A cat should not eat the same food for its whole life. Kittens need different nutrients than adult cats, just as senior cats need different food than adults. Activity levels of a cat also play an important role in deciding what food it should eat, especially if the cat is overweight or lives solely indoors.
Kitten food should be fed to a cat until it is one year old. The size of kitten kibble is usually smaller than adult kibble. This is so that the kitten can chew and digest the food properly. Nutrients in kitten formulas are different as well. There are more calories in kitten formulas to accommodate the rapid growth of the cat, ensuring that bones and tissues develop properly.
A kitten food should also contain DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). This is an essential omega-3 fatty acid that usually comes from fish oils. DHA helps with the brain development of kittens, and makes them smarter and easier to train.
Once a cat is a year old, it should be switched to an adult or maintenance formula. Kitten formulas have too many calories for cats of a regular activity level, and continuing to feed them kitten food may cause them to become overweight.
Light/Calorie Reduced Formulas
If a cat is overweight, a food that is low in calories should be fed until the animal is back in shape. Cats are much smaller than people, so even if they are only two or three pounds overweight, the excess fat can cause serious medical problems. Less active cats tend to pack on the pounds, so a calorie reduced formula should be fed in conjunction with regular exercise. If you are not sure if your cat needs to lose weight, visit a veterinarian.
Many cat owners choose to keep their felines indoors, as there are many health benefits to a feline if it does not go outside. An indoor cat does not use as much energy as one that goes outside, so indoor formulas have fewer calories (but not as few as light formulas).
Outdoor cats usually munch on grass to help with hairballs, but indoor cats do not get this opportunity. Indoor feline diets have ingredients that help break down hairballs. Feeding an indoor cat some cat grass is wise as well.
Once a cat is seven years of age, you should start feeding a diet formulated for senior cats. Senior formulas have fewer calories than adult diets to account for the less active lifestyle of a senior cat.
Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin are usually added to senior cat foods to help with the aging joints of the animal. Cats are very agile, and it is not always apparent if they are suffering from joint pain. Joint pain in cats can often cause them to stop using the liter box, so putting a cat on a senior diet at age seven helps avoid this.
Senior diets should not be fed with the intention of helping a cat lose weight. If you have a senior feline that needs to shed some pounds, feed a light or calorie reduced formula until the cat is back in shape. Once the cat is at its ideal weight, switch it back to a senior formula.
As cats enter different stages of their lives, the nutrition that they need will change. Altering the food a cat eats may also be necessary for indoor or overweight felines. The staff at a pet specialty retailer can help you choose a food that is right for your cat.