The 7 Best Kitten Foods Of 2020

kittens food

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Like your kitten himself, the best kitten food packs plenty of energy in a small package.

It’s calorie-dense, rich in protein, and loaded with omega-3s to support brain and eye development. But not every food marketed for kittens is worthy of your baby’s bowl.

At a Glance: Best Kitten Foods Of 2020

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Top Pick

Wellness CORE Kitten Turkey & Chicken Liver Recipe
  • Calorie-dense
  • Ultra-soft pate texture
  • Protein-packed
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Runner Up

Instinct by Nature's Variety Kitten Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe
  • Rich in animal protein
  • Soft canned food offers hydration
  • Low carbohydrate content
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Budget Pick

Fancy Feast Kitten Tender Turkey Feast Canned Cat Food
  • Hydrating canned food
  • Features high-quality animal protein
  • Specially formulated for kittens
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Best Mid-Price Option

Wellness Complete Health Kitten Chicken Entree Pate
  • Calorie-dense
  • Made primarily from animal protein sources
  • Highly palatable
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Best for Sensitive Stomach

Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Real Healthy Kitten Recipe
  • A soft, easy-to-eat food
  • Highly palatable
  • Made primarily from animal protein sources
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Best for Weight Gain

Blue Buffalo Healthy Gourmet Kitten Chicken Entree
  • Contains fish oil as a natural source of DHA
  • Soft pate is hydrating and easy for kittens to eat
  • Affordable
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Best Dry Kitten Food

Simply Nourish Source Chicken & Turkey Kitten Food
  • Affordable compared to other similar foods
  • Supplemented with fish oil as a source of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Calorically dense to fuel kittenhood growth
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Top Picks Explained

Why You Should Trust Us

After identifying kittens’ core nutritional needs, reviewing over 80 different cat food brands, reading customer reviews, spoken with market insiders, and tested foods hands-on. We’ve rounded up the seven best kitten foods on the market today.

At the top of that list is Wellness CORE Natural Grain-Free Turkey & Chicken Liver paté. This food has everything your kitten needs without excessive carbs, colors, and other additives. It receives positive customer reviews and comes from a trusted company.

Keep reading to learn more about your kitten’s nutritional requirements and how we chose the best kitten foods on the market.

Here’s what we looked for in the best kitten food.

When looking for the best kitten food, we sought the same qualities that mark the best food for cats of all ages.

We looked for species-appropriate foods.

We looked for foods that honor kittens’ nutritional needs, emphasizing meat ingredients over plants. All of the foods on the following list are rich in animal-sourced protein and keep carbohydrate content low. We looked for foods that were at least 50% protein and less than 10% carbohydrate on a dry matter basis.

We disqualified foods that contain potentially-harmful ingredients.

Meanwhile, we avoided products that contained unnecessary or potentially harmful ingredients. These include starches, artificial colors, chemical preservatives, and sweeteners.

And we gave preference to high-moisture foods.

Because hydration is so important for kittens and cats of all ages, we paid special attention to high-moisture foods.

That means that wet kitten food is better than dry cat food for kittens. 

Hydration is essential, but it’s not enough to put a bowl of water alongside your kitten’s kibble.

Like all cats, kittens don’t like to drink as much as we do. They may not want to drink out of the bowl and even if they do drink water, they seldom take in enough water to keep their systems in top condition. This makes a high-moisture diet almost essential. Canned, wet, raw, and other moisture-rich foods help to prevent urinary tract issues and promote overall health.

The Best Healthy Kitten Food Reviewed: Our Top 7 Recommendations

Now that we know what to look for in kitten food, let’s explore our top seven picks for the best kitten food on the market.

#1 Overall Best: Wellness CORE Kitten Turkey & Chicken Liver Recipe Classic Pate Review

Wellness CORE Natural Canned Cat Food

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First 5 Ingredients: Turkey, Chicken Liver, Turkey Broth, Chicken, Chicken Meal

Our top pick is this high-protein wet cat food from Wellness CORE. It’s packed with animal ingredients, including turkey, chicken liver, chicken meat, and chicken meal.

While some people write off chicken meal as inferior to so-called “real chicken” and put it in the same category as poultry by-products, those criticisms don’t hold up to examination. Chicken meal appears to be just as nutritious and digestible as any other chicken product. In fact, it packs a harder protein and calorie punch—which is exactly what your growing kitten needs.

