By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 January 2015)
Nursing kittens don’t need solid food for the first several weeks, though their mother will require far more food and water than usual while she is nursing. Pregnant and nursing cats should be fed kitten food, as it has more calories per serving.
Provide Kitten Mush with Kitten Milk Replacer at 4-5 Weeks
Starting at around 4 or 5 weeks of age, kittens will begin to show an interest in solid food, imitating their mothers by experimenting with whatever food they are eating. When owners notice that the kittens have begun to try solid food, they can create kitten mush by blending a high quality food formulated for kittens in the blender with a combination of hot water and liquid kitten milk replacer to the consistency of baby food (when served, the mush should be warm but not hot). Initially, kitten mush should be provided 4 times daily, and the mother cat may eat some of the kitten mush as well.
When making kitten mush, the milk replacer and water can be decreased by increments each week before blending so that when the kittens are about 8 weeks old, they are eating solid food on its own. Remove bowls of mush after the kittens eat – don’t leave leftovers lying around.
During weaning, the amount of kitten food offered to the queen can also be decreased, and the amount of adult food increased, until she is eating only adult food.
What to Feed Kittens After They Are Weaned
Kittens should be given high-quality food formulated specifically for kittens, with meat, poultry, or fish listed as the first ingredient. Owners should not feed kittens adult cat food until they’re a year old.
When selecting kitten foods, wet canned foods or a combination of wet food and dry kibble may be chosen, but avoid bargain brands. Cheap foods are not really a bargain because they’re often nutritionally incomplete and filled with empty carbohydrates, which means the kitten will eat far more and will still be undernourished. Many dry foods in particular are made up mostly of filler, such as corn. Read the label carefully, or ask a veterinarian for a kitten food recommendation.
If feeding dry food, it is important to keep in mind that the kitten will need to drink far more water. Locating water bowls in a different area from food bowls (most cats prefer to eat and drink in separate locations) or investing in a fountain-type water bowl can encourage kittens to drink more fluids.
Never change the brand or type of food abruptly, as this can cause digestive upsets. If the diet must be switched, make the change gradually, mixing increasing amounts of the new food in with the old food until the kitten is eating only the new diet.
How Often to Feed Kittens
At 8 weeks, kittens should be eating solid food regularly, though they may still nurse sporadically for a while longer. A young kitten needs to be fed far more often than an adult cat–ideally 4 feedings per day for kittens younger than 16 weeks and 2-3 per day after that.
Owners who are away for long stretches of time during the day may wish to serve wet food in the morning and evening and provide some high-quality kibble for afternoon snacking, or purchase an automatic cat feeder that keeps food covered and opens at preset times.
Food should always be served at room temperature, as cold food may be rejected because cats can’t smell it as well.
Kittens Don’t Need Cow’s Milk
Kittens that have been weaned don’t need to drink milk. After weaning, many kittens can no longer digest lactose, and some will suffer digestive troubles if given milk. Even if the kitten doesn’t appear to suffer stomach upsets, cow’s milk is unnecessary, and water is a better choice for fluids.
For more cat and kitten articles, see the main Cats page.