How much should a kitten eat daily?

Determining the right amount of food for a growing kitten can be tricky. Kittens have very different nutritional needs than adult cats and their calorie requirements can vary dramatically depending on their age, size and activity level. Follow these tips to make sure your kitten gets the fuel they need without over or underfeeding.

Quick answers

Here are some quick answers to common questions about kitten feeding:

  • Kittens need to eat more frequently than adult cats, usually 3-4 times per day.
  • The average 5-8 week old kitten needs 90-200 calories per day.
  • An 8-12 week kitten needs 200-300 calories per day.
  • Feed kittens specially formulated kitten food, not adult cat food.
  • Let your kitten’s weight, body condition, and energy levels guide how much you feed.
  • Consult your vet if you are unsure about your kitten’s diet.

How often should kittens eat?

Kittens have tiny stomachs and very high metabolisms. They need to eat frequently throughout the day to meet their high calorie needs for growth and development. Kittens under 12 weeks of age should eat 3-4 times per day. Feeding set meals on a regular schedule will help your kitten thrive.

Once kittens reach 12 weeks, you can transition them to eating 2-3 meals a day. But don’t switch to free feeding (leaving food out at all times) until they are closer to 6 months old. Their calorie needs are too high to regulate their intake successfully when food is constantly available.

How many calories do kittens need?

The calorie needs of kittens vary dramatically by age and weight. Here are some general guidelines for average calorie needs:

  • 5-8 weeks: 90-200 calories per day
  • 8-12 weeks: 200-300 calories per day
  • 3-6 months: 300-400 calories per day

Very small or large kittens may need calories outside of these ranges. It’s important to adjust their intake based on their individual growth and body condition.

Feed kittens kitten food

It’s essential to feed kittens a diet specifically formulated for their needs. Kitten food has extra calories and higher levels of key nutrients like protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Unlike adult cat food, kitten diets are specially tailored to help kittens grow and build muscle mass.

Feeding adult food can deprive kittens of the nutrition they vitally need. It would be like feeding a baby solid grown-up food instead of formula – their bodies just can’t handle it. Stick with kitten-specific food for the first year of life to support healthy development.

Wet or dry kitten food?

Both wet and dry foods can be fine choices for kittens as long as they are specifically made for kittens. Here are some pros and cons of each type:

Wet kitten food

  • Pros
    • Tends to have more protein and fat for growth
    • Higher moisture content is good for hydration
    • Many kittens prefer the taste and texture
  • Cons
    • More expensive per calorie than dry food
    • Spoils quickly after opened

Dry kitten food

  • Pros
    • Typically more economical
    • Stays fresh longer when stored properly
    • Helps keep teeth clean
    • Kibble texture promotes chewing
  • Cons
    • Lower moisture content than wet food
    • Kittens may drink less water as a result

For optimal nutrition, feeding a combination of wet and dry kitten foods is ideal. But exclusively dry or wet diets can also be balanced if you choose high-quality kitten-specific foods.

How much should I feed my kitten?

The amount you should feed your kitten depends on multiple factors including:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Activity level
  • Individual metabolism

Kitten food packages provide feeding guidelines based on average kitten weights. This chart gives an idea of standard amounts:

Age Weight Range Daily Calorie Needs Daily Feeding Amount
5-8 weeks 1-2 lbs 90-200 kcal 1/4 – 1/2 cup
8-12 weeks 2-3 lbs 200-300 kcal 1/2 – 3/4 cup
3-6 months 3-6 lbs 300-400 kcal 3/4 – 1 cup

Use these amounts as starting guidelines, not definite rules. Monitor your kitten’s weight weekly and make diet adjustments as needed. Their intake may wind up being higher or lower than package guidelines.

Increase food as your kitten grows

As your kitten gets bigger, their calorie needs will increase. Weigh them weekly on a pet scale and keep detailed records. Increase their food intake gradually if they are steadily gaining weight. An overly rapid growth rate can lead to joint issues down the road.

Aim for your kitten to gain 2-4 ounces per week from weaning until around 6 months. If weight gain stalls for a couple weeks, bump up their calories. Healthy weight gain indicates you’re feeding the right amount.

Decrease food if your kitten becomes overweight

Overfeeding is extremely common with kittens. Well-meaning pet parents often overestimate how much food their kitten needs. This leads to rapid weight gain and kitten fat rolls that are cute but unhealthy. Chubby kittens are at risk for obesity and joint problems as adults.

If your kitten becomes visibly overweight, gradually reduce their food intake until their weight stabilizes. Consult your vet to determine ideal portion sizes and body condition for their age.

Let your kitten guide you

While guidelines are useful starting points, your kitten’s unique traits should really drive your feeding choices. Adjust portions up or down based on:

  • Body condition score (BCS) – Does your kitten have a tucked waist when viewed from above? Can you feel (but not see) their ribs by gently running your hands along their sides? If not, they likely need less food.
  • Energy level – Is your kitten a bundle of energy or more of a sleepyhead? Active kittens may require more calories.
  • Weekly weight changes – Weigh your kitten weekly and aim for steady gains of 2-4 ounces per week.
  • Digestion – Soft stools or gassiness after meals indicates overfeeding.
  • Appetite – Begging, frantic meowing, or eating too quickly can signal underfeeding.

Make small diet tweaks based on these cues, allowing 2-3 days between adjustments. With patience and observation, you’ll learn how much food keeps your individual kitten healthy and satisfied.

Transitioning from kitten to adult cat food

Around 9-12 months old, kittens can begin transitioning to adult cat food. Some tips for making the switch smoothly include:

  • Slowly mix in increasing amounts of adult food over 7-10 days
  • Choose an adult diet appropriate for their life stage – kitten, adult, senior
  • Pick a food that provides comparable calories and nutrients
  • Keep monitoring body weight and adjust portions as needed

An abrupt diet change can upset their digestive system. Ease into adult food over at least a week. Complete the transition once they turn 1 year old.

Special diet considerations

Certain situations call for tailored kitten feeding plans:

  • Orphaned newborns – Require bottle feeding with kitten milk replacement formula every 2-4 hours. Quantities are based on their age and weight.
  • Weaning kittens – Around 3-4 weeks old, start introducing wet kitten food. Mix formula and kitten food for a week before fully switching to solid foods.
  • Underweight kittens – May need multiple small meals per day of calorie-dense food to gain weight.
  • Sick kittens – Should be encouraged to eat with warming, strong smelling foods. Seek vet advice if appetite decreases.

Check with your vet for tailored feeding advice if your kitten has special needs or health issues.

Avoid common kitten feeding mistakes

With the right approach, feeding kittens can be easy and fun. Avoid these common mistakes:

  • Not feeding a kitten-specific diet
  • Estimating portions instead of weighing food
  • Failing to account for changing calorie needs as they age
  • Leaving food out free choice instead of scheduled meals
  • Switching to new foods too quickly
  • Not keeping detailed feeding records
  • Letting kittens become overweight or underweight

The bottom line

Every kitten has unique nutritional needs. While averages and guidelines provide starting points, let your kitten’s growth, body condition, appetite and energy guide you. Weigh food portions instead of eyeballing. Adapt their diet based on weekly weight changes. Be meticulous at recording amounts fed and weight gained. With patience and vigilance, you can ensure your rapidly growing kitten gets just the right amount of food to thrive.

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