Caring for a new kitten requires patience, lots of toys, and, of course, lots of healthy food. As kittens drink less of their mother’s milk, they will need to have a balanced, nourishing source of food that will continue to support them throughout their first year of life.
Many different brands and types of kitten food are available. When first shopping for kitten food, you will be able to select from a range of wet and dry foods boasting a list of ingredients and claims that you may not have heard about before. The process of finding the best kitten food out there can become difficult and just plain confusing.
Thankfully, we’re here to help you out. We’ve done our research and gathered the best kitten foods available today to help make your decision easier. In this article, you can read all about our top picks, what makes them so great, and learn important kitten feeding tips. By the time you’re done, you’ll be a kitten food expert!
- What to Look For in a Kitten Food
- Top 10 Best Kitten Foods 2023
- 1. Best Overall Pick: Purina Fancy Feast Grain Free Pate
- 2. Best Premium Pick: Hill's Science Diet Dry Kitten Food
- 3. Best Budget Pick: IAMS Proactive Health Kitten Dry Food
- 4. Best Grain-Free Food: Merrick Purrfect Bistro
- 5. Best for Hydration: Wellness Complete Health Pate
- 6. Best Variety: Purina Pro Plan Wet Kitten Food
- 7. Best Antioxidant Rich Food: Blue Buffalo Healthy Growth
- 8. Best for Sensitive Stomachs: Instinct Original Kitten Recipe
- 9. Best for All Stages: Whole Earth Farms Dry Cat Food
- 10. Easiest to Eat: Royal Canin Feline Health Nutrition
- Your Full Guide to Buying Kitten Food
- Raising a Healthy Kitten
What to Look For in a Kitten Food
The best kitten food will be one that is nutritionally balanced specifically for a growing kitten and full of quality ingredients. You may also choose to purchase a food that is free from any artificial preservatives, colors, and flavorings like Hill’s Science Diet as these ingredients may cause upset stomachs and allergic reactions in your kitten.
High-quality proteins are the best things to have in a kitten food. However, there are some other factors you should consider when selecting a product.
Vitamins and Minerals
Balanced vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are essential to supporting your kitten’s growth and the development of their internal systems. Look for a food that states it has vitamins and minerals that support things such as muscle growth, cognitive functions, and healthy skin and fur. From our list, Blue Buffalo Healthy Growth is a great example of this.
You get bonus points if the food you select has fatty acids such as DHA and ARA in it. These ingredients are typically found in the milk of a mother cat and are perfect for nourishing a young kitten who is beginning to be weaned from its mother. If this is something that interests you, skip down to our best overall pick, Purina Fancy Feast Pate.
Cats are obligate carnivores and require meat-based proteins as a part of their diet. A good kitten food should have high amounts of protein in order to support a kitten’s growth and give them the energy they need to live happy, active lives.
In the wild, the only carbohydrates a cat receives comes from digesting whatever is in the stomachs of their prey. As such, kittens do not need high amounts of carbohydrates in their food; eating too many could lead to weight gain or other health issues.
Choosing Between Wet and Dry Kitten Food
From a health perspective, both wet and dry cat foods can contain all the nutrition a kitten needs to be healthy. This means that choosing between the two types of food is mostly a matter of personal preference and is for you and your kitty to decide. See our buyer’s guide below for a more detailed look at the difference between the two.
Keep in mind that very cheap foods, both wet and dry, are often filled with fillers and wheat products which can be upsetting to some kitty’s stomachs. Whichever version you decide on, as long as it is a quality product, your kitten will be happy.
Now that we’ve discussed what to look for in your kitten’s food, let’s pounce straight into our list!
1. Best Overall Pick: Purina Fancy Feast Grain Free Pate
Why we like it: Purina Fancy Feast comes in perfectly portioned cans. Combine that with its blend of protein rich ingredients and soft texture, and it is easy to see why this food is a kitten favorite.
