Kittens grow like a weed in the first several months. This is the time when the whole body grows rapidly, which requires food that is rich in nutrients and energy. Because of that, kittens need to eat meals that come from whole meats and to get enough micronutrients which support the development of vital systems such as the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and the brain.
Do you need to feed your kitten organic food? Before we answer this question, let’s take a look at what a kitten needs in terms of nutrition and what the market has to offer regarding organic kitten food.
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Kittens are tiny creatures undergoing rapid physiological development. Thus, it’s vital for them to get the necessary macros as kitten’s nutrition can make or break its health as it matures.
While for the first month the kitten will feed mostly on its mother’s milk, about after four weeks after being born, your little pal will begin to wean – give up mother’s milk and look for other sources of nutrition. Before this happens, you need to be ready to step in. If you are about to get a kitten, buy some high quality, protein-rich food formulated for kittens.
While all macros matter, it is the protein content that is of utmost importance. Protein is a building component of muscles and bones and plays an important function in brain development.
Regarding food form, wet is better than dry. It provides more water and is easy on the kitten’s tiny baby teeth. Nevertheless, you should also keep a bowl of dry food because your kitten will likely eat quite often. Do not forget to also keep a bowl of fresh water.
When it comes to ingredients in kitten food, it’s paramount that the formula contains high-quality meat. Do not get formulas that list anything other than meat as the first ingredient. Avoid corn, wheat, and grains. They are hard on a cat’s digestive system and especially so in kittens.
Kitten formulas will also include sources of calcium or have it as a supplement. If you can, purchase several high-quality formulas. Some cats get used to a particular one, and it’s tough to switch them to a different formula down the road.
Note that kittens require much more energy than adult cats, so kitten formulas might contain ingredients that are more calorie dense than adult food. In addition, you’ll need to feed a kitten more food than an adult cat.
Whatever you do, don’t feed your kitten “human” food. Some of it is allergenic and can cause upset stomach or worse, especially in a developing organism such as a kitten’s.
What is Organic Pet Food?
The use of organic products has boomed in the past decade. Everything from food to clothing and beauty products now has an “organic” niche. But what does it mean for food to be organic?
“Organic food” means that the crops were grown without the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, while the meat is sourced from animals that live freely and grow on organic feed. There are no lab-produced chemicals, genetic engineering or antibiotics in organic food. For a human-grade food to be labeled as organic, it must’ve passed specific guidelines regulated by the USDA.
How about organic food for cats? Oh my, it is a mess!
First, there is often confusion in pet owners between what is “organic,” “holistic” and “natural” pet food. The last one means that the food contains only natural (not-artificially produced) ingredients. Holistic means that the food provides complete and balanced nutrition, though this term is not regulated.
“Organic” is where the mess begins. When it comes to human food, the USDA is the authority that says what is organic and which products can carry this label. But the organization is yet to implement guidelines for pet food. Thus, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has adopted the regulations that the USDA uses for its human-grade organic food. However, the AAFCO only provides guidance; it does not have regulatory functions. It’s the FDA that regulates pet food.
The bottom line is that it is not clear who says what “organic” pet food is or who enforces such a regulation. The AAFCO says that when labeling their food as organic, pet food manufacturers must follow the USDA’s regulations for human-grade organic food.
If you feel like getting a headache you can check out this resource that explains more fully how the USDA, the FDA, and the AAFCO relate to pet food.
Newman’s Own wet formula comes in seven different flavors.
On average they contain 10% proteins, 5% fats, and 4% carbs. Converted on a dry matter basis (DMB) and accounting for ash content, this comes to 50% proteins, 25% fats, and 20% carbs.
In terms of calories, the formulas come at around 190 cal/5.5 oz. can. Thus, a kitten would need around 2-2 1/5 cans per day.
This cat food comes with a very limited ingredient list which we consider a plus. As we’ve discussed before, there is no need for fancy ingredients that are not-nutritious to cats. The Newman’s Own organic wet formulas contain organic meats and plants, while some of the flavors also contain eggs. Eggs are easily digestible and a viable source of protein.
However, what concerns us is the presence of guar gum and carrageenan. Both ingredients are natural thickeners, but there is a continuous debate regarding their safety.
Overall, our impression of Newman’s Own’s organic formula is mixed – we wouldn’t feed it to a kitten because of the thickening agents which might cause an upset stomach in such a young organism.
Tender and True’s wet organic formula comes in two flavors – chicken & liver and turkey & liver.
