A tiny kitten is an adorable and cuddly way to introduce a pet to your family. Yet, young kittens require adequate nutrition to grow and thrive, which can sometimes be difficult to achieve as you consider the food options available. In the pet food store, you may find yourself reading labels with terms like "natural" and "organic" and feeling quite confused. Which option is the best, and what does your kitten truly need?
Feeding your new kitten well should be one of your top priorities, and while many commercially made feed grade kibbles are formulated to satisfy your kitten’s nutritional needs, not all of them are created equally. Cats need a high-protein diet, so both dry cat food and wet cat food should be protein-forward. But beyond that, what else should you look for to determine that you’ve found high-quality cat food?
Many cat owners assume that having a pet food that says “natural” on the label means they have found a good one — free from fillers, preservatives, and by-products. Unfortunately, labeling for pet food is not necessarily clear or regulated, so you can’t always trust what you read on a label. This article aims to explain what natural cat food is and how you can choose good quality food for your growing kitten.
What Is “Natural” Kitten Food?
The term “natural” in the pet food market is not clearly defined. This term has no governing body regulating it, so a brand could claim that it includes “natural ingredients” on a label without proof. In general, this is a marketing term used for products with little or no processing (compared to traditional feed grade kibble or canned food), but it is not clearly defined.
In general, “natural” means that the food has fewer artificial flavors, additives, and chemical ingredients than other foods. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) indicates that for a food to be natural, it should have ingredients derived from plant, animal, or mined sources that are not placed under extreme amounts of processing. However, no federal agencies define natural in this way, so cat food manufacturers may use the term even if their food doesn't adhere to the AAFCO definition. They may also use the term if some of the ingredients in the ingredient list fit the definition but others do not.
How Do You Identify a High-Quality Protein Source?
There are many protein sources commonly found in kitten food, but some are better than others — for example, there are plenty of vegetable protein sources, like peas and lentils. But because cats are obligate carnivores, it’s important to make sure the protein in their diets comes primarily from high-quality animal sources. Organ and muscle meat from beef, poultry, and fish are great sources of protein, so ideally you’ll want to see these listed as the first ingredient on your cat’s food nutrition label.
However, protein “-meals” are not the same. These are dry, rendered, and highly processed ingredients that contain any and all parts of the animal, including bones. While protein meals are technically protein sources, they won’t have the same nutritional value as muscle and organ meat.
Natural vs. Organic vs. Human Grade Kitten Food
Kitten food manufacturers have one goal: to sell kitten food. As a result, many non-reputable brands will use marketing terms that help them sell as much as possible, regardless of the merit of their claims. Pet owners should be aware of these terms, so you are not swayed by clever marketing instead of true facts about your kitten's food.
While "natural" isn't a regulated term, “organic” and “human grade” are much more clearly defined. According to the AAFCO definition, natural ingredients in pet food must come from plant, animal, or mined sources and be minimally processed. The terms "organic" and "human grade" take the definition a little further. The sections below aim to explore these terms in greater detail.
What Does the Term “Organic Food” Mean?
The term “organic” is a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) designation. USDA's requirements for organic food include ensuring that the food is grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, among many other stipulations — in fact, the USDA has a huge list of substances that are banned from organic farming. Instead of using these pest and weed control methods or soil additives, farmers will use natural substances to help grow their food. They also rely on physical, mechanical, or biological farming methods to increase yields without the addition of unwanted and potentially harmful chemicals to the growing process.
Organic farming on a commercial scale isn't easy. For instance, the farmer must be able to prove that their farm did not use banned substances on the soil for a minimum of three years. It also costs quite a lot of money to become certified as an organic producer, so foods with organic ingredients will be proud to display this term on their labels.
That said, natural and organic aren't synonymous, and a cat food that claims that it's all-natural should not be treated as organic unless it's clearly stated on the package.
What Does “Human Grade” Mean?
Another term you might find on your cat food is human grade. Human grade is a different term than both natural and organic, though natural and organic foods can be human grade. Instead, according to the AAFCO, human grade means that the food is edible for humans based on 21 CFR 110, a federal regulation set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This means that to be able to market itself as human grade, a cat food manufacturer must meet over 100 safety standards that keep the food human edible from farm to table. In other words, the ingredients in the food must be considered safe for humans to eat, and no part of the manufacturing or transporting process can make it unsafe for humans to eat.
Natural Foods Kittens Can Eat
If you want to add some natural food to your kitten’s diet, make sure you choose foods that your cat can safely eat. Many natural human foods are safe for cats, and you can make tasty treats or even meals with these to help your kitten grow into a healthy adult cat. Here are some great natural food options you can try offering your kitten:
- Salmon: Cooked salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein for your cat. However, this food needs to be cooked, not raw, to protect your cat from foodborne illnesses.
- Spinach: The vitamins and minerals in spinach are healthy for your cat (just like you!). You’ll find this nutrient-rich veggie in many commercially made cat food formulas, too.
- Eggs: Eggs provide protein and B vitamins as well as amino acids. Like salmon, you should only offer your kitten cooked eggs — never raw — to lower the risk of foodborne illnesses like salmonella.
- Chicken: Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need a diet that consists primarily of meat. Chicken is a lean meat, and many cats enjoy the taste, making it an excellent protein source.
- Pumpkin: Pumpkin has a high fiber content and low calorie content. If your cat struggles with constipation, this food could help get things moving in their digestive tract.
- Blueberries: The antioxidants in blueberries are quite healthy for cats. Consider feeding frozen blueberries to your cat for an occasional tasty treat.
