Looking after a young kitten can be a challenging task, especially when it comes to ensuring the kitten is properly fed. However, starting at around the four-week mark, kittens are encouraged to stop suckling or bottle feeding and to start eating different kinds of food. This is sometimes referred to as the weaning stage, and although some bottle feeding may still be needed, it is the phase where cats start to eat solids for the first time.
So what does a four-week old kitten eat? Primarily, your kitten should be fed a gruel mixture, made by mixing either wet or dry kitten food with some kitten milk replacement formula and warm water. This should be given several times a day and may need to be supplemented with formula feeding.
In addition to understanding what a four-week old kitten eats, you likely have several other questions: How often should your kitten eat? How many calories does your kitten need? What can you do to encourage your kitten to eat if it is unwilling? And how exactly do you make the ideal gruel mixture, to ensure your kitten transitions to solid foods? I will strive to answer each of these questions, and also offer some extra advice along the way.
What Do Four Week Old Kittens Eat?
For the first three weeks of a kitten’s life, it will get all of the nutrients it needs from either its mother or from being bottle fed using a kitten milk replacement formula. Yet, from around four weeks on, your kitten will enter the weaning stage, where he or she begins the transition towards eating solid foods. At this point, your kitten will be growing rapidly and its mother’s milk, or a replacement formula, will no longer be enough on its own.
However, this transition is not always smooth for kittens and I would recommend you make it easier by combining kitten food with formula and a small amount of warm water. This combination is commonly referred to as “gruel” and can be made using either high-quality wet kitten food or dry kitten food. I would personally recommend using wet kitten food, as it is quicker and easier to turn into gruel, but dry food can work perfectly well.
It is also important that the gruel is supplemented with some level of bottle feeding, using milk replacement formula. This will help to ensure that your kitten is getting all of the nutrients it needs, especially if he or she is not consistently eating the gruel mix provided. Bottle feeding should take place around three times a day, with the recommended interval between these feeding sessions being approximately eight hours.
You are likely wondering how much food your four-week old kitten actually needs. At that age, kittens require somewhere in the region of eight calories per ounce of body weight, per day. You can check both your kitten food and your formula to try to provide the right amount, but this is not necessarily the best method.
Indeed, at this age, your kitten’s stomach is small, meaning it cannot eat large quantities at once, but it needs to eat fairly regularly. For this reason, many kitten nutrition experts recommend allowing your kitten to feed in a more relaxed fashion, whenever it likes. The common fear here is that it will over-indulge, but in actual fact, kittens are unlikely to eat too much if they know they have a constant source of food available to them.
The key benefit of this method is that it will ensure your kitten is getting enough food. This approach will, however, require you to keep food constantly available. You might wish to leave a bowl out for it at all times and keep replenishing it, or you might even opt to fill several bowls and place them in different locations around the house.
How to Create the Kitten Gruel Mixture
Your next question may be: how do I make a kitten gruel mixture? Especially when it needs to be suitable for a four-week old kitten, and also maximise the chances of the kitten successfully transitioning from bottle feeding or suckling, towards eating solid foods. In my experience, while there are some best practices that are worth following, you also have some freedom too. For a start, you can generally use the kitten food of your choice.
For wet kitten food, you can make fairly sizeable batches of gruel. For every can or tin of wet kitten food, you want to add around half a tin’s worth of formula. If you are using dry food, the best approach is to add small amounts of formula to the dry food, mix it, let it sit for a while and then add a little more. A small amount of warm water can also help. You should be aiming to get the gruel to around the same sort of consistency as oatmeal.
At the four week mark, anything that provides even a small advantage for encouraging a kitten to eat solid foods in place of formula or its mother’s milk is worth considering. For this reason, to begin with, I would recommend that you serve your kitten its gruel on a flat dish, as this will make it easier for the kitten to access it.
The gruel mixture is a much easier adjustment for a kitten than switching straight to either wet or dry kitten food on its own. Yet, making that full transition is the ultimate aim, so starting from the five-week mark onwards, you should gradually make the gruel thicker by using less water and formula in the mixture.
Encouraging Your Kitten to Eat
Even if you make the ideal gruel mixture and make it easily accessible, there is a reasonable chance you will experience difficulties weaning your four-week old kitten off of formula. It is imperative that you continue to provide formula around three times a day for a kitten that is not eating sufficiently. Nevertheless, there are also some basic tips I can offer in order to encourage your kitten to eat the gruel mixture.
Crucially, when it comes to food, kittens have instincts that can be traced back to before they were ever domesticated. In the wild, cats are extremely sensitive about food that could be ‘bad’ or which could harm them in any way. This makes it essential that you serve the gruel at room temperature. It is also important that you wash your hands thoroughly before creating the gruel mix, and that you use a clean dish or bowl.
This instinct for hygiene will also prevent your kitten from wanting to eat near its litter box. If you are attempting to feed your kitten and you have placed the bowl close to the litter box, try moving it to a new location, so that the kitten sees a clear distinction between where it eats and where it goes to the toilet.
If you continue to experience difficulties, one tip is to try to feet your kitten by hand. To do this, ensure your hands are clean and then place a small amount of the gruel on your finger. Then, hold your finger near its mouth and see if it will take some. You might also want to try using a small spoon instead of your finger. Once your kitten tries the gruel, try to lead him or her towards the bowl containing the rest of it.
Things to Avoid When Feeding Your Kitten
Finally, kittens have very delicate digestive systems and their tongues are also extremely sensitive, which means there are certain things you should avoid entirely when feeding your kitten. Firstly, it is critical that you avoid the wrong milk replacement formula. You should be able to find milk replacement formula that has been specifically designed for kittens from most good pet stores and even many supermarkets.
One common misapprehension is that cat milk or milk replacement formula can be substituted for cow’s milk. However, it is actually completely unsuitable, for a whole host of reasons. Firstly, it can lead to gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhoea, which can be extremely dangerous (and even fatal) for a kitten at four weeks of age. Secondly, it does not provide the right nutritional value for a kitten either, leading to gradual malnourishment.
After you start your kitten on the gruel mix, it is best to avoid making changes to the type of kitten food you are using within the mix. So, if you begin with wet food, continue with wet food, and if you start your kitten off on dry food, stick with that. Where possible, you should try to keep to the same brand for a while too.
Try not to make any major changes to the food during the early weeks and months of your kitten’s life. Not only can big changes potentially disrupt any progress made with the weaning process itself, but your kitten is also likely to have a very sensitive stomach and sudden changes to food can lead to stomach upsets and other problems. You should also ensure your kitten has access to clean water and make sure this water is free from additives.