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Can Adult Cats Eat Kitten Food? (Or Is It Bad For Them?)

Posted in: Cat Health - Last Updated: March 16, 2023 - Author: Dexter Jones
Posted in Cat Health 
Last Updated: March 16, 2023  
Author:  Dexter Jones

Most cat breeds reach maturity around one year of age. You may wonder what the proper feeding requirements are for your little feline friend as they are growing.

For kittens, eating adult cat food is pretty much a no-go. A balanced, healthy cat diet must have appropriate levels of protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Can Adult Cats Eat Kitten Food

Not only can it have issues with digestion, but adult cat food simply does not have the number of calories and protein needed for a kitten to properly grow and mature. And that goes for both dry cat food and wet cat food.

But is the inverse true? Well... yes and no. Each their own nutritional requirements.

Can Adult Cats Eat Kitten Food?

In short, Yes, they can. HOWEVER, the amount of calories, protein, and fat they are consuming, as a result, is so much higher than what they need or their body is ready for, they are likely to become morbidly obese as a result. Simply put, cats should eat cat food and kittens should eat kitten food. It is always best to read labels and request information on the nutritional; parameters from the manufacturer. 

What's The Difference Between Cat & Kitten Food?

For the average onlooker, it can be easy to assume that there is very little difference between the food (Wet food and dry food) you give your young kittens and what you give your adult cat. 

Sure, you can expect that one may be slightly more geared towards one over the other, but ultimately it's got to be the same type of food since it's still going to the same cat, albeit at different stages of its life. 

It'd be like saying that an adult couldn't eat baby food even though it's just mashed-up vegetables and fruits. 

Well, the truth of the matter is that, while there aren't a ton of differences between the two types of food, kitten, and adult cat food do have enough differences between the two that you'll need to be careful about who's getting what.

Difference #1. Protein 

Starting off with the most important of the differences, kitten food, and cat food simply have too big of a difference based on who they are meant to feed. 

It's no secret that kitten food is significantly higher in protein compared to adult food, though the amount it differs can be jaw-dropping. 

Kittens have only just been weaned from their mother's milk or kitten formula so the levels of nutrition must remain somewhat similar to the nursing stages..

Commercial cat food has between 25 and 40% protein while kitty food offers between 35 and 50% protein. Keep in mind that this is despite the average cat food can being 5.5 ounces while the average kitten food can is only 3 ounces.

For kittens, eating this much protein is ideal despite the small size. However, for adult cats, eating upwards of 35% or more protein can lead to serious weight gain as well as potentially smellier farts and cat poop. 

Difference #2. Calories 

Cats and kittens need two very different amounts of calories to function properly during the day. Because kittens are still growing and need a ton of energy, it makes sense that their food will be chock-full of calories.

Adult cats, on the other hand, don't need nearly as much to keep them going, which is why adult cat food has only a fraction of the same amount of calories.

The one exception to this rule is pregnant cat mothers. In this case, a pregnant cat will need to primarily consume kitten food due to its higher protein and calorie content. This is obviously so that she has energy even when helping nourish her unborn children.

If you're unsure about how many calories your cat should have, take the time and speak with your vet. 

Not only will they give you a more precise understanding of their requirement, but they will also have some recommended methods to ensure they don't overeat or undereat, helping them stay healthier than ever before.

Difference #3. Fats

Cats, unlike dogs, are what are known as "obligate carnivores". This means that they can only eat meat products for proper health. Immediately, this can be an issue if you're reading many of the labels and notice "vegetable-based protein" as an ingredient. 

Not only is this likely a lower quality, but the body can't absorb even the trace protein, calories, and minerals that may be intended. 

Fats and fatty acids are especially important for a cat to receive as it makes the absorption process that much easier.

Kittens require their food to be as fatty as possible to help them properly utilize the energy they are receiving from their high-protein and calorie diets. As a result, their kitten food is given much more in comparison to adult cats, which don't need nearly as much overall. 

Difference #4. Vitamins & Minerals 

No matter if your cat is a newborn, a couple of weeks of age, a few months of age, or a cat well into maturity, it can benefit from a healthy amount of vitamins and minerals.

