For house cat kittens there is special 'kitten food', containing more nutrients than normal cat food in order to compensate for the fact that at pretty much any time of the day kittens spend a gazilion times as much energy as an adult cat would.

I know that most differences between cat foods are mainly marketing aimed at humans, but here there seems to be at least something 'real' about the difference, given that the vet told me not to let the adult cats eat from this high energy kitten food, as it would only make them fat. Also, of course, the claim that kittens spend more energy than adult cats is easily verified by just looking.

So my question is: does this 'special food for kittens because of them being so energetic' have any analogue for big cats such as lions, leopards, lynxes etc? Is the part of the meat that a lioness gives to her cubs qualitatively different (e.g. another body part) than the part she keeps for herself?

(To be clear: the question is really about big cats. When I want to know more about food for house cats the internet is full of information, but I found it hard to find anything detailed on what cubs of big cats eat and how it differs from the food of their adult peers at all.)

  • $\begingroup$ The problem with pet food is there is no variety. Humans expect to be able to just give the same thing over and over again. That means a third possibility is the lioness just gives a different part each time (and not necessarily from the same prey species either) with no distinction between adults vs kids. After all, it's not like the cub, or even the lioness, eats every part of the entire animal every time. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 7, 2022 at 15:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Also, wild cats actually need to expend energy to get their food so I don't think it's a fair comparison to compare activity levels of cubs that can play in captivity to adults that don't/can't hunt in captivity. You don't waste energy hunting to eat in excess. It's a lot of pointless work. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 7, 2022 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ pets.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/big-cats $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2022 at 17:14

1 Answer 1


Cat food has a specific a composition, because the suppliers have to keep their products consistent and they are designed to meet the nutritional needs of indoor cats. I do believe that kittens have a higher energy need, but I would argue it's mostly due to development/growth and energy loss (higher surface-to-volume-ratio with a higher loss of heat energy) than their activity. Kitten food is mostly high in fat content (source) to increase the calories, which is the reason it shouldn't be fed to adult cats, who don't need these calories.

In the wild big cats prey on different kinds of animals and eat all kinds of parts of the carcass. The nutritional composition of their food will therefore vary more than for house cats. Adult wild cats will definitely need more calories that a lazy house cat, as they have to hunt, fight and survive. So, a higher energy density would also be beneficial for adults and no difference between them and their offspring has to be made.

I couldn't find any source that lion/tiger/cheetah cubs would eat only specific parts of the prey. Also, mother cats usually don't "feed" their cubs. You would rather see the cubs feeding on the carcass alongside their mother. Several cubs would be spread around the carcass, eating different parts.

I think there is a little misinterpretation in your question and that's the assumption wild cats would pamper their young and rather take less quality food for themselves. If we take lions for example: they have been reported to have a hierarchy in feeding on their prey. The male first, then the females and their cubs. The cubs are last. As they are least important for the survival of the group in times of scarcity in food, mothers will rather let them starve to death than not eating themselves (source1/sci-hub/page 315, source2/sci-hub).

What sounds cruel to us is a survival strategy, since a surviving pack can reproduce again, when food is more abundant, while well fed cubs are doomed anyways, when their mothers are too weak to hunt. As an extreme form of this the parents might turn to cannibalism, which is more frequent in fish (source/sci-hub), while mammals with smaller litter sizes might abandon some of their offspring to take better care of the rest (source/sci-hub).


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