Should you buy the same adult cat food for your new kitten or mix it up? When is it time to switch your cat over to senior food? Why is your cat suddenly gaining weight? If you wish your growing cat came with a feeding manual, read on. We’ll cover all the basics of keeping your cat happily fed through every stage of her life.

The Basics
In general, cats have no beef with beef or many other meats, for that matter. Cats don’t just love meat—they are obligate carnivores, which means that meat is a biological necessity. In the wild, a cat’s diet would consist primarily of meat. After your cat is weaned, her diet should be primarily meat-based as well.

Neonatal Cats
Cats in their first two weeks of life are referred to as neonatal. Kittens this young are basically fed around the clock by their mothers, nursing any time they aren’t sleeping. The first 36 hours are especially important—during this time the mother’s milk contains colostrum, a vital part of passing on a healthy immune system from mother to kitten.

If you do find yourself caring for an unweaned kitten without its mother, she will need to be bottle fed around the clock, every 2-3 hours. Be sure to check out our Kittens 101 article for in depth care tips.

Weaning Cats

At around 3-4 weeks, a cat begins the weaning process. This is a good time to start introducing your cat to semi-solid food like wet kitten food or a mash of dry food mixed with warm water.

Around 6 weeks, her kitten teeth will have developed. You can start feeding her dry kitten foods or a mixture of wet and dry foods.

Around this 6 week mark, most cats are nutritionally weaned, though some mothers will continue feeding their kittens for a few weeks. By 8 weeks, your cat should be both nutritionally and behaviorally weaned. Read more about when to wean here.

Kittens

Between six weeks and six months, kittens can be a little off the wall. These clawed fluff tornados have much higher energy needs than adult cats. In fact, a twelve-week old cat can exert up to ten times the energy of an adult cat!

As such, kittens need significantly more protein and calories than adult cats. A kitten formulated cat food will purrfectly fulfill a kitten’s unique caloric needs. Quality special nutrient blends will include DHA, to support proper vision and brain development, and balanced amounts of minerals like calcium and phosphorous.

This is also a great time to introduce your kitten to a variety of food. Kittens exclusively that are fed one type of food may refuse to try new types later in life. Mixing up flavors and textures early on can help avoid a picky purrball.

Young Cats

Around 6 months, a cat’s growth begins to slow down, and tapers off all together at around 6-10 months when she becomes sexually mature. At one year, you can officially consider your kitten a cat.

Once your kitten reaches eight or nine months, she’ll begin to look like a full-grown adult cat. Do not be deceived. Kittens continue to develop throughout their first year, so it's important to continue feeding kitten food for a full 12 months before graduating to adult cat food. If your cat was spayed or neutered very young, you may want to consult a vet about beginning the transition earlier—neutering can reduce a cat’s metabolism by 25 percent.

Older Cats

As your cat ages, her metabolism will naturally slow down, lowering her dietary requirements. For this reason, obesity is extremely common in house cats.

Many overweight cats will benefit from a higher protein diet, like those found in weight management or senior formulas.

If your cat seems to be gaining weight, take a look at how you feed her. Do you leave food out all day or feed your cat only at certain times? Free-choice feeding—i.e., leaving out food all day—is okay for kittens. But it can quickly lead to weight gain for older cats. Try feeding your cat small meals 2-4 times per day to see if it helps her weight.

Older cats do not automatically need to switch to a senior diet at a certain age. If your cat is a healthy weight, her regular adult food is just fine. If you’re not sure, check in with your vet to determine if you need to switch food reduce portions.

Kibbles or canned, a healthy, age-appropriate diet will keep giving your fluffball something to purr about—while keeping her healthy and happy for years to come!