- Qualities of the Best Kitten Food
- The Best Kitten Food – Our Top 5 Picks
- Common Questions About Kitten Food
Is kitten food necessary?
Once your kitten is weaned, their nutritional needs are essentially the same as those of an adult cat. They’re capable of eating dry, frozen, canned, raw, or freshly cooked food – the same foods that an adult cat might consume.
Nutritionally speaking, the biggest difference between kittens and adults is the need for ultra-nutrient-dense food that will fuel early growth stages.
If you’re committed to purchasing commercially-available food, read the label to determine whether or not it’s appropriate for kittens.
Quick Look:Our Top Picks For Best Kitten Food
- Top Pick: Wellness CORE Natural Grain Free
- Best Grain-Free: Wellness Complete Health
- Best for Sensitive Stomach: Nature’s Variety Instinct Kitten Pate
- Budget Pick: Fancy Feast Tender Turkey Feast
- Best Soft Cat Food for Kittens: Buffalo Healthy Gourmet Pate
- Best Dry Food for Kittens: Simply Nourish Source Chicken & Turkey Kitten Food
Wellness Complete Health Kitten Chicken Entree Pate
Nature’s Variety Instinct Kitten Grain-Free Chicken Pate
Fancy Feast Kitten Tender Turkey Feast
Blue Buffalo Healthy Gourmet Kitten Chicken Entree
Simply Nourish Source Chicken & Turkey Kitten Food
If the food is labeled complete and balanced for growth and reproduction OR all life stages, it’s been formulated according to the nutrient profiles for kitten health. Avoid diets labeled simply for adult maintenance; as the label suggests, these foods are intended to maintain a healthy adult weight and lack the nutritional gusto to fuel your kitten’s growth spurts.
While all kitten foods are different, they’re generally calorie-dense with high concentrations of protein. They’re rich in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin A, and certain amino acids.
While some insist that only commercially-sold foods provide the nourishment a kitten requires, this isn’t exactly true. If correctly balanced, a homemade raw or home cooked diet can be an excellent choice for your growing kitten. These diets offer what a kitten needs, delivering more animal protein and higher calorie density than almost anything you’ll buy in a bag or a can.
Qualities of the Best Kitten Food
A nutritionally complete diet is crucial during kittenhood.
Remember that a nutritionally complete diet is more important during kittenhood than at any other life stage. A properly balanced diet is important at any age, but it’s crucial during the first 12 months of life. During these months, you’re building the foundation for a lifetime of health or one of chronic problems.
An article on Mercola Healthy Pets illustrates this fact with the story of a 5-month-old Sphynx kitten who was fed exclusively raw chicken for the first several months of his life. As a result of this unbalanced diet, the kitten developed lameness and eye problems. By the time the kitten was adopted, he was suffering from osteopenia, a condition resulting from inadequate mineral density in the bones. Inadequate taurine had caused central retinal degeneration and lesions on one of his eyes.
Four months of inadequate nutrition may not have had such an obvious impact on an adult cat, but for a growing kitten, every meal is critical.
Kitten food should be rich in high-quality protein.
Like all cats, kittens require high-quality protein – but they may be even more sensitive to that quality.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, “Growing kittens are more sensitive to the quality of dietary protein and amino acid balance than are adult cats.”
What constitutes high-quality protein for a kitten?
As obligate carnivores, kittens are best-suited to the amino acids found in animal muscles.
Starting with muscle and organ meat, different types of protein lie on different points on a descending scale of biological availability. Protein from plants, like that found in peas, beans, and corn gluten meal, is less digestible than high-quality muscle meat. Animal flesh has a high biological value, meaning that almost all of the protein per unit is utilized by your cat’s body.
When shopping for kitten food, seek out products featuring named meats as the first several ingredients. Look for words like “chicken”, “turkey”, and “rabbit”. If these meats are followed by “pea protein”, “soy protein”, or “corn gluten meal”, forget it – you’re looking at a kitten food packed with low-value protein.
The best kitten food is calorie-dense.
As they zoom and pounce through the first year of life, kittens have high energy needs. Being a kitten is hard work – your feline child burns plenty of fuel as they move through the first year of development. Choosing a calorie-dense food will help to fuel your kitten as they get bigger, develop mentally, and zip across the house.
Kitten food should be rich in certain vitamins and minerals.
Compared to adult cats, kittens have slightly different vitamin and mineral needs.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, kittens should consume food with a calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of about 1.0 to 0.8, while adult cats should get a ratio of about .6 to .5. They have slightly higher requirements for vitamin A and require slightly greater amounts of the amino acids Lysine and Tryptophan.
