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    The best kitten foods of 2024, with advice from vets

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    Hill’s, Purina, Wellness, and Natural Balance make complete and balanced kitten foods to nourish growing cats.

    Purina; Chewy/Business Insider

    The best kitten foods contain essential nutrients to support a young feline’s growth and development. Kittens need high levels of protein to support their rapid growth, so these foods also prioritize animal-based ingredients that are rich in energy.

    To make our kitten food recommendations, we asked veterinarians and animal nutrition experts what to look for in dry and wet foods to meet the nutritional needs of kittens. One of our top canned food picks, Purina Pro Plan Kitten Salmon and Ocean Fish Entree, contains high-quality sources of omega fatty acids to support a kitten’s growth. We also like Wellness Complete Health Kitten Chicken and Chicken Meal Recipe, a dry food containing omega fatty acids from salmon oil. All of our picks align with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutritional standards and the Global Nutrition Guidelines set by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA).

    If your kitten can tolerate it, you’ll want to feed them a well-rounded mix of wet and dry foods in a variety of flavors and textures to promote food flexibility, says Dr. Deb Zoran, a veterinary nutritionist and professor of small animal clinical sciences at the Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Food flexibility makes a big difference when your cat’s food is suddenly out of stock, recipes change, or they need a special prescription diet.  

    Read more about how Business Insider Reviews tests and researches pet products.

    Highlights for the best kitten foods

    Best overall wet: Purina Pro Plan Kitten Salmon and Ocean Fish – See at Chewy

    Best budget wet: Natural Balance Original Ultra for Kittens Chicken – See at Chewy

    Best overall dry: Wellness Complete Health Kitten Chicken and Chicken Meal – See at Chewy

    Best budget dry: Purina Kitten Chow Naturals Kitten – See at Chewy

    Best for sensitive stomachs: Royal Canin Kitten Loaf in Sauce – See at Chewy

    Best minced: Hill’s Science Diet Kitten Liver and Chicken – See at Chewy

    Best flaked: Blue Buffalo Wilderness Wild Delights Flaked Chicken and Trout – See at Chewy

    Best chunks in gravy: Hill’s Science Diet Kitten Tender Chicken – See at Chewy

    Best variety pack: Purina Pro Plan Kitten Variety Pack – See at Chewy

    Best wet food overall

    Wellness and Purina are two brands that make high-quality wet food for kittens.

    Wellness; Purina; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    Wet kitten food is the most natural way to keep your little one hydrated while meeting their nutritional needs. These foods contain 75% to 78% moisture, whereas dry foods contain 10% to 12% moisture. “Cats prefer to get their water from their food,” says Zoran. Like all of the best cat food, canned options must meet nutrition requirements set by the AAFCO for the growth (kitten) stage or all life stages, including a minimum of 30% protein and 9% fat on a “dry matter” or moisture-free basis.

    Many cat foods are labeled grain-free, but Zoran says grain is a small but natural part of a cat’s diet. “The amount of grain in a cat’s diet in the wild is the amount of grain that would be in the gastrointestinal tract of whatever [animal] they just ate,” she says. The most biologically appropriate diet for a kitten consists of foods high in protein and moisture and low in carbohydrates. Zoran says it’s especially important to feed your kitten food from a reputable company that employs a board-certified nutritionist and conducts quality control testing.

    Our kitten-friendly picks for the best wet cat foods have all the must-have nutritional qualities for growth, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega fatty acid essential for cognitive growth and development. The best source of DHA is derived from small, cold-water fish in the form of fish oil, whole fish, or fish meal. Plus, Purina’s Salmon and Ocean Fish Entree has undergone feeding trials, which are tests based on AAFCO procedures to ensure a food is palatable, digestible, and able to sustain a kitten over time.  

    Purina Pro Plan Kitten Salmon and Ocean Fish Entree

    Meat protein sources: Salmon, ocean fish, liver, chicken
    Other standout ingredients: Rice
    Feeding trials:  Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 54.5% protein, 31.7% protein, 0.5% fiber
    Calorie count: 101 kcal/3-ounce can

    Wellness Complete Health Kitten Pâté Chicken Entree

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken liver, chicken broth
    Other standout ingredients: Carrots, cranberries, ground flaxseed, menhaden fish oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 46.7% protein, 37.2% fat, 1% fiber
    Calorie count: 105 kcal/3-ounce can

    Best budget wet food

    Budget wet food from Natural Balance and Iams will support your kitten’s growth.

    Chewy; Natural Balance; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    Our experts give high marks to wet kitten food. However, it can be on the pricier side when compared to budget-friendly kibble. While Dr. Bruce Kornreich, a board-certified veterinary cardiologist and director of the Cornell Feline Health Center at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, can’t recommend specific brands, he says that high-quality, affordable wet kitten food is on the shelves. Brands may use less expensive ingredients to keep costs down, but that doesn’t mean they’ve sacrificed quality.  

    Take byproducts and byproduct meals as an example. They’re secondary ingredients from the human food industry that meet the nutritional requirements set by the AAFCO. Kornreich says byproducts and artificial preservatives are paired with negative marketing buzz, but they’re not inherently unhealthy for your cat or kitten.

    Always look for reputable brands that ensure good quality control, like our recommendations. Our budget wet picks for the best kitten foods meet our criteria for quality nutrition.

