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Kitten Food vs Cat Food: Vet-Reviewed Differences & Nutritional Facts

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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You might have seen cat food advertised as “kitten food” or “for growth” on the store shelves lately. Today, cat food manufacturers make different foods for different life stages, and kitten foods are a great way to make sure your little kitty gets all the nutrients he needs as he grows.

You might wonder what the differences are between adult cat foods and kitten foods and whether you can switch them interchangeably. The long and short of it is that the two types of food have different nutrient ratios, and although you can feed cats kitten food or vice versa in a pinch, that can lead to problems down the line.

hepper cat paw divider

At a Glance:

kitten food vs cat food side by side

Kitten Food
  • Fewer varieties and options
  • Higher protein content
  • Formulated for growth
  • High calcium, phosphorus, and fatty acids
  • Best for kittens and nursing mothers
Cat Food
  • More varieties and options
  • Lower protein content
  • Formulated to avoid weight gain
  • Lower amounts of certain vitamins
  • Best for adult cats

Overview of Kitten Food

kitten eating
Image Credit: Purina, Chewy

Kitten food refers to any food, wet or dry, that is formulated for kittens. Kittens can be introduced to a solid diet, often in the form of canned or semi-moist food, when they are 4 weeks old. Kittens can fully transition to solids only when they are 7 to 8 weeks old; this is the age at which mother cats wean them. Once slightly older, they can be given dry food as well, however, kittens that haven’t been weaned do best on a canned or semi-moist diet. Kittens should be on such a diet until they are about 1 year old, after which they can slowly transition to other diets.

There are fresh, canned, and dry food options available for kittens, just like with adult cats, but all of these options have important differences from adult cat food. These differences come because kittens have different nutritional requirements. They expend a lot more calories every day because their bodies are growing and because they are highly active. Their fast metabolism transforms food into energy to help them grow. Pregnant or nursing mother cats should also have kitten food available because they are expending a lot of extra energy-producing milk and passing that nutrition down to their kittens. Kittens and nursing mothers should generally be given 5 or 6 small meals a day with a high-quality kitten diet. These diets are nutrient-dense and key in ensuring the best health for your kittens and their mother. As kittens age, the number of meals given per day can be gradually reduced, with larger portions served per meal.

Kitten foods have more protein and fat than adult foods. Good quality kitten food usually contains at least 55-60% protein and at least 22-25% fat, with more of these not being an issue, as kittens need the nutrients and energy to grow and develop. Kitten foods also have other important vitamins that kittens need in higher amounts than adult cats. Growth formula cat foods meant for kittens need more calcium, phosphorus, and certain fatty acids than standard cat foods, according to the AAFCO guidelines.

Although kitten food formulas are ideal for growing cats, they are sometimes a bit trickier to find. Kitten food formulas are less common and fewer varieties are sold. The higher nutritional content also makes them often more expensive than adult cat food. The extra nutrition is worth it, though!

The ideal cat bowl will be there with your kitten as they grow and last them well into adulthood, which is why our Hepper NomNom Cat Bowl was designed to cater specifically to the needs of our feline companions at any age. The stainless steel, shallow bowls are the perfect depth for kittens who would otherwise struggle to reach the bottom of traditional bowls and offer whisker support for future feedings as they mature. Invest in something as practical and fun as your kitty - our Hepper NomNom Cat Bowl.

Hepper 360 Cat Feeder, Stainless Steel, Anti-Chew...
  • NO MESS - The 360° tray on this cat food and water bowl set has a raised design to catch and...
  • WHISKER FRIENDLY - Shallow and wide metal containers with flat bottoms ensure your kitty can enjoy...