The inclusions of herring and menhaden fish oil make the food a good source of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that contributes to brain and eye development.

Though it’s grain-free with no potatoes, or soy, this pate contains small amounts of certain plant ingredients, including ground flaxseed, dried kelp, chicory root extract, and alfalfa meal.

Though these ingredients aren’t essentials in a carnivorous diet, they have a few benefits for kittens. Chicory root extract, for example, is a prebiotic. Along with probiotics, this type of fiber could help to support digestive and immune system health.

Each 3 oz can has 108 calories, which is about average across all kitten formulas.

What We Liked:

  • One of the most protein-packed kitten foods on the market
  • Ultra-soft pate texture is easy for kittens to eat
  • Calorie-dense
  • Hydrating canned food
  • Supplemented with fish oil as a species-appropriate source of DHA

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Contains some unnecessary plant ingredients

#2 Runner-Up: Instinct by Nature’s Variety Kitten Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe

Instinct by Nature's Variety Kitten Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe Natural Wet Canned Cat Food small

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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 plant protein that weigh your kitten down and create waste, but it does contain traces of cranberries, pumpkin, tomato, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, kale, and parsley.

Overall, this food is a low-carb option, with about 9% carbohydrates on a dry matter basis.

Each 3 oz can has 103 calories.

What We Liked:

  • Rich in animal protein
  • Soft canned food offers hydration
  • Low carbohydrate content
  • Rich in DHA for healthy brain and eye development

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Relatively expensive
  • Doesn’t receive consistently positive customer reviews

#3 Budget Pick: Fancy Feast Kitten Tender Turkey Feast Canned Cat Food Fancy Feast Tender Turkey Feast Kitten Made With Real Milk

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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 paté from Fancy Feast. This unpretentious formula emphasizes animal ingredients, keeps carbohydrates to a minimum, and has a reputation for palatability.

The recipe isn’t perfect, though. It contains both natural and artificial flavors, includes artificial colors, and uses meat by-products.

While meat by-products aren’t always bad, they sometimes come with lower quality control standards and may be less digestible than other cuts of meat.

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.

With 95 calories per can, this food is slightly less calorie-dense than some other kitten foods.

What We Liked:

  • Features high-quality animal protein
  • Specially formulated for kittens
  • Hydrating canned food
  • Has a strong reputation for palatability
  • An affordable choice

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Contains milk, which could cause GI upset in some cats
  • Made with artificial colors and flavors
  • Contains meat by-products

#4 Best Mid-Price Option: Wellness Complete Health Kitten Chicken Entree Pate

Wellness Complete Health Natural Grain Free Wet Canned Cat Food Pate Recipe

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First 5 Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Liver, Chicken Broth, Carrots, Natural Flavor

This grain-free soft loaf from Wellness’ Complete Health line is slightly cheaper than the Wellness CORE recipe listed as our number one pick. But with protein-rich chicken and chicken liver leading the ingredient list, it looks like a nutritious, species-appropriate option.

The food’s biggest flaw is its carbohydrate content. The food contains carrots, which drive its total carbohydrate content to around 14% on a dry matter basis. While that’s low compared to many wet foods and most kibble, we’d rather see carbohydrate percentages in the single digits.

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.

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Calorie-dense with 122 calories per 3 oz can
  • Made primarily from animal protein sources
  • Hydrating canned food
  • Highly palatable

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Relatively high in carbohydrate matter

#5 Best for Sensitive Stomach: Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Real Healthy Kitten Recipe Canned Cat Food

Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Real Healthy Kitten Recipe Canned Cat Food

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First 5 Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Natural Flavor, Dried Egg Product

Unlike the other products on this list, this food is formulated for “all life stages”. Foods like this are a good option if you’re not sure whether your cat needs kitten or adult food. For example, large breed cats like Maine Coons and Norwegian Forest cats don’t reach physical maturity until they’re four or five years old. An “all life stages” food is usually a safe bet regardless of your cat’s age.

The recipe features apparently high-quality ingredients like chicken and chicken liver. It doesn’t contain any starchy plant ingredients, which helps to keep its carbohydrate content low. The food is, however, loaded with thickeners, including guar gum, agar-agar, locust bean gum, and xanthan gum.

Salmon oil serves as a source of omega-3 fatty acids, including the DHA so important for brain and eye development.

The food is about 13.63% carbohydrates on a dry matter basis, so it’s not the lowest-carb option on the market. Still, it gets primarily positive customer reviews, with many buyers saying that it helped to ease their kittens’ digestive issues.

