Kittenhood is a very special time for a cat and her guardian. She’s growing up fast, her weight doubling or even tripling in the first few weeks of her life. This rapid development requires very careful feeding in order to support your kitten’s growth. Without the right food — and enough of it — kittens can rapidly fall prey to nutritional deficiencies. While most breeders won’t hand over a kitten before the 12th week, there are circumstances where you may find yourself with very young kittens in your care. If you do, you’ll need to pay special attention to their nutrition to give them the proper start in life.
How much should a kitten eat? The exact answer will depend on the kitten’s stage of development as their needs change rapidly over the first few weeks of life. In general, kittens need to be fed frequently throughout the day. The frequency can decrease as the kitten gets older.
You’ve found this page because you have, or soon will have, a young kitten in your home. You probably have lots of questions.
- How often do kittens need to eat?
- Can kittens become overweight?
- Can I bottle-feed a kitten?
- When should I start weaning my kitten?
- Can kittens eat dry kibble?
- Do I need to buy specialised kitten food?
- How much should a 12-week old kitten eat?
Luckily, you’ve come to the right place. We have all the answers you’re looking for and more. Read on to find out everything you need to know about feeding a kitten for the first ten weeks of life.
How much should a kitten eat?
Kittens grow fast and need lots of food. Their needs will change rapidly as they grow Newborn kittens need to nurse every two to three hours, while a ten-week-old kitten needs a helping of the appropriate solid wet food at least four times a day. Before they’re fully weaned, your kittens should be with their mother; she will provide the milk they need as well as care and socialisation.
While it’s possible to bottle-rear kittens, their mother is the best possible carer for them. I really can’t stress enough how important this is. If you deliberately separate kittens from their mother before they’re weaned, you will dramatically impair their chances of a healthy kittenhood and might even cause their deaths.
Sadly, circumstances don’t always permit kittens to stay with their mother. Ill-health or the death of the mother cat is always a possibility, as is rejection and abandonment. If you do find yourself looking after very young kittens, bottle-feeding is a possibility. It’s tricky and you’ll need to be very careful; ideally, you should hand off the babies to an experienced foster carer until they are big enough to eat solid food.
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If you really have no other option but to try and hand-rear the very smallest kittens, talk to your vet immediately and get as much advice as you can. Your vet may be able to recommend (and even provide) a kitten feeding bottle. This is a graduated bottle with a teat that the kitten can suck on. You should be able to upturn the bottle and see the milk drip slowly out of the teat, a drop at a time. The first time you use it, a teat may not be large enough; you can enlarge the hole with a sterilised needle.
Kittens must on no account be fed cow’s milk as they can’t digest it properly. They need a specific kitten formula which you can buy from pet supply stores or your vet. There are various recipes for home-made kitten formula circulating online, some of them better than others; again, you should talk to your vet about any recipe you wish to use. Bottle babies are very delicate and vulnerable to infections so you must take great care to sterilise their bottles. A kitten needs roughly 8 ml of formula per 28 g of body weight per day; you will want to aim for around a tablespoon (15 ml) of formula every two or three hours. Each of those meals is going to take about 45 minutes so buckle in for a long, hard slog.
Young kittens cannot regulate their body temperatures. When you feed them, you must be very careful to keep them warm. Between feeds, they should be in a kitty carrier with a heating pad and warm, clean bedding. Change the bedding at least once a day and check it for messes every hour or so. If the kittens foul the bedding, change it right away. When feeding the kittens, you should ideally wear gloves and a robe that you only put on for feeds. This will prevent any spread of disease. Keep your clothing clean, laundering daily. Clothing and bedding must be washed separately from your household laundry.
Very young kittens need to be stimulated to produce urine or faeces after a feed. Gently wipe their hindquarters with a wet cloth until they do, preferably over a sink.
Hand-feeding very young kittens is a very challenging task. If you can’t arrange foster care four your bottle babies, get as much information and support as you possibly can.
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How much should a 2-week old kitten eat?
Kittens between the ages of two and three weeks still need to be fed every 2-3 hours. If the kittens are with their mother, you can check whether they’re getting enough food by monitoring their weight.
If you’re bottle-feeding, aim for a full tablespoon at each feed. If that’s not possible, you should at least make sure your kitten gets at least half a tablespoon of formula or milk at every meal. Keep the ratio “8 ml of formula per 28 g of body weight per day” in mind when planning the kitten’s meals. You don’t need to worry about them getting too many calories — I have never seen a fat kitten — but if you go too fast with a feed you can make your kitten sick. It’s hard work but be patient and take your time.