Purina’s Fancy Feast kitten food is completely nutritionally balanced. Protein rich ingredients such as chicken, fish, and turkey are blended together to create a formula that nourishes your kitten and provides them with the calories needed to keep up with their active lifestyle.
The texture of this pate is soft and easily chewed or lapped up. It is a great choice for kittens who are beginning to try new foods. Mother cats can also benefit from eating this food due to its palatability and rich formula, which will help keep them healthy as they produce milk.
This product comes in a value pack, which is great if you are looking for a variety of canned food on a budget. Each can is perfectly portioned and easily saved in the refrigerator in case of leftovers. Purina does have a feeding guide on the box that you can consult to make sure you are feeding your kitten the right amount. You can also check out our guide below for more kitten feeding tips.
Fancy Feast Kitten Food is blended with milk. While this can enhance the taste of the food, some cats have stomachs that are too sensitive for milk. If your cat develops diarrhea or other digestive upsets, consider trying a food that is gentler on the stomach like Instinct Original Kitten Recipe.
- Comes in a value pack
- Great for kittens and mother cats
- Soft texture
- Protein and calorie rich
- Perfectly portioned cans
- Milk can upset sensitive stomachs
Why we like it: A veterinarian recommended brand, Hill’s Science Diet is specially blended for optimum taste and kitten health.
This product has no added synthetic colors, flavors, or preservatives. It makes a good choice for pet parents who want to feed their kittens the most natural diet possible. The added natural fibers help promote healthy digestion among kittens and make the food ideal for feeding indoor kittens.
Hill’s Science Diet is among the top brands recommended by veterinarians. The formula is carefully balanced to provide the best nutrition possible and uses natural ingredients that taste wonderful to kittens. It is a good option if you have an especially picky eater of a kitten.
Compared to other products on our list, this product is more expensive. It also contains wheat as one of the first ingredients, which could cause allergic reactions in some kittens. If you are set on a dry food and trying to avoid wheat, look at the grain-free Merrick Puurfect Bistro dry food instead.
- No synthetic colors, flavors, or preservatives
- Veterinarian recommended brand
- Natural fibers promote healthy digestion
- Contains wheat
3. Best Budget Pick: IAMS Proactive Health Kitten Dry Food
Why we like it: An affordable budget buy, IAMS Proactive Health Kitten Food is designed to support a kitten’s cognitive development.
If you are looking for kitten food on a budget, this affordable dry food is a great choice. It contains zero filler ingredients and has added prebiotics to help your kitten maintain a healthy digestive system. Prebiotics can also help strengthen a kitten’s immune system as they drink less of their mother’s milk.
The formula of this product is specially blended to support cognitive development. Nutrients found in a mother cat’s milk such as DHA, Omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin E help to promote a kitten’s overall health.
Unfortunately, this product does contain corn and corn gluten meal. These ingredients can upset sensitive stomachs and potentially cause allergic reactions in your cats. Be sure to monitor your kitten’s behavior after feeding and adjust their diet accordingly.
- Contains nutrients found in mother’s milk
- Designed to support cognitive development
- Contains prebiotics
- Contains corn gluten
4. Best Grain-Free Food: Merrick Purrfect Bistro
Why we like it: This completely grain-free food is high in essential fatty acids and protein, and low in carbohydrates, making it perfect for a growing kitten.
Merrick’s Purrfect Bistro comes in a variety of flavors that are all completely grain-free. Almost 75 percent of the included ingredients are derived from high-quality proteins and fats. It is low in carbohydrates, which makes it a great choice for someone looking for a balanced, grain-free dry food.
Added essential fatty acids help maintain a kitten’s skin and fur, and DHA supports brain and eye development. Antioxidants are blended in to provide extra immune system support. This product is specially designed to be fed to your kitten until they are a year old, and makes a great choice for anyone looking for a simple, healthy kitten food.
This kitten food does have ingredients such as potatoes and alfalfa sprouts which can cause bloating in some cats. Some kittens may also not like the taste of the kibbles and refuse to eat them. For a great tasting dry food most kittens are sure to love, check out Whole Earth Farms.
