Kittens generally start the weaning process around eight weeks of age. Prior to that point, it’s really not advisable to force a kitten to eat anything other than its mother’s milk unless it’s an orphan or the mother cannot provide nursing. (In that case, you will be feeding the newborn kitten milk as per your vet’s instructions). After eight weeks of age, kittens can start the process of transitioning to kitten food and ultimately, cat food!
What Do Kittens Need to Stay Healthy?
Kittens have different nutritional needs from adult cats which is why they need different food. A major aspect is that, just like humans, kittens will gain a lot of weight very quickly. They have to in order to stay healthy!
Kittens also have a lot more energy than adult cats, so they need food that will help them both gain weight and muscle and let them keep up a high energy lifestyle. As a result, most kittens will want more meals than adults and they need quite a bit of quality protein and water.
Just like adults, kittens also need fatty acids, fats, and vitamins, but in the case of kittens, they require more amino acids and minerals to support their growth.
Because kittens burn through their food quickly and cannot eat more than a little bit at a time, young kittens usually need to be fed several times a day. Forgetting to do so can lead to a blood sugar crash which can make your kitten sick.
Transitioning to Kitten Food
When weaning your kittens from momma’s milk to kitten food, it’s a good idea to mix food with liquid and then introduce them to the taste and smell. You only want to feed them a very small amount at a time and be patient – they may not like it at first and you may have to try different foods before settling on one they will eat. Slowly start mixing solid food with fresh water over the course of a week or two until they are fully weaned.
A question that comes up for many pet owners is, how much food should I be feeding my kitten? Well, the answers will vary slightly depending on the breed of your cat and its activity levels, but generally speaking, you’re looking at about four ounces of wet food per day, split over four to five servings.
In other words, you don’t want a kitten to have more than an ounce per meal. Any more than that and you can cause your kitten to have an upset tummy. Any less than that and your kitten can easily crash into a low blood sugar area, so make sure to evenly spread it out.
After about three months of age, kittens can get more food per meal and fewer meals throughout the day. This is about the point when kittens can be fed with some dry food, though many people will stick with the wet food anyway because it’s hydrating and lower in carbohydrates. At this point, you can feed a kitten three times a day. After seven months of age, most kittens will eat about twice a day and manage about 100 to 150 grams per serving.
A final note: your kitten should be eating high quality canned wet food for at least the first month after weaning. Dry food can cause problems for a kitten’s digestion, may not have all the nutrients they need to grow, and could even be a choking hazard, especially for younger kittens that don’t yet have the teeth required to manage the kibble. Many vets and cat owners will stay with the wet food until a kitten is at least six to seven months of age and then slowly add kibble to the wet food until their kitten is accustomed to it.
How Long Should Kittens Be On Kitten Food?
Kittens should be on kitten food until they are about a year of age. After that, you want to ensure that you choose quality cat food with plenty of protein, arginine, and taurine to give them the best healthy adult life possible.
An important part of understanding your kitten’s dietary needs is to keep their weight in mind. Vets will often use their weight to decide how much food your kitten will need. It’s also important to keep this in mind for the number of times you need to feed: smaller kittens need more meals spaced out over the day while larger ones can probably handle fewer, but larger meals.
Breed matters too – while most cats are ready to move to adult food after one year of age, some of the larger breeds like Maine Coons and Rag-dolls might need kitten food until they are eighteen months because they are still growing after one year.
This nice chart, courtesy of pet-central.chewy.com gives a breakdown of how many calories a kitten needs, based on their weight. As you can see, there’s a definite jump between two and nine pounds! This coincides with roughly two to six months of age when kittens do most of their growing.
|Kitten’s Weight||Average Caloric Intake|
|4 oz (0.1 kg)||31 kcal / day||8 oz (0.2 kg)||52 kcal / day||12 oz (0.3 kg)||88 kcal / day||1 lb (0.4 kg)||104 kcal / day||2 lb (0.9 kg)||162 kcal / day||3 lbs (1.4 kg)||225 kcal / day||4 lbs (1.8 kg)||272 kcal / day||5 lbs (2.3 kg)||327 kcal / day||6 lbs (2.7 kg)||369 kcal / day||7 lbs (3.2 kg)||419 kcal / day||8 lbs (3.6 kg)||457 kcal / day||9 lbs (4.1 kg)||504 kcal / day||10 lbs (4.5 kg)||541 kcal / day|
It can be pretty stressful to feed a kitten, much like trying to keep a human baby fed! Knowing how much to feed, what to feed, and when to feed is enough to make many pet owners feel on a knife-edge until their kitten hits the one-year birthday. But stay consistent with your feeding, be patient (many kittens will try to reject your food at least some of the time!), and keep monitoring your kitten’s weight. Your little ball of fluff will be a fully adult and healthy cat in no time.