    Natural Balance Original Ultra for Kittens Chicken Formula

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken broth, chicken liver, dried egg product
    Other standout ingredients: Salmon oil, flaxseed, cranberries
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 40% protein, 38.6% fat, 2.3% fiber
    Calorie count: 110 kcal/3-ounce can

    Iams Perfect Portions Healthy Kitten Chicken Recipe

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, poultry liver, chicken broth, dried egg product
    Other standout ingredients: Fish oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 44% protein, 41% fat, 0.4% fiber
    Calorie count: 90 kcal/2.6-ounce twin pack

    Best dry food overall

    Wellness and Hill’s make the best specially formulated dry food for kittens.

    Chewy/Business Insider

    Dry food is popular for its affordability, feeding convenience, and ease of storage. It’s made via a process called extrusion, which consists of pushing ground-up food materials through a small opening and cooking the extruded kibbles under high pressure.

    “Dry food is not the type of food cats would seek out to eat on their own,” says Zoran. What makes it enticing to cats and kittens are the liquid fats and proteins that coat the outside of the kibble. Because each brand has its own alluring recipe, this coating could cause a kitten to become habituated to a food when brands, textures, and proteins aren’t served in rotation.

    Like our wet picks for the best kitten foods, the best dry cat foods should be AAFCO complete and balanced for kittens or all life stages. This ensures the food has the appropriate balance of protein, fat, essential vitamins, and minerals for growth, such as calcium and phosphorus. If a food says “for intermittent feeding,” Kornreich says it’s not a complete and balanced meal for a cat of any age.   

    Wellness Complete Health Kitten Chicken and Chicken Meal Recipe

    Meat protein sources: Deboned chicken, chicken meal
    Other standout ingredients: Oats, barley, rice, flaxseed, salmon oil, cranberries
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 40% protein, 17% fat, 4% fiber
    Calorie count: 383 kcal/cup

    Hill’s Science Diet Kitten Chicken Recipe

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken fat, egg product
    Other standout ingredients: Brown rice, wheat gluten, oats, wheat, barley, flaxseed, apples, broccoli, carrots, cranberries, peas
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 33% protein, 19% fat, 3.5% fiber
    Calorie count: 568 kcal/cup

    Best budget dry food

    For dry kitten food, we recommend recipes from Purina and Iams.

    Purina; Iams; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    Like our budget wet food picks, our recommendations for budget dry foods come from trusted for their quality ingredients and recipes. According to Zoran, reputable companies have been in business long enough to produce trustworthy information about their pet food nutrition and have a record of product quality. “The companies that have just come on the market might be fine, but you have no history to draw from,” she says.

    Kornreich adds that reputable pet food companies may own their manufacturing plant. “They’ll have a tighter ability to control quality,” he says. They’ll employ a board-certified nutritionist, have an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy on their products, and their marketing doesn’t disparage other companies.

    “I feed a lot of Purina,” Zoran says of her multi-cat household. Purina is a longtime leader in pet nutrition and a staple in many households. In addition to owning its manufacturing plants, Purina’s on-staff veterinarians help formulate every recipe, all backed by research at the Purina Institute. This budget-friendly brand is conveniently available at your local grocery store along with similarly reputable brands like Iams.

    Purina Kitten Chow Naturals Kitten

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken byproduct meal, beef fat
    Other standout ingredients: Corn gluten meal, soy flour, ground corn, rice
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 40% protein, 15% fat, 2.5% fiber
    Calorie Count: 406 kcal/cup

    Iams ProActive Healthy Kitten 

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken byproduct meal, chicken fat, dried egg product
    Other standout ingredients: Ground whole grain corn, ground sorghum, fish oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 33% protein, 21% fat, 3% fiber
    Calorie count: 484 kcal/cup

    Best for sensitive stomachs

    Royal Canin makes the best kitten foods for sensitive stomachs.

    Chewy; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    Cats are obligate carnivores because they require animal proteins for essential nutrients. Therefore, animal protein should always be the first ingredient in a cat food. While 30% is the minimum amount of protein required for growth, Zoran says a diet abundant in fat and protein can benefit a kitten’s developing gastrointestinal tract and high-energy demands. Reach for foods with a crude protein of 40% on a dry matter basis.

    Cats and kittens can be born with sensitivities and allergies to certain ingredients, so always talk to your veterinarian when digestive issues arise. They may recommend a limited ingredient diet (LID) or a prescription hypoallergenic or gastrointestinal recipe. 

    Our picks for the best cat food for a sensitive stomach meet Zoran’s nutritional recommendations and have passed feeding trials. Your vet will need to write a prescription for Royal Canin’s Gastrointestinal Kitten food.

    Royal Canin Kitten Loaf in Sauce

    Meat protein sources: Pork byproducts, chicken byproducts, chicken liver, pork liver, chicken
    Other standout ingredients: Wheat gluten, brewer’s rice flour, fish oil
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 59.4% protein, 21.3% fat, 5.2% fiber
    Calorie count: 76 kcal/3-ounce can

    Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Kitten Ultra Soft Mousse in Sauce

    Meat protein sources: Chicken liver, chicken, chicken byproducts, pork byproducts
    Other standout ingredients: Wheat gluten, modified corn starch, brewer’s rice, fish oil
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 53% protein, 25.3% fat, 6% fiber
    Calorie count: 137 kcal/5.1-ounce can

    Best minced

    Hill’s and Wellness make enticing minced kitten food.

