If you’re responsible for taking care of kittens in the first few months of their lives, you need to be prepared to move them from a diet of milk to regular kitten food. Our ASPCA nutrition experts tell you when and how it’s done with these easy top ten tips:
- Mother Knows Best
Newborn kittens receive complete nutrition from their mother’s milk for the first four weeks of life. Mom's milk is 100 percent perfect for their needs, so you don’t need to feed them anything else.
- When Mom’s Not Around
In the event that the mother cat is ill or doesn’t produce enough milk—or if the kittens are found as orphans—it may be necessary to feed the kittens a commercial milk replacer. If you find yourself in this situation, contact your veterinarian for product and feeding recommendations.
- They Grow Up So Fast!
During the first weeks of life, a kitten’s body weight may double or even triple. This rapid growth will continue, albeit at a decreasing rate, until maturity. Large amounts of energy and nutrients are required in balanced quantities to support this spectacular growth.
- Baby’s First Kibble
Kittens need large amounts of energy—about two to three times that of an adult cat. Kittens also need about 30 percent of their total energy from protein. Make sure the food you offer is specifically formulated for kittens. Your pet will need to eat kitten-formula food until she reaches maturity, at about one year of age.
- Best of Both Worlds
By the time kittens are five to six weeks old, they should be nibbling on a high-quality dry food consistently even though they’re still nursing. This process of gradually introducing kitten food is important in training cats to eat as they are weaned.
- Eight Weeks = Weaned. Twelve Weeks = Off to College?!
Most mother cats will suckle their kittens until about eight weeks of age. By this time, 80 percent to 90 percent of the kitten's total nutrient intake should be from kitten food.
- Weaning an Orphan
Generally, orphaned or hand-fed kittens can be offered moistened kitten food at about three weeks of age. Use a commercial milk replacer to moisten the food, and gradually reduce the amount of milk replacer you use until the kittens are eating dry kitten food at about five or six weeks of age.
- Graze-y Days
Kittens can be fed free-choice—which means food is available at all times, as much as the pet wants, whenever the pet wants. You can feed them dry kitten food or nutrient-dense kitten-formula canned food—however, the free-choice method is most appropriate when feeding dry food, which will not spoil if left out. If you have a dog in your home, make sure he can’t get to the kitten’s food (dogs just adore cat food!). Also, make sure fresh water is available at all times.
- Eat and Run
At first, curious kittens will probably want to play with their food rather than eat it, but the youngsters will soon catch on and realize they are supposed to eat the food, not just bat it around!
- Special “Treat”ment
It’s fine to feed your kitten a few treats. However, treats should make up no more than five percent of your kitten’s daily nutrient intake, and the rest of his/her diet should come from a high-quality kitten food.