Kitten Nutrition: A Vet Tech’s Guide

Published on September 27, 2019 by arothstein

Hungry kittens waiting for food

Choosing a career as a veterinary technician means you have the best of both worlds. You can blend your love for animals with a desire to make a difference in their lives. Your life will be enriched knowing that you’re also making a positive impact on people with whom you interact. Vet techs work with dogs, cats, birds and exotic animals. Kittens in particular have specific nutrition needs so they grow up healthy and strong. A vet tech’s responsibility is to educate new kitten owners on nutrition and proper care.

Kittens and the First Vet Visit

One of the most enjoyable duties of a vet tech is to educate pet owners about caring for their new kitten. When a pet owner takes in their kitten for the first vet visit, here’s what they expect. The vet tech will greet them and their new kitten. The first portion of the exam is usually handled by the vet tech who will weigh the kitten. A lot of veterinary practices have scales built into the exam table, so pets are more relaxed when getting weighed. The vet tech will take the kitten’s temperature and record the information in their chart.

Your Kitten’s Exam Process

The veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination and determine the kitten’s age by checking their teeth. If a kitten still has baby teeth, the kitten usually isn’t more than ten weeks old. The vet will listen to the kitten’s heart and lungs and check vital signs to make sure the new kitten is healthy and growing at the proper rate.

The kitten’s abdomen will be checked for anything abnormal. The kitten’s eyes will be examined for any eye disease, and ears will be monitored for mites. Kittens and adult cats are regularly checked for fleas. The veterinarian will also discuss necessary vaccinations, when the rabies vaccine should be given, and when the spay/neuter surgery is an option.

A novice pet owner will likely have a lot of questions about the food their kitten requires. The vet tech will explain about nutrition for kittens, the type of food the new kitten needs, and how much he should be eating.

What Do Kittens Eat (Food and Treats)?

The key to a kitten growing into a healthy adult cat is proper nutrition. Food that’s high in nutrients and provides all the nutrition the kitten needs will minimize the risk of developing certain diseases. Proper nutrition will keep their teeth and gums healthy.

The Kitten Diet for the First Few Weeks

Kittens survive on their mother’s milk for the first several weeks of their lives. Mother cats will begin to wean their kittens at about four weeks of age. The weaning process is usually complete at around eight weeks. Most veterinarians say kittens need mother’s milk until they’re at least eight weeks old. However, some vets recommend not separating kittens from their mother until they reach 12 weeks of age.

Orphaned Kitten Nutrition

If the owner has adopted an orphaned kitten, they should not feed it cow’s milk. Newborn kittens that don’t have a mother to feed them may be bottle-fed. Pet stores carry KMR (kitten milk replacement) that’s mainly for young kittens, along with bottles and nipples. The milk replacement may be mixed with dry kitten food and water to make a gruel that’s easy for kittens to digest. Some suppliers carry milk replacement in liquid form so it can be poured over kitten food.

A Kitten’s First Food

When the kitten begins to eat cat food, the owner should check the ingredients list. The first ingredients in cat food should be meat and not fillers like grain or corn. High-quality cat food that provides a kitten with the nutrition that’s needed for optimum health won’t contain fillers or preservatives. Cats are carnivorous and require a certain amount of protein to stay healthy. Meat should be the primary ingredient in any food fed to a kitten.

Kittens may be fed dry or wet food, but dry food is usually more nutritious, contains fewer fillers, and has less moisture. If the kitten is still being weaned or has just stopped nursing, the dry food may be softened with a small amount of water.

Human Foods That are Safe for Kittens

Kittens may eat meat that’s safe for humans. However, a pet owner should never feed their kitten snack or “junk” foods like potato chips. Cats can metabolize vegetables because they contain cellulose. Although some owners feed their cats a raw food diet, the digestive system of a kitten is still in the developmental stage.

