Kittens require several small meals throughout the day to meet their high energy and nutritional needs for growth and development. The number of meals a kitten should eat depends on their age and weight.
How often should kittens eat?
Newborn kittens (0-4 weeks old) should nurse every 2-3 hours. They rely completely on their mother’s milk for nutrition at this stage.
At around 3-4 weeks of age, kittens will start eating solid food in addition to nursing. During the weaning process from 4-8 weeks of age, kittens should be fed small meals of wet and dry kitten food 4-6 times per day.
From 8-12 weeks of age, kittens should still be fed 4 meals per day. The meals can be spaced further apart at this stage.
Once kittens reach 12 weeks old, most are ready to transition to eating 3 meals per day of high-quality wet and dry kitten food.
Feeding guidelines by age
Here are some general guidelines for how often kittens should eat by age:
- Birth to 4 weeks: Nurse every 2-3 hours around the clock
- 4-8 weeks: 4-6 meals per day of wet and dry kitten food
- 8-12 weeks: 4 meals per day
- 3-6 months: 3 meals per day
- 6-12 months: 2-3 meals per day
- 1 year+: 2 meals per day (adult feeding schedule)
How much should kittens eat per meal?
The amount a kitten should eat per meal depends on their age, weight, and activity level. Here are some general guidelines:
|Amount per meal (wet or dry food)
|0.5 – 1 lb
|1/4 – 1/2 cup
|1/2 – 3/4 cup
When feeding wet food, kittens may eat a smaller volume since canned food has a higher moisture content. It’s important not to free-feed dry food, as kittens can easily overeat.
Here are some tips for feeding kittens:
- Use shallow food bowls that are easy to access.
- Always monitor kittens when eating to ensure they are chewing and swallowing properly.
- Discard any uneaten wet food after 20-30 minutes.
- Transition foods gradually over 5-7 days if switching brands.
- Provide fresh, clean drinking water at all times.
- Avoid feeding cow’s milk, as kittens are lactose intolerant.
Signs your kitten is hungry
Young kittens will let you know when they are hungry. Signs of hunger include:
- Crying, meowing, or whimpering
- Pacing around the food bowl
- Attempting to nurse on siblings or human hands
- Loss of energy, lethargy
If your kitten is displaying these behaviors, check if it’s time for their next meal. Hungry kittens will be very eager to eat.
Signs your kitten is full
It’s important not to overfeed growing kittens. Signs that your kitten is full and has had enough to eat include:
- Decreased interest in food
- Walking away from the food bowl
- Leaving food uneaten
- No longer eagerly consuming food
- Grooming or sleeping after eating
If your kitten shows disinterest or turns away from their food before finishing the meal, take the food away. They can eat again at the next scheduled feeding time.
Weaning kittens from nursing to eating solid food is an important transition. Here are some tips for weaning success:
- Introduce wet kitten food mixed with KMR or kitten milk replacement around 3-4 weeks old.
- Slowly decrease milk ratio and increase amount of food over 2-3 weeks.
- Provide small servings every 2-3 hours in shallow dishes.
- Use pate style wet foods to ease the texture transition.
- Introduce dry food soaked in KMR or kitten formula around 5-6 weeks old.
- Provide dry kitten kibble starting at 6-7 weeks, keeping it soaked at first.
- Pet and praise your kitten while they explore new foods.
- Expect a messy learning process as kittens learn to eat solid foods.
Work closely with your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your kitten’s growth, nutrition, or transition to solid foods during weaning.
Common feeding issues in kittens
Some common feeding issues that may arise in kittens include:
- Dehydration – Ensure access to fresh drinking water. Feed canned or soaked foods.
- Constipation – Can be caused by dehydration or diet changes. Add water to food.
- Diarrhea – Sometimes triggered by new foods, parasites, infections. Seek veterinary advice.
- Vomiting – Can indicate food intolerance, overeating, parasites. Make dietary changes gradually.
- Food allergies – Food Trial elimination diets may be recommended. Choose hypoallergenic foods.
- Anorexia – Consult your vet if kitten refuses food or milk for 12-24+ hours.
If your kitten experiences any appetite or digestion issues, seek veterinary guidance right away. Health concerns need to be addressed quickly in growing kittens.
Choosing the best kitten food
Choosing the right kitten food is important to support healthy growth and development. Look for foods that:
- Are specifically formulated for kittens
- Contain at least 30% protein and 15% fat (for dry food)
- Have real meat or fish as the first ingredient
- Include balanced vitamins and minerals
- Are easily digestible with high palatability
High-quality wet and dry kitten foods from reputable pet food brands are best. Avoid generic or store-brand options, which can lack proper nutrition.
Wet vs. dry kitten food
Both wet and dry foods have benefits:
- Wet food: Higher moisture content, more palatable, promotes hydration
- Dry food: Easier to transition to during weaning, better for dental health
Feeding a combination of wet and dry foods is ideal to provide complete and balanced nutrition for kittens.
Transitioning kittens to cat food
Between 6-12 months of age, kittens can gradually transition to adult cat food following these tips:
- Around 6 months, start introducing adult food by mixing it in with kitten food.
- Over 2-4 weeks, increase the ratio of adult food to kitten food.
- By 10-12 months, kittens should be eating complete adult cat food.
- Look for “all life stages” cat foods for an easy transition.
- For larger breed cats, transition later based on their growth rate.
- Make all diet changes slowly to avoid digestive upset.
Consult your veterinarian for advice on the optimal time to switch your kitten to adult cat food based on their health and development.
Feeding a kitten with special needs
Kittens with certain health conditions may have special dietary needs:
- Premature kittens – Require KMR until fully weaned, then high calorie kitten foods for catch up growth.
- Underweight kittens – Need calorie dense kitten foods or KMR supplement added to meals.
- Orphaned kittens – Require KMR until 6-8 weeks, then dry/wet kitten foods with extended weaning period.
- Sick kittens – May need a temporary highly digestible recovery diet.
- Intolerances – Limited ingredient or hydrolyzed protein foods may help.
Always get veterinary advice for special needs kittens to ensure their unique nutritional requirements are met.
Monitoring kitten growth
Weigh kittens regularly and monitor their growth rate to ensure they are developing normally:
- Weigh daily for first 6 weeks using a kitten scale.
- Weigh weekly from 6 weeks to 6 months.
- Watch for consistent weight gains and growth.
- Average kitten weights: Birth 100g – 12 weeks 1.1kg – 6 months 2.5kg.
- Consult your vet if growth seems too slow or fast.
Tracking kitten weights can help identify issues like dehydration, underfeeding, or medical conditions requiring attention.
Here are some key safety considerations when feeding kittens:
- Avoid giving cow’s milk – can cause diarrhea.
- Never give dog food – it’s deficient in key nutrients cats require.
- Don’t free feed dry food – carefully portion meals.
- Discard unfinished wet food to prevent spoilage.
- Store dry food properly to preserve freshness.
- Wash food bowls thoroughly and regularly.
- Don’t feed from the table – can encourage bad habits.
- Never give cooked bones, toxic foods, chocolate, onions etc.
Kittens have specific feeding needs that change as they grow. Generally, newborn kittens need nursing every 2-3 hours. Weaning begins around 4 weeks, with kittens eating small frequent meals of wet and dry food. By 12 weeks, most kittens can transition to three kitten-formulated meals per day. Feed amounts should be based on age, weight, and activity. Monitor growth patterns and stool quality when adjusting food or frequency. With a proper diet and feeding schedule tailored to their developmental stage, kittens will thrive as they grow.