Can you feed your senior cat kitten food?

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A question I hear a lot is what the best thing to feed senior cats is. I’ve heard a lot of people ask whether kitten food, such as Wellness Complete Health Kitten food or Royal Canin Kitten food, are safe and nutritious enough to feed older cats. This answer really depends on your cat. There are some older cats that might actually benefit from the nutrients in kitten food, whereas some other cats wouldn’t do well on kitten food alone – in those cases, it might be a good idea to work on finding an age-appropriate wet food for your senior cat. This article will cover the types of cats that can eat kitten food beyond the kitten years and which shouldn’t.

What’s the difference between kitten food and adult cat food?

Keep in mind when we’re talking about kitten food here, we’re talking about food for cats who are old enough to eat solids. We’re not discussing kitten formula, which is given to cats from birth to about four weeks if they don’t have their mother around. Once they’re weaned off milk, they will be given wet food formulated for kittens. Kitten food is typically higher in fat, protein, and calories. Kittens require a lot more of these nutrients since their bodies are still growing and developing, and that growth requires a lot of energy. Not to mention kittens are often very active, so they’ll burn more calories than an older cat. The United States Food and Drug Administration requires food labeled as kitten food to contain a minimum of 22% protein and 8% fat. Comparatively, adult cat food will have 18% protein and 5% fat. Kittens who are protein deficient will develop a number of health conditions, which is why it’s so important for kittens to get so much more protein than adult cats.

Kitten foods will also contain a lot more vitamins and minerals than adult cat food to facilitate healthy growth. You’ll find that kitten food has higher levels of calcium and phosphorus to facilitate healthy bone and tooth growth. Adult food won’t contain as much since adult cats are no longer growing.

Is it dangerous to feed a senior cat kitten food?

This is a complex answer. In general, no, your adult or senior cat eating kitten food occasionally or for a short period of time won’t hurt him. The risks start if your cat only eats kitten food. As kitten food is at least 30% higher in calories than adult food, feeding kitten food regularly over a long period of time can cause your cat to become overweight. Even though kitten food is healthy for most cats, the increase in fat and calories will cause weight gain. This is like if you ate 3 avocados a day every single day. Avocados are great, they’re extremely nutrient dense and a good food if eaten in moderation. However, a standard avocado has 250 calories, so if you’re eating 3 every day in addition to your normal food, that’s 750 calories, which will cause weight gain over time.

The increase in other nutrients shouldn’t be harmful to your cat, as most cats will simply expel excess nutrients into the litter box. However, if your cat is on any medications or has any medical concerns, you’ll want to check if the increase in certain nutrients could be dangerous before feeding too much kitten food.

What senior cats would benefit from kitten food?

Weight loss in older cats is a common concern, as a result of decreased appetite, medical conditions, and other problems. The way to combat weight loss in most cases is to increase calories, but how would you do that without force-feeding your cat? Kitten food is an excellent way to do that. By replacing a handful of meals a week with kitten food, your cat will get a boost in calories as well as healthy fats and protein. Lots of cats prefer the taste of kitten food as well – I mean who doesn’t love really fatty meals?

Many cats become pickier about the types of food they’ll eat as they get older. If this sounds like your cat, they might prefer the taste of kitten food. As I said before, many cats seem to prefer the fatty taste of kitten food, and if that’s the case than you’ll absolutely want to let your friend eat kitten food in place of adult cat food. Keeping your cat eating regularly is extremely important as your cat ages, and if she’ll only eat kitten food, then by all means let her eat it.

It’s crucial to make sure your cat is in a good space health-wise to deal with the increased fat, protein, and nutrients in kitten food, so before making the switch you’ll want to check with your vet to see if there’s any reason why your cat wouldn’t do well on it. Your vet will likely order blood work to make sure your cat’s new diet would work for them.

Which senior cats shouldn’t eat kitten food?

Overweight cats or cats with medical conditions that would be worsened by the increase in calories, fat, protein, or nutrients. Obviously, if your cat is overweight, the last thing you want to do is increase their calories. Kitten food as a treat every once in a while might be ok, but definitely avoid it as a regular meal. Again, the most important thing is to check with your vet if your cat has any pre-existing health conditions before making major changes to his or her diet. Most cats will be fine eating kitten food now and then, the question is whether it’s ok when it becomes a regular part of your cat’s diet.

Adding kitten food into your senior cat’s diet.

Never make major changes to your cat’s diet without a transition process. If you just switch to giving your cat a can of kitten food a day, your cat might experience stomach upset, vomiting or diarrhea. The safest way of doing this is to start by mixing equal parts of your cat’s old food with their new food. Do this several times, then start taking out some of the old food. Continue this process until your cat is just eating the kitten food at once. This can take just a few days or several weeks, depending on your cat’s tastes and the health of your cat’s digestive system. Older cats might have a harder time with this switch, so don’t expect it to be an overnight process.

While it's not a good idea for most cats to eat JUST kitten food, some can use the added nutrients.