    Chewy; Petco/Business Insider

    Choosing one of the best kitten foods is individualistic, from a cat’s preferred tastes to unique nutritional needs. For this reason, it’s helpful to approach feline nutrition with guidance from your vet.

    “There will be a difference in what your kitten wants to eat and what they don’t want to eat,” says Zoran. While a steady rotation of tastes, textures, and brands will keep your kitten food-flexible, they might prefer one texture of food over another. “It’s a trial-and-error process,” she adds.

    Minced wet food is one of several canned food options that add new and enticing textures to a kitten’s meal repertoire. Consisting of protein cut into tiny pieces and mixed with broth, minced food introduces kittens to more meaty bites.

    Hill’s Science Diet Kitten Liver and Chicken Entree

    Meat protein sources: Pork liver, pork byproducts, chicken, chicken fat, egg product
    Other standout ingredients: Corn starch, soybean meal, fish oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 45.6% protein, 29.1% fat, 0.9% fiber
    Calorie count: 109 kcal/2.9-ounce can

    Wellness Core Tiny Tasters Chicken Recipe in Gravy

    Meat protein sources: Boneless chicken, chicken broth, duck, eggs, chicken liver
    Other standout ingredients: Potato starch, tapioca starch, sunflower oil, salmon oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 40% protein, 19% fat, 4% fiber
    Calorie count: 51 kcal/1.75-ounce pouch

    Best flaked

    Blue Buffalo and Purina make high-quality flaked wet food for kittens.

    Chewy; Purina; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    Flaked kitten foods are made with long, thin pieces of protein in gravy. Like other wet food picks, these flaked options for kittens are protein-heavy, loaded with moisture, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids for cognitive development.

    Kittens and cats are obligate carnivores because they rely on animal-based proteins to provide essential nutrients, including amino acids. Essential amino acids are amino acids that animals cannot synthesize, so they must obtain them through their diets. Taurine is one of 11 essential amino acids felines must get from their diet, and their only source of taurine is animal-based proteins. “If cats don’t eat enough meat, they won’t get enough taurine,” says Kornreich. Along with other essential vitamins and minerals, taurine promotes normal heart function, vision, immune function, and digestion in cats. 

    Typically, proteins in kitten foods are supplemented with plant-based ingredients, vitamins, and minerals to meet a kitten’s complete nutritional needs. 

    Purina Pro Plan Kitten Ocean Whitefish and Tuna Recipe

    Meat protein sources: Ocean white fish, fish, liver, meat byproducts, chicken, tuna
    Other standout ingredients:  Wheat gluten, soy protein concentrate
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 62.5% protein, 21.3% fat, 1% fiber
    Calorie count: 113 kcal/3-ounce can

    Blue Buffalo Wilderness Wild Delights Flaked Chicken and Trout for Kittens

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken broth, trout, chicken liver, egg product
    Other standout ingredients: Potato 
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 47.7% protein, 27.7% fat, 0.6% fiber
    Calorie count: 90 kcal/3-ounce can

    Best chunks in gravy

    Royal Canin and Hill’s chunks-in-gravy recipes are enticing to kittens.

    Chewy; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    Kittens are born without teeth but grow a full set of baby (deciduous) teeth between 3 to 6 weeks of age. By 3 to 6 months, those baby teeth fall out and are replaced with adult teeth. Kittens have all the same types of teeth as humans do, just sharper for their carnivorous diet.

    Chunks-in-gravy kitten food is a mix of tender bites of protein and nutritious liquid. Biting into soft chunks is no problem for a kitten with teeth, but smooth pâté might be better suited for their very first bites.

    Our recommendations for the best kitten foods below are made from real meat and healthy ingredients like omega fatty acids. Like all the other picks in this guide, they’re also AAFCO complete and balanced. Plus, Hills and Royal Canin conduct clinical feeding trials to ensure the palatability and digestibility of their foods.

    Hill’s Science Diet Kitten Tender Chicken Dinner 

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, pork liver, egg whites
    Other standout ingredients: Wheat flour, modified rice starch, oat fiber, fish oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 44.2% protein, 21.6% fat, 1.3% fiber
    Calorie count: 77 kcal/2.8-ounce pouch

    Royal Canin Kitten Thin Slices in Gravy

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken byproducts, chicken, chicken liver, pork, egg product
    Other standout ingredients: Wheat gluten, brewers rice flour, fish oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown:52.8% protein, 19% fat, 2.5% fiber
    Calorie count:78 kcal/3-ounce can

    Best variety pack

    Purina and Wellness make convenient kitten food variety packs.

    Chewy; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    When kittens are introduced to new things at a young age, they are more likely to grow into confident, adventurous cats. Those new experiences can start with the tastes and textures in their bowl, and these complete and balanced kitten food variety packs are reliable options.

    From chicken and pork to beef to fish, Zoran says there’s no wrong choice of protein for a cat. “Find the variety of food your kitten loves, their gastrointestinal tract loves, and their skin loves — that’s food,” she says.

