Kittens. Tiny, adorable, playful, and... hungry. Very hungry.

It's hard to look at an eight-week-old kitten and imagine that they'll reach a mature weight by their first birthday. But they do, and this rapid growth requires a lot of calories.

In fact, kittens require up to four times as many calories per pound of body weight as an adult cat does.

That's a whole lot of calories for something with such a small tummy, which is why getting to grips with kitten nutrition is so vitally important.

Protein and Fat

Adequate amounts of protein and fat are vital in ensuring your kitten grows up strong and healthy.

As humans, we tend to associate protein with growth. And more often than not, we think of fat as a bad thing.

Kitten foods should consist of at least 30% protein to provide them with the building blocks required for rapid growth. Most people, including myself, would suggest you aim a little higher, with a 40% minimum.

Fat plays a vital role in kitten development that often goes overlooked. Fat provides a huge 9kcal of energy per gram, which is almost double the amount of energy provided by protein and carbohydrates.

If your kitten is to get all the energy they need from small portions of food, then fat is going to have to play a big part.

What about Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates in cat food. It's something of a touchy subject among cat owners.

You'll hear plenty of people condemn carbohydrates as evil, usually while they shake their fist and explain how cats are obligate carnivores, and would never consume carbohydrates in the wild.

There's some truth to this. Cats can indeed survive without any carbohydrates in their diet. And foods that contain too many carbohydrates are objectively bad for cats; because that means they're sacrificing fat and protein, which are essential.

However, carbohydrates aren't evil. It isn't black and white. Let's take glucose, a metabolically essential carbohydrate, as an example.

Glucose is a simple carbohydrate, and certain body tissues (including the brain) require a constant supply of glucose to operate. Cats can survive without getting glucose from their diet because of their natural ability to synthesize it. If they don't get glucose in their diet, they create it using glucogenic amino acids and glycerol. Interestingly, dogs can also survive without carbohydrates, which is one of the motivitating factors behind the increasing shift to raw dog food diets. We're yet to see a similar shift in cat owner preferences, though I image it isn't far off.

Carbohydrates provide energy, but for kittens, the strong focus on protein and fat content should mean that carbs are kept to a bare minimum. That means favoring wet foods over dry foods since carbohydrates are used to create kibble.

That brings us nicely on to the next section: wet or dry?

Wet Kitten Food or Dry Kitten Food?

The answer to this is usually, both. When asked, a veterinarian recommended that using a mixture of both food types is a good idea though they noted that you might have to soften the kibble of dry food with water before feeding to very young kittens.

Using both wet and dry kitten food ensures they get exposed to both forms from an early age, and are less likely to prefer one over the other in the future. Feeding wet food alone can be quite expensive, so having the option of using dry food alongside it is always a bonus.

As previously mentioned, dry cat foods have much higher carbohydrate content than wet foods. In an analysis of 212 cat and kitten foods, dry kitten foods had an average carb content of 40.56%, while wet foods had just 11.42%.

That's a pretty big difference, and hopefully shows the importance of using a good mix of the two.

Some Key Points to Take Away

Here are some key points that are useful to keep in mind when considering your kitten's diet:

  • Fat and protein in abundance - the two most vital macronutrients for rapidly growing kittens should be prioritized over carbohydrates.
  • Carbohydrates aren't evil in moderation - it's ok for a small percentage of your kitten's food to consist of carbohydrates, as long as fat and protein are prioritized.
  • Feed both wet and dry foods - a healthy mix ensures that kittens are exposed to a range of different textures and macronutrient profiles from a young age.

For more useful tips, check out this amazing guide from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) on how to approach cat nutrition when searching online.

Author's Bio: 

Benji is an experienced pet blogger and owner of both The Idle Cat and The Idle Pup, where owners and veterinarians share expert advice on how to get the most out of life with your furry pals.