- Completely grain-free
- Almost 75 percent of ingredients are protein
- High in essential fatty acids
- Low in carbohydrates
- Can cause bloating
- Some kittens don’t like the taste
5. Best for Hydration: Wellness Complete Health Pate
Why we like it: With 7 different flavor varieties, Wellness Complete Health promotes hydration and overall kitten health.
Each ingredient in the Wellness Complete Health Pate is carefully selected to promote health, from a kitten’s muscles to its fur. It is a good choice for owners who want a food that will benefit every part of a kitten’s body. The product has 7 different flavors to choose from, so you’re sure to find the perfect product for even the fussiest cat.
This product helps to promote hydration with its high moisture content. Cranberries are added into the formula to help strengthen a cat’s urinary tract and can help prevent bladder stones in kittens. This food is a good choice for any owner who feeds their kitten a combination of dry food and wet food as it will ensure the kitten is fully hydrated.
You can only buy single flavor packs on this product, so it is important to make sure your kitten will like a flavor before you order large quantities of it. The texture is also not as soft as Purina Fancy Feast’s pate, so it may not be the best choice for very young kittens.
- Good flavor variety
- Formulated for overall kitten health
- Cranberries for urinary health
- Promote hydration
- Only comes in single flavor packs
- Texture is not that soft
6. Best Variety: Purina Pro Plan Wet Kitten Food
Why we like it: Purina Pro Plan Wet Kitten Food comes in a variety pack of different tastes and textures that kittens will love exploring.
This wet kitten food is formulated to be fed to your kitten their entire first year of life. It has all of the nutrients a kitten needs to grow, plus added DHA for cognitive development. There is a healthy balance of fats, fibers, and protein in each can.
This product comes in a variety pack of 3 different flavors and 3 different textures. Kittens love the smell and taste of each flavor, and it is a great choice if you want to introduce your kitten to larger shaped wet food and expand their palate.
Purina Pro Plan has wheat and soy in its formula which can lead to your kitten developing gas. If you would prefer a more natural wet food product, we suggest Wellness Complete Health Pate.
- Great flavor and texture variety
- Perfect for introducing new food flavors
- Designed to be fed entire first year of life
- Contains artificial colors and flavors
- Can give kittens gas
7. Best Antioxidant Rich Food: Blue Buffalo Healthy Growth
Why we like it: Blue Buffalo Healthy Growth is packed with nutritious Lifesource bits and antioxidants that will keep your kitten healthy and happy.
Blue Buffalo’s trademarked Lifesource bits are the star of this food. They are cold-formed kibbles packed full of antioxidants and immune system strengthening vitamins. Every ingredient used to create Blue Buffalo kitten food is all-natural and high quality.
DHA, ARA, and choline are fatty acids that kittens typically receive from their mother’s milk. These ingredients are a key component of the Healthy Growth formula and assist kittens in developing properly. They also help contribute to the presence of a shiny coat and bright eyes, all signs of a healthy kitten.
Because it is so full of antioxidants and other quality ingredients, this food may be too rich for some kittens. It could give them an upset stomach or cause them to throw up. In order to combat this, you should use this food only for older kittens and transition your pet to their new food slowly. We discuss the best way to do this later.
- Unique Lifesource bits
- Added DHA, ARA, and choline
- High quality ingredients
- Creates shiny coats
- May be too rich for some kittens
8. Best for Sensitive Stomachs: Instinct Original Kitten Recipe
Why we like it: Instinct’s minimally processed ingredients and freeze-dried kibble can give relief to the most sensitive of stomachs.
To pack high protein into every bite, Instinct freeze-dries its kibble formula. This allows protein to stay in its original form and not be compromised due to the addition of heat that other kitten foods use when forming kibble. This extra protein is great for improving energy and building strong muscles.
