You have many choices when it comes to what kind of kitten food you should begin feeding your kittens once they are weaned.
Pet stores have aisle upon aisle of choices, and its no wonder there can be so many headaches just trying to pick one!
Some have found the best solution around label-reading is to provide a raw cat food diet for their pets.
If this idea doesn't sit well with you, there is an easier way to ensure your kitten gets the nutrition she needs from a commercial kitten food.
The main concerns that cat owners have are quality and cost, and how to get the best of both without compromise.
Well, that is not always easy, but if you know what to look for, you can at least make an informed decision.
Kitten and cat owners will judge the quality of food based on how much their cats enjoy eating it.
This is not necessarily a good indication of quality, however, as extra flavors can be added by the manufacturers to make their low-nutrient product more "popular."
To pick the most appropriate food for your kitten, you first should understand that kittens and cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they require a very high percentage of protein in their food in the form of appropriate meats.
If you simply cannot afford a pure, grain-free cat food for your kitten, there are still ways to find the best quality at the best price you can afford.
(There are vegetarian and vegan commercial cat foods as well, but these are understandably controversial. For the purposes of this article, I will focus on meat-based kitten food protein.)
Begin by looking at the front of the label--if it says "chicken dinner" or "turkey formula" or "turkey flavor," be careful. These are fluff words and often do not mean much in terms of actual meat content.
Quality kitten foods have an appropriate balance of protein, vitamins, minerals, and fats, and these fluff words do nothing to convey health of their product.
It is also important to read the labels, and the first thing you should be looking for is meat content.
Ingredients are listed in order of most to least, and ideally the first three ingredients should be meat or meat meal, and the source of protein should be stated--i.e., chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, etc.
Beef is not as good as source of a protein as chicken, turkey or rabbit, and fish should only be fed occasionally and in small amounts.
Try to avoid any ingredient that says animal by-product. There is some controversy with this as well, since there is an argument that in the wild, a cat will eat all parts of a rodent (for example) so by-products in commercial cat foods are fine.
In my opinion, it's better to avoid labels that are this vague, because you never know what by-products they might be, and can include beaks, feathers, and other parts that provide no nutritional value.
It is also best to avoid kitten food ingredients that say "animal digest," as this, ironic as it sounds, is not digestible by cats or kittens.
Mostly the cheaper brands such as Friskies, 9 Lives and Meow Mix contain animal digest in their formulas.
After meat content, usually the next ingredients are carbohydrates. Cats have very, very little need for carbs, but cat food companies need an inexpensive "filler" to make their products more cost-effective.
There are companies that make grain-free cat food, but these are generally more expensive.
A common filler used is corn or corn meal or tricky-phrased "maize." Cats do not need corn, and in fact it is a poor choice for their health.
It is also a common cat food allergy, which joins company with other common cat food carbohydrate fillers like soy, wheat, and gluten.
It is best to avoid these ingredients altogether, but if you can't, try to make sure there is only one of these offenders and that it is as far down on the list as possible.
The task of finding a highly nutritious kitten food becomes even more frustrating when so-called "high end" brands offer nothing but a name...Even Hills Science Diet Cat Food is mainly comprised of by-product and corn!
And the Eukanuba brand cat food is only marginally better, but still touted as a "good" cat food.
The rice, although non-nutritive, is not an allergen, so it isn't as much of an offender. As for the fruits and veggies, well, they are there to make it sound like kitty is getting a yummy well-rounded meal, but this is just so humans will buy it!
I chose Innova in the past because the meat proportion is high and the price reasonable for what it is.
When you know what proportion of ingredients to look for, there's another hurdle in choosing it's presentation. There are very strong arguments for choosing wet or canned cat food:
1) Since cats are not very good drinkers, wet food helps keep them hydrated and their kidneys functioning well. For male cats, dehydration can also produce painful urinary blockages.
2) There is actually less chance of contamination compared to dry kitten food, which can sit in a bag in a warehouse for a long time, exposed to bacteria and other pollutants.
3) Wet food more closely approximates textures they would encounter in the wild, and usually (but not always) the protein concentration is higher than in dry.
There can be reasons to choose dry, especially if you prefer to free-feed and you really cannot stand the smell of canned food. Some people believe feeding dry food is better for a cat's teeth, but in reality they don't chew their food much.
If you saw my cats inhale kibble (They used to eat dry food only) you would believe me!
There are some decent choices for dry food, if you choose this route. Natura's Innova (again!) has a decent one that is low on fillers and high on protein.
Evo (also by Natura company) is a higher-cost dry option, but it is grain-free, with 7% carbohydrates and a full 50% of protein.
If cost is a concern and you don't mind wet food, it is almost always better to go with a middle-range wet food than a middle-range dry food.
If you have to go low-end (for example, a supermarket brand), your best bet is to choose a budget brand that lists a specific meat source, no fillers, and no more than one by-product.
Unless you want to make your own cat food, reading cat and kitten food labels will become an important part of your kitten's health.
With so many options--wet, dry, canned, pouched, raw, grain-free, organic--your best bet is just to balance nutrition against what you are most comfortable paying for. With careful consideration, you will find the best option for you and your kitten!
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