Natural Foods Kittens Should NEVER Eat
Not all human food is considered safe for your cat. In fact, some human foods can make cats very sick. Some dangerous foods can actually kill your cat. As you consider adding natural food to supplement your cat’s diet, make sure you avoid these dangerous food options:
- Uncooked yeast dough: Uncooked dough containing yeast can actually rise in the stomach. This causes a sensitive stomach as the digestive system builds up gas.
- Caffeine: Methylxanthines, including caffeine, are dangerous for kittens. While caffeine can be a great pick-me-up for humans, keep it away from your cat in any form — coffee, chocolate, etc.
- Citrus fruit: The essential oils and citric acid in citrus fruits can be dangerous for your cat. Large amounts can damage the nervous system.
- Dairy: Many cats have a hard time digesting dairy because of the lactose. Despite what the media has portrayed over the years, cats are lactose intolerant, so avoid giving dairy to your cat to prevent problems with vomiting or gas.
- Grapes and raisins: Grapes and raisins are linked to kidney failure in both dogs and cats, so keep them away from your pet.
- Raw or uncooked protein sources: Yes, in the wild, your cat would eat prey without cooking it, but domestic cats should have their protein sources cooked. There are simply too many bacteria that can travel through food if it is not properly cooked.
Consider These High-Quality (and Delicious) Kitten Foods from The Honest Kitchen
One way to ensure that your cat is not exposed to dangerous food is to buy natural cat food that is made in a commercial manufacturing facility. These foods will be free of dangerous ingredients and be nutritionally balanced for your kitten's dietary needs.
A healthy kitten needs the right blend of nutrients in their cat food in order to promote healthy growth. While canned kitten food can be a good choice if it has high-quality ingredients, finding one can be a challenge. A better option would be to shop for human grade kitten food that is packed with nutrients.
The Honest Kitchen has a number of cat and kitten formulas including dry food, wet food, toppers, and dehydrated options made from natural, human grade ingredients. We've teamed up with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure that our human grade cat foods include the right nutritional balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins and minerals that cats need (like calcium, taurine, vitamin E, and more) — at every life stage.
With many options to choose from and a taste that pets love, you can be sure to find something even a picky eater can enjoy! Here are some of our most popular recipes for kittens and young cats.
1) Grain Free Turkey & Chicken Clusters
If you want grain free food for your cat, we have several options. Our Grain Free Turkey & Chicken Clusters are a dry cat food made from turkey, turkey liver, eggs, bone broth, and chicken. It also includes fiber-rich produce likepeas, potatoes, blueberries, cranberries, carrots, and organic barley, along with probiotics and spices that create an excellent flavor. It has no artificial colors or flavors, corn, wheat, or soy.
Check out the Grain Free Turkey & Chicken Clusters recipe to see how easy it is to add human grade pet food to your cat’s diet.
2) Grain Free Chicken & Whitefish Clusters
Our Grain Free Chicken & Whitefish Clusters are another popular pick with pet owners. These clusters boast two primary sources of protein, including chicken and white fish, as well as eggs and chicken liver. The flavor combination of fish, meat, flaxseed, blueberries, pumpkin, and cranberries makes this an appealing option for kittens that packs a great nutritional punch.
Shop our Grain Free Chicken & Whitefish to see why pet owners love it for their growing kittens!
3) Grain Free Chicken Clusters
Our Grain Free Chicken clusters is another dry kitten food made with real chicken and chicken liver. It also contains eggs, potatoes, lentils, peas, and fish oil. Many kittens seem to really like the crunch of this food, and you will appreciate the high-quality protein it has — and the omega-3 fatty acids in the chicken fat and fish oil. If you are looking for a chicken-based kitten food for your young cat, this may be the option you’ve been looking for.
Check out the Grain Free Chicken Clusters here.
4) Dehydrated Grain Free Chicken & Fish
Our Dehydrated Grain Free Chicken & Fish recipe is another popular choice for pet owners whose kittens love the chicken-and-fish flavor combination. This cat food is made with whole foods, gently dehydrated to keep their nutrition and flavor in place. You simply need to add water or broth to rehydrate, and your feline friend has an excellent fish and chicken meal for dinner. Like other foods from The Honest Kitchen, we add essential nutrients, vitamins, and probiotics to this formula.
Get your Dehydrated Grain Free Chicken & Fish here and discover why many pet owners are loving dehydrated options.
5) Grain Free Turkey Dehydrated Cat Food
Cats often experience dehydration issues, so many pet owners choose to incorporate liquids into their cat's food. If you want wet kitten food to get more liquids into your pet's diet, the Grain Free Turkey Dehydrated Cat Food could work well. It has dehydrated turkey as well as sweet potatoes, potatoes, flaxseed, eggs, spinach, and more. No fillers or GMOs ingredients make it a safe, human grade food for cats of all breeds and life stages.
Buy your package of the Grain Free Turkey Dehydrated Cat Food here.
Try Kitten Food From The Honest Kitchen Today
If you're searching for the best kitten food, turn to a reputable, reliable brand that prioritizes your pet's health and wellness: Shop with The Honest Kitchen. Our human grade cat food is an ideal choice because of its high-quality ingredients, minimal processing, and added nutrient boost.
We take great pride in creating recipes from natural, human grade ingredients that taste great to cats and meet their nutritional needs. Throughout the manufacturing and handling process, we are careful to maintain the integrity and quality of each ingredient, so the final cat food is an excellent and high-quality option for your pet. Shop our entire line of cat and kitten formulas to find one that fits your cat’s tastes.
Health Disclaimer: This post is educational in nature and doesn’t constitute health advice. Please consult your pet's veterinarian or other healthcare professional for specific guidance on this topic.