The ingredients in this product are natural and the food is as minimally processed as possible. It is also grain-free. It makes a very good choice for kittens with sensitive stomachs or for pet parents who are looking for a quality natural dry kitten food.
The kibbles do have a rather strong, unpleasant odor. This can be off-putting for some owners and some kittens. For a more palatable dry food, we recommend checking out Royal Canin.
- Freeze-dried kibbles for extra protein
- Minimally processed ingredients
- Can help with food sensitivities
- Improves energy
- Kibbles have a strong odor
9. Best for All Stages: Whole Earth Farms Dry Cat Food
Why we like it: This all stages cat food is a crowd pleaser and perfect for feeding older kittens and adult cats.
Whole Earth Farms Dry Cat Food is an all stages food. It comes in a few different flavor varieties and is grain-free. It is great for using with kittens who are older and adult cats, because you will not need to attempt to transition from kitten food as your cat grows. It is also a good economical option for households that have cats of different ages.
There are no poultry by-products used in this food, as well as no corn, wheat, soy, and artificial colors and preservatives. Prebiotics are added in to boost the immune system. The taste and scent of the food is appealing to most kittens without being too overwhelming for pet parents.
Since this is an all stages food, it is a lower in calories and proteins than other kitten-specific foods on our list. You will likely have to feed your kitten a little more of this food than other foods to make up the difference in nutrients. If you would prefer dry cat food with a richer blend of kitten-friendly ingredients, we recommend Blue Buffalo Healthy Growth.
- No poultry by-products
- Great for older kittens and adult cats
- Good for multi-cat households
- Taste and scent are appealing
- Lower in calories and protein
10. Easiest to Eat: Royal Canin Feline Health Nutrition
Why we like it: Comprised of small, easy to chew kibbles, Royal Canin is perfect for kittens between 4 months and a year old.
This kitten food is specially formulated to support kittens between 4 months and 1 year old – the second stage of kittenhood in which they grow the most. The formula contains prebiotics, fibers, and vitamins which are great for supporting digestive and immune health.
There is no strong odor to this food, and the kibbles are small and easy to eat. It makes a good choice for kittens who are just developing their teeth and need something palatable to get them used to dry food.
On the downside, this product doesn’t contain many sources of high-quality protein and is lacking in overall protein content. It also contains wheat, corn products, and gluten, which may be very upsetting to the stomach of a kitten. For a more balanced dry kitten food, we suggest looking at IAMS Proactive Health Kitten Food.
- No strong odor
- Small, easy to eat kibbles
- Specially formulated for kittens 4 months to 1 year old
- Does not contain high amounts of protein
- Contains wheat, corn, and gluten
Your Full Guide to Buying Kitten Food
Selecting the best kitten food is not an easy task, especially when there are so many things to consider. In our full buyer’s guide, we will discuss everything you need to know about feeding a kitten, so you can learn the best way to feed your feline friend.
Kitten Food vs. Adult Cat Food
All cat foods are blended based on the intake requirements set by the Association of American Feed Controls. Since kittens have different caloric and nutritional requirements from adult cats, they should typically only be fed food specifically blended for kittens. Adult cat food can leave them lacking in the nutrients they need to grow and develop properly. Some all stage foods are ok for kittens, but it is best to consult with your vet about feeding amounts in this case.
Adult cat food is lower in calories, higher in fiber, and mostly features special blends that help maintain overall health and treat adverse conditions such as hairballs or sensitive stomachs. If you feed an adult cat food made for kittens, they will likely gain excessive weight from the extra calories or end up with upset stomachs from the overload of nutrients they no longer need.
Wet vs. Dry Food
The wet versus dry food debate is one that has been going on for decades. There are pros and cons to each type of food, so your decision really comes down to a few differentiating factors.
The texture of a food is extremely important as it determines whether or not your kitten will be able to eat the food easily. Wet foods are softer and come in a variety of densities; they are better suited to younger kittens who haven’t fully developed all of their teeth yet. Dry foods are composed of kibbles and are better for your kitten’s teeth. The rougher surface works to eliminate plaque as your kitten eats.