Soft kitten food is easier for young kittens to eat.
Technically, you can feed your kitten dry, wet, or raw food, but when they’re very young and still have baby teeth, your kitten will likely find it easiest to eat a soft, wet food. This could be a cooked homemade or homemade-style food, canned food, or a freeze-dried raw product.
After the first six months, introduce more challenging morsels. Raw meat chunks, raw meaty bones, and chewier pieces of cooked meat challenge your kitten’s jaws and can promote good dental health.
Your kitten’s food should be varied.
To ensure that your cat doesn’t become finicky, it’s a good idea to introduce varied textures and flavors during kittenhood.
While some people preach the doctrine of feeding one food for the entirety of a cat’s life, it’s clear that this isn’t the best route. Not only does relying exclusively on a single protein source set your cat up for allergies, this limited diet tells your cat that it’s okay to be finicky.
If you allow your kitten to eat nothing but chicken-based pate for the first 12 months of their life, they’ll likely be reluctant to try out a fresh cut of raw rabbit when they’re 12 years old.
The best kitten food is made from high-quality, wholesome ingredients.
In addition to these special considerations, kittens should receive the same high-quality nutrition that helps every cat to thrive.
Bear in mind the same nutritional guidelines that dictate any cat food buying decision. Seek out foods that honor your kitten’s carnivorous needs. Avoid products filled with unnecessary or potentially harmful ingredients. These include starches, artificial colors, chemical preservatives, and sweeteners.
Remember, also, that water is the most important nutrient for cats of all ages. Always leave fresh water out for your kitten. Like all cats, kittens have a low thirst drive and may not want to drink out of the bowl at all.
Because hydration is so important for kittens and cats of all ages, kittens should consume food that’s at least 70% water, helping to prevent urinary tract issues and promoting overall health.
Need a refresher course on feline nutrition basics? Check out our guide to choosing the best cat food.
The Best Kitten Food – Top 5 Picks
Now that we know what to look for in kitten food, let’s explore our top 5 picks of the best kitten food on the market.
1. Wellness CORE Kitten Turkey & Chicken Liver Recipe Classic Pate Review
First 5 Ingredients: Turkey, Chicken Liver, Turkey Broth, Chicken, Chicken Meal
Our top pick is this grain-free recipe from Wellness CORE. It’s packed with protein-rich animal ingredients, including chicken meal. Because chicken meal is dehydrated, it’s a concentrated source of animal protein. That’s exactly what your growing kitten needs.
The inclusion of herring and menhaden fish oil provides the fatty acid DHA, which contributes to brain and eye development.
Though it’s free from grains, potatoes, or soy, this pate contains small amounts of certain plant ingredients, including ground flaxseed, dried kelp, chicory root extract, and alfalfa meal.
Each 3 oz can offers 108 calories, which is about average across all kitten formulas.
- One of the most protein-packed kitten foods on the market
- Ultra-soft pate texture is easy for kittens to eat
- Hydrating canned food
- Supplemented with fish oil as a natural source of DHA
2. Wellness Complete Health Kitten Chicken Entree Pate Review
First 5 Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Liver, Chicken Broth, Carrots, Natural Flavor
This grain-free soft loaf from Wellness contains less meat and is slightly cheaper than the Wellness CORE recipe listed above. Nevertheless, with chicken and chicken liver leading the ingredient list and no corn, soy, wheat, or other grains, this food is more than an acceptable choice for kittens.
The recipe includes menhaden fish oil as a source of the fatty acid DHA, helping to promote healthy brain and eye development.
This food is exceptionally calorie-dense, with 122 calories in every 3 oz can.
- Calorie-dense with 122 calories per 3 oz can
- Made primarily from animal protein sources
- Hydrating canned food
- Highly palatable
- Carrots and other plant ingredients are somewhat prominent on the ingredient list
3. Nature’s Variety Instinct Kitten Grain-Free Chicken Pate
First 5 Ingredients: Chicken, Beef Liver, Chicken Broth, Salmon (Source of DHA), Eggs
This kitten food from Nature’s Instinct is made primarily from wholesome animal ingredients and is rich in the amino acids that help your kitten to thrive. It contains salmon as a natural source of DHA, a fatty acid with a role in brain and eye development.
The recipe doesn’t contain any of the starches and grains that weigh your kitten down and create waste, but it does contain traces of cranberries, pumpkin, tomato, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, kale, and parsley.
Each 3 oz can offers 103 calories.
