As a new kitten owner, choosing the best food for your pet can be a hard decision. What are the benefits of wet food vs. dry kibble? What ingredients should we be on the lookout for? Dr. Callie Harris, DVM, veterinarian at Purina, weighs in. "It's important to choose the food that's going to have all the necessary nutrients needed for growth as well as development. Ultimately from a veterinarian's standpoint, I know that this is what's going to help set them up for success and really create a foundation for a lifetime of great health," she says.
Look For These Key Nutrients
"Some things I encourage my kitten owners to look for when they're out shopping for kitten food is to ensure there's important nutrients like a higher amount of protein. Why we love protein is because it helps support those growing muscles. Kittens grow very rapidly in a short amount of time, so you need protein to help support that rate," says Dr. Harris. She also recommends kitten food that contains DHA, which is an omega-3 fatty acid. "DHA is really important for brain and vision development," she notes. Minerals like calcium and phosphorus are two other key nutrients Dr. Harris says to look for. "When we think about those minerals, we think about how they're really helpful with building strong teeth and bones. So that's also going to help that muscular skeletal development," she says. "Antioxidants are really important with helping develop the immune system of those kittens," she adds.
Buy Wet and Dry Food
"I love that we have both options of wet and dry. I think that it comes down to a couple of key things to consider. First thing's first—cats love variety. They're neophilic, which means they're a species that enjoys a variety of life and a variety in the things they're going to be eating. It's important for owners to provide this opportunity for their kittens to develop their palettes and learn the different tastes and different textures between wet food versus dry food early in their start of life," says Dr. Harris.
The texture, taste, and smell of wet food can help kittens transition more easily from the weening stage in their early months, explains Dr. Harris. "Wet food also provides more moisture. Cats are historically known for having issues with maintaining their hydration status. Hydration is going to be really, really important not only for kittens but also when they develop into the adult cat. So wet food provides that added moisture that will help them with their hydration balance," she says.
"What I love about dry kibble is that it also provides a little bit of a variety. It's crunchy and going to have a different texture as well. There are also potential benefits for kittens' overall dental health, too, because that dry kibble that they're munching on can help potentially reduce that tartar and plaque buildup as they transition into adulthood," Dr. Harris says.
If owners are trying to make the decision between wet food vs. dry kibble, Dr. Harris suggests a combination. "I recommend giving kittens both in the beginning and then see which direction they're going to go. I've found that as kittens get a bit older and if they haven't had that opportunity to really enjoy that variety, that may limit their palettes," she says. Browse Purina's full line of kitten food offerings on their website (purina.com).
Make a Feeding Schedule
"When we are trying to introduce mealtime with our pets, setting them up for at least two separate meals is a great place to start. With my young, I think that spreading that out to three or four meals can be even more beneficial, because they're kind of transitioning from those earlier weeks where maybe they're feeding with Mom a little more frequently. A rule of thumb is you take your total daily intake amount that's recommended on the back of the packaging or you can split it up over three to four meals throughout that day," Dr. Harris says.
Serve Them Kitten Food for One Year
"Owners are a little bit divided on how long they consider a cat a kitten. Kittens are considered kittens up to a year of age. I know that gets challenging because they're growing at such rapid rates and may look like a full-size cat at eight-months-old. But their body is still in that development stage, so feeding them a kitten diet all the way up to one-year-old is key to set them up for success," Dr. Harris adds.
As always, consult your veterinarian about questions and concerns you might have regarding your pet's diet and health.