These are the human foods that are safe for kittens:

Kitten Treats & Nutrition

Kitten treats are a source of positive reinforcement for good behavior; especially with young kittens who are learning to use a scratching post or litter box. Treats are useful if an owner wants to coax their kitten out of a hiding place and can be especially helpful when trying to give the kitten an oral medication.

A lot of the cat treats with the most nutrition are freeze-dried and are available in seafood and poultry flavors. A lot of the high-quality kitten treats are soft baked or crunchy and grain-free.

How Much Should Kittens Eat

If the owner’s kitten is a newborn, the kitten should eat approximately every two hours. If the owner is bottle-feeding, kittens require about 1.1 ounces of formula per day. When a kitten is in the weaning phase, the owner should buy food specially formulated for kittens.

If the owner establishes a regular feeding schedule, they can control how much food their kitten is eating and make sure they are not gaining too much weight. Between the ages of two and three months, a kitten should be fed about four times a day since their stomach is too small to hold all the food at one feeding. An owner should divide the amount of wet or dry food recommended on the can or package and feed their kitten every four to six hours. Canned kitten food should be refrigerated between feedings. It can be warmed a bit to make it taste better to a kitten.

If a kitten doesn’t care for the dry kitten food, the owner can mix it with a small amount of warm water. Although kittens like milk replacement, they don’t need it after they reach ten weeks old. An owner should feed their kitten the recommended amount listed on the package, according to the kitten’s weight.

How Much Protein Do Kittens Require?

Cats are carnivores and need more protein than dogs. However, kittens have a higher requirement for protein than adult cats. For example, kittens should get 30 percent of their energy from protein.

According to the guidelines of the Association of American Feed Control Officials, kitten food must contain at least 30 percent or more crude protein, which is listed in the guaranteed analysis. Veterinarians have differing opinions about the most nutritious cat food. Some vets advocate for high animal proteins rather than plant proteins, and some believe that dry food contains too many carbohydrates.

Vitamins and Minerals Kittens Need

Since kittens develop so quickly during their first year, they need a high-energy diet. Most kittens are considered to be adult when they reach one year of age. However, large breed cats like Maine Coon Cats don’t reach maturity until they’re between 18 months and two years old.

The water-soluble vitamins cats need for proper nutrition are vitamin C, B vitamins, and folic acid. Fat-soluble vitamins that cats need for good health are A, D, E, and K. Magnesium helps a kitten build up an immunity to disease. Kittens and cats need amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Taurine is one of the amino acids that are essential for good health in cats. If cats don’t get Taurine in their diet, they can have problems with their reproductive system, lose their eyesight, or suffer from cardiovascular problems.

Kittens require DHA, an amino fatty acid in their diet that’s essential for vision and brain development. For kitten’s bones to develop normally, they need the optimal amount of phosphorous to calcium ratio. Selenium and vitamin E are also essential for a kitten’s immune system to develop appropriately.

Managing Kitten Hygiene

Good hygiene is as crucial for kittens as it is for adult cats. Cats spend a lot of time grooming themselves, so the owner should get a kitten accustomed to being brushed early. Cats use their claws to mark their territory. It’s essential to keep a cat’s nails trimmed, and it’s easier to manage them if they get accustomed to clipping as kittens.

The owner should use a warm, wet cloth to clean their kitten’s face, especially around the eye and nose area. The owner should also make sure their kitten’s ears are always clean. The owner should put a drop or two of ear solution into the kitten’s ears and gently massage the outside of their ear.

A kitten will get accustomed to having their teeth brushed if the owner begins when they are young. Toothpaste and brushes, especially for cats and dogs, are available at pet suppliers.

Did learning about kitten nutrition interest you? Ready to start a program to become a veterinary technician? With an associate degree in veterinary technology, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to start an entry-level career as a veterinary technician. Broadview University has been part of the community for more than 40 years, so we’ve developed connections that can help move your career forward. After completing our accredited degree program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). Passing the VTNE allows you to become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), a designation that will give you a competitive advantage when you enter the job market.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a veterinary technician and working in veterinary technology.

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