prey animal -such as a mouse. All felines have an essential requirement for arachidonic acid (AA), a fatty acid derivative found in the membranes of all body cells. Lack of the amino acid taurine, in a cat’s diet, leads to a multitude of health problems. Cats are also quite sensitive to amino acid deficiencies of arginine, methionine and cystine. Adequate amounts of the B-vitamin, niacin or nicotinic acid, is also very important in the diets of cats. When these factors are absent in the diet, metabolic disease and reproductive failure occurs. None of these deficiencies occur when a cat eats whole prey animals. A kitten is no different!

Nature's Menu
The staple diet of wild cats living in a natural setting includes other animals, carrion, and occasionally fruits and grasses – all raw of course. Large prey varies depending on the particular cat and region. Unwary or vulnerable wildebeest, bison, giraffe, horses, cows, antelopes, sheep, goats or deer are all fair game. Some wild cats also take smaller prey such as hares, rabbits, squirrels, skunks, beavers, and various birds, rodents, reptiles and insects. Whether adult or kitten, wild felines partake in Mother Nature’s menu with no respect to particular life stage requirements. Once weaned, youngsters simply consume species appropriate food. If whole prey is too large to capture, young felines share in the feast of a prey carcass with adults. Small prey suitable for a young feline’s stature, such as rodents, reptiles and insects, not only teach and sharpen hunting skills but provide proper nutrition for growth.

Urban Kittens
In contrast to the diet of wild kits or cubs, the urban kitten's diet is dramatically different. The food people feed cats is usually heat processed, eliminating many of the life-enhancing factors supplied by whole, raw foods. The cat’s natural diet consists of approximately 50-60% protein, about 30-40% fat, and 1-2% carbohydrate supplied from muscle tissue and organs. In contrast, dry kitten foods may contain 30% protein, 12-20% fat and although pet food companies are not required to list carbohydrate amounts on their product packages, they may range from as little as 7% up to 50% of the diet.

Carbohydrates comprise of mostly grains, which are not only inappropriate food for felines, but can contribute to diabetes. High carbohydrate content causes a rapid surge in blood glucose as the food is dissolved and absorbed into the bloodstream, essentially as sugar, from the stomach and intestines. In response, the pancreas secretes a large amount of insulin. Eventually, the continuous abnormal stimulation either suppresses or exhausts the pancreas resulting in diabetes. This process may take months to years to occur, depending on the individual cat's ability to endure the effects of this abnormal metabolic consequence. Along the way, the constant high insulin levels (hyperinsulinemia) cause the cat to experience hypertriglyceridemia (high triglycerides) and hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), and obesity results.

Long-term feeding of dry cat food is often considered as a factor in chronic renal failure (CRF). Cats eating dry food consume only half the moisture that cats on a raw diet obtain, which stresses the kidneys over time. Dry diets may also predispose cats to lower urinary tract diseases because they create a high degree of urine concentration. The pH and consistency of food have a direct affect upon dental disease. Dry food offers little benefits for teeth. In fact, claims that dental disease is decreased with dry food are not supported by modern research. A kitten’s jaws and teeth are designed for shearing meat and crunching bones, both of which clean the gums and teeth. As soon as food enters the mouth, cats swallow it – usually in chunks. Their jaws are not designed to chew, especially unnaturally shaped pellets that collect between the teeth where it ferments, causing dental problems.  Poor quality cat foods usually contain cheap rendered ingredients, which is why the food is inexpensive to purchase. In fact, the price paid for high quality meat to feed a companion cat should cost the same as the meat purchased for human consumption. Rendering meat at high temperatures creates carcinogenic toxins and damages or destroys the fragile heat-sensitive amino acids. For example, taurine, an essential amino acid for cats, is completely destroyed by the rendering process. Pet food companies compensate by adding it back into the formulation. Instead, why not feed fresh meat-based diets that do not have to be fortified?

Cat foods more often than not contain rancid fat. Even though the fats may be protected by antioxidants, they will begin to deteriorate when exposed to air. The minute a bag of cat food is opened, the fats in the food begin to go rancid. The healthiest fats cats can consume come from animals that have been naturally raised with little exposure to toxins. The fats from these animals provide naturally balanced omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids. While research is directed at the recommended ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 at roughly 2:1, some pet foods may comprise of levels up to 25:1. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is one omega 3 fatty acid that is especially significant for growth and development. DHA plays an important role in the normal development of the central nervous system and in retinal function in the eye. The brain is composed of approximately 20 to 30%. Pet food companies, recognizing the benefits of DHA are now starting to add it to their products. It’s taken the industry more than 60 years to figure out what Mother Nature has known all along.