Kittens at this stage are starting to develop and grow but they are still tiny and very vulnerable. Continue to keep them in their carrier between feedings, with their heating pad and clean bedding. After every feed, you will still need to give your kittens a wash: they will tend to get formula on themselves and may produce urine or faeces. Water needs to be warm but not hot as kittens are very sensitive at this age. Once they’re clean, dry your kittens thoroughly but gently as they can easily lose heat through their wet fur.
Your kittens should gain weight very rapidly in the first two weeks of life. By the second week, your kittens should weigh something in the region of 280 g (10 oz). Their eyes should be opening and they should be starting to stand up by themselves. They are still very helpless and can’t really walk, although they may wriggle around much more. If any of your kittens are not gaining weight and showing increased levels of activity, seek medical attention for them.
How much should a 3-week old kitten eat?
Three-week-old kittens are still growing fast and need feeding at least once every three hours. If you’re bottle-feeding, you should notice that they’re becoming better able to take their formula and will want to drink a bit more. Keep aiming for a tablespoon every feed. Remember that your kitten is developing very rapidly and needs plenty of food. Be alert for any kitten who doesn’t take at least half a tablespoon of food per meal as this can be a sign that something is wrong. You may simply need to spend more time feeding that particular kitten or there may be a health issue.
Once your kittens reach 3 weeks old, they will be noticeably more mobile. All the kittens should be standing up by now and starting to interact more with their environment and their litter-mates. The kittens may groom each other and you might notice behaviours such as ear-biting and suckling on each other’s fur. This is normal and usually harmless but you should keep an eye out for any scrapes, scratches or areas where the fur is getting thin. If you do see repeated injuries, you might need to separate the kittens for a while. It’s good to let the kittens play together as much as possible; they need this time to socialise and learn to get along with other cats.
Whether the kittens are with their mother or being bottle-fed, keep weighing your kittens regularly. If they don’t appear to be gaining weight, have them checked out by a vet. Be alert for any sign that your kittens are not thriving. Their eyes should be open and bright, they should be vocalizing and becoming fairly curious about the world around them. Kittens who appear lethargic and less lively than their litter-mates may need attention from a vet.
You can start litter-training between three and four weeks.
How much should a 4-week old kitten eat?
As kittens get a little bigger, they can take on more food and don’t need to feed as frequently. Your four-week-old kitten should get a couple of tablespoons of formula per meal (around 30 ml); this amount can be gradually increased. You can also start providing the kittens with a bowl of formula to feed on by themselves. Make sure to remove the bowl after an hour or so or sooner if you notice that fur or debris has fallen into the milk.
Between three and four weeks, you may begin offering small amounts of solid food to your kittens. Normally I am sceptical of kitten foods; most people get their kittens at 12 weeks or up, at which age they may just as well eat adult food. For very young kittens, however, kitten food is a real boon. The good brands are formulated to meet a tiny kitten’s nutritional requirements. At four weeks a kitten’s teeth are underdeveloped and dry food is not recommended. I like wet food in small pouches so you can dole out a very small blob and keep the rest refrigerated for later. I’m a fan of the Royal Canin kitten food sachets but there are lots of other good brands out there. Try half a teaspoon of food now and then, along with their regular nursing or bottle feeding. It’s also fine to offer your kittens a little baby food, as long as you choose a brand with no salt, onions or garlic in the recipe. This solid food should initially be mixed into a sort of soup with formula or water. Unfortunately, this will get rather messy.
At four weeks you can drop the number of feeds from once every two to three hours down to four or five feeds per day, as long as your kittens are taking between two and three tablespoons per feed.
How much should a 5-week old kitten eat?
By five weeks old, your kittens should weigh around 400-450 g (14 to 16 oz). The extra body-weight and larger stomach size mean that your kittens should also get bigger meals — around 45 ml (three tablespoons) per bottle feed. You can safely feed your kittens four times a day at this point; by the end of the fifth week, your kittens should be down to three bottle feeds (much to most foster parents’ relief). Make a bowl of kitten formula available to encourage independent feeding and boost the amount of solid food your kitten is getting. You can also reduce the amount of fluid you mix with the food so it’s a bit chunkier. Kittens should be getting more food from the bowl than from nursing at this age.
