The weaning period is conducive to digestive disorders: the kitten gradually loses his ability to digest lactose, the sugar in milk, but he is not yet well equipped to digest the starch in cereals like an adult cat.
During their first months of life, kittens need an ultra-digestible food, rich in fats and proteins, to guarantee total digestive safety, and whose starch content is not too high. The quality of the food at the beginning conditions their good health later.
Because kittens grow quickly, they need a high-energy food: after weaning, at around 10 weeks of age, a kitten ingests the equivalent of 200 kcal/kg, i.e. about 3.5 times more than an adult cat (related to the BW)! Kitten's energy requirement remains at a high level until about 4 months of age, then the energy requirement gradually decreases, until it reaches about 60 kcal/kg for an adult, entire cat.
Fats are the nutrients that provide the most energy in a small volume. Fat is also very well digested by kittens, much better than carbohydrates contained in the starch of cereals. If kittens are fed with kibbles, they should contain at least 20% fat.
Fats make up 60% of the nervous system and the most abundant fatty acid in the brain is DHA; it is a long-chain fatty acid belonging to the omega 3 family. Fish oil and some algae oils are rich in DHA.
Young kittens have a low synthetic capacity to produce DHA and a diet rich in DHA is beneficial for kittens, especially at the beginning of their growth. It has been shown that a deficiency decreases the animal's learning abilities and disrupts the functioning of the retina, especially when light intensity is low.
A specific food for kittens contains more proteins than an adult cat food because proteins are required for the synthesis of all new tissues (muscles, skeleton, skin and coat, etc.).
If kittens do not get enough protein, or if the proteins do not provide all the indispensable amino acids, the growth will be altered as a kitten cannot adapt to a low-protein diet. This is the specificity of animals with carnivorous diets. Moreover, if given the choice, cats consume more than half of their daily energy intake as protein.
A high-protein diet helps to maintain the kitten’s good health. Proteins are essential for the support of the immune system, and they also play an interesting role in urinary health as they stimulate water intake and urination, which is particularly interesting for the cat who is a small drinker.
Young kittens are not as well equipped as adult cats to digest starch: pancreatic and intestinal secretions of kittens contain enzymes to digest starch but their activity is very limited. To limit the risk of diarrhea, they need an easily digestible food, with restricted carbohydrate levels.
Moreover, the enzyme that stores glucose as glycogen in the liver is produced in low quantities by kittens. As a result, they are badly equipped to react properly to a high-carbohydrate consumption. Hyperglycemia can arise, which is a risk factor for the development of diabetes mellitus.