Both wet and dry food have a range of ingredients and formulas. You are more likely to find grain-free recipes with wet cat food due to it not being shaped into hard kibbles, but some dry foods, like Merrick Purrfect Bistro are also grain-free.
Intaking ample amounts of water is extremely important to your kitten’s health. Cats can easily develop chronic dehydration and urinary issues if they do not have a source of fresh, clean water. That being said, the moisture content of wet food is upwards of 60 percent, while dry food hangs around the 10 to 15 percent range. If you’re worried your kitten isn’t drinking enough water, a wet food like Wellness Complete Health is a good choice.
On a caloric basis, wet food is more expensive than dry food. This is because dry food is more condensed and provides a more direct source of nutrients. The moisture content in water bulks up wet food, but water does not provide any extra nutrients or calories to your kitten, so you will have to feed them more wet food than you would dry food.
How to Introduce a New Food
Introducing a new food to your kitten has to be done slowly to prevent them from getting an upset stomach or reacting poorly to the new food.
With whichever foods you are transitioning between, the best way to introduce it to your kitten is to start mixing the foods together at meal times. You should start with a ratio of ¼ new food to ¾ old and increase the amount of new food each day until that is all you are feeding your cat.
As you move between foods, keep an eye on your cat for signs of allergic reactions or digestive issues, such as diarrhea, vomiting, itching, lethargy, or refusing to eat.
When to Start Feeding Kitten Food
Kittens should begin being weaned at approximately 3½ to 4 weeks old. Kittens this young should start off being fed formula mixed with wet food, gradually decreasing the amount of formula until they are eating just wet food.
At around 5 to 6 weeks, kittens start getting their teeth and can begin nibbling on dry food. You can start them off by mixing formula or water with their food to make it softer and then gradually decreasing the amount.
Watch your kitten closely for signs that their new food is causing them issues such as loose stools, a hard, distended belly, or refusing to eat. Your kitten should be gaining approximately 3 to 4 ounces a week.
By the time your kitten is about 8 weeks old, they should weigh 2 pounds, and you can begin to experiment with flavors and textures of both wet and dry food to find out what they prefer. We suggest a variety pack like Purina Pro Plan for food experimentation.
How Often Should Kittens Be Fed?
Your kitten burns much more energy than an adult cat and needs many more calories to keep up with their constant growing. How often you feed a kitten depends on their age.
- Newborn – 4 weeks old: Kittens this young should be fed with kitten formula every 2 hours during the first week of life and 4 to 6 times a day after that point.
- 4 – 6 weeks old: Your kitten should be eating 3 to 4 times a day.
- 6 weeks – 10 months old: Your kitten should be eating 3 times a day and gaining weight steadily. This is the period of time they grow the most.
- 10 months – adulthood: You can reduce feeding to twice a day once a kitten reaches 10 months old.
Some pet parents choose to free feed once their kitten is regularly eating food. Free feeding involves leaving food out in your cat’s bowl for them to graze on throughout the day. This should only be done with dry food since wet food will spoil if left out too long.
Free feeding can be convenient, especially if your kitten can self-regulate, but many cats struggle with obesity as a result of free feeding. If you notice that your kitten seems to be eating too much or gaining weight much faster than they should be, you may want to switch to designated mealtimes.
How Much Do Kittens Need to Eat?
Almost every single kitten food will come with the calories listed on the side. This will tell you how much of the food you need to feed your kitten to keep them healthy. If you are feeding your cat dry food, see this article to learn more about how much to feed them.
The amount is determined by the weight of your cat and can be adjusted if your kitten is becoming either under or overweight. This feeding chart can help you determine the approximate number of calories needed.
Signs Your Kitten Likes Their Food
You may be wondering if it’s possible to tell when your kitten likes their food. Apart from your pet getting excited at meal times and eagerly finishing all their food, there are some things you can look for that will tell you if their food is a good match or not.