    Purina Pro Plan Kitten Variety Pack 

    Chicken and Liver Entree Classic
    Meat protein sources: Chicken, liver, fish
    Other standout ingredients: Rice 
    Feeding trials: Yes 
    Nutrition breakdown: 53% protein, 30.2% fat, 0.5% fiber 
    Calorie count: 99 kcal/3-ounce can

    Salmon and Ocean Fish Entree 
    Meat protein sources: Salmon, ocean fish, liver, chicken
    Other standout ingredients: Rice
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 54.5% protein, 31.7% protein, 0.5% fiber
    Calorie count: 101 kcal/3-ounce can

    Ocean and Whitefish Tuna Entree Flaked
    Meat protein sources: Ocean white fish, fish, liver, meat byproducts, chicken, tuna
    Other standout ingredients:  Wheat gluten, soy protein concentrate
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 62.5% protein, 21.3% fat, 1% fiber
    Calorie count: 113 kcal/3-ounce can

    Wellness Complete Health Kitten Pâté Favorites

    Kitten Pâté Chicken Entree
    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken liver, chicken broth
    Other standout ingredients: Carrots, cranberries, ground flaxseed, menhaden fish oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 46.7% protein, 37.2% fat, 1% fiber
    Calorie count: 105 kcal/3-ounce can

    Kitten Pâté Whitefish and Tuna Entree
    Meat protein sources: Whitefish, chicken, fish broth, tuna, chicken meal
    Other standout ingredients: Carrots, pumpkin, fish oil, cranberries
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 53.1% protein, 25.9% fat, 1.6% fiber
    Calorie count: 89 kcal/3-ounce can

    What to look for in kitten food

    When shopping for the best kitten foods, the following criteria are essential to consider. 

    AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement: The most basic measure of nutritionally complete cat food is the presence of an AAFCO statement on the label. The AAFCO is a nonprofit organization that defines the standard nutritional requirements for pet food and animal feed. Food with an AAFCO statement for growth or all life stages is guaranteed to be complete and balanced for kittens.

    Guaranteed analysis and nutrient profiles: The guaranteed analysis consists of the percentages of protein, fat, and essential nutrients in a food. Food for kittens should have a minimum of 30% protein, 9% fat, and the presence of essential nutrients, including amino acids like taurine, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins.

    To compare the nutrients in wet food to those in dry food, convert the percentages of fat, protein, and fiber in wet food to a dry matter basis. To find the dry matter basis, use these directions from the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, call the food manufacturer, or ask your veterinarian for help.

    Ingredients list: The ingredients on a pet food label appear in order of weight. Because cats are obligate carnivores, proteins in the form of whole meat or meat meal should come first on the ingredients list.

    Expert formulations: For this guide, we prioritized brands with a dedicated nutrition expert on staff, which aligns with WSAVA guidelines and our experts’ guidance. We also looked for brands active in research or those that collaborate with universities and colleges.  

    Manufacturing standards: Consider a manufacturer’s quality control measures and the types of facilities they use. Pet food companies should provide this information on their website or upon request.

    Calorie content: The calorie content of cat food is listed in kilocalories (kcal). According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, a kitten should be offered multiple meals daily and permitted to eat food as wanted to support their rapid growth since their energy needs are much higher. As your kitten approaches 9 to 12 months of age, talk to your veterinarian about their ideal body condition, weight, and caloric needs.

    Product recommendations from veterinarians: Your veterinarian can help you select the ideal food for your kitten.

    How we selected the best kitten food

    To select the best kitten foods for this guide, we consulted a veterinary nutritionist and a director of feline health. 

    Dr. Deb Zoran is a board-certified small animal internist and professor of small animal clinical sciences at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Zoran helped us understand kitten nutrition and the attributes of a quality food. She also shared her personal feeding preferences, which may not represent specific endorsements shared by Texas A&M University. 

    Dr. Bruce Kornreich is a board-certified veterinary cardiologist and director of the Cornell Feline Health Center at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. While Cornell University does not endorse specific brands, Kornreich helped us understand what makes a high-quality kitten food and what to avoid. 

    We also consulted guidelines and recommendations from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s (WSAVA) Global Nutrition Guidelines, among other publications and organizations noted in the article.

    Kitten food FAQs

    What is the best food to feed a kitten?

    There’s no one right food for any kitten or cat because individual kittens may have special dietary needs and personal taste and texture preferences. According to Zoran, the best nutritional profile for a healthy kitten is generally a food high in protein, low in carbohydrates, and high in moisture. Whatever food you choose, it must satisfy the AAFCO nutritional requirements for growth to be complete and balanced for a kitten. While there’s nothing wrong with feeding a kitten kibble, Zoran highly encourages the rotation of different kitten food brands, textures, and proteins. Just remember that cats and kittens prefer to get most of their water from their food.

    Is wet or dry food better for kittens?

    Both wet and dry food can meet the nutritional needs of your kitten when labeled with the AAFCO statement for kittens (growth) or all life stages. But one food type has a lot more moisture than the other. Wet foods contain 75% to 80% moisture versus 10% to 12% found in dry food. Zoran notes that a rotation of textures, proteins, and food brands is recommended for kittens to prevent finicky tastes and food inflexibility.

    Do kittens need special wet food?

    Kitten food must have an AAFCO statement for growth or all life stages on its label to guarantee that it is complete and balanced for kittens. A complete and balanced dry or wet food for kittens should have a minimum of 30% protein, 9% fat, and the presence of essential nutrients, including amino acids like taurine, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins.

    What is the best dry food for kittens?

    According to Zoran, the best food you can feed your kitten is one that is nutritionally complete, agrees with their skin and digestive tract, and is liked by your kitten. Quality kitten foods come from reputable brands with a dedicated nutrition expert on staff who follows strict quality control measures.