Your kittens are now definitely more lively and active, playing and exploring more. Litter-box training should be progressing well, although there are bound to be accidents.
How much should a 6-week old kitten eat?
Six-week-old kittens are mobile, bright and curious. Make sure to provide plenty of play and socialisation. They need engaging toys and lots of love and entertainment.
By this age, you should need to bottle-feed much less frequently. Kittens should be getting solid food four times a day (offer a tablespoon of solid food per kitten, mashed well with water, and remove what’s left after an hour). You can continue reducing the amount of water or formula you mix with the food, too. This is also a good time to start offering small amounts of dry kitten food. I vastly prefer wet to dry food for a number of reasons but one dry food meal per day will help keep your kittens’ teeth in good shape.
Check that your kittens are still gaining weight on schedule. Because they need so much extra nutrition at this stage, you should monitor their weight gain to ensure that they’re getting enough of what they require. Be aware that kittens can have growth spurts where their nutritional needs will increase. If they fuss for food, feed them. Adult cats can develop problems with obesity if overfed but small kittens never do. They’ll burn through everything you give them.
By the end of the sixth week, your kittens should be enjoying at least three hearty meals of food mashed with a very little formula or water. Continue to allow them to nurse from their mother or feed them with the bottle from time to time if they still show an interest but encourage the kittens to try more solid foods. Provide bowls of water and let your kittens free-feed from a small dish of dry food. Food needs to be plentiful so that your kittens do not become food-aggressive and get into spats. If you see squabbling or fighting, provide an extra food dish.
During the next couple of weeks, you may see the mother cat becoming more reluctant to let the kittens nurse. Don’t let them bother her too much as she can become aggressive towards persistent kittens. If you see her hissing or kicking at the kittens, it may be time to separate them at least some of the time to give her a break.
Don’t forget to take your babies for their first vaccinations at 8 weeks. You could also consider having your kittens de-sexed (spayed/neutered) at around this age depending on Vet advise.
How much should a 10-week old kitten eat?
Between six and ten weeks, your kittens will develop very rapidly and go through a number of changes. You will need to feed them at least three times a day. They can now eat kitten food without the need to mash it with water or formula and they no longer need to be nursed or bottle-fed. It’s fine for each kitten to eat 400 g (14 oz) of wet food per day; some may eat more. As long as they are not making themselves sick you still don’t need to worry about them overheating. Because their immune systems are still developing, you need to ensure they don’t eat stale food; serve small portions and dispose of uneaten wet food after an hour. They can still free-feed from a dish of kibble.
This is an exciting time for a kitten owner, as the young cats are lively and playful. At 10 weeks your kittens are interested in everything and are developing new skills all the time. They should be properly litter-box trained by now, with few or no accidents. This is a good age to make sure your kittens develop the habits you want them to maintain into adulthood, such as using a scratching post instead of your furnishings. It’s also the perfect age to get them used to procedures like having their claws trimmed, or training them to enjoy walks in a harness and lead.
Kittens of this age should still be with their mother, if possible. They won’t be nursing but she can provide vital care for the young cats as they grow.
How much should a 12 week (3 months) old kitten eat?
These strapping youngsters are now fully weaned. How much should a 3 months old kitten eat? Well, as much as they want! They should continue to be fed 400 g of wet food three or four times per day (more is fine) and allowed to snack on kibble if they want. At this age, I would start to transition them off kitten food and onto adult cat food. This isn’t completely necessary but it helps to ensure that they don’t get hung up on eating kitten food when they’re older and their metabolisms have slowed down.
The most important consideration now is that the food is high in protein and, ideally, grain-free. Choose quality wet food with named animal ingredients (no chicken-flavoured starch and bulking agents, please). With adult food, I like to mash it a little with the tines of a fork so the chunks are the right size for tiny kitten mouths. You no longer need to dilute the food, although it is sometimes wise to do so in hot weather since cats are prone to dehydration.
At 12 weeks, I would also think about offering the kittens a water fountain. They may still be a little too small to use one but it’s never too early to get them used to the idea. Water fountains are great for cats and go a long way to offset their tendency not to drink enough.
How much should a 4 months old kitten eat?
The kittens are now well on the way to being full-grown cats but they are still developing. You can continue feeding each kitten three to four meals, totalling around 400 g of wet food with kibble for snacks. Your kittens are still bundles of activity at this age so they will burn off any additional calories.
