Kitten to senior cat food: cat nutrition by lifestage
Your cat's age is something that needs to be considered when choosing the proper food for your cat, whether you're searching for kitten food or senior cat food. Selecting one that provides your furry friend with the optimum nutrition they need at each lifestage can help to ensure a long, healthy life.
When searching for a cat food, check the packaging to see if it matches your cat's lifestage. A cat requires different levels of nutrition at every lifestage, so it's important to choose one that matches their energy level, metabolic rate and other basic needs. Sometimes all this information can make cat food labels harder to read, however, so it's important to know what your cat needs and why.
As classified by the American Animal Hospital Association, there are six identifiable stages of a cat's life, each of which requires its own smart pet food choices.
New-born kittens (birth to 4 months)
New-born kittens will stay with their mother for the first 8 or so weeks as they will rely on their mother's milk to help them grow and fight off diseases that their immune system is not quite equipped to deal with. During this time, they will do little else other than nurse and sleep.
When your kitten is at least 8-9 weeks old, they will be ready to wean off their mother's milk and come home with you. After they are weaned and ready to go home, you'll immediately discover that they’re a ball of energy with a zest for life. At this stage, a kitten's routine follows the pattern of eat, sleep, run around like crazy, repeat. They require the right nutrients to maintain their boundless energy.
Now that they're weaned from their mother or bottle-feeding, your new kitten food should be made with fatty acids, such as DHA (a common source of this nutrient is fish oil), folic acid, and taurine, an amino acid that aids in the vital development of the immune and digestive systems, heart functions and vision quality. Protein is another vital component of kitten food and comes from a variety of sources, including meat and grains. They are growing at an astonishing rate (this stage is equivalent to the first ten years of a human's life) and need energy to keep up the pace. It's important that these nutrients are always in the right amounts to ensure the best opportunity to be healthy as they grow. In addition to nutrition, don't forget about other kitten care opportunities.
Junior cats (7 months to 2 years) and prime cats (3-6 years)
If your fur baby's behaviour changes as they approach the one-year mark, don't be surprised. They’re beginning adolescence and then moving on to adulthood, lifestages that correspond to the human ages of 12-27 (Junior) and 28-40 (Prime).
Technically, cats are considered to be adults at the age of one year and that will extend through year six, but age is not necessarily a determining factor in how active your cat will be. Many cats will be very lively well into their double-digit years. For this reason, one of your considerations for feeding a young adult cat should be activity level. An average kitty will need enough food for "maintenance" energy to go about their slipped through daily activities, but if your cat is extremely active and spends hours sprinting around the house, they’ll need a few more calories to sustain them. If your pet likes to laze in the sunshine all day, they might require carefully measured meals to keep them trim. Talk to your vet about your cat's activity level, as they can help you determine if your cat needs more or less calories.
Adult cats require the right amount of fat and protein in their meals as well as other nutrients like taurine. Consider the Hill's SCIENCE PLAN cat food line. These products, ranging from kitten food all the way up to senior cat food, provide balanced nutrition in a variety of options for adult cats of all ages, sizes and activity levels, including hairball, sensitive stomach and light formulas.
Mature cats (7-10 years) and senior cats (11-14 years)
Cats in these two categories are placed firmly in the middle stages of life. In human years, these furry friends are in their early 40s through early 70s comparatively to humans. While your kitty won't (necessarily) experience a mid-life crisis, they may become a little more finicky with their food choices, and you'll need to ensure they get the nutrients they need while staying properly hydrated. Always make sure your cat has access to clean, fresh water.
This also is a time of life when cats' nutritional needs shift, whether because of medical issues or simply ageing. In some instances, too much or too little of any one ingredient may impact their health. During this stage, you'll want to keep an eye on your cat's weight as their activity level may decrease, which could lead to obesity. Avoid the calorie-rich food formulated for kittens and young adult cats; instead, look for foods that are formulated with their needs as an ageing cat are kept in mind like SCIENCE PLAN Mature cat food. Watching their calorie intake not only keeps their weight in a healthy range but also reduces the risk of diseases, such as kidney disease, certain cancers and osteoarthritis.
Senior cats (15+ Years)
In their golden years, your fur baby may start to seek more attention from you, become more affectionate and reduce their activity level. As their behaviour changes, so do their mealtime needs.
Much like the foods for adult cats, senior cat food should be low in calories and fibre. Another concern for elderly cats is being underweight. Hill's SCIENCE PLAN Senior 11+ Cat Food is formulated with the right balance of necessary ingredients for senior cats with the added benefit of antioxidants that help keep them healthy during the ageing process.
Both wet food and dry food provide your cat with the ingredients they need, but there are upsides and downsides to each. Older cats often have worn or missing teeth, so they might appreciate something a little softer. Some pet parents try a combination of the two or add just a little wet food — or even some fresh water — to dry kibble. Your cat certainly will let you know their preference, and the two of you can work together to find the perfect fit.
Where do cat treats fit into a cat's meal plan? As just that: a treat. "While giving your cat an occasional treat is not generally harmful, they are usually not a nutritionally complete and balanced source of nutrition and should only be fed occasionally," explains the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. According to Cornell, you also should avoid giving your cat raw meat (it carries the risk of toxoplasmosis and infectious disease), canned fish (risk of neurological disease) and milk (many cats can't digest dairy).
In addition to a nutrient-rich food, your cat needs to stay hydrated in order to stay healthy. This is especially true for senior cats, for whom dehydration can be a side effect of certain medical conditions.
There are, of course, exceptions for each cat lifestage. If there are medical concerns or other issues to address, you should consult with your veterinarian. Your vet can also help you determine the best feeding schedule for your cat including how much to feed at each lifestage as well as when to feed throughout the day. Choosing the best cat food for your best pal will help to keep them healthy, no matter whether their young or young at heart.
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat owner whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.