    What is the best cat food for indoor kittens?

    Zoran says that kittens should eat a well-rounded, complete and balanced diet full of different textures and tastes. Dry kibble, canned pâté, shreds, chunks in gravy, and flaked kitten foods are all appropriate to rotate in your kitten’s diet, as long as their label states that the food meets the nutritional requirements set by the AAFCO for growth or all life stages.  

    Is it OK to give kittens regular cat food?

    Kitten food formulas should be AAFCO complete and balanced for growth or all life stages. This ensures the food has the appropriate balance of protein (30% minimum), fat (9% minimum), and essential vitamins and minerals for growth, such as calcium and phosphorus. If a food says “for intermittent feeding” rather than specifying a life stage, Kornreich says it’s not a complete and balanced meal for a cat of any age and should only be offered as a treat. If a food is labeled for adults or maintenance, it won’t meet a kitten’s nutritional requirements for growth but is appropriate for an adult cat. 

    Best wet food overallWellness and Purina are two brands that make high-quality wet food for kittens.

    Wellness; Purina; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    Wet kitten food is the most natural way to keep your little one hydrated while meeting their nutritional needs. These foods contain 75% to 78% moisture, whereas dry foods contain 10% to 12% moisture. “Cats prefer to get their water from their food,” says Zoran. Like all of the best cat foods, canned options must meet nutrition requirements set by the AAFCO for the growth (kitten) stage or all life stages, including a minimum of 30% protein and 9% fat on a “dry matter” or moisture-free basis.

    Many cat foods are labeled grain-free, but Zoran says grain is a small but natural part of a cat’s diet. “The amount of grain in a cat’s diet in the wild is the amount of grain that would be in the gastrointestinal tract of whatever [animal] they just ate,” she says. The most biologically appropriate diet for a kitten consists of foods high in protein and moisture and low in carbohydrates. Zoran says it’s especially important to feed your kitten food from a reputable company that employs a board-certified nutritionist and conducts quality control testing.

    Our kitten-friendly picks for the best wet cat foods have all the must-have nutritional qualities for growth, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega fatty acid essential for cognitive growth and development. The best source of DHA is derived from small, cold-water fish in the form of fish oil, whole fish, or fish meal. Plus, Purina’s Salom and Ocean Fish Entree has undergone feeding trials, which are tests based on AAFCO procedures to ensure a food is palatable, digestible, and able to sustain a kitten over time.  

    Purina Pro Plan Kitten Salmon and Ocean Fish Entree

    Meat protein sources: Salmon, ocean fish, liver, chicken
    Other standout ingredients: Rice
    Feeding trials:  Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 54.5% protein, 31.7% protein, 0.5% fiber
    Calorie count: 101 kcal/3-ounce can

    Wellness Complete Health Kitten Pâté Chicken Entree

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken liver, chicken broth
    Other standout ingredients: Carrots, cranberries, ground flaxseed, menhaden fish oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 46.7% protein, 37.2% fat, 1% fiber
    Calorie count: 105 kcal/3-ounce can

    Best budget wet foodBudget wet food from Natural Balance and Iams will support your kitten’s growth.

    Chewy; Natural Balance; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    Our experts give high marks to wet kitten food. However, it can be on the pricier side when compared to budget-friendly kibble. While Dr. Bruce Kornreich, a board-certified veterinary cardiologist and director of the Cornell Feline Health Center at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, can’t recommend specific brands, he says that high-quality, affordable wet kitten food is on the shelves. Brands may use less expensive ingredients to keep costs down, but that doesn’t mean they’ve sacrificed quality.  

    Take byproducts and byproduct meals as an example. They’re secondary ingredients from the human food industry that meet the nutritional requirements set by the AAFCO. Kornreich says byproducts and artificial preservatives are paired with negative marketing buzz, but they’re not inherently unhealthy for your cat or kitten.

    Always look for reputable brands that ensure good quality control, like our recommendations. Our budget wet picks for the best kitten foods meet our criteria for quality nutrition.

    Natural Balance Original Ultra for Kittens Chicken Formula

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken broth, chicken liver, dried egg product
    Other standout ingredients: Salmon oil, flaxseed, cranberries
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 40% protein, 38.6% fat, 2.3% fiber
    Calorie count: 110 kcal/3-ounce can

    Iams Perfect Portions Healthy Kitten Chicken Recipe

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, poultry liver, chicken broth, dried egg product
    Other standout ingredients: Fish oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 44% protein, 41% fat, 0.4% fiber
    Calorie count: 90 kcal/2.6-ounce twin pack

    Best dry food overallWellness and Hill’s make the best specially formulated dry food for kittens.

    Chewy; Hills; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    Dry food is a popular choice for its affordability, feeding convenience, and ease of storage. It’s made via a process called extrusion, which consists of pushing ground-up food materials through a small opening and cooking the extruded kibbles under high pressure.

    “Dry food is not the type of food cats would seek out to eat on their own,” says Zoran. What makes it enticing to cats and kittens are the liquid fats and proteins coating the outside of each kibble. Because each brand has its own alluring recipe, this coating could cause a kitten to become habituated to a food when brands, textures, and proteins aren’t served in rotation.