With 133 calories in each 5-ounce can, the food is slightly less calorie-dense than the other options on this list.

What We Liked:

  • Calorie-dense with 122 calories per 3 oz can
  • Made primarily from animal protein sources
  • A soft, easy-to-eat food
  • Highly palatable

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Carrots and other plant ingredients are somewhat prominent on the ingredient list

#6 Best for Weight Gain: Blue Buffalo Healthy Gourmet Kitten Chicken Entree

Blue Buffalo BLUE Healthy Gourmet Wet Cat Food

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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.

As evidenced by the inclusion of chicken, chicken liver, and dried egg among the first ingredients, it contains a respectable quantity of the animal ingredients your kitten needs. Though the food contains several high-carbohydrate ingredients, it’s carbohydrate content appears to linger around 9% on a dry matter basis, making it an acceptable choice for your carnivorous kitten.

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.

With 122 calories in every 3 oz can, this food is exceptionally calorie-dense.

What We Liked:

  • 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

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Contains carrageenan—a potentially-inflammatory additive

#7 Best Dry Kitten Food: Simply Nourish Source Chicken & Turkey Kitten Food

Simply Nourish Source Chicken & Turkey Recipe High-Protein Grain-Free Kitten Dry Cat Food

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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. The kibble 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.

What We Liked:

  • 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

What We Didn’t Like:

  • High carbohydrate content
  • Dry food doesn’t provide enough moisture for kittens

How are kittens’ nutritional needs different from those of adult cats?

Nutritionally speaking, the biggest difference between kittens and adults is the need for ultra-nutrient-dense food that will fuel early growth stages.

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.

If you’re committed to purchasing commercially-available food, read the label to determine whether or not it’s appropriate for kittens.

If the food is labeled complete and balanced for growth and reproduction OR all life stages, it’s been formulated according to the AAFCO’s 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 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 bioavailable protein and calorie density than almost anything you’ll buy in a bag or a can.

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 imbalanced 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 from real chicken, turkey, rabbit, or other animal-sourced ingredients.

As obligate carnivores, cats of all ages need a lot of protein.

Compared to middle-aged adults, kittens are more sensitive to both the quantity and quality of that protein. While adult cats need at least 6.5 grams of protein per 100 calories according to the AAFCO’s nutrient profiles, kittens need 7.5 grams or more.

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 require the amino acids found in animal tissue. Animal bodies contain all of the amino acids cats and kittens need to thrive. You can’t achieve that amino acid balance with plant-sourced protein alone. Instead, plant-based foods are a patchwork of protein sources. Synthetic amino acids fill the gaps.

Protein from plants, like that found in peas, beans, and corn gluten meal, appears to sit lower on that digestibility scale. High-quality muscle meat is closer to the top, meaning that your kitten utilizes almost all of its protein content with minimal waste.

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”, consider trying something else.

The best kitten food is calorie-dense.

As he zooms and pounces through the first year of life, your kitten burns a lot of calories.

Choosing a calorie-dense food will ensure that he has enough fuel to mentally develop, get bigger, and zip across the house with ease.

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 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.

With most cats suffering from periodontal disease by the time they reach middle age, establishing good dental hygiene in kittenhood is one of the most impactful health investments you can make.

Other Common Questions About Kitten Food

When should you start feeding kitten food?

Kittens start transitioning off of their mother’s milk and onto solid food at around four weeks of age. The weaning process is both voluntary and forced. Kittens might get curious about sharing their mother’s food and when they go back to suckle, she’ll begin to push them away.

It’s a gradual process that usually takes a few weeks. By the time kittens are seven weeks old, they should be fully weaned and eating a solid food diet.

How often should you feed your kitten?

Kittens are happiest and healthiest when served three or four small meals each day.

Is it okay to feed your kitten a variety of foods or should they stick to one food only?

To ensure that your cat doesn’t become finicky, it’s a good idea to introduce varied textures and flavors during kittenhood.

Some people, including veterinarians, preach a doctrine of feeding one food for the entirety of a cat’s life. Not only does relying exclusively on a single protein source set your cat up for food intolerances later in life, a 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.

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, but it’s not necessarily a good long-term choice. Compared to products intended for adult cats, kitten food may have more calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and other micronutrients that support skeletal development. For an adult cat, those minerals may be excessive.

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.