Nutrition for Cats at all Life Stages

As your cat ages, their body goes through many different phases and meeting the appropriate nutritional requirements at each life stage is critical.

The Kitten Stage (post-weaning to 6-8 months)

During this stage of life, your little kitten is gearing up to grow into a full-sized cat. While a full-sized house cat is still relatively small, that growth takes a lot of energy for your little kitten, more energy than is required to maintain their body weight!

Some key nutrients during growth for kittens include:

  • Energy: While not technically a nutrient, energy is derived from nutrients, specifically protein, fats, and carbohydrates. A kitten requires more energy than an adult cat due to the immense energy it takes to build and grow body tissues. 
  • Protein: Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they require high levels of protein compared to their omnivorous counterparts (dogs). Cats rely heavily on protein for energy and for development. 
  • Calcium and Phosphorus: Bone development relies heavily on calcium and phosphorus (and vitamin D), and as such, kittens require more calcium and phosphorus in their diet at the appropriate ratio!
  • Fat: We often think of fats as the “devil” but essential fatty acids (i.e. arachidonic acid which is essential in cats during growth, but not for dogs) are important for regular growth and cognition in most species, including cats! Fats aid in cognitive development and function, skin and coat, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and are important for cell membranes and function!

The Adult Stage (up to 7 years of age)

The adult stage, or when your cat has reached their full growth, causes some shifts in their nutrition from the kitten stage. Importantly, throughout this stage, your cat may need nutritional adjustments. 

The first few years of this stage, your cat may still have quite a bit of energy to expend. With increased play comes increased requirements for energy intake (calories) through the diet. During the adult stage it is important to acknowledge any increases or decreases in energy or play behaviour in your cat and adjust according. 

Some key nutritional qualities to look for during this stage:

  • Energy: Energy is important at every stage. During the adult stage energy intake is important for maintaining body weight and preventing obesity which can result from excess energy intake. Feeding guides are useful for estimating how much energy your cat needs, however, it is important to adjust based on their own individual differences. 
  • Vitamin A: Did you know that unlike dogs, cats cannot synthesize vitamin A from beta-carotene? This results in a greater need for vitamin A in cats. Vitamin A plays many important roles in the body including vision, reproduction, fat metabolism, and liver function. 
  • Protein: We’ve said it before (and we’ll say it again), cats require higher levels of protein compared to most other species. Protein is required to meet their needs for nitrogen and for amino acids (of which 11 are essential for cats). High-quality proteins should be a staple for any feline diet!
  • Fibre: Fibre is often overlooked in cats due to their high protein requirements, however, new research is showing that fibre may still be an important factor to consider for cats, though at lower levels than for dogs. Fibre can help with satiety, preventing obesity, and for maintaining a healthy microbiome! 

Senior cat laying down on floor

Seniors (7+ years)

While we often associate senior cats with cat naps, these oldies still need good nutrition (it takes a healthy diet to nap that much)! 

While the nutritional requirements (according to AAFCO) don’t necessarily change for senior cats compared to adult cats, there are some nutrients to consider for senior cats:

  • Phosphorus: Ensuring healthy kidney function with age can be supported by a slight reduction in phosphorus levels. Senior foods for cats still need to meet the phosphorus requirements (as set by AFFCO/NRC), but ensuring the levels are on the lower end of that requirement can reduce the strain on the kidneys. 
  • Protein: Muscle wasting is common in aging cats, so ensuring high-quality protein in your senior’s diet is critical to maintaining muscle mass! 
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Unfortunately, many of our senior cats are overweight, which can have negative consequences such as osteoarthritis and diabetes. While low fat meals can be helpful under these circumstances, ensuring their diet contains the beneficial, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids can help with weight loss and may even be helpful for joint pain!
  • Antioxidants: With increasing age comes an increased risk for diseases such as osteoarthritis, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. Antioxidants, such as vitamin C and vitamin E, can be beneficial in reducing the number of harmful reactive oxidative species, thus potentially reducing the risk for oxidative stress. Look for diets with ingredients that are rich in antioxidants. 

So, whether you have a kitten or a senior kitty, you can use these nutrition guidelines to help you choose the best food for your cat. 

Looking to add gently cooked meals to your cat's diet? Check out our recipes for cats here

Written by: Hannah Godfrey
Animal Nutritionist
BSc.H. | MSc. Animal Nutrition