ONE STEP AT A TIME: KEEPING UP WITH YOUR KITTEN’S CHANGING NEEDS
From weaning to old age, your little feline friend will experience a number of physical and behavioural changes that will prompt, amongst other adjustments, a change in her nutritional requirements. One of the most important transitions in your cat’s life is from being an adorable, bouncy kitten to an equally lovable adult cat. Another important transition in many cats’ lives comes with neutering, which calls for certain additional adjustments in diet including a possible reduction in calories. And with all transitions, it will be easier for both you and your cat if you understand the changes that lie ahead. Preparation brings you greater peace of mind and will help you make sure that your beloved companion stays healthy and fit at every stage of life.
WHEN IS MY KITTEN AN ADULT?
NUTRITIONAL REQUIREMENTS AND LIFESTAGES
Up to six months, your kitten is growing at a very fast rate. From six months onward, her growth rate will slow down considerably. At 12 months old, your inquisitive cat probably still looks like a kitten to you and she is still more than likely to be getting into her fair share of mischief. However, by 9 to 12 months, many kittens have nearly reached their full grown size. At one year old, your kitten is generally considered to be an adult (even if you think she’s still not acting like one!).
NUTRITIONAL REQUIREMENTS AND LIFESTYLE FACTORS
As your kitten transitions into adulthood, it is important to keep up with her changing needs. In addition to her slower growth rate, her nutritional requirements depend on certain lifestyle factors. Among others, these may include decreased physical activity depending on whether your cat has access to the outdoors or not, whether she is neutered, and if she rules the roost or has to share her home with another cat or dog, which tends to keep her more stimulated than if she is on her own. For instance, as one might expect, a young adult cat with access to the outdoors and who sometimes plays with another household pet is likely to have higher calorie requirements than that of a lone indoor cat with a more sedentary lifestyle.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR KITTEN’S NUTRITIONAL NEEDS
Perhaps the first step to lifelong wellbeing for your cat is to grasp how and why your kitten’s needs differ from an adult cat’s requirements. With her small stomach capacity, your hungry kitten not only requires multiple daily food portions, sometimes up to 18 meals per day and night to get her fill if she was free in nature, she also needs food that is high in protein, fat and balanced in minerals in order to meet her energy requirements. After all, reaching your adult size takes some eating!
In addition, as you well know, kittens have a lot of energy! With all that intense playing, roughhousing and growing going on, it is especially important for your feline friend to get high quality, nutritionally complete and balanced food. This will provide a healthy foundation for the rest of her life. Consequently, it is generally recommended to give your companion specially formulated kitten food until her first year.
MOVING INTO ADULTHOOD AND LIFESTYLE CHANGES: YOUR CAT’S CHANGING NUTRITIONAL NEEDS
When your kitten has reached the age of 6 months, with sexual maturity fast approaching, this is sometimes considered the best time to consider neutering. For health reasons, many veterinarians often recommend early neutering when your kitten is between 4 and 6 months old. It is important to be aware that neutering will have certain consequences on your cat’s appetite and metabolism. For example, a neutered cat’s ability to burn calories is modified and weight gain could increase up to 20% quickly . There is a chance she may also be more inclined to beg for food in an attempt to satisfy her new found hunger. Hence, it is crucial to pay close attention to her body weight throughout this potentially tricky 18 week period following neutering and to closely monitor her food intake.
TRANSITIONING FROM KITTEN FOOD TO ADULT FOOD
Adult cats need less food due to decreased activity (yes, your apparently hyperactive ball of fur will one day slow down), the fact that they are growing much less quickly, and a less active metabolism in case of neutering. Consequently, generally speaking at age one, it is best to switch your kitten to adult food, which is lower in protein and fat. However, in case of neutering, it may be better for your kitten to transition to adult food earlier, from six months to a year, depending on your vet’s advice, and when all the signs that her body growth is complete have been identified. It all depends on the nutritional contents of the food formula chosen (ex. recipe for kitten or for sterile kitten from 6 to 12 months).
THE ART OF THE SMOOTH TRANSITION
Switching your cat from kitten food to adult cat food should be done gradually and requires a little organization. Transitioning too rapidly may lead to digestive issues for your cat. A gradual shift over the course of 5-8 days is best to allow her to get used to her new diet. Start by mixing a small amount, say 10%, of adult food with the kitten food. Every two days increase the percentage of adult food. Normally, by day seven or eight your kitten will have successfully made the switch. If you have not already done so, it is often recommended to begin to steadily introduce different flavours and textures of food, including both dry and wet food. This will help ensure that your cat does not become a picky eater. In addition, certain cats naturally love variety.
MONITORING YOUR YOUNG ADULT CAT’S WEIGHT
As your cat grows older and transitions to adult food it is especially important to monitor her body weight. In order to help your cat maintain a healthy bodyweight, you could try adding wet food to your cats dry food diet. Wet food also has the advantage of much higher water content, which is always good for your cat. You can also try out puzzle feeding toys that stimulating her mentally. Finally, you can also help your cat maintain a healthy bodyweight by regularly engaging in games they love using cat toys to encourage physical exercise.
THE UNDERWEIGHT CAT
While most of us tend to worry about our cat becoming overweight, it is also equally important to ensure that she is not underweight. If your young adult cat is looking a bit thin or suddenly refusing to eat, we advise consulting your cat’s veterinarian. Losing weight can be a sign of health issues or that your cat’s dietary needs are not being met properly. Your vet can advise you on any dietary changes that need to be made. In particular, it is recommended to worm your kitten as soon as she is weaned to prevent any growth problems related to intestinal parasites. Consult your vet regarding the frequency of deworming.
THE LOW DOWN ON OPTIMAL NUTRITION FOR YOUR CAT: IT’S WORTH IT!
So as you can see, growing up need not be hard for your kitten, or stressful for you, provided you understand the physical and/or behavioral changes that your kitten may experience along the road to adulthood in a short period. In particular it is important not to underestimate the pivotal role that appropriate nutrition plays in your kitten’s developmental growth. The sooner you establish a nutritionally balanced, age-appropriate diet for your cat, the better for her in terms of real, lasting health benefits.