• 24 APR 14
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    Feeding your New Kitten

    Feeding your New Kitten

    Congratulations! You are the proud new owner of a little meowing and purring bundle of fur. This also means that you have undertaken to look after and care for the kitten to the best of your ability, for as long as he shall live. Ownership of animals is fun, but it is also serious, as it implies a commitment to provide safe and comfortable housing, good nutrition, the necessary veterinary care and, of course, love and understanding.

    Good quality food is vital for the health of your kitten. A cat has very special nutritional needs. They are not “little dogs” or “little people” and they therefore need a diet tailored to their specific requirements. In fact, cats are carnivores (meat eaters), whereas dogs and humans are omnivores (plant and meat eaters). Cats have very high protein and fat requirements and they also need some special amino acids, which are added to commercial diets. After many years of research, we now know that certain diseases can be prevented through manipulation of cat diets. For example, taurine is added to good quality commercial diets because it can prevent a fatal heart disorder, called dilated cardiomyopathy (which has now become uncommon, for that reason). The acidity and concentration of urine is also manipulated by modern diets, to prevent bladder stones from forming. Certain vitamins must be added to cat diets to prevent deficiencies, while too much of the same vitamin will also cause disease! Human baby porridge, for example, is no good as cat or dog food, as it does not provide for these special requirements. There are therefore very valid reasons to stick to good quality commercial diets, which are nutritionally balanced and complete.

    Kittens are usually exposed to moist food from the age of about 3-4 weeks and are usually weaned by about 6-8 weeks of age. By that time they should be able to eat by themselves. A young kitten should be fed a good quality commercial kitten food, using the manufacturer’s recommendations as a guide. Some cat foods are more concentrated and a smaller volume may need to be fed than for other varieties. A moist diet (canned, or water-moistened dry kitten food) is usually offered, at least until they are strong enough to chew dry cubes. Food may be left with the kittens all day long, i.e. free choice, but fresh food should still be provided twice daily. It should be remembered that moistened dry food may spoil rapidly (within hours) and can then cause diarrhoea. Kittens may also be fed separate meals about three times a day initially. They should not be allowed to overeat as this may induce diarrhoea or vomiting, although it is very unusual for kittens to overeat. Remember that kittens usually do not eat with the same vigour as dogs. They eat slower and will come back to the bowl repeatedly. This should not be confused with a reluctance to eat or “not liking the food”, but is normal behaviour. Fresh, cool water should be available all day. Although milk may be given, it is definitely not essential. Milk should always be fresh, and be given in small quantities as it can cause diarrhoea if kittens and cats may become lactose intolerant. Once a kitten is used to its diet, no sudden or drastic changes should be introduced as that may initiate diarrhoea. Feeding table scraps should be avoided – your cat will insist on the table scraps, which is not a balanced diet.

    When the kitten reaches the age of about six months, it may be fed less often. Kittens are usually switched to adult cat food by the age of one year. Adult cats usually need to be fed once or twice daily only. One can usually allow them access to the food all day long, as long as your cat does not try to eat two day’s rations in one go! Cats and kittens should never be allowed to get overweight. Obesity makes your cat less playful and may result in serious disease such as diabetes and arthritis and can shorten its life expectancy. “Light” or diet-type cat food should be fed to the adult cat that has a weight problem. The manufacturer’s feeding instructions on the label of cat and kitten food should always be used as a guide only. Individual cats may need more or less of the food to ensure adequate growth or to maintain weight while preventing obesity. The volume fed should therefore be individualised to each cat’s needs. Supplements and additives are usually not necessary and may be dangerous. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian for assistance.

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