Pros
  • Higher proteins and fat content than adult food
  • Contains vitamins that adult cats don’t need
Cons
  • Harder to find, fewer varieties available
  • Often more expensive

hepper single cat paw divider

Overview of Cat Food

Cat eats from a bowl of dry food
Image Credit: Roman Samsonov, Shutterstock

Cat food (often marketed as “adult cat food” or “maintenance cat food”) is a little different from kitten food. Adult cats aren’t growing like kittens are, so their baseline energy needs are lower. Adult cats are at high risk for obesity from overfeeding, and the extra nutrient-rich formulation of kitten foods would just increase the likelihood of obesity. Adult cats also don’t require the same amount of vitamins as a kitten and have a lower requirement for some micronutrients. Quality adult cat food typically has a protein rating of 45-55%. The fat ratings can be anywhere from 20-25%. Overall, when compared to kitten food, adult cat food has a lower protein and fat content, and it is also less calorie-dense.

Adult cat food varies much more widely than kitten food. From all-meat “raw” diets to highly processed kibble with lots of filler, there are nearly endless options for cat food. This can make it harder to find food that keeps your cat truly healthy and happy as your cat may develop a preference for certain proteins or flavors.

Pros
  • Lots of options available
  • Formulated to meet nutritional needs
  • Easy to find in stores
Cons
  • Not all adult cat food is suitable for kittens
  • Quality varies widely

hepper single cat paw divider

Can I Switch Between the Two Without Issue?

If you can’t get a hold of the right type of food, switching between kitten and cat food is generally okay as a one-time thing. Cats and kittens need similar proteins, fats, and vitamins, just in different proportions. That means that if you run out of kitten food and can’t make it to the store, they will be alright if offered a meal of cat food. But long term, switching foods can be a real problem.

Kittens need more energy than adult cats, and adult cat food isn’t nutrient-dense enough for them. If you feed a kitten adult cat food, you run the risk of malnutrition. Kittens who don’t get enough calories will be smaller, frailer, and more likely to get sick.

Adult cats don’t need all the calories in kitten foods. They’re liable to overeat and eating kitten food can cause obesity in adult cats. If you do have to feed your adult cat kitten food as a one-time thing, you might want to scale down the meal size just slightly to account for the higher caloric density.

Wet and dry pet food made of natural ingredients
Image Credit: Yuriy Golub, Shutterstock

When Should My Kitten Start Eating Cat Food?

You should switch from kitten to cat food when your cat is nearing full size. This usually occurs around 1 year of age, with some larger cats growing longer. Males tend to grow bigger than females. In the case of nursing mothers, you should switch when kittens are fully weaned.

Like any food switch, moving your kitten up to adult food works best if it’s somewhat gradual. Transition your kitten to adult food by replacing around 10% of their daily portion of kitten food with adult food. Replace another 10-20% every second day, taking a total of 1 or 2 weeks to fully transition. This gives your kitten time to adjust to the new flavors and textures, and its digestive system a chance to adapt to the change. From this time your kitten must be used to eating only two to three meals a day. Avoid getting your kittens into the habit of free feeding. Most adult cats don’t self-regulate very well, so giving your cat two or three portioned-out meals a day can help avoid obesity.

The ideal cat bowl will be there with your kitten as they grow and last them well into adulthood, which is why our Hepper NomNom Cat Bowl was designed to cater specifically to the needs of our feline companions at any age. The stainless steel, shallow bowls are the perfect depth for kittens who would otherwise struggle to reach the bottom of traditional bowls and offer whisker support for future feedings as they mature. Invest in something as practical and fun as your kitty - our Hepper NomNom Cat Bowl.

Hepper 360 Cat Feeder, Stainless Steel, Anti-Chew...
  • NO MESS - The 360° tray on this cat food and water bowl set has a raised design to catch and...
  • WHISKER FRIENDLY - Shallow and wide metal containers with flat bottoms ensure your kitty can enjoy...

hepper-cat-paw-divider

Final Thoughts

Every cat is different, and every stage of life brings different needs. For kittens, the high-protein kitten foods will fuel growth and ensure proper nutrition that adult cat foods just don’t bring. Both kitten and cat foods can be higher quality or low quality, so it is important to find something that is healthy and meets your cat’s nutritional needs at any age.

See Also:


Featured Image Credit: MaraZe, Shutterstock/ Skrypnykov-Dmytro, Shutterstock

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