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21.01.2022

What do kittens eat? Kitten feeding 101

There’s no better feeling than fostering a kitten or getting a new furry family member. The beginning of your cat parenting journey can be scary, especially if you don’t have prior experience with kittens, so we're here to offer practical tips and tricks for raising a kitten!

The staple of happy and healthy kittenhood is a complete and well-balanced diet, but what does it entail?

This comprehensive guide will present:

  • All types of kitten food
  • Signs of an inadequate kitten diet
  • Characteristics of quality kitten food
  • A complete kitten feeding timeline (plus weight chart)
  • Tips and tricks on feeding fussy kittens

What should your kitten eat and drink?

Your kitten’s menu changes as they grow and should include (in this order):

  1. Mother’s milk or kitten milk replacer (KMR)
  2. Wet food
  3. Wet food and moistened dry food (optional)

We’ll present the right timing to switch from one food to another and ways to recognise quality products on the market.

Frequently asked questions about kitten food

First-time cat parents have millions of questions, so let's delve into them to help you stress less and enjoy watching your kitten grow.

What’s the first food for kittens?

Nursing kittens should feed on their mother’s milk, but foster and orphaned kittens must rely on kitten milk replacers (KMRs). KMRs are artificial formulas imitating the nutritional value of a lactating queen's milk.

It’s easy to mistake KMR with a product called cat milk—a type of complementary food for adult cats—so double-check that the formula you’re using is for kittens.

Until your kitty grows their first teeth, solids are off the table.

When is it time for wet food?

You’ll know it’s time to gradually introduce solids to your kitten’s menu when they:

  • Grow canines and incisors
  • Become curious about your or their mother’s food
  • Start walking stable on all fours with their tail up
  • Begin to play with surrounding objects 

How to transition to solid food

The final stage of weaning includes mixing KMR with wet cat food (jelly and gravy cat food).

When your kitten completes the weaning process, they will be able to munch on wet food and moistened dry food. Feeding your kitten only dry food is not nutritionally adequate as it lacks the much needed moisture. The lack of moisture can lead to cystitis, struvite crystals, kidney problems, and urinary tract infections. Dry food usually has a higher calorie content than wet food, which can lead to obesity and other weight issues.

Insufficient moisture can be levelled out by adding water, soup, or broth to cat biscuits.

Can kittens eat raw food?

Raw food is a controversial topic in cat nutrition. It’s risky to include raw meat in your cat’s diet because it requires special preparation and storage procedures. 

Specialists claim that you shouldn’t include raw meat before your kitten turns 20 weeks old even with your vet’s approval. Even then, raw food can’t compare to the fresh prey wild cats catch and eat immediately. 

Raw food, such as chicken, eggs, or other B.A.R.F. products can contain harmful bacteria and should never be a part of your kitten’s diet.

Never feed your cat tiny bones because they are a choking hazard and may cause internal injuries once swallowed. You should also avoid offering your cat large raw bones because they can crack their teeth. Clear bone broth is the best way to spice up your kitten's diet and provide the necessary nutrients without any dangerous side effects.

Human, do you mind? It’s lunchtime!

Source: Pexels

Kitten feeding chart and timeline

Kittens grow quickly, and their nutritional needs and eating habits change accordingly. 

If you’re unsure which food you should opt for and how often you should feed your kitten, the following table offers the details:

Age

First week

Second week

Third week

Fourth week

Fifth week

Weeks five to eight

Food

Kitten milk replacer (KMR)

KMR plus solids (more KMR than solids)

Transition to solids (more solids than KMR)

Amount

2–6 ml

6–10 ml

10–14 ml

14–18 ml

18–22 ml

60 calories per 450 g of body weight

Frequency

Every two hours

Every 2–3 hours

Every 3–4 hours

Every 4–5 hours

Every 5–6 hours

Every six hours

Approx. kitten weight

50–150 g

150–250 g

250–350 g

350–450 g

450–550 g

550–850 g

Keep in mind that no feeding or weight chart is 100% accurate. 

Your kitten’s daily food intake will depend on many factors, such as their:

  • Breed—Large kittens, like Maine Coons or Ragdolls, have different needs from Persian or Siamese babies
  • Activity levels—The more active a kitten is, the more food they need, and the same applies to adult cats. The difference is best visible in indoor and outdoor cats
  • Size—Some kittens are born smaller than their brothers and sisters, so the individual size also affects their needs and portion sizes

If you’re scared that you’re underfeeding your kitten, don’t fret—they will let you know they need more by:

  • Vocalising it in an unusually high pitch
  • Leading you to their feeding area
  • Playing with their food dish

You forgot to feed me lunch, human!