Alongside your kitten’s regular food, it’s fine to give a few treats as part of your cat’s training regimen (although you shouldn’t overdo this). For reward purposes, I like to offer half of a Dreamies treat or a small dollop of chicken baby food. Kittens of this age may also enjoy a little pinch of catnip now and then.
It’s important to make sure that your kittens’ environment is rich and stimulating as they approach adulthood. They are probably skilled enough now to enjoy puzzle toys such as treat balls, and also big enough to climb a kitty tree or habitat. At four months, you may need to look at up-sizing some of your kitten equipment to accommodate your pets’ growth. Remember that scratching posts need to be half-again as tall as your kitten and litter-boxes half-again as long (from nose to the base of the tail). Your kittens are probably becoming more territorial so make sure everyone has an individual litter-box and a bolthole where they can avoid aggression from the others.
How much should a 6 months old kitten eat?
By six months, you can begin reducing the number of meals your kitten eats from 3-4 to 2-4, depending on how large and how active your cat is. You should still feed at least 400-500 g of good quality wet food, giving more food to larger kittens. You can reduce the amount of dry kibble you offer, using it more for treats or rewards than as regular food. At this age, you still don’t need to worry about obesity in your pet. If your kitten is one of those babies with “hollow legs” and you find them wolfing down all the food you put out only to cry for more, break their food up into smaller meals. Some kittens eat more moderately than others.
Although it has its advantages (it’s less expensive, can be left out in the dish without spoiling, etc) I don’t really like to give my cats and kittens dry food as a staple. For one thing, the composition is usually inferior; dry food tends to be heavy on grain, soy and other plant ingredients, which aren’t great for cats. Dry food also contributes no fluid to your pet’s diet, which is a problem. Cats of all ages can develop UTIs and kidney problems if they don’t get enough fluid, which many do not; this problem is even more severe in young kittens, who are much more vulnerable to health issues generally. Now that your kittens are weaned, ensuring that they get enough liquid in their diets is a concern.
How much should a 9 months old kitten eat?
At nine months, your kitten is still rumbustious and won’t have settled into the sedentary habits that can lead to overweight. Continue to feed 400 g for small kittens and up to 500 g for larger breeds, dividing this up into two to four meals depending on your kittens’ eating habits. Many people believe that kittens and cats never overfeed; however, this is not entirely true. Kittens may not become overweight but they can certainly overeat, leading to gastric distress and nausea. Some outgrow it as they get older and learn that eating too fast makes their tummies hurt but not every kitten makes the connection.
If your kitten has this habit and still hasn’t outgrown it at nine months, you may need to take additional steps. For overly rapid eaters, I like to use a slow feeding bowl. This is a specially shaped feeding bowl with raised sections and wells for the food. Mash the wet food into the wells so that your kitten has to work around the raised areas in order to eat it. This allows the sensation of fullness to kick in before all the food is gone. I’ve found this sort of device very useful for preventing that annoying situation where your kitten eats an entire helping of food in a few seconds, throws up, and then begs for more food. The only problem with slow feeding bowls is that they need to be carefully hand-washed, as stale food can get trapped in the wells. I find the flexible silicone models easiest to cleanout.
How much should a 10 months old kitten eat?
Continue to give your kitten 400-500 g of good quality wet food per day, although if your kittens come from a naturally hefty breed they may need more. It’s a good idea to check the nutritional advice on the packet to see what the manufacturers recommend. The better quality brands often have a chart suggesting how much a cat should be fed per unit of body-weight, adjusted for the cat’s age. This will help you adjust their diet as they grow out of kitten-hood and their caloric needs decrease.
At ten months old, your kittens are very nearly cats. They are probably at around 80 or 90 per cent of their full adult size, although some breeds will carry on growing for another two or even three years. This is sometimes the “awkward teen” stage of a kitten’s development, with considerable lengthening of the bones but not enough commensurate muscle growth to prevent them from looking gangling and lanky. Male kittens from large breeds are especially prone to this. As long as your awkward teens are still hitting their milestones, don’t be concerned — they will outgrow this stage just like human teenagers do.
You may notice that your kittens are becoming a little less active than they were a month or two ago. This is a normal part of kitty development but they should not become overly lethargic. If they’re not enjoying life, check with the family vet in case there’s a health issue that needs to be addressed. In general, kittens do get a touch lazier as their first birthday rolls around, although some breeds remain playful well into their senior years.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.