How much food should a kitten eat?

Kitten peering at food in its bowl
(Image credit: Getty)

Caring for a kitten tends to raise many questions, including the common and important question ‘how much food should a kitten eat?’. Unfortunately, there’s no easy, one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Your kitten’s optimal food intake will vary based upon a number of factors. 

The most important considerations in determining food requirements are your kitten’s size and age as well as the specific kitten food you are feeding them. However, individual factors can also play a role. Some medical conditions may increase your kitten’s nutritional requirements, while other kittens have a slower metabolism. Very active kittens may require more calories than a lazy lap cat. 

Working closely with your veterinarian, combined with a little bit of trial and error, is often the best way to determine exactly how much your kitten should be eating. 

By feeding appropriate quantities of the best kitten food, you can prevent nutritional deficiencies while minimizing your kitten’s risk of obesity. Quality nutrition helps ensure that your kitten grows and matures at their optimal rate, supporting healthy development. This will not only keep your kitten healthy during their early months, but will set them up for success over the rest of their lifespan.  

What do kittens eat? 

Kittens should eat a high-quality diet that is formulated specifically for kittens. Determining whether any given kitten food meets these requirements, however, can be a bit of a challenge.

Pet foods are typically formulated for a specific life stage. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the organization that regulates pet food in the United States, has established required nutritional profiles for three separate life stages: pregnancy/nursing, growth, and maintenance. 

When feeding a kitten, you want to ensure that your kitten food is specifically formulated to be complete and balanced for your kitten’s needs. Look for the Nutritional Adequacy Statement on the food label, and ensure that the diet is formulated for kitten growth. Feeding an adult cat diet to a kitten less than one year old can lead to nutritional deficiencies, and feeding dog food is a surefire path to potentially life-threatening taurine deficiency. 

Recognizing whether a food is high-quality can be a bit more challenging. Pet food manufacturers often spend large amounts on advertising, but these advertisements tell you little about the science behind a particular pet food. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association recommends carefully evaluating pet food manufacturers based on the following criteria: whether the company employs a veterinary nutritionist, whether the diet is formulated by a nutritionist, whether the company conducts regular quality control testing, and whether the company performs ongoing nutritional research. Your veterinarian is familiar with many pet food manufacturers and can help you separate fact from fiction when assessing a particular kitten food.  

Kitten walking over to food bowl eagerly

(Image credit: Getty)

How much food should a kitten eat? 

Your kitten’s food intake may vary based upon a number of factors, but the two most important indicators are your kitten’s age and the nutrient density of the diet you’re feeding. 

Young kittens are much smaller than older kittens. Therefore, they need far less energy for growth than an older kitten… and that’s a good thing, because young kittens have tiny stomachs! Depending on the particular kitten food that you are feeding, a six week old kitten may eat as little as ¼ cup of food per day. In contrast, a 10-month old kitten may require over one cup of food per day. 

The other chief factor that determines how much food your kitten needs is the diet itself. Kitten foods can differ in caloric density and nutrient concentration.  Just like humans have to vary our food intake based on caloric density (one cup of ice cream contains far more calories than one cup of green beans!), your kitten’s food requirements will depend on the caloric density of their kitten food. Having a higher caloric density isn’t necessarily good or bad; it simply influences how much of a given diet your kitten will need to eat per day. 

The best way to determine how much to feed your kitten is to review the feeding chart present on every bag or can of kitten food. This feeding chart will provide specific feeding instructions, based on your kitten’s current age and/or weight. Each food has a different feeding chart, because feeding charts are calculated based on the specific food’s caloric/nutrient density.  

How do I know when my kitten is full? 

Kittens typically do a good job of regulating their own food intake. Most kittens eat when they are hungry and stop eating when they are full. 

If your kitten finishes their food and still appears ravenously hungry, you may need to increase the amount that you are feeding them.  If you find that you are feeding significantly more than what is recommended on your food’s feeding guide and your kitten still appears hungry, talk to your veterinarian. Some medical conditions may increase your kitten’s nutrient requirements, and your veterinarian can help you determine whether additional testing is needed. 

Because young kittens have a small stomach, it’s difficult for them to eat a large amount at one time. Therefore, it’s typically best to divide your kitten’s recommended daily food intake into two or three smaller meals each day. We also have a vet's answers to the popularly asked question 'how often should I feed my kitten?'.

Can you overfeed a kitten? 

Most kittens regulate their food intake effectively, but it is possible to overfeed a kitten. 

Excessive food intake in young kittens can contribute to vomiting and diarrhea. However, gastrointestinal issues in young kittens can also have a number of other cases. If your kitten is experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, seek veterinary care before assuming that your kitten’s diet is to blame.  

In older kittens, overfeeding can contribute to obesity. This isn’t just a cosmetic issue; obesity can predispose your cat to medical conditions and shorten your cat’s lifespan. Work with your veterinarian to ensure that your kitten remains within a healthy weight range as they move into adulthood. 

Your kitten’s food intake will depend on a number of factors, but the most important considerations are your kitten’s age and the particular diet that you are feeding. Use the feeding chart provided with your kitten’s food as a general reference for how much your kitten should be eating on a daily basis, but you may need to make adjustments based on individual factors. If you have any additional concerns, talk to your veterinarian for more personalized recommendations.  

Catherine Barnette DVM

Dr. Barnette is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received both