On average they contain 9% proteins, 6% fats, and 5% carbs. On a DMB this converts to 45% proteins, 30% fats, and 25% carbs.
The two flavors come at around 178 cal/5.5 oz. can. So, you’d need at least two cans/day for a kitten. Beware, that the manufacturer suggests up to 5, which comes to 900 calories – it’s way too much for a kitten.
What caught our attention with this brand is that from all organic formulas that we checked this one was one of the two to follow USDA’s voluntarily guidelines for organic meat. The two flavors contain USDA certified poultry as a first ingredient.
Another plus for these formulas is their limited ingredient list.
However, the diets also contain agar-agar, which we do not consider to have a place in an organic formula. While this ingredient does come from a plant, like guar gum, its use is controversial and might cause digestive disturbance.
The Organix wet formulas come in seven flavors.
On average they contain 8% protein, 5% fats, and 7% carbs. On a DMB this is 40% proteins, 25% fats, and 35% carbs.
A 5.5 oz. can of this formula contains an average of 187 calories– you’d need at least 2 – 2 1/2 cans for a kitten.
The formulas contain USDA approved organic meat which is a huge plus.
Another point for this formula comes from the added eggs. They provide high quality and easily absorbed protein.
Unfortunately, four of the formulas contain guar and/or xanthan gum.
So, what’s our take? The USDA certification is a rarity in pet food, so this is a huge plus, however, the presence of gum concerns us especially if this food is to be fed to a kitten.
Evanger’s wet organic line comes in two flavors – Braised Chicken Dinner and Turkey & Butternut Squash Dinner.
They come in 10% proteins, 5% fats, and 4% carbs. Converted to DMB: 53% protein, 26% fats, and 21% carbs.
A can of this formula contains around 256 cal, so two of these a day should do fine for a kitten.
These formulas come with a concise ingredient list – organic chicken, broth, liver and butternut squash. This is a plus, as too many ingredients can mess up your kitten’s sensitive digestive system.
However, the label doesn’t indicate how much calcium there is in the formula.
Also, this diet, too, contains guar gum.
Overall this formula is fine – it is rich in protein and doesn’t use marketing gimmick “superfoods.” However, the added guar gum makes us wary of approving it for kitten use.
To buy or Not to Buy?
Now, the big question – should you shell out for organic kitten food, or a “regular” one will do?
- The big one – organic food does not contain GMO, chemical and artificial substances many of which are known to cause allergies and/or cancer.
- As the ingredients are grown naturally, they require more care and thus are of higher quality without being force-fed or force-riped.
- Most of the organic cat food formulas have limited ingredient lists. Cats don’t need fancy non-nutritious food.
- Some of the organic cat food formulas are USDA approved. The USDA has stricter regulations than the FDA, though it’s guidelines regarding pet food are on a voluntary basis.
- Organic food richer in nutrients.
- Organic food can be easily traced back to the source, should a complaint need to be made.
- Animals are grown in humane conditions and fed organic feed.
- Many organic products are grown in small local farms. Buying organic food means that some of the revenue will go to support these SMEs.
- The big one – it’s not clear who regulates organic pet food or what exactly makes such a product organic.
- There is no definitive conclusion that organic food is superior to “regular” one, though the GMO lobby is likely influencing the research.
- Organic food is more expensive than non-organic.
- There is almost no variety when it comes to ingredients and nutrients. This is especially so with organic food formulated especially for kittens.
- Control over organic pet food is not as strict as over food intended for human consumption.
- Even the USDA’s influence over organic pet food is limited. The Department can regulate the meat sourced for production of pet food, but once the meat leaves the factory, the USDA has little control over the final product.
- Labeling can be hard to decipher. Pet owners often don’t know the difference between “organic,” “contains organic,” “holistic,” and “natural.”
- Most of the formulas that we reviewed contained some form of a thickening agent which can be hard on a cat’s stomach.
As you’ve probably noticed, only two out of all formulas were indicated to be specially formulated for kittens, though we didn’t notice any significant differences from the all life stage formulas.
Also, none of the formulas stood out as something that is a “must-have” for a kitten owner. There are plenty of formulas on the market that have limited ingredients and provide a nutritious and balanced diet for a kitten.
Overall, our take is that organic kitten food is not something that’s worth going out of the way for. Of course, having a USDA-approved label does speak quality, but at the same time, there is so much confusion around who controls what in pet food that we feel like we still need to wait out before we give a definitive “yes” to organic kitten food. In the meantime, the reviewed formulas seem to be adequate, with the warning that the gum agents might not agree with your kitten.