Feeding Guide for Kittens

assorted-color tabby kittens

Key points

  • Kittens need more nutrients and calories than adult cats, so you need to feed them specialized kitten food until they reach 10-12 months of age. 30% of a kitten’s daily food intake should consist of high-quality protein.
  • You can feed your cat wet or dry food or alternate between them as long as you closely monitor how many calories your cat consumes. Be careful with homemade diets since these usually lack essential nutrients such as calcium. Make sure your cat gets enough calories by utilizing weight-age-calorie charts.
  • You can feed your cat a set number of times throughout the day or put the entire daily amount of food in the cat’s bowl so it can snack throughout the day. The choice will depend on your cat’s preference.
  • If you want to switch diets, don’t mix old food with the new one. Instead, put both types of food into two separate bowls and give them to your cat at the same time. Then gradually increase the amount of new food while decreasing the amount of old food in the bowl.

If you just recently got your first kitten, taking care of it may seem confusing and even frustrating for you, as there are so many things to learn and keep in mind! And feeding a kitten is one of them. After all, a well-balanced diet combined with correct portion sizes can ensure that your cat lives a long and healthy and long life.

For the first four weeks of their lives, kittens drink their mother’s milk and don’t consume anything else. After 4 weeks, the weaning process begins. During this time, a kitten is gradually introduced to solid foods. In this article, we’ll give you guidelines for feeding a kitten that’ll help your pet grow up healthy and happy.

Kittens’ Nutritional Needs

During the first weeks of life, kittens grow up very rapidly, and their weight can double or even triple during that time. Therefore, you need to ensure that your kitten consumes enough calories per day to support this growth and help maintain the pet’s activity levels.

Jennifer Larsen, DVM, PhD, nutritional consultant and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis, says that it’s better to split a cat’s daily caloric intake into three or four meals because it’s hard and uncomfortable for cats to get all their calories from one meal.

As for nutritional needs, kittens generally need the same amount of fat, vitamins, and fatty acids as adult cats. However, they need more protein compared to adult cats. Ideally, protein should make up to 30% of a kitten’s daily food intake.

The requirement for amino acids, minerals, and some vitamins is different too, which is why you should stick to the specially formulated kitten food until your cat turns 1 year old. You may see some adult cat foods the manufacturers claim to be safe and appropriate for kittens, but unless feeding tests support this statement, you shouldn’t feed them to your kitten.

Fresh, clean water is important too, so make sure your kitten has access to it at all times.

Feeding a Kitten During The First Year Of Life

Birth – 4 weeks old

Newborn kittens nurse once every 2 hours or so, and the amount of meals gradually decreases to 4-5 times a day. The best way to check if your kitten is getting enough food is to weigh it daily: it should gain 15-20 grams (½ – ¾ an ounce) every day. If your kitten is underweight, it will need additional supplementation.

4 – 6 weeks old

At this time, you can start introducing solid foods to your kitten. You should mix canned food with warm water first until your cat turns 5-6 weeks old.

6 – 8 weeks old

By the time your kitten is 8 weeks of age, it should eat and drink entirely on its own. Now you can start giving your cat dry food, soaking it in warm water first to ease digestion. Typically, 8-week old kittens weigh around 2 pounds.

8 weeks – 10 months old

By 8 months, the period of the most rapid growth is over, and all you need to do after that is maintain your kitten’s healthy weight. Use specialized charts to determine how much food your cat needs. Or, if your kitten seems too thin or too chubby, consult with a veterinarian to determine the ideal amount of calories your pet should eat per day.

After 10 months

When your kitten is 10-12 months of age, you can confidently start switching it to adult food. However, some breeds such as Maine Coons require more time to mature and thus may need to be fed kitten food up to 19-24 months of age. Your cat’s veterinarian will talk you through all the details you need to know to ensure your kitten’s healthy transition into adulthood. Adult cat food contains fewer calories and nutrients since these cats aren’t developing anymore and only need to maintain a healthy weight.

Insect-Based Protein For Kittensbrown and white food on stainless steel tray

Since protein is the most important nutrient for kittens that ensures their proper growth and development, you should make sure that the cat food you purchase contains a high-quality protein source. This is where insect-based protein steps in. It’s not only a sustainable and natural alternative to conventional meat but also hypoallergenic and easy to digest. Plus, it’s a great source of amino acids, iron, Omega-3, Omega-6, and essential fatty acids.

How To Choose Quality Kitten Food?

Mindy Bough, CVT, senior director of client services for the Midwest Office of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), highlights the importance of feeding your kitten high-quality food and recommends pet owners to buy it from reputable companies rather than from generic or store brands.

But you may be asking yourself how you can know if the food is high-quality? You can often find the answer on the pet food label. Here are a few things to look for when selecting pet food:

  • The food should meet nutritional requirements set by AAFCO or another government agency in the world;
  • The quality of kitten food should be proven by feeding trials;
  • Or the label of the food may just say “Complete and balanced nutrition”, meaning your kitten won’t need to take any dietary supplements in addition to the food.

