When it comes to feeding kittens, new cat owners often wonder how often they should be feeding their new furry friend. Should you feed a kitten 2 or 3 times a day? There are a few factors to consider when determining the feeding frequency for kittens.
How Often Should Kittens Eat?
The general guideline from most veterinarians is that kittens should be fed 3 times per day until they reach around 6 months of age. Once they are 6 months old, you can switch them to an adult cat feeding schedule of just 2 times per day.
Here’s why kittens need more frequent feedings:
- Kittens have tiny stomachs so they can only eat small amounts at a time
- They need calories for growth and development
- Their blood sugar can drop more quickly since they are growing so rapidly
Feeding them 3 smaller meals per day helps provide a steady supply of energy and nutrients to support their growth. It also helps prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which kittens are prone to.
How Much Should I Feed My Kitten?
The amount you should feed your kitten depends on their age, weight, activity level, and the calories in the food you are feeding. Here are some general feeding guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association:
|Age||Amount Per Day|
|2 – 3 months||57 – 113 calories|
|3 – 6 months||113 – 175 calories|
|6 – 12 months||151 – 214 calories|
To determine the actual amount to feed, check the calorie content on your kitten food packaging. Then divide the total daily calories into three equal meals.
For example, if your 3 month old kitten needs about 85 calories per day, and your kitten food contains 400 calories per cup, you would feed about 1/4 cup of food three times daily.
Keep in mind that every kitten has different caloric needs, so monitor their growth and body condition and make adjustments to the amount as needed. It’s generally better to start with smaller amounts and increase gradually if needed.
Transitioning from 3 to 2 Meals Per Day
Once your kitten is around 6 months old, you can begin transitioning from 3 meals per day down to 2 meals per day. Here are some tips for smoothly switching their feeding schedule:
- Gradually decrease the amount you feed at each mealtime
- Aim to do the switch over 1-2 weeks
- Closely monitor their appetite and energy levels
- Make sure they seem satisfied after eating their two daily meals
- Leave food out for 30 mins at first, then pick up uneaten food
- Weigh them weekly to ensure they are still gaining weight appropriately
If your kitten seems too hungry, lethargic or stops gaining weight on just two feedings per day, you may need to stretch out the transition process or speak to your vet.
Feeding Schedules for Kittens
Now that you know kittens should eat 3 times per day, you need to decide the timing of those feedings. Here are two sample feeding schedules you could follow for a kitten:
Evenly Spaced Feedings
- 12pm (noon)
This schedule spaces the meals out fairly evenly throughout the day. One benefit is that it means your kitten will always have some food in their stomach and won’t go too long without eating.
Feed Around Kitten’s Natural Routine
- 7am – After waking up
- 12pm – Midday
- 11pm – Before bedtime
You can also plan the feeding times around when your kitten naturally eats. Kittens tend to be most active in the morning and evening, so scheduling meals around those times makes sense.
Just be careful not to feed too close to bedtime as this can lead to an upset stomach during the night. Aim to have the last meal finish at least 2 hours before bedtime.
Things to Keep in Mind When Feeding Kittens
Here are a few other tips for feeding kittens:
- Canned/wet food is ideal since kittens have higher fluid needs. Or mix wet and dry.
- Feed a kitten-specific formula until 12 months old to ensure proper nutrition.
- Don’t give cow’s milk – kittens are lactose intolerant.
- Place food in different areas to encourage foraging.
- Always have fresh water available.
- Don’t change foods suddenly – do a gradual transition if needed.
- Refrigerate unused wet food promptly.
- Wash food bowls frequently.
- To monitor intake, weigh kitten before/after meals.
- Avoid overfeeding to prevent obesity later on.
Signs Your Kitten is Not Eating Enough
Make sure to monitor your kitten closely, especially in the first few weeks after adoption, to ensure they are eating enough. Here are some signs of underfeeding in kittens:
- Weight loss or failure to gain weight
- Listlessness, lethargy
- Excessive hunger all the time
- Soft stools or diarrhea
- Crying or meowing for food
- Chewing on non-food items
If you notice any of these, contact your vet right away. Underfeeding can have serious health consequences for growing kittens. Your vet can help determine if there is an underlying medical issue causing poor appetite.