    Like our wet picks for the best kitten foods, the best dry cat foods should be AAFCO complete and balanced for kittens or all life stages. This ensures the food has the appropriate balance of protein, fat, essential vitamins, and minerals for growth, such as calcium and phosphorus. If a food says “for intermittent feeding,” Kornreich says it’s not a complete and balanced meal for a cat of any age.   

    Wellness Complete Health Kitten Chicken and Chicken Meal Recipe

    Meat protein sources: Deboned chicken, chicken meal
    Other standout ingredients: Oats, barley, rice, flaxseed, salmon oil, cranberries
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 40% protein, 17% fat, 4% fiber
    Calorie count: 383 kcal/cup

    Hill’s Science Diet Kitten Chicken Recipe

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken fat, egg product
    Other standout ingredients: Brown rice, wheat gluten, oats, wheat, barley, flaxseed, apples, broccoli, carrots, cranberries, peas
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 33% protein, 19% fat, 3.5% fiber
    Calorie count: 568 kcal/cup

    Best budget dry foodFor dry kitten food, we recommend recipes from Purina and Iams.

    Purina; Iams; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    Like our budget wet food picks, our recommendations for budget dry foods come from  trusted for their quality ingredients and recipes. According to Zoran, reputable companies have been in business long enough to produce trustworthy information about their pet food nutrition and have a record of product quality. “The companies that have just come on the market might be fine, but you have no history to draw from,” she says.

    Kornreich adds that reputable pet food companies may own their manufacturing plant. “They’ll have a tighter ability to control quality,” he says. They’ll employ a board-certified nutritionist, have an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy on their products, and their marketing doesn’t disparage other companies.

    “I feed a lot of Purina,” Zoran says of her multi-cat household. Purina is a longtime leader in pet nutrition and a staple in the homes of pet caretakers. In addition to owning its manufacturing plants, Purina’s on-staff veterinarians help formulate every recipe, all backed by research at the Purina Institute. This budget-friendly brand is conveniently available at your local grocery store, along with similarly reputable brands like Iams.

    Purina Kitten Chow Naturals Kitten

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken byproduct meal, beef fat
    Other standout ingredients: Corn gluten meal, soy flour, ground corn, rice
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 40% protein, 15% fat, 2.5% fiber
    Calorie Count: 406 kcal/cup

    Iams ProActive Healthy Kitten 

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken byproduct meal, chicken fat, dried egg product
    Other standout ingredients: Ground whole grain corn, ground sorghum, fish oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 33% protein, 21% fat, 3% fiber
    Calorie count: 484 kcal/cup

    Best for sensitive stomachsRoyal Canin makes the best kitten foods for sensitive stomachs.

    Chewy; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    Cats are obligate carnivores because they require animal proteins for essential nutrients. Therefore, animal protein should always be the first ingredient in a cat food. While 30% is the minimum amount of protein required for growth, Zoran says a diet abundant in fat and protein can benefit a kitten’s developing gastrointestinal tract and high-energy demands. Reach for foods with a crude protein of 40% on a dry matter basis.

    Cats and kittens can be born with sensitivities and allergies to certain ingredients too. So always talk to your veterinarian when digestive issues arise. They may recommend a limited ingredient diet (LID) or a prescription hypoallergenic or gastrointestinal recipe. 

    Our picks for the best cat food for a sensitive stomach meet Zoran’s nutritional recommendations and have passed feeding trials. Your vet will need to write a prescription for Royal Canin’s Gastrointestinal Kitten food.

    Royal Canin Kitten Loaf in Sauce

    Meat protein sources: Pork byproducts, chicken byproducts, chicken liver, pork liver, chicken
    Other standout ingredients: Wheat gluten, brewer’s rice flour, fish oil
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 59.4% protein, 21.3% fat, 5.2% fiber
    Calorie count: 76 kcal/3-ounce can

    Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Kitten Ultra Soft Mousse in Sauce

    Meat protein sources: Chicken liver, chicken, chicken byproducts, pork byproducts
    Other standout ingredients: Wheat gluten, modified corn starch, brewer’s rice, fish oil
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 53% protein, 25.3% fat, 6% fiber
    Calorie count: 137 kcal/5.1-ounce can

    Best mincedHill’s and Wellness make enticing minced kitten food.

    Chewy; Wellness; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    Choosing one the best kitten foods is individualistic, from a cat’s preferred tastes to unique nutritional needs. For this reason, it’s helpful to approach feline nutrition with guidance from your vet.

    “There will be a difference in what your kitten wants to eat and what they don’t want to eat,” says Zoran. While a steady rotation of tastes, textures, and brands will keep your kitten food-flexible, they might prefer one texture of food over another. “It’s a trial-and-error process,” she adds.

    Minced wet food is one of several canned food options that add new and enticing textures to a kitten’s meal repertoire. Consisting of protein cut into tiny pieces and mixed with broth, minced food introduces kittens to more meaty bites.

    Hill’s Science Diet Kitten Liver and Chicken Entree

    Meat protein sources: Pork liver, pork byproducts, chicken, chicken fat, egg product
    Other standout ingredients: Corn starch, soybean meal, fish oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 45.6% protein, 29.1% fat, 0.9% fiber
    Calorie count: 109 kcal/2.9-ounce can

    Wellness Core Tiny Tasters Chicken Recipe in Gravy

    Meat protein sources: Boneless chicken, chicken broth, duck, eggs, chicken liver
    Other standout ingredients: Potato starch, tapioca starch, sunflower oil, salmon oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 40% protein, 19% fat, 4% fiber
    Calorie count: 51 kcal/1.75-ounce pouch

    Best flakedBlue Buffalo and Purina make high-quality flaked wet food for kittens.