Don’t try to maximize the amount of nutrients in your cat’s food as much as possible, as this it’ll only harm it. Feeding your cat a complete and appropriate diet is enough to raise a healthy cat, so unless recommended by a veterinarian, you should not give your cat any additional minerals or vitamin supplements.

brown tabby cat on gray concrete road

If your kitten is healthy and energetic, has a clean, shiny coat, and steadily gains an appropriate amount of weight, it means that you’re doing everything right and your cat is getting all the nutrients it needs. But if you have any doubts or questions, it’s best to check with your kitten’s vet just to be safe.

Kitten Diets: Which One Should I Choose?

With various types of kitten food on the market, finding the perfect food for your cat takes some time and consideration. So let’s have a closer look at different diets you can choose for your feline:

Homemade Diet For Kittens

Many pet owners prefer sticking to a homemade diet because they want to know exactly what they feed their cats. But, unfortunately, homemade diets tend to be low in calcium, resulting in a mineral imbalance that leads to hyperparathyroidism. If you want to feed your kitten a homemade diet, make sure a veterinarian or a reputable nutritionist formulates it.

Wet Food vs. Dry Food

Because kittens’ teeth are very small, it’s hard for them to eat dry food all the time. That’s why at least a portion of your cat’s caloric intake should come from canned food. As an option, you can feed your cat both dry and wet cat food. In that case, you should feed your cat wet food at least twice a day. If your kitten eats only canned food, then stick to four feedings a day.

How Much To Feed A Kitten?

If you’re not sure how much food you should feed your kitten, check the label on the food packaging for a feeding guide. The main factors that determine the size of a healthy meal portion are the kitten’s age and size. If your cat eats dry kibble, you can either pour the whole portion into its bowl at once so your kitten can snack throughout the day, or you can divide the food into two meals. Wet food should be split into two meals, but you need to make sure you rinse the food bowl after each of them. Keep in mind that you can store open canned food for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator and warm it up at room temperature before giving it to your pet.

Switching Diets

In our society, there’s a stigma that cats are picky eaters with fixed food preferences. But it’s easier to switch a kitten or a grown cat to another type of diet if it has been exposed to different textures and flavors before. However, if you want to switch your kitten to new cat food, some vets don’t recommend mixing it with the old one. This is because if your kitten dislikes the new food, it can automatically develop a dislike towards the old food as well.

Instead, you should offer new and old foods in separate bowls, gradually decreasing the amount of old food and increasing the amount of new food in the bowls. Don’t change your cat’s diet very rapidly because it can cause stomach upset. The transition to the new food should last about 4-7 days.

How To Feed A Kitten?

When cats are younger, they tend to eat more often, but two meals a day is enough for adult cats. A common method of feeding a kitten is “free feed”, which means leaving an unlimited amount of food available all day. This method is more gentle on the kitten’s stomach and reduces the risk of it being distended. Underweight or slowly developing kittens will benefit from free-feeding as well. But if you have an overweight kitten, it’s better to feed it strictly during meal times to avoid exaggerating the problem.

When a kitten turns 6 months of age, you can switch to meal feeding. Making a feeding schedule and sticking to it will help your kitten feel secure. You can feed your cat 1-3 meals a day as long as you stick to the daily recommended calorie intake.

Foods That Kittens Shouldn’t Eat


As a rule, snacks should account for up to 10% of your kitten’s daily calorie intake, but not all foods can be given as a treat to cats. In particular, you should try to avoid giving your cat raw meat, liver, and eggs since they may contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella. Salmonella can cause skin and hair problems because it lowers vitamin B absorption. Also, don’t give your cat raw fish because it can cause the pet to develop a vitamin B deficiency, and be careful with milk since it can cause diarrhea.

Products such as garlic, onions, chocolate, tea, coffee, raisins, and grapes are extremely toxic to cats and should be avoided at all costs.


Can you overfeed a kitten?

Yes. This is why you need to calculate the number of calories your kitten should consume per day and conduct regular weight checks to ensure that your pet maintains a healthy weight. In addition, because kitten stomachs are small, overfeeding can cause digestion problems such as diarrhea, which can, in turn, lead to dehydration.

How many cups of dry food should I feed my kitten?

If your cat is younger than 8 weeks, you should feed it ¼ to 1/3 cup at each feeding. If it is older than 8 weeks, increase the portion size to 1/3 to ¾ cup.

How often should I feed my kitten and how much?

You can feed your kitten up to 6 times per day or leave an unlimited amount of food in the cat’s bowl to be available at all times. However, free-feeding is not recommended for cats that struggle with obesity.

How much water should a 10-week old kitten drink?

The general norm for drinking water for a cat is 3.5 to 4.5 ounces per 5 pounds of body weight.