Source: Freepik

What’s the fuss with categorising cat food by age?

If you’ve ever gone cat food shopping, you’ve noticed labels on packaging that say:

  • Kitten or junior
  • Young adult
  • Adult
  • Senior

Do cats have different nutritional needs based on their age? Not really. Kittens can eat adult cat food, assuming it’s nutritionally complete.

What does the best diet for kittens contain?

Complete kitten food must contain enough essential nutrients to support healthy growth and weight gain.

Check out the table below for additional details:

Nutrient

Recommended daily intake

Important for

Sources

Protein (which contains essential amino acids, taurine, and arginine)

50%

  • Chicken
  • Fish (such as tuna, mackerel, sardines, and salmon)
  • Crustaceans (such as shrimp and prawns)
  • Duck
  • Turkey
  • Organ meat (such as liver)

Fat

Up to 20%

  • Body insulation
  • Internal organ protection

Calcium

1.6%

  • Fluid concentration in cells
  • Sending and receiving neurotransmitters
  • Muscle contraction

While these three nutrients are crucial for kittens, your furry friend should also get a steady supply of:

If only that food found its way from the table to my bowl…

Image (c) Untamed

Starting with a good KMR

KMR comes in two forms:

  1. Canned
  2. Powdered

Most cat parents and veterinarians claim that canned KMR can cause severe diarrhoea, so you should use a powdered option to be safe. 

Finding the right solid food for kittens

Once your kitten is ready to make the switch, you must ensure that the solid food is free from:

  • Animal and meat derivatives and byproducts—Leftovers from the human food industry often include organ meat and nasty fillers such as beaks, hooves, and feathers
  • Artificial colouring and flavouring—Food containing these is typically nutritionally poor and depends on chemical flavour enhancers to be considered edible by your cat
  • Grain—Nutritionally inadequate fillers that cat food manufacturers use to add calories to cat food. Felines need only up to 3% of carbohydrates (in the form of fibre), and vegetable protein is useless for them since they are obligate carnivores

Cat food labels—tips for beginners

Here are some claims commonly found on cat food labels and their meaning:

  • Natural—The product is made without synthetic ingredients or chemical processing
  • Complementary—The item is nutritionally insufficient to be fed as the only meal
  • Complete—Such products must contain all essential ingredients for a healthy feline diet
  • Organic—The ingredients were organically produced, so no antibiotics, growth hormones, or GMO food was given to the animals

Is vegan cat food good for kittens?

The feline digestive system lacks the enzymes necessary to break down and absorb plant-sourced proteins. Your kitten needs an abundance of animal protein to thrive, so vegan cat food is not a good option for any cat regardless of their age, breed, or lifestyle.

No modelling until I eat!

Source: Pexels

Signs your kitten’s diet is nutritionally inadequate

Monitor your kitten after meals and keep an eye out for any of the following:

My kitten is showing one (or more) of these symptoms. What should I do?

If you notice the above-mentioned symptoms, you should visit your veterinarian immediately. Kittens are sensitive and gentle, so even the slightest health problems could be life-threatening and require immediate professional help.

In some cases, these symptoms are caused by fading kitten syndrome (FKS), and a quick reaction can save your kitten’s life.

Start your cat parenting journey the right way with Untamed

We’re on a mission to create and deliver products of homemade taste and quality to cats of all ages, sizes, and breeds.

We’re proud to say that we:

  • Produce our food ethically
  • Use human-grade ingredients
  • Obtain our ingredients from sustainable and cruelty-free sources
  • Don’t use vegetables, grains, or meat derivatives
  • Use recyclable packaging and have a Neutral Carbon Footprint certificate

If you’re looking for tailor-made, vet-formulated, nutritionally complete products that require no extra prep, order your taster pack NOW!

My, oh, my, today is my lucky day!

Image (c) Untamed

Even fussy cats approve of Untamed

Cat parents report the following benefits of choosing Untamed's healthy cat food subscription:

  • After one week—consistent potty habits
  • After two months—more energy
  • After four months—shiny coat, healthy skin, and fewer hairballs
  • For life—long-term health benefits and natural weight management

To order your kitten’s new favourite cat food online, you should:

  1. Complete our questionnaire
  2. Choose a tailor-made meal plan
  3. Confirm your order

Untamed replenishes the supply every month, and you can change or cancel the delivery whenever you want.

What’s the proper way to feed a kitten?

The feeding process depends on whether your kitten is eating:

  1. KMR
  2. Solids

Feeding kittens KMR

You can feed KMR to your kitten using a syringe (better for very young kittens) or bottle.

