How to Feed Kittens

Three Parts:Choosing Healthy FoodStarting a Feeding RoutineFeeding a Stray Kitten

Kittens double or triple their weight during the first few weeks of life. To grow at a steady pace, they need food that contains the right balance of protein, vitamins and minerals. If your kitten is still nursing, you'll need to help her make the transition from milk to solid foods. Making sure you meet your kitten's dietary needs will enable her to grow into a strong, healthy cat.

Part 1
Choosing Healthy Food

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    Get kitten milk replacement formula if your kitten is under a month old. During the first few weeks after birth, kittens get all their essential nutrients from their mothers' milk. A kitten one month old or younger is unable to digest or excrete solid food. If you have a kitten who has not yet been weaned (the process of changing from milk to solid food) you'll need a product called kitten milk replacement to help your kitten make the transition.
    • If your kitten's mother is part of your household, she will provide all the milk your kitten needs. Having milk replacement on hand can still be convenient when you need to start getting the kitten used to solid foods. You can mix the milk replacement with solids to soften their texture a little.
    • If your kitten is still very young and has already been taken away from her mother, you will need to bottle-feed the kitten until she's old enough to eat solid foods. It is essential that you get kitten milk replacement to meet her nutritional needs. Cow milk is not a good substitute.
    • Call a veterinarian and ask for kitten formula recommendations. The formula typically comes in powdered form that you mix with water. Top brands include PetAg KMR® Powder and Farnam Pet Products Just Born® Highly Digestible Milk Replacer for Kittens.[1]
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    Buy solid food formulated especially for kittens. If your kitten is over four weeks old, it's time to start feeding her solids. It is important to choose food made for kittens, not cats. Since kittens grow so quickly in the first few months of their lives, they have different nutritional needs than cats. Feeding a kitten cat food will result in the kitten becoming weak or sick.
    • Kitten food is usually labeled with terms like "kitten formula" or "kitten growth formula" to help you distinguish it from cat food.
    • The ASPCA recommends feeding a kitten special kitten food until she reaches the age of one year old. At that time, you may switch to regular cat food.[2]
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    Pick a high quality brand. Most veterinarians don't recommend buying generic or store-brand pet foods. It's better to buy a quality brand of kitten food that comes highly recommended, because the effectiveness of name brands is usually backed by research. If you're not sure what brand to choose, call a veterinarian and ask.[3]
    • Check the packaging for this statement: "Meets the nutritional requirements of kittens established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)." Avoid brands that don't carry this statement.
    • You can also look for this statement. It is found on the highest-quality products: “Complete and balanced nutrition for kittens based on AAFCO feeding trials.”
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    Choose both dry and canned food. Since kittens aren't able to chew as well as full-grown cats, they need soft food in addition to dry. Both canned and dry foods should be formulated especially for kittens, not cats. For canned foods, make sure to check the expiration date and avoid buying dented or damaged cans.[4]
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    Feed the kitten occasional "people food" snacks. Kittens need fat, fatty acids, calcium, protein, and many other nutrients to grow healthy and strong. Kitten food meets these requirements, so it should make up the majority of your kitten's food intake. If you want to feed your kitten extra treats, they should make up no more than 10 percent of your kitten's total calorie intake. Cooked slices of meat, chicken or fish are usually fine choices. Avoid feeding your kitten the following:[5]
    • Raw meat, eggs, or fish, which may contain parasites or harmful bacteria
    • Milk or cream, which can cause diarrhea
    • Onions, garlic, chocolate, coffee, tea, raisins, and grapes, which are toxic to cats

