Feeding A Kitten: Tips For Success

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  • Feeding a kitten can be confusing to the new pet parent, with such a vast range of kitten food on the market. What age do kittens wean? What do they eat? How often? Can kittens overeat and what can you do if your kitten stops eating?

    When do kittens wean?

    When do kittens wean?

    The weaning process begins around 4 weeks of age. Start slowly by mixing baby food (check the ingredients to make sure the food contains no onion as this is toxic to cats) canned or dry cat food with some kitten formula. Not all kittens will take to food immediately, so patience is important. Introduce a small amount initially. You can introduce solids either by placing a small amount of food on your finger or in a cat bowl. Kittens should be fully weaned by 8 weeks of age.

    Feeding a kitten: What do kittens eat?

    Kittens should be fed a good quality, balanced commercial cat food which has been formulated to meet their nutritional requirements. Kitten food is designed specifically for the high energy requirements of kittens during their active growing phase.

    All pet food brands must meet the nutritional requirements of cats, not all brands are created equally. Cheaper brands tend to contain more fillers, which come in the form of carbohydrates, most often corn. Your cat will have to eat more food to meet it’s energy requirements, so cheaper brands don’t always actually save you money. Also, these brands tend to be more likely to produce unpleasant-smelling feces than premium brands.

    Your veterinarian is the best person to speak to for feeding advice and can recommend the best product for your kitten.

    Kitten food should be fed until 12 months of age, at which time you can switch to balanced adult food.

    Types of kitten food

    Wet and dry cat food

    There are three types of cat and kitten food. Canned, dry (kibble) and raw. Some pet owners choose to feed one type, others feed a mix of two or three. Generally, I prefer to feed a varied diet to both kittens and cats.

    Feeding kittens raw food

    Feeding kittens raw food

    The subject of raw food is controversial among cat owners and veterinarians. Here in Australia, the majority of vets recommend a small amount of raw food for the cat’s dental health. This includes raw chunks of steak or raw chicken necks. Many pet owners opt to feed only raw food, but this can have serious health implications if it is not complete and balanced. The RSPCA recommends avoiding feeding raw food until the kitten is at least 20 weeks unless it is on the bone, ie; a raw chicken wing, to avoid nutritional deficiencies.

    If you do decide you would like to give your kitten raw food, stick with human-grade as pet-grade and always take care when feeding raw meat. Wash hands after touching raw meat and remove uneaten food after twenty minutes.

    As always, the best advice is to speak to your kitten’s veterinarian about their food recommendations.

    Feeding kittens bones

    Raw chicken necks and wings are great for your kitten’s dental health and can also help when the kitten is teething, however, they do come with risks including choking and damage to the gastrointestinal tract (which is a much bigger problem if the cat eats a cooked bone which is more prone to splintering).

    How often should I feed my kitten bones?

    Once or twice a week.

    Safety when feeding kittens or cats bones:

    • Do not feed cats or kittens cooked bones, or weight-bearing bones which are denser and can cause dental fractures.
    • Always supervise a kitten or cat when they are eating a bone.
    • The bone should be large enough that the kitten cannot swallow it whole.

    Changing a kitten’s diet

    Kitten eating biscuits

    When adopting a new kitten, find out what food it has been eating. If you would like to change the type or brand of food, do this gradually by mixing in increasing amounts of the new food with the old food. A sudden change in diet can cause tummy upsets in kittens and cats.

    How many meals a day should a kitten have?

    Most people like to feed a small amount of wet food 4 times a day and leave dry food out 24/7 for them to graze on. Once a cat reaches adulthood, most people feed twice a day and/or leave dry food out at all times. If you have an adult cat who is prone to weight gain, it may be necessary to feed at set times only.

    How many calories does a kitten need?

    This can depend on the weight and age of the kitten as well as the type and the quality of the food. The basic formula is the resting energy requirements (RER) x 2.5 for growing kittens.

    Kitten feeding chart by weight

    Kitten calorie requirements

    What do kittens drink?

    Once weaned, kittens should be given fresh tap water which should be changed once a day.

    What not to feed a kitten

    • Cooked bones: Can cause dental fractures and can splinter in the gastrointestinal tract and cause trauma
    • Dog food: Food for dogs is not balanced or complete for kittens or cats.
    • Chocolate: Contains caffeine and theobromine which are toxic to cats.
    • Cows milk: Once a kitten weans, it loses its ability to digest lactose, which is the sugar in milk and can cause abdominal discomfort.
    • Onions, chives or garlic: Members of the allium family are toxic to kittens and cats and can lead to Heinz body hemolytic anemia, which is the destruction of the red blood cells. Even a tiny amount of onion or garlic can be fatal.
    • Vegetarian or vegan diet: Cats are obligate carnivores which means they must consume meat to survive.
    • Large quantities of liver: A small amount of liver is fine for cats, but the liver contains high levels of vitamin A which is a fat-soluble vitamin, and large quantities can cause vitamin A toxicosis.
    • Tinned tuna: A small amount of tinned tuna is fine, but large quantities can cause steatitis or yellow fat disease, which is a painful condition characterised by inflammation of the fatty tissue.
    • Supplements: Only feed supplements if your veterinarian has instructed you to do so.

    Kitten not eating

    It is not unusual for a kitten in his or her new home to go off their food, but their appetite should resume quickly. If you are having trouble getting your kitten to eat, try the following:

    • Warm the food for 20-30 seconds in the microwave which will make it smell more appetising to the kitten
    • Feed something strong-smelling; canned food generally smells stronger than dry
    • Kittens can often be encouraged to eat if offered food by hand
    • If the above methods don’t work, try a small amount of tinned tuna
    • Sprinkle a small amount of grated cheddar cheese onto the food

    Seek veterinary advice if your kitten is still not eating by the following day to rule out an underlying cause.

    Frequently asked questions

    Can you overfeed a kitten?

    Between birth and twelve months, kittens are growing rapidly, and are active. It would be very difficult to overfeed a kitten during this time.

    Will kittens stop eating when full?

    Most kittens will stop eating when they are full.

    How do I know when my kitten is full?

    Unlike dogs, cats and kittens generally stop eating when he or she is full.

    Can kittens have milk?

    Most kittens become intolerant to the sugars (lactose) in milk once they have weaned. If you would like to give your kitten milk, purchase cat milk which is available from most pet shops and supermarkets, but keep it for a special treat.

    Is it okay to leave dry food out for a kitten?

    Yes, it is fine to leave dry food out for the kitten to graze on as he or she pleases.

    Can I feed my kitten treats?

    The occasional treat such as cooked chicken breast or a pinch of cheese is fine, but they should make up no more than 10% of a kitten’s diet.

    Shall I leave food out for my kitten overnight?

    Food can be left out for your kitten overnight.

    What kind of food bowl is best for a kitten?

    Stainless steel or ceramic are the best types of food bowl as they are less resistant to scratches, which can trap bacteria. Plastic food and water bowls are not recommended for cats or kittens as they can cause feline acne in some cats.

    How often should I wash my kitten’s food bowl?

    Food and water bowls should be washed daily in hot, soapy water and rinsed out to remove any traces of detergent.

    Can a kitten eat regular cat food?

    At a pinch, but kitten food is more suitable to meet the nutritional needs of a growing kitten.


    • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

      Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio