The breeder will have some good advice to give on the correct feeding and it is most unwise to change the feeding pattern and menu, even if you wish to give something which is in your view more nutritious than the early diet. The kitten’s stomach is small and delicate – any major change in the diet causes upset with diarrhoea and perhaps vomiting. The golden rule, therefore, is to stick to the diet given by the breeder and make changes very gradually. This applies not only to the quality of the food but also to the quantity and the frequency. The kitten’s small stomach can hold only about a dessertspoonful of food in the early weeks and empties itself relatively quickly. For this reason meals should be small, concentrated from a nutritional point of view, and offered anything from four to six times a day at regular intervals. The quantity can be increased each week and the frequency reduced by eliminating one meal a clay over the first six months of the kitten’s life. Cats are also creatures of habit and will get to know meal times and signs of food preparation very quickly. Like all young creatures they have absolutely no interest in dieting and will cat anything and everything, including food stolen from the larder if given the chance. Over-feeding should therefore be avoided as this can easily lead to an over-fat adult cat that continually demands food and is a thorough nuisance in the house as a result.
A good balanced diet should contain the basic elements of protein, carbohydrate, fat, minerals, vitamins and fluid. Many manufacturers of dog and cat food now have suitable balanced diets available commercially which can considerably reduce the need to prepare fresh food every day. For kittens. However, depending upon the breeder’s advice, it is wise to give a little raw meat scraped into a mush in the early weeks and gradually oiler it in finely chopped form as the kitten gets older. Apart from raw meat, other sources of protein include cooked meats of any kind such as beef, rabbit, chicken, lamb. Kidneys, heart or tongue. Lungs or lights are sometimes offered but these contain relatively less protein than meat as lungs are made up of millions of air holes and are low in density, rather like a sponge.
There are many myths about feeding animals, the most common of which is to assume that all dogs and cats prefer raw meat, preferably taken from the animal direct or at least off the bone. Dogs and cats have been domesticated for almost as long as we have and, although cats will go out and catch mice and birds and cat them, they can easily be nourished and totally sustained on a mixed vegetable and meat diet. In the wild state members of the cat family cat the whole of their prey, including the stomach contents, and it is in this way that they obtain their balance of vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates.
In the case of cats, there seems also to be a common assumption that fish is preferred. This is a preference attributed to them by humans since in the normal stale cats dislike water and would be unlikely to fish by choice if small mammals were available in the wild to hunt and capture. However, there is no doubt that cats do enjoy fish which should always be cooked.
When offering rabbit, chicken or fish, great care should be taken to mash the meat away from the bones and eliminate the bones entirely. Hungry and greedy kittens will gobble their food quickly and if a small bone is present it could easily lodge in the roof of the mouth or in the throat and cause choking. Meat or fish should be cut into small pieces or minced as kittens have only their milk teeth until they are six months old, by which time all their permanent teeth should have arrived. Their capacity to chew is therefore limited.
Another protein source is liver but this tends to be extremely rich and can cause diarrhoea if given in excess. A little raw liver, say, once a week, however, is highly nutritious and rich in essential protein and vitamins. It is wise to give a varied diet so that the kitten is prepared to eat practically anything – cats are not only fastidious but they also become used to a particular diet and will often cause a great deal of noise if they are given something they do not approve of. Also, if an animal is sick a light diet may be recommended including food that the kitten may not be used to. Animals with a varied taste in food cause no problems when this happens and are more tolerant when particular items of the diet are in short supply.
An occasional raw egg may be mixed in with the food as this is rich in fat and vitamins. Again, this should be restricted in case it causes a stomach upset.
After preparing the protein part of the diet, the carbohydrate should be added. This can take the form of breakfast cereal, brown bread crumbs, or the very smallest size of puppy biscuit meal. Baby cereal is very appropriate as it is carefully balanced to provide all the necessary ingredients and other cereals such as barley, porridge oats and rice can be included. In the early days of growth the proportion of protein to carbohydrate should be about 50:50; as the animal grows the amount of protein can be reduced until the proportion is about one third meat to two thirds carbohydrate when the cat has reached about one year of age.
Another common assumption about a cat’s diet is that it should be constantly provided with milk. This is perfectly acceptable in most cases, but in fact many cats prefer to drink clean water and milk can then be offered rather like a meal, instead of as a continuous source of fluid.
Supplementary vitamins are usually not necessary in a balanced diet as described above. However, many owners like to offer yeast tablets to animals and these certainly can do no harm. They are rich in members of the Vitamin B group and help to keep the animal healthy. Vitamins A and D, provided in Cod Liver Oil and Halibut Liver Oil, can also be offered in small quantities, but excessive oil can cause diarrhoea and sickness. Breeders of show specimens also like to add a little sterilized bone flour or calcium phosphate tablets crushed into a powder to ensure the development of healthy teeth and bones.
Any changes in the diet should be made gradually. Food quantity should be increased as the animal gets bigger and meal frequency should be reduced with the intention that when the cat is an adult it should have perhaps one milk and cereal meal and one meat and cereal or carbohydrate meal daily. Usually this becomes an early morning or breakfast and early evening ritual. Always remove and throw away uneaten food and wash the feeding bowl between each meal to eliminate smells and the risk of infection. It should be remembered that kittens tend to evacuate their bladder and bowel soon after feeding; access to the litter tray should therefore be ensured to avoid accidents.
Finally on the subject of diet, cats and kittens like to chew grass. This helps to provide sources of vitamins and minerals and also occasionally may be used as a laxative or as an emetic, particularly to assist long-haired cats to regurgitate fur balls from their stomachs. If you have a garden the kitten can be given access to grass in the garden but if not, many apartment owners buy grass seed and grow it in a seed box on the windowsill. The kitten will certainly take an interest in any grass offered to it and probably chew the top seedhead and a little of the stalk.