However, because kitten food is meant to be the primary fuel for kittens to quickly grow into adult cats, their food is jam-packed with calcium and phosphorous, actually almost doubling what adult cat food has.

This incredible difference is why kitten food is that much higher in overall minerals.

how long should a cat eat kitten food

Feeding Kitten Food To Adult Cats: Are There Benefits?

Now that we've had a chance to see just how different kitten food is from adult cat food, it can seem pretty obvious that the two are meant for pets in very different stages of their lives. Kitten food is very high in protein, calories, and fat, meant to help a young cat develop and grow without any complications. 

On the other hand, adult cat food is much lower in all of these things due to the kitten in question already becoming an adult, thus their body not needing nearly as much to maintain its level of development.

However, just because the majority of cats don't need kitten food to function doesn't mean there aren't some slight exceptions to this rule. 

Senior Cats

For older cats in the "senior" and "geriatric" stages of their life cycle (anything after 11 years), a cat can be at risk of suffering from many health diseases while also being a time where they can find themselves suffering from a lowered appetite. 

This can lead to some serious weight loss, and a weaker immune system and make them even more at risk for other diseases.

In this case, kitten food is a useful alternative as they will have a much smaller amount of food to eat while also offering them a quicker regain of acceptable size and weight. 

Because it's high in fat, these foods are also much tastier than standard cat food and will have even some of the pickiest of eaters cleaning their plates.

Still, while it is a useful tool, you want to make sure you're consulting a vet so that all of the information is clear and on the table. In many of these instances, while kitten food may be a great option so too can some vet-based solutions. 

Regardless, it's important to realize that prolonged feeding can even turn your underweight senior cat into an overweight plum of an animal if you aren't careful. Always do this with the intended goal of eventually bringing them back to adult cat food to ensure their weight doesn't become an issue on the other end.

Feeding Kitten Food To Your Adult Cat 

Kitten food isn't an ideal option for adulthood because of the high amount of calories and fat that come in each can. If used regularly it will push the scales on a cat's weight.

However, just because it isn't ideal doesn't mean adult cats "can't" eat kitten food. 

kitten food for adult cats

If you've decided that you want to load your cat's diet with mineral and vitamin-rich food, the important thing is to start slowly. 

As with everything feline-related, you don't want to jump the gun or do a massive and sudden switch in any particular direction. Instead, you should gradually and progressively introduce kitten food into their diet.

This will get them used to the denser foods while also helping ward off any potential gastrointestinal issues that may arise.

The best method of transitioning your cat to kitten food is by mixing two parts cat for every kitten. This means that for every ounce of cat food, you want to have a half ounce of kitten food. Not only will this more effectively ease them into eating it, but it will also keep them from the huge spike in calories. 

Then, over the next few weeks, slowly decrease the amount of cat food while increasing the amount of kitten food. This will eventually result in you having your cat eat only kitten food

Again, I stress that you should only do this if your cat is pregnant, as a kitten food-only diet is going to be simply too much for the majority of cats out there, potentially leading to some serious health complications later on in life.

Can Adult Cats Eat Kitten Food?  The Verdict

When it comes to cats and their different life stages, the most important thing you've got to realize is a cat's diet is just about calories and nutrition. 

Kittens need much more calories and nutrients to grow while adult cat doesn't nearly as much to maintain their size. This means that not only is it bad to feed a kitten adult cat food, but it's also ill-advised to feed an adult cat kitten food.

can senior cats eat kitten food

The good news is that kittens only need the special diet for about a year, unless it’s a larger breed cat, such as a Maine coon, which takes about 18 months to reach maturity.

High-calorie, high-fat kitten food may be just what a growing kitten needs to fully develop their bones, teeth, and transition to an adult cat.

But given to an adult cat on a regular basis and it can lead to massive onset obesity and a host of health problems that can accompany that. They are different nutritional needs at play here.

If you do want to feed your cat kitten food, you should only do it for a small amount, under the management of a veterinarian, and only if your cat is either pregnant or dealing with serious appetite issues.

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About the author

Dexter Jones has been a solid member of the ‘Mad Cat Dad’ club since time began! Dexter has been a keen cat writer for many years and lives in Croatia. He lives with his two tabby cats, Milly & Marly, who also flew in from the UK to start their new Adriatic island life together.