    Chewy; Purina; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    Flaked kitten foods are made with long, thin pieces of protein in gravy. Like other wet food picks, these flaked options for kittens are protein-heavy, loaded with moisture, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids for cognitive development.

    Kittens and cats are obligate carnivores because they rely on animal-based proteins to provide essential nutrients, including amino acids. Essential amino acids are amino acids that animals cannot synthesize, so they must obtain them through their diets. Taurine is one of 11 essential amino acids felines must get from their diet, and their only source of taurine is animal-based proteins. “If cats don’t eat enough meat, they won’t get enough taurine,” says Kornreich. Along with other essential vitamins and minerals, taurine promotes normal heart function, vision, immune function, and digestion in cats. 

    Typically, proteins in kitten foods are supplemented with plant-based ingredients, vitamins, and minerals to meet a kitten’s complete nutritional needs. 

    Purina Pro Plan Kitten Ocean Whitefish and Tuna Recipe

    Meat protein sources: Ocean white fish, fish, liver, meat byproducts, chicken, tuna
    Other standout ingredients:  Wheat gluten, soy protein concentrate
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 62.5% protein, 21.3% fat, 1% fiber
    Calorie count: 113 kcal/3-ounce can

    Blue Buffalo Wilderness Wild Delights Flaked Chicken and Trout for Kittens

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken broth, trout, chicken liver, egg product
    Other standout ingredients: Potato 
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 47.7% protein, 27.7% fat, 0.6% fiber
    Calorie count: 90 kcal/3-ounce can

    Best chunks in gravyRoyal Canin and Hill’s chunks-in-gravy recipes are enticing to kittens.

    Chewy; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    Kittens are born without teeth but grow a full set of baby (deciduous) teeth between 3 to 6 weeks of age. By 3 to 6 months, those baby teeth fall out and are replaced with adult teeth. Kittens have all the same types of teeth as humans do, just sharper for their carnivorous diet.

    Chunks-in-gravy kitten food is a mix of tender bites of protein and nutritious liquid. Biting into soft chunks is no problem for a kitten with teeth, but smooth pâté might be better suited for their very first bites.

    Our recommendations below for the best kitten foods are made from real meat and healthy ingredients like omega fatty acids. Like all the other picks in this guide, they’re also AAFCO complete and balanced. Plus, Hills and Royal Canin conduct clinical feeding trials to ensure the palatability and digestibility of their foods.

    Hill’s Science Diet Kitten Tender Chicken Dinner 

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, pork liver, egg whites
    Other standout ingredients: Wheat flour, modified rice starch, oat fiber, fish oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 44.2% protein, 21.6% fat, 1.3% fiber
    Calorie count: 77 kcal/2.8-ounce pouch

    Royal Canin Kitten Thin Slices in Gravy

    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken byproducts, chicken, chicken liver, pork, egg product
    Other standout ingredients:Wheat gluten, brewers rice flour, fish oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown:52.8% protein, 19% fat, 2.5% fiber
    Calorie count:78 kcal/3-ounce can

    Best variety packPurina and Wellness make convenient kitten food variety packs.

    Chewy; Tyler Le/Business Insider

    When kittens are introduced to new things at a young age, they are more likely to grow into confident, adventurous cats. Those new experiences can start with the tastes and textures in their bowl, and these complete and balanced kitten food variety packs are reliable options.

    From chicken and pork to beef to fish, Zoran says there’s no wrong choice of protein for a cat. “Find the variety of food your kitten loves, their gastrointestinal tract loves, and their skin loves — that’s food,” she says.

    Purina Pro Plan Kitten Variety Pack 

    Chicken and Liver Entree Classic
    Meat protein sources: Chicken, liver, fish
    Other standout ingredients: Rice 
    Feeding trials: Yes 
    Nutrition breakdown: 53% protein, 30.2% fat, 0.5% fiber 
    Calorie count: 99 kcal/3-ounce can

    Salmon and Ocean Fish Entree 
    Meat protein sources: Salmon, ocean fish, liver, chicken
    Other standout ingredients: Rice
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 54.5% protein, 31.7% protein, 0.5% fiber
    Calorie count: 101 kcal/3-ounce can

    Ocean and Whitefish Tuna Entree Flaked
    Meat protein sources: Ocean white fish, fish, liver, meat byproducts, chicken, tuna
    Other standout ingredients:  Wheat gluten, soy protein concentrate
    Feeding trials: Yes
    Nutrition breakdown: 62.5% protein, 21.3% fat, 1% fiber
    Calorie count: 113 kcal/3-ounce can

    Wellness Complete Health Kitten Pâté Favorites

    Kitten Pâté Chicken Entree
    Meat protein sources: Chicken, chicken liver, chicken broth
    Other standout ingredients: Carrots, cranberries, ground flaxseed, menhaden fish oil
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 46.7% protein, 37.2% fat, 1% fiber
    Calorie count: 105 kcal/3-ounce can

    Kitten Pâté Whitefish and Tuna Entree
    Meat protein sources: Whitefish, chicken, fish broth, tuna, chicken meal
    Other standout ingredients: Carrots, pumpkin, fish oil, cranberries
    Feeding trials: No
    Nutrition breakdown: 53.1% protein, 25.9% fat, 1.6% fiber
    Calorie count: 89 kcal/3-ounce can

    What to look for in kitten food

    When shopping for the best kitten foods, the following criteria are essential to consider. 

    AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement: The most basic measure of a nutritionally complete cat food is the presence of an AAFCO statement on the label. The AAFCO is a nonprofit organization that defines the standard nutritional requirements for pet food and animal feed. Food with an AAFCO statement for growth or all life stages is guaranteed to be complete and balanced for kittens.

    Guaranteed analysis and nutrient profiles: The guaranteed analysis consists of the percentages of protein, fat, and essential nutrients in a food. Food for kittens should have a minimum of 30% protein, 9% fat, and the presence of essential nutrients, including amino acids like taurine, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins.

    To compare the nutrients in wet food to those in dry food, convert the percentages of fat, protein, and fiber in wet food to a dry matter basis. To find the dry matter basis, use these directions from the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, call the food manufacturer, or ask your veterinarian for help.

    Ingredients list: The ingredients on a pet food label appear in order of weight. Because cats are obligate carnivores, proteins in the form of whole meat or meat meal should come first on the ingredients list.

    Expert formulations: For this guide, we prioritized brands that have a dedicated nutrition expert on staff, which aligns with WSAVA guidelines and our experts’ guidance. We also looked for brands active in research or those that collaborate with universities and colleges.  

    Manufacturing standards: Consider a manufacturer’s quality control measures and the types of facilities they use. Pet food companies should provide this information on their website or upon request.

    Calorie content: The calorie content of cat food is listed in kilocalories (kcal). According to Merck Veterinary Manual, a kitten should be offered multiple meals daily and permitted to eat food as wanted to support their rapid growth since their energy needs are much higher. As your kitten approaches 9 to 12 months of age, talk to your veterinarian about their ideal body condition, weight, and caloric needs.

    Product recommendations from veterinarians: Your veterinarian can help you select the ideal food for you kitten.

    How we selected the best kitten food

    To select the best kitten foods for this guide, we consulted a veterinary nutritionist and a director of feline health. 

    Dr. Deb Zoran is a board-certified small animal internist and professor of small animal clinical sciences at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Zoran helped us understand kitten nutrition and the attributes of a quality food. She also shared her personal feeding preferences, which may not represent specific endorsements shared by Texas A&M University. 

    Dr. Bruce Kornreich is a board-certified veterinary cardiologist and director of the Cornell Feline Health Center at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. While Cornell University does not endorse specific brands, Kornreich helped us understand what makes a high-quality kitten food and what to avoid. 

    We also consulted guidelines and recommendations from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s (WSAVA) Global Nutrition Guidelines, among other publications and organizations noted in the article.

    Kitten food FAQs

    What is the best food to feed a kitten?

    There’s no one right food for any kitten or cat because individual kittens may have special dietary needs and personal taste and texture preferences. According to Zoran, the best nutritional profile for a healthy kitten is generally a food high in protein, low in carbohydrates, and high in moisture. Whatever food you choose, it must satisfy the AAFCO nutritional requirements for growth to be complete and balanced for a kitten. While there’s nothing wrong with feeding a kitten kibble, Zoran highly encourages the rotation of different kitten food brands, textures, and proteins. Just remember that cats and kittens prefer to get most of their water from their food.

    Is wet or dry food better for kittens?

    Both wet and dry food can meet the nutritional needs of your kitten when labeled with the AAFCO statement for kittens (growth) or all life stages. But one food type has a lot more moisture than the other. Wet foods contain 75% to 80% moisture versus 10% to 12% found in dry food. Zoran notes that a rotation of textures, proteins, and food brands is recommended for kittens to prevent finicky tastes and food inflexibility.

    Do kittens need special wet food?

    Kitten food must have an AAFCO statement for growth or all life stages on its label to guarantee that it is complete and balanced for kittens. A complete and balanced dry or wet food for kittens should have a minimum of 30% protein, 9% fat, and the presence of essential nutrients, including amino acids like taurine, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins.

    What is the best dry food for kittens?

    According to Zoran, the best food you can feed your kitten is one that is nutritionally complete, agrees with their skin and digestive tract, and is liked by your kitten. Quality kitten foods come from reputable brands with a dedicated nutrition expert on staff who follows strict quality control measures.

    What is the best cat food for indoor kittens?

    Indoor kittens should eat a well-rounded, complete and balanced diet full of different textures and tastes, says Zoran. Dry kibble, canned pâté, shreds, chunks in gravy, and flaked kitten foods are all appropriate to rotate in your kitten’s diet, as long as their label states that the food meets the nutritional requirements set by the AAFCO for growth or all life stages.  

    Is it okay to give kittens regular cat food?

    Kitten food formulas should be AAFCO complete and balanced for growth or all life stages. This ensures the food has the appropriate balance of protein (30% minimum), fat (9% minimum), and essential vitamins and minerals for growth, such as calcium and phosphorus. If a food says “for intermittent feeding” rather than specifying a life stage, Kornreich says it’s not a complete and balanced meal for a cat of any age and should only be offered as a treat. If a food is labeled for adults or maintenance, it won’t meet a kitten’s nutritional requirements for growth but is appropriate for an adult cat. 

    Read the original article on Business Insider

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