- Rich in animal protein
- Soft canned food offers hydration
- Formulated for kittens
- Rich in DHA for healthy brain and eye development
- Relatively expensive
4. Fancy Feast Kitten Tender Turkey Feast Canned Cat Food Review
First 5 Ingredients: Turkey, Liver, Meat By-Products, Poultry Broth, Milk
If you’d rather buy your kitten’s food from the grocery than the pet food store, consider this pate from Fancy Feast. This unpretentious formula is grain-free, emphasizes animal ingredients, and has a reputation for palatability.
The recipe isn’t perfect, though – it contains both natural and artificial flavors, includes artificial colors, and contains meat by-products. While meat by-products aren’t always bad, they sometimes come with lower quality control standards.
With 95 calories per can, this food is slightly less calorie-dense than some other kitten foods.
Another questionable quality of this food is the inclusion of cow’s milk. Most cats, including weaned kittens, are lactose intolerant and may have diarrhea after eating milk. That said, customer reviews suggest that this reaction is rare.
- Features high-quality animal protein
- Specially formulated for kittens
- Hydrating canned food
- Has a strong reputation for palatability
- An affordable choice
- Contains milk, which could cause GI upset in some cats
- Made with artificial colors and flavors
- Doesn’t contain a DHA supplement
5. Blue Buffalo Healthy Gourmet Kitten Chicken Entree Review
First 5 Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Liver, Chicken Broth, Dried Egg, Fish Oil (Source Of DHA-Docosahexaenoic Acid)
The inclusion of brown rice, carrots, carrageenan, and sweet potatoes keep this food from taking anything but the 5th place spot on this list. That said, it does have some good qualities for kittens.
With 122 calories in every 3 oz can, this food is exceptionally calorie-dense. As evidenced by the inclusion of chicken and chicken liver as the first two ingredients, it contains a respectable quantity of the animal ingredients that your kitten needs.
Another good quality of this food is the fact that it’s supplemented with DHA from fish oil. Besides being an anti-inflammatory that can promote skin and coat health, this fatty acid plays a role in your kitten’s cognitive and ocular development.
- Made primarily from nourishing sources of animal protein
- Soft pate is hydrating and easy for kittens to eat
- Contains fish oil as a natural source of DHA for brain and eye development
- 122 calories per 3oz can
- Relatively high in carbohydrates – not grain-free
- Contains carrageenan
First 5 Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal, Dried Potatoes, Dried Peas
Kibble tends to have high carbohydrate content and never provides enough moisture, increasing your kitten’s chances of developing diabetes and urinary tract disease. If you feed him dry food as a kitten, it’ll be harder to transition your cat to a better diet later in life.
For all these reasons, dry food isn’t our first choice for kittens.
If you’re determined to feed your kitten dry food, consider this kibble from Simply Nourish. It’s a grain-free food that emphasizes meat and animal fat over the starch, oil, and plant protein so common in dry kitten food.
The food is primarily made from deboned chicken, chicken meal, and turkey meal—no low-value animal by-products or mystery meats and meals.
The food contains chicken fat and fish oil as sources of nourishing fatty acids, including that critical omega-3 fatty acid called DHA. Remember that DHA is crucial for kittens as it supports brain and eye development.
Like all dry foods, the product contains more carbohydrates and plant matter than cats need, but it’s much meatier than the average kibble.
At 397 calories per cup, the food is relatively calorie-dense to fuel your kitten’s growth.
- Primarily made with animal protein
- Supplemented with fish oil as a source of omega-3 fatty acids
- Calorically dense to fuel kittenhood growth
- Affordable compared to other similar foods
- High carbohydrate content
- Dry food doesn’t provide enough moisture for kittens
Other Common Questions About Kitten Food
How often should you feed your kitten?
While you can get away with feeding your adult cat just twice daily, kittens are happiest and healthiest when served three or four small meals each day.
When should you stop feeding kitten food?
Most cats reach physical maturity around their first birthday. Around that time, you can gradually switch your cat off of their kitten food and onto a diet formulated for adult cats.
Can adult cats eat kitten food?
Adult cats can eat kitten food, although some state that the enhanced vitamin and mineral profiles could cause problems if eaten for an extended period of time.
Remember that kitten food is packed with calories to fuel babyhood growth. For this reason, it may be a good choice if you need to help your adult cat gain weight. If your cat isn’t underweight, however, eating kitten food could lead to obesity.
About the author
Mallory Crusta is a writer and adventurecat enthusiast on a mission to make cats’ lives extraordinary. She’s one of the founders of Wildernesscat – a site for happy, healthy, and adventurous cats who are fueled by nature. Visit Wildernesscat for radically natural cat nutrition, home remedies, and lifestyle inspiration.