Popular kitten foods you can feed your senior cat

  1. Fancy Feast Pate Wet Kitten Food

    As the owner of a diabetic cat, I’m a big fan of the Fancy Feast pates. Most are low in carbs and they’re very affordable. The turkey variety is one my cat really likes, and it has zero carbs, making it perfect for an older cat who needs to watch their blood sugar. They also have several seafood varieties.

  2. Blue Buffalo Wilderness Kitten Variety Pack

    Blue Buffalo is often considered one of the higher quality pet food brands. They use high-quality ingredients and their food is grain-free (although not necessarily low-carb!). The kitten formula contains added vitamins and minerals for growing kittens, and ones that might benefit some picky senior cats.

  3. Purina Pro Plan Focus Pate Wet Kitten Food

    Purina’s Pro Plan boasts high-quality ingredients and added vitamins and minerals that will boost a kitten’s immune system. As older cats can definitely use immune system support, this wouldn’t be a bad choice as an occasional meal for your senior cat.

  4. Hill’s Science Diet Dry Cat Food, Kitten

    Dry food for older cats is kind of controversial among some people, because it typically comes with a lot of fillers and nutrients that don’t do anything for your cat. Some cats REFUSE wet food though, I know the struggle well. If that’s the case I’d recommend going with higher-quality dry food, like one from Hills Science Diet. Hills is highly recommended by vets. This kitten formula is packed with DHA, which is great for a cat’s eyes and brain, as well as keeps their muscles and coat healthy. If your cat wants to sneak some of this, it’s not a terrible snack choice.

In short, it’s fine for your cat to eat some kitten food if they really like it. Kitten foods generally contain more fat and calories though, so if your cat’s weight is a concern you’ll want to attempt to get them on adult food. When in doubt though, ask your vet. They likely won’t have an issue with your cat eating some kitten food as long as their weight is stable and they don’t have any dietary issues, like diabetes or kidney disease, which might require a special food.

9 Replies to “Can you feed your senior cat kitten food?”

  1. Gloria price says:

    I have a kitten and a older cat about 8years old all she wants is Purina kitten chow will it hurt her

    1. Senior Cats Staff says:

      Hi Gloria! That’s something you’ll probably want to discuss with your vet. Have you tried mixing some of the kitten food in with adult food? Purina’s a good brand so it’s not the worst thing you could feed your cat, but adult food has some nutrients that older cats need that kitten food will not have. As a treat it’s fine, but I’d avoid feeding it to her all the time.

  2. Mary Bennett says:

    I have a 14 year old female cat who was getting a little skinny. She had hairball issues and looked awful. I started giving her Purina dry kitten chow, and 1/2 a can of wet food. Now her appetite is great, gained 2 lbs, fur is thick and shiny. Like a new cat!

    1. Senior Cats Staff says:

      That’s so great! I’m so glad you found something that worked for her!

  3. AM Williams says:

    Hi my cat, Tia of 17 years loves to only eat kitten food by choice. We give her adult food as well but Tia will be vocal until you give her some kitten food. She has crystals in her urine, and has been prescribed CystiCalm, by our vet. Our vet went as far as saying that Tia could have this issue because we have been feeding her kitten food. I can not find that kitten food can cause cystitis in senior cats anywhere. Can that be the case?

    Thank you

  4. My 5 YO cat just had some major dental surgery. Prior to this, he wasn’t eating much. Currently, for the next two weeks, he’ll be eating wet/soft food. I was wondering if kitten food would be ideal during this time? He’s otherwise a healthy cat.

  5. Lois Van Englehoven says:

    I have an 11 year old cat that has kidney disease and hardly eats. She has refused all the prescription foods that she is suppose to eat. My vet said to feed her whatever she will eat, as she needs to gain weight.. I just wonder if kitten food would add extra calories and nutrients and help her gain weight. I don’t want her to starve so I’m willing to give it a shot.

  6. As a Mommy if a beautiful white cat Lit’l Guy who we lost to CKD @ 9yrs I agree with your Vet to let him eat whatever he will eat He did like RX called Critical Care but they don’t offer it anymore Some have suggested both Kitten Food & Baby Food.
    My Vet taught us how to administer SubQ fluids very important because they become sick from lack of fluids & can’t eat. There is also a compound to counteract phosphorus the real culprit in CKD I will pray for you I still desperately miss my boy who died Xmas Eve almost 8 yrs ago right before he was to start a Stem Cell Trial in NYC. I am so sorry for what you are going through Btw there is a special angled pain free needle not offered by my Vet at the time but Chewy has them Also freezing the néedles helps too
    Sadly my boy was in final stages before we found out. The only new discovery I know of is a new test that will discover it earlier giving you more time. The only thing hopeful at the time was Stem Cell transplant but I don’t know how far they have come or the cost or success Good luck and God Bless

  7. My 16 yr old Mainecoon is getting bit frail looking. Not interested in high quality (royal canin)dry or wet . So vet said mix in kitten food. As long as blood work is ok.. a limited diet of kitten food will boost weight. Flavor may help kick on appetite. Ty all for your comments. Very helpful

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