To ensure your kitten latches properly and doesn’t choke during feeding:

  1. Place them in a stomach-facing-down position (to replicate the position they would assume when nursing)
  2. Allow a drop of KMR to come out of the bottle or syringe and approach your kitten’s mouth under a 45-degree angle (to prevent air from entering their stomach)
  3. Let the kitten latch
  4. Hold the kitten firmly to prevent them from moving too much. You can also wrap them in a blanket before feeding them

To prepare powdered KMR, combine one part powder with two parts water and warm up the mixture. Make sure to make a new batch of KMR every one or two feedings. Mixing a large amount of KMR to use throughout the day is not safe since it can go sour easily. The mix should be at room temperature and smooth (without clumps).

If your kitten is stubborn, rub their mouth with the bottle or syringe and let a little bit more formula come out. A clear sign that your kitten got a good latch is when their eyes focus.

Feeding kittens solid food

You might think that there’s no wrong way to feed your kitten solids, but you’d be surprised by common wrong practices among cat parents.

To ensure your kitten munches on their solids safely:

  • Serve the food in a shallow dish—Cats hate to get their whiskers wet because they are part of the feline sensory system, and deep dishes leave them with no choice
  • Monitor their first reactions to solid foods—Cat food allergies are more common than you’d think. Cats can be allergic to various ingredients, from dairy to particular types of meat. If that’s the case, you must switch to a hypoallergenic diet
  • Don’t leave the food out for too long and clean their feeding dish and area regularly—Wet and mixed kitten food can spoil relatively quickly. Your kitten’s organism is fragile, so spoiled food can cause severe stomach upsets. They also may refuse to eat anything smelling off
  • Keep the feeding area far from their litter box—Besides being unhygienic, some cats avoid eating in the proximity of their litter box

What should cats not eat?

New cat parents often feed kittens with human food, but it can be inadequate or toxic to cats. 

Foods that are off-limits for any feline include:

  • Milk of any kind (cow, goat, soya, almond, coconut, condensed, and lactose-free—you name it) and dairy products (for example, cheese and yoghurt)
  • Bread or other products containing yeast (especially when mixed with milk)
  • Cocoa products (for example, chocolate)
  • Natural stimulants and relaxants (such as coffee and alcoholic beverages)
  • Citrus fruits
  • Skin, stems, and seeds of apples, pears, and cherries
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Allium vegetables (onions, garlic, chives, etc.)

Other harmful items your kitten could munch on

Many cat parents are unaware that numerous houseplants are toxic to cats, including:

  • Aloe Vera
  • Jade Plants
  • Monstera Deliciosa
  • Pothos
  • Peace Lilies
  • Snake Plants

Besides plants, your household is full of potentially harmful items you should keep away from paw’s reach, such as:

  • Plastic bags
  • Electrical cords and wires
  • Yarn, thread, and string
  • Hair ties
  • Cleaning products

Kitten-proofing your home made simple

Kitten-proofing is necessary so that your kitten’s playfulness and curiosity doesn’t lead to a trip to the vet. To keep harmful items out of your kitten’s range, follow these steps:

  1. Lock kitchen cabinets or secure them with a padlock
  2. Hide cords and wires under rugs or furniture
  3. Dedicate a space your kitten will spend time in and install baby fences to doorways leading to it
  4. Buy toys and special cat furniture to distract your kitten from destroying your stuff
  5. Keep chemicals and medications in locked bathroom cabinets

More tips from Untamed

Your first days of cat parenting won’t be a walk in the park, but you can make them easier by preparing on time. Untamed presents the best tricks to make cat parenting less stressful.

Not all kittens start weaning at the same time

Veterinarians claim that kittens can start weaning as early as three and as late as ten weeks old. The reason why kittens start weaning at different times is unknown, but what we know for sure is that if your kitten refuses to eat solid foods after ten weeks, you must intervene.

Patience is crucial for cat parenting. Weaning must happen slowly, meaning you mustn’t separate your kitten from their mother or switch to solid food abruptly.

My kitten won’t eat solids. What should I do?

If your kitten keeps refusing solids, try the following methods:

  • Warm up their food to room temperature—Warm meals have a more pleasant smell and taste
  • Isolate the kitten from their mother more frequently—By doing this, you will slowly reduce the dependency 
  • Offer some food on your finger—Water down wet cat food, place some of it on your finger and start rubbing your kitten’s lips gently. Be careful not to push food in their mouth as they might choke
  • Change the type of wet foodThere’s a chance your kitten doesn’t like the texture and taste of their food, so try different brands until you find the right one