Choosing a healthy cat food can feel overwhelming, especially when you look at the ocean of brands, formulations, and flavors. Before choosing a food, you must first identify the stage of your cat’s life.
“Cats have different nutritional needs based on where they are in their growth and life cycle,” said Johnna Devereaux, clinical animal nutritionist and owner of Fetch RI in Richmond, Rhode Island. “Feeding a cat to meet these needs is important to their vitality and helps them achieve good health.”
Kittens younger than 1 year of age should eat kitten food (called growth) or food marked for “all stages of life”. Adult cats over 1 year of age should consume adult food (called maintenance) or an all-life diet. Cats 11-14 are considered older, and cats 15+ are considered geriatric. Older and geriatric cats can eat maintenance or all life cycle foods, but they can benefit from a diet formulated for older cats.
Regardless of your cat’s age, they will benefit from these important feeding and prohibitions.
Choose a complete and balanced cat food
The most important thing to do when choosing a cat food is to look on the label for a statement stating that the food meets the standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) that state it The cat’s life phase: growth (kittens and pregnant or nursing queens), maintenance (adult cats) or all phases of life (every cat from kitten to geriatric).
Choose a food for your cat’s life cycle
“An animal’s nutritional needs vary depending on the stage of life,” says Dr. Jennifer A. Larsen, professor of clinical nutrition in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “Very young kittens usually need a higher energy diet so they don’t need to eat less bulk, while older cats are predisposed to obesity and usually do better on fewer calorie diets.”
DO NOT feed your kitten adult cat food
Kittens should not eat adult cat food. “Adult cats can eat Kit-Ten foods as long as they tolerate the higher calorie density and don’t gain unwanted weight. However, kittens shouldn’t eat adult-only food because it doesn’t meet their needs,” says Dr. Larsen. It is generally safe to feed your adult cat’s kitten food when needed, but the kitten food contains more calories so it can result in unwanted weight gain.
Offer different foods and textures to kittens
Kittens develop strong food preferences early in life. “Cats fed a variety of foods are more likely to try something new when presented,” says Johnna. “It’s a good idea to make sure your cat accepts a variety of nibble flavors and shapes, as well as a variety of canned foods, including loaf or pie types, chunks in sauce, etc.”
If cats eat too many calories, they run the risk of becoming overweight or even obese. Talk to your veterinarian about how many calories your cat needs.
“The number of calories a cat needs each day depends on a variety of factors, including age, activity level, whether they are firm or intact, and their body condition,” says Johnna. “Calorie calculators are available online and can be used as a starting point. However, emphasis should also be placed on how your cat’s body reacts to the calories it consumes.”
Choose the right diet for your older cat
Your elderly or geriatric cat can benefit from a special diet. So talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s individual needs. “Consideration of the individual is warranted as we age because some cats are overweight while others are too thin and there may be underlying conditions we can address (like arthritis),” says Dr. Larsen.
There is no AAFCO nutrient profile for older cats. Therefore, diets labeled for older cats may not provide a similar diet.
“The senior diet category is broad and has no particular characteristics,” says Dr. Larsen, one of the authors of a recently published study on senior diets.
According to Dr. Larsen has long known that cats with kidney disease need a decrease in phosphorus intake, but healthy cats, young and old, can also develop kidney damage from eating too much phosphorus. “For seniors, and indeed all cats, there is evidence that diets high in phosphorus can damage the kidneys,” she says.
Jackie Brown is a Southern California freelance writer specializing in the pet industry. Contact her at jackiebrownwriter.wordpress.com.