Vitamins and minerals are added to kitten foods, but recommendations regarding the minimum recommended daily allowances (RDA) are obtained by determining amounts of nutrients needed to prevent a deficiency disease. Pet food companies are required to meet, but not exceed these amounts. Therefore, missing or deficient nutrients or improper ratios of nutrients can contribute to poor health in spite of marketing a food as “complete and balanced”.

Herbicides, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics from feed animals are processed into pet food creating toxic conditions. The liver, kidneys and immune system may all be affected. Artificial flavorings, dyes and preservatives ensure a palatable product that will remain stable on the shelf at the local grocer or pet store. However, certain additives and preservatives in pet food have been associated with both physical and behavioral problems that may be related to the presence of:

  • Fat preservatives such as ethoxyquin, BHT, BHA and propyl gallate
  • Moisturizers such as tartaric acid, citric acid, calcium silicate and sorbitol
  • Stabilizers such as sodium nitrate and nitrate
  • Mold retardants such as calcium and sodium propionatesorbic acid and sodium diacetate
  • Coloring dyes that make pet food more appealing to the owner

Carnivore-Appropriate Food for Urban Kittens
No matter how good a kibble or canned pet food is deemed to be, it can never replace the nourishment whole raw foods supply. Proper nutrition for a growing kitten is really no different than that of a growing child. A proper diet is truly the cornerstone of health.

Kittens need protein for growth and to replace protein which is broken down and lost from the body each day. The protein in a kitten's food should be high quality and very digestible. A variety of raw animal foods such as meat and organs, naturally fulfill this role and ensures that sufficient levels of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, will be absorbed for use in growth and development. Kittens must have two particular amino acids provided in the food they eat. The first is taurine. A lack of the amino acid taurine leads to vision problems (central retinal degeneration), heart failure (acute cardiomyopathy), reproductive problems, immune system dysfunction and blood clotting disorders. The second is arginine, which is vital to many internal functions and more specifically involved in aiding the elimination of the protein waste products so the wastes don’t become toxic to the cat. Muscle tissue and organs from a whole prey carcass supply taurine and arginine.

Meat is a poor source of vitamin A, C, D, E and K but it does supply B complex vitamins. Organs are a better source for a variety of nutrients, starting with B-complex vitamins. Niacin, a B vitamin essential to cats, is supplied by meat and especially organs but several of the B group are synthesized by bacteria in the cat’s intestines. Cats have insufficient 7-dehydrocholesterol in the skin to meet vitamin D requirements through sunlight. Therefore, a dietary source of vitamin D must be provided. While vitamin D is an essential component of the cat’s diet, the requirement is very low compared to that of the dog and human. Liver also supplies vitamins A and D. Vitamin C is considered unnecessary in the diet of cats as it can be manufactured within their body from glucose. However, supplemental vitamin C may be useful during stress or illness to aid and accelerate recovery. Organs such as the thymus, spleen and lungs are a natural source of vitamin C.

Although uncommon, vitamin E deficiency can occur in cats under certain circumstances. Yellow fat disease or steatitis may occur when exclusively feeding on fish or if large amounts of unsaturated fats are present in the diet. Unsaturated fats oxidize and become rancid resulting in destruction of vitamin E. Vitamin E originates from plants. Grazing animals acquire their vitamin E from plants directly. Carnivores, such as felines, acquire vitamin E when eating other animals where it is stored in their liver and brain, as well as muscles and fat. Cats rarely show symptoms of deficiency provided they are fed a varied diet.

Meat and organs also supply essential minerals and trace elements with the exception of calcium. Weaned kittens appear to be fairly insensitive to inverse calcium to phosphorus ratios. Unlike puppies, excess calcium in kittens is not typically associated with orthopedic disease. However, calcium deficiency together with phosphorus excess has been observed in kittens fed all-meat diets. As well, very high concentrations of calcium significantly reduce magnesium availability. Providing calcium in amounts sufficient to meet the needs of growth avoids impairing the availability of other nutrients. A whole carcass diet or a diet containing a balanced ratio of meat and bones prevents imbalances.

Magnesium is essential for the conversion of vitamin D to its biologically active form that then helps the body absorb and utilize calcium. Approximately 60 percent of magnesium in the body is present in bones and the skeleton, and the remaining is found in the muscle and in other tissues that are metabolically active including the brain, heart, liver, and kidney. Magnesium plays a role in bone growth, muscle relaxation, cellular energy production, conduction of nerve impulses and normal heart rhythm.

Iron is another mineral that is vital for kittens. Iron is found in the muscle meats, heart, liver, spleen and bone marrow. Kittens that are deficient in iron may be listless and lack normal coloration of gums. Iron is important for blood formation and function. Queen's milk has almost no iron present but kittens don't need a lot of extra iron because they are born with high levels of tissue iron; almost twice as much as an adult. However, the need for iron cannot be overlooked as the requirement increases throughout the first year because of the rapid growth taking place.