Part 2
Starting a Feeding Routine

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    Have the kitten drink milk or milk replacement for the first four weeks. Kittens who are not weaned need a milk-only diet. Don't try to introduce solids until the kitten is over four weeks old. If the kitten is still with her mother, the mother will everything necessary to make sure she's getting the milk she needs. If the mother is not there, you will need to bottle feed the kitten. To bottle-feed a kitten, follow these steps:
    • Kittens under four weeks old must be fed every three hours around the clock (including at night). Purchase kitten milk replacement formula and a bottle designed for feeding a kitten. These are available at your vet's office or a pet store.
    • Sterilize the bottle and nipple by boiling them in water for five minutes and allowing them to fully dry.
    • Mix the formula according to the manufacturer's instructions.[6] Warm it up in a pan on the stove to reach 95 to 100 degrees F. Test a drop on your wrist to make sure it isn't too hot or cold.[7]
    • Place the nipple in the kitten's mouth. Let the kitten drink until full.
    • Kittens this young can't urinate or defecate on their own. You must stimulate the kitten's genitals by turning the kitten on her side and rubbing her genitals in one direction until no more urine comes out.[8] This must be done a few minutes after every feeding.
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    Wean the kitten and introduce solids. When a kitten is ready to wean, she will begin biting at her mother's nipple or the nipple on the bottle you use to feed her. This usually happens when she is about four weeks old. At this time, you can begin introducing solids to her diet.[9]
    • Place a small amount of food in a food dish for the kitten. If the kitten doesn't seem ready to chew the food, mix in a few tablespoons of milk replacement formula or water to soften the food.
    • Leave solid food out at all times (replacing at least once a day with fresh food) so the kitten has time to approach the food when she wants to.
    • Gradually reduce the amount of milk offered as you increase the amount of solids offered. The pace at which a kitten is weaned is different for each kitten. Be patient and monitor how much solid food she eats. If she isn't with her mother, offer milk replacement formula until she starts refusing the bottle.
    • By seven weeks, most kittens will be ready for a solids-only diet.
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    Leave food out at all times. Kittens like to eat small portions of food often throughout the day. While it's possible to enforce a feeding schedule, it's not necessary to do so until your kitten is fully grown. Leave a dish of dry food and a dish of canned food out for your kitten to snack on whenever she wants. Be sure to replace uneaten food with fresh food once a day.[10]
    • Don't forget to leave out a dish of water at all times, too.
    • At this point you can introduce occasional treats, such as slices of cooked chicken. Be sure treats make up less than 10 percent of the kitten's calorie intake.
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    Watch your kitten's energy level and weight. If your kitten seems low energy, is gaining too much weight or seems to thin, there may be a problem with the food. It's important to pay attention to signs that your kitten may not be getting the nutrition she needs.[11]
    • If your kitten seems to dislike her food, and rarely eats it, she might not like the taste. Try switching to another flavor or brand.
    • If your kitten won't eat, or if she eats too much and becomes obese, make an appointment with the veterinarian to assess the problem.
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    Switch to a feeding schedule after one year. When your kitten turns one year old, she's ready for adult cat food and an adult feeding schedule. Begin offering food twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. During other times of day, remove the food and offer water only. This will keep your cat healthy and prevent her from becoming obese.[12]

Part 3
Feeding a Stray Kitten

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    Think twice before moving a stray kitten. If you see a stray kitten, your first impulse might be to scoop her up and take her inside to keep her safe. A young kitten's best chance for survival is staying close to her mother, who can provide her with nourishing food and protection. Instead of taking the kitten inside right away, wait and see if the mother is still nearby.
    • Keep an eye on the kitten for the next several hours to see if the mother returns. If you need to move the kitten, move her to a safe area that's not too far from where you originally found her.
    • If the mother returns, you can offer her food and outdoor shelter so she can safely nurse her kitten (or kittens, as the case may be). After the kitten is weaned, you can consider adopting her. See How to Adopt a Stray Cat for more information.
    • If the mother does not return, you'll need to take steps to rescue the kitten.
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    Take the kitten to the vet. The vet will help you determine whether the kitten is still nursing, as well as assessing the kitten's overall health. It's important to take the kitten to the vet before you take her into your home. Have her checked for fleas and ticks before bringing her home.
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    Bottle-feed the kitten if necessary. If the vet has determined that the kitten is still young enough to nurse, you'll need to bottle-feed the kitten until she's ready for solid foods. You'll be able to get the instructions, equipment and milk substitute you need from the vet's office or a recommended pet supply store. Keep the following general guidelines in mind:
    • Kittens under four weeks old must be fed every three hours around the clock (including at night). Feed the kitten milk replacement formula from a bottle. [13]
    • Kittens this young can't urinate or defecate on their own. You must stimulate the kitten's genitals by turning the kitten on her side and rubbing her genitals in one direction until no more urine comes out.[14] Do this a few minutes after every feeding.
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    Introduce solids and wean the kitten. When the kitten is over four weeks old, she's ready for solid food. Be sure to provide high-quality kitten food, both dry and canned, as you wean the kitten from her milk-only diet. Leave food out at all times so the kitten can eat at her leisure, and always provide fresh water as well. Do not provide adult cat food until the kitten is over a year old.


  • Don't give kittens cows milk, as it's not good for them. Instead buy kitten milk.
  • Don't feed kittens adult cat food.

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Categories: Feeding Cats