- Your kitten will be healthy and alert. They will be playing, active, and reactive.
- Your kitten’s fur will be soft and shiny and their eyes bright.
- Your kitten should be gaining weight steadily. Kittens will continue to gain weight until they are approximately a year old.
- Your kitten shows no signs of illness or digestive upset such as diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, skin rashes, or excessive itching.
If you checked off all of the things on the above list, then your kitten’s food is likely a great match for them.
Foods You Shouldn’t Give Your Kitten
You may be tempted to give your kitten a little something off your plate from time to time, but it is important to be careful what you feed them. There are certain foods that kittens and cats cannot tolerate and should never be given to them.
While milk can be given to younger kittens in small amounts, such as in Purina Fancy Feast’s pate, as your kitten gets older and becomes an adult, you may want to stop feeding them dairy products. Many cats become lactose intolerant or find it hard to process milk as their body changes from that of a kitten; they can end up with digestive issues if they ingest too much.
Chocolate is highly toxic and potentially fatal to cats and kittens. It contains both theobromine and caffeine which can lead to increased heart rates, muscle tremors, seizures, and heart failure. The darker a chocolate is (the higher the cacao content is), the more dangerous it will be if your pet accidentally ingests it. You should contact a veterinarian immediately if you believe your kitten has eaten chocolate.
Grapes and raisins can lead to the sudden development of kidney failure in cats. Pets that are predisposed or have existing kidney issues are more likely to be affected by grape and raisin toxicity and some other pets may not react at all to eating a grape. However, it is better to be on the safe side and keep these items away from your kitten.
Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic both belong to the allium family. They can cause digestive upset in cats and have the potential to cause anemia – a lack of oxygen in your pet’s blood which can lead to many other health issues.
Caffeine can increase your kitten’s heart rate and breathing. It can also cause muscle tremors or spasms. It is unlikely to kill your pet, but it is still a dangerous ingredient that needs to be avoided.
Alcohol can cause severe liver and brain damage in cats. This danger is especially heightened in the still-developing bodies of kittens. You should not let your kitten come anywhere near alcohol, even a tablespoon is enough to be fatal.
Raw meats have the possibility of giving your kitten a disease such as E. coli or salmonella, which can lead to an enormous amount of gastrointestinal problems. You should also stay away from giving your kitten any fat trimmings as these can cause acute pancreatitis.
Pro Tips for Kitten Care
Giving the best care to your kitten means that they will live a happy, healthy life. Follow these pro tips to make your furry friend as comfortable as possible.
Selecting a healthy food is the number one thing you can do to care for your kitten. Go back and check out our list if you need some help with this.
Additionally, you should always make sure there is fresh, clean water available, preferably in multiple places in your house. To encourage your pet to drink, you can purchase a water fountain to give them a source of running water.
Kittens and cats prefer stainless steel and ceramic bowls to plastic, so invest in a couple to give your friend the best feeding and drinking experience possible.
Kittens need certain areas that they can retreat to in order to feel safe, and to relax and sleep. Make sure to have several spaces that are quiet, comfortable, and partially enclosed so that your kitty can nestle into them any time they need a break from playing.
Making Time for Exercise
Spending time with your kitten is an important part of bonding with them. It helps to keep your pet social and encourage positive interactions. It will also help your kitten exercise and maintain a healthy weight.
Experiment with toys and find ones your kitten loves. Set aside at least 10 to 20 minutes of playtime a day and give your kitty attention, toys, and praise. Designated playtimes can also help your kitten act less destructive when you aren’t at home.
Raising a Healthy Kitten
The number one thing every pet owner wants is for their kitten to be happy, healthy, and grow up into a strong adult cat. The best way to ensure this is by feeding them quality kitten food that supports all of their dietary needs. It can be difficult to select a product once you start looking at all the options out there, but as long as the product you decide on is made with nutritionally balanced, quality ingredients, your kitten will be off to a great start in life.