Do kittens require a specific diet?
Kittens have a lot of growing to do in a short amount of time, as they are generally considered to be fully grown by 8-12 months old. As kittens are growing and developing rapidly, they have different nutritional requirements to adult cats. Therefore it’s essential to ensure their specific dietary needs are being met to support healthy growth. Feeding an adult diet too early can impact their development and lead to long term problems throughout life.
For the first few weeks after birth, kittens will rely on their mothers’ milk to gain their essential nutrition. However, around weeks 3-4, a kitten’s nutritional requirements begin to change. Their mother’s milk production naturally lessens while the kittens’ ability to digest lactose also decreases. From this point, it is important to begin the weaning process to gradually introduce a fully balanced and complete kitten diet specially designed to meet kittens’ nutritional needs.
It is recognised that DHA is vital in supporting the proper development of the brain and retinal tissue13. Kittens from mothers fed relatively low levels of ALA (from corn oil) were able to convert ALA to EPA and DHA in the liver and accumulate higher levels of DHA in the brain and retinal tissue compared to the liver. However, the levels of ALA supplied in the maternal diet and subsequently to the kittens appeared to be less than optimal in terms of achieving levels of DHA to support the proper development of neural and visual development. Electroretinogram recordings, used as a measure of retinal and neuronal cells function, were impaired in kittens that were fed diets containing corn oil as the primary source of EFA (ALA) compared to kittens fed diets containing pre-formed DHA14. If DHA is deficient during early development, this can lead to a loss in neural performance and reduced visual acuity.
Since no dietary requirement for EPA and DHA in adult cats has been established, it is important to select a diet formulated for kittens to ensure that the minimum level of 0.01g/100g DM EPA+DHA is provided during the growth phase for kittens.1
Article written by Kate Steele