When to Feed Wet vs Dry Food
Both wet and dry food can be fed to kittens, but there are some differences to consider:
Benefits of Wet Food
- Higher moisture content which kittens need
- Usually more protein and fat for growth
- Many kittens prefer the taste and aroma
- Can encourage adequate water intake
- Typically lower carbohydrate content
Benefits of Dry Food
- Lower cost per serving compared to wet food
- Can promote dental health
- Convenient – easy to leave out all day
- Doesn’t need refrigeration once opened
- Provide satiety from higher fiber
The ideal diet for a kitten includes some of both wet and dry food to obtain optimal nutrition and health.
Tips for Incorporating Wet and Dry Food
- Feed a wet food meal in the morning and at dinnertime, with dry left out during the day.
- Mix a couple tablespoons of wet food into the dry to increase palatability.
- If your kitten doesn’t drink much water, add more wet food to their diet.
- Try different textures – minced, chopped, shredded or pate style wet foods.
- Choose a dry food specifically formulated for kittens.
Common Questions on Feeding Kittens
Is it ok to free feed dry food?
Free feeding dry food, or leaving it out all the time, can be risky for kittens. Kittens have small stomachs and can easily overeat when given constant access to food. This can lead to obesity. It’s better to split their daily portion into 3 scheduled meals.
How often should water be changed?
Refresh your kitten’s water bowl at least 2-3 times per day. Change it more frequently if it gets dirty or empty. Clean water bowls thoroughly each day. Provide water in multiple locations if possible.
Can kittens have milk?
No, do not give milk to kittens. Most kittens are lactose intolerant and milk can give them diarrhea. The only exception is if you are bottle-feeding orphaned kittens, in which case they should receive kitten milk replacement formula.
Should I give treats?
Occasional treats in moderation are fine for kittens but don’t allow them to replace regular meals. Treats with high fat or calories can quickly lead to weight gain. Good options include freeze dried meat or single ingredient treats.
How do I get a picky eater to eat?
For a picky eater, try warming the food to bring out the aroma, hand feeding for close interaction, adding warm water to dry food, mixing in a bit of wet food, or sprinkling nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese on top. Check with your vet to rule out underlying health issues.
Transitioning Kittens to Adult Cat Food
Around 12 months of age, you can gradually transition your kitten over to adult cat food by following these tips:
- Slowly mix in increasing amounts of the new food over 7-10 days
- Look for an all life stages or adult formula food
- Stick to a schedule of 2-3 meals per day
- Portion for their ideal adult weight, not current kitten weight
- Weigh regularly to ensure they don’t become overweight
- Select a comparable calorie density and protein/fat level
A too abrupt diet change can upset their digestion. But introducing adult food around a year helps prevent rapid weight gain and obesity.
Signs Your Cat is Overweight
To keep your kitten at a healthy weight, monitor for these signs of being overweight or obese:
- Ribs and spine not easily felt through a thick layer of fat
- Abdomen bulges outward instead of tucked up
- Wide, thick neck and face
- Difficulty grooming hind end
- Reluctance to jump up or play
- Breathing heavily or panting with exertion
- Require larger sized collar
- Develop skin folds
Curb weight gain early by carefully measuring food, incorporating interactive play, and bringing your cat in for weigh-ins at annual exams. A diet change or weight management food may be prescribed if needed.
Feeding your kitten appropriately is vital to getting them off to a healthy start in life. Kittens have specific nutritional needs for growth and development that require more frequent small meals than adult cats require. Feed your kitten 3 scheduled meals per day of premium kitten food until 6-12 months old. Then slowly transition them to adult cat food fed twice daily. Regular weigh-ins, observation, and vet checkups will help ensure your kitten stays on track and doesn’t become under or overweight. With a proper feeding routine, you can set up your kitten for a long, healthy life.