Meat and particularly liver supply zinc, which plays an important role in a kitten’s growth, development and maturation; in tissue repair; and in resistance to disease. Low zinc intake has been linked to reduced growth and resistance to infection, and to delayed wound healing. Although adequate zinc in the diet decreases the likelihood that problems will develop, extra zinc will not promote excessive growth, speed up tissue repair or increase resistance to disease. In fact, some research studies indicate that too much zinc can actually hinder the body's fight against disease. Excess zinc can also interfere with copper absorption; the two compete to be absorbed by the body, so too much of one can negate the other. Therefore, animal tissue provides the best balanced, natural source of zinc.

Copper found in meat and organs contributes to several important bodily functions. It’s necessary in a kitten’s diet because it helps the body use iron effectively in forming blood; it plays a prominent role in cartilage and bone development; and it is one of several nutrients that enable body cells to use the energy present in carbohydrate, protein and fat.

Selenium is another mineral present in the kidneys, liver, spleen, pancreas and testes, and together with vitamin E, helps protect body cell membranes from deterioration. Many different tissues can be affected by too little (or too much) selenium. The amount of selenium in plant foods depends on the soil in which they grew, and in animal products, where their food was grown. Some areas have high levels of selenium in the soil, and some areas have low levels. Since food animals tend to come from many different areas, variations in the selenium content "average out" in the diet.

Needs for other trace elements are also met by the various organs and muscle tissues in a prey animal carcass and serve many different functions in the body. Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormone; chromium helps in the production of insulin; manganese helps in the formation of bone and cartilage; and molybdenum helps the body use other necessary compounds or handle their waste-products. Fluoride is essential for both teeth and bones. Calcium by itself won't build a molecule of bone. To use the calcium, the body has to have adequate supplies of at least 9 other minerals; and fluoride is one of those minerals.

As with meat tissue, organs have high levels of phosphorus but are low in calcium, which is vital for normal skeletal development. The most natural and beneficial way to provide balanced calcium and phosphorus in a kitten's diet is by feeding a diet that includes a variety of bones and cartilage together with raw meat and organs as supplied in a prey animal carcass. In addition to calcium, bones also provide additional sources of the minerals copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, zinc, and manganese.

While fruits and vegetables are often considered the predominant food sources of antioxidants, meat and organs also contain a number of dietary components that possess antioxidant properties. Although vitamins C, E and beta-carotene have received the most attention, there are other notable dietary components with antioxidant properties. Some examples in meat and organs, other than the antioxidant minerals such as copper, selenium, iron, manganese, and zinc include carnosine, glutathione, CoQ10, alpha-lipoic acid and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).

Kittens Require Fats and Essential Fatty Acids
As kittens grow, body composition changes dramatically. Fat composes only 5% of body weight in an eight-week old kitten and increases to 15% of body weight by 18 weeks. Fat in the diet serves three primary purposes in growing kittens: it supplies essential fatty acids, acts as a carrier for fat-soluble vitamins and it provides a source of energy. Kittens, like adults cats, have an essential requirement for arachidonic acid. Cats cannot convert Arachidonic Acid from the parent fatty acid, linoleic acid, because their liver does not contain delta-6-desaturase enzyme. Therefore, arachidonic acid must be supplied in the diet. Arachidonic acid regulates skin growth, is necessary for proper blood clotting, and is needed for the reproductive and gastrointestinal systems to function properly. Arachidonic acid is abundant in animal fat.

The fat in and surrounding muscle tissue and organ systems in a whole prey animal also supplies various saturated and unsaturated fats such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA). Omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids are vital to development of the nervous system, immune system and inflammatory system. One particular omega-3 EFA, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the most abundant fatty acid in queen's milk and is important for normal eye and brain development. Experimental animals whose diets are low in DHA have been found to have smaller brains, reduced brain development, diminished visual acuity and delayed central nervous system development. DHA is found in animal organs such as brain and liver, and cold water fish. From fetal development to young adulthood to old age, research suggests that EPA and DHA are essential to health.

A Kitten’s Immune System Needs Bacteria
Cats evolved eating foods with bacteria. The environment where they are born and eventually eat their food is replete with bacteria. The eating habits of cats are not always sensible or hygienic, and as they also use their tongues for regular grooming sessions they inevitably ingest large amounts of dirt, dust, grease and hair. They instinctively clean their private parts which are home to all sorts of bacteria. Bacteria are an important part of a kitten’s life.

The new kitten's defense against bacteria is primarily nonspecific innate immunity and passively acquired maternal antibody. As the kitten develops, the body provides numerous defense mechanisms to successfully deal with bacteria. Good nutrition is essential to develop and keep a kitten’s immune system healthy and strong. Nutritional deficiencies may be responsible for health problems as it is easier for bacteria (or viruses) to take hold when important nutrients are missing in the diet.

When functioning properly, the immune system fights organisms such as bacteria. Kittens eating a raw diet are continuously exposed to bacteria, but exposure does not mean a kitten will get sick. A strong immune system provides a kitten with powerful natural defenses. Conversely, a kitten with a weakened immune system is vulnerable to illnesses and bacterial overgrowth.

Kitten’s need to be fed appropriate amounts of food to support growth and development Growing kittens require a sufficient amount of food to meet their energy needs. However, an indoor lifestyle, high-fat foods, over-feeding, free-choice feeding and diets high in carbohydrates are risk factors for obesity. Studies show that neutering reduces food intake by 24 to 33% regardless of the age at neutering. After neutering, limiting food intake or decreasing the fat levels in the diet may be required to prevent excessive weight gain. Obesity should be prevented at an early age because it significantly affects the health and longevity of cats. To evaluate a kitten’s weight, have it stand upright in front of you. Run your hands across both sides of the body, from front to back. If you cannot feel your pet's ribs under the fur or find a waistline, it's overweight.

Kittens need adequate exercise and stimulation for best health
In nature, all animals exercise daily. Domestic kittens also need daily activity to maintain physical health and burn off excess energy or calories. Enriching the daily life of the indoor kitten to replace some of the stimulation and activity it would otherwise receive if free roaming is important. Environmental enrichment puts complexity, unpredictability and choices into a kitten’s daily life. Without these things, a kitten may become frustrated in confinement and show signs of boredom-greater reactivity, irritability and exaggerated or unusual behavior. There are many ways to provide indoor activity.

Small fast-moving objects cause the innate chase response in kittens. This can be done with small balls, such as practice golf balls that are hollow and have holes in the surface or items such as scrunched up pieces of paper, pulled quickly and erratically on the end of a string. Some people even tie the objects onto string and poles so that they can cast out and move the object over a bigger area without the kitten seeing them do so. Attaching a piece of liver makes the hunt fun and the eventual catch valuable. Furry, feathery or flapping things are particularly attractive to kittens. Some cats, particularly the younger ones, will leap and smack at soap bubbles, which should be made from non-toxic soap.

Feeding can be made more natural by getting kittens to search for food and by providing it in a form that needs chewing. Meals can eventually be scattered throughout the house in different places each day so the kitten has to search them out.

Kittens love to climb and it’s a good form of exercise. Providing a tall, carpeted tree gives a kitten a vantage spot to observe activity in the home. If placed by a window, it also provides a sunny place to bask. Take advantage of a kitten’s well known tendency to investigate things with their paws. Put small objects or food inside a box in which there are holes through which the kitten can put its paws but through which it would be very difficult to remove the food or objects.

Kitten Menu
The food a kitten eats plays a major role in determining how healthy its body will remain throughout life. The best way to ensure a lifetime of health for a domestic kitten is to choose the diet that the feline species evolved to eat. Whether you are feeding a litter or a single kitten the Urban Carnivore makes it very simple.

In the wild, the queen gives birth in simple dens, found in caves, rock crevices, brush piles or secluded areas in tall vegetation. From birth to about three weeks of age, the kittens stay nestled in the safety of the den. Initially, they rely solely on the queen for their nourishment suckling colostrum which gradually changes to milk. The female’s milk is rich containing eight times more protein than human milk and three times as much fat. At about three weeks of age kittens may start to take an interest in what the queen is eating and by the fourth or fifth week, the weaning process is underway. To begin with, the queen offers pre-chewed food to the kittens. Some females regurgitate partly-digested food. Between three and six weeks of age it is advisable to feed domestic companion kittens finely ground carcasses, which mimics this natural feeding behavior. Once the kittens are weaned they no longer require milk. Weaned kittens are unable to digest the lactose contained in milk, which can cause diarrhea. Some breeders feed milk and baby cereal to kittens. While this does help them to put on weight quite rapidly, it does nothing for the development of their digestive systems and can also lead to diarrhea or gastritis.

Cats are specialized predators, but they are versatile generalists in terms of what they eat. Where domestic cats are not subsisting on human-provided foods, they consume a wide variety of prey and readily switch prey with changes in availability. However, some cats become fussy and refuse a change in diet. As kittens grow they will eat more and more solid food and they should be offered great variety so they do not develop into fussy adults. The texture should vary too; ground food should be alternated with suitable raw meaty bones which help with teething and the development of strong gums and teeth.