Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have three cats, two sisters that just turned 7, and another female that turned 4 in Februrary. All three are part Siamese, although a few generations back — the sisters are Tuxedos and the other is solid black.
My question is this: I’ve recently put the older girls on a 7+ diet and have been continuing to feed the 4-year-old the previous food, but they tend to graze out of each other’s bowls to the point that I might as well feed them all the same food. It’s also expensive to keep buying two different kinds of food, when they all wind up eating all of it. Is it okay for the 4-year-old to eat the “middle aged” food? She seems to enjoy it and so far has no problems from eating it, but I don’t want her to wind up losing nutrition or getting unbalanced. She’s very active, she’s slender, very talkative and spry. The older girls lean towards “plump,” have their playful-crack moments but for the most part have always been sedentary and somewhat bitchy.
Siouxsie: It just so happens that Mama asked our vet this very question a few years ago.
Thomas: When Mama adopted me, I was 3 years old. But Sinéad and Siouxsie were 7 or 8 at the time. Mama was feeding them “middle-age cat” formula food, and she asked Doctor Sarah if it was okay to feed us all the same food.
Dahlia: She said it’s fine to feed younger adult cats a senior-formula food if you’re living in a mixed-age household. The only real difference between regular adult formula and senior formula foods is that senior foods tend to be lower in calories and have a little less protein–because too much protein can lead to some health issues in older cats.
Siouxsie: Senior formula foods also tend to be easier to digest in order to accommodate our changing needs as we get older.
Thomas: So, Lani, don’t be afraid to feed your younger cat the senior-formula food. And don’t worry about your senior cats if they’re getting into the younger one’s kibble.
Dahlia: You’re right that it’s easier and less expensive to buy one type of cat food, so we’d say that if you stick with one type or another, go with the senior food.
Siouxsie: While we’re on the subject of foods and their appropriateness for cats of various ages, we should mention that you do need to feed kittens with a food specifically formulated for kittens. Kitten foods have more calories, more vitamins, and more protein because kittens need that extra energy to grow big and strong.
Thomas: Pregnant cats should be fed kitten-formula food during the last four to five weeks of pregnancy. The demands on a mother cat’s body are exceptionally high at this time since the kittens are growing rapidly, and they need all the extra vitamins and nutritional support they can get in order to make sure their babies are born healthy. Here’s an article on how to feed a pregnant cat properly.
Dahlia: Wile your mama cat is nursing her babies, kitten food will also help to ensure that the mother cat has enough milk to feed them. Mama’s milk is always the best for kittens, and kitten milk replacer, while pretty darn good, just isn’t the same. Plus, raising orphaned or milk-starved kittens by hand is a very time-consuming endeavor. You literally have to feed them tiny amounts every couple of hours, all day and all night for the first couple of weeks.
Siouxsie: It’s not a good idea to feed kittens cow’s milk. Cats generally have a hard time tolerating it, and it doesn’t have the nutritional qualities kittens need. But if you can’t find kitten milk replacer, you can mix a little whole milk and an egg yolk as an emergency formula. Goat milk or sheep milk would be even better, but those products tend to be hard to find if you don’t live near a farm.
Thomas: Do make sure you get real kitten milk replacer as soon as you can, though. Mama tells us that a long time ago, way before we were even born, she had to hand-raise a kitten because the mother cat didn’t have enough milk (probably due to inadequate nutrition and young age). Mama fed the kitten cow’s milk, and while he did survive he was always prone to strange skin ailments and he never was quite as smart or wise as a cat should be.
Dahlia: Here’s a good article on the basics of hand-rearing orphaned or rejected kittens, in case you’re interested in reading up on the topic.
Siouxsie: One common mistake people make when hand-rearing kittens is that they hold the kittens on their back while feeding them from the bottle. We know this is what you do with human babies, but if you do this while bottle-feeding kittens they will aspirate some of the formula into their lungs, which could lead to pneumonia.
Thomas: If you look at kittens nursing, you’ll notice that they have their tummies on the floor. Belly-down is the right position for nursing kittens. And don’t make them crane their necks way up to swallow the milk, either.
Dahlia: The article we linked above has a good photo of how to hold a kitten while feeding it.
Siouxsie: Sorry we went off on a tangent, Lani. But thanks for giving us a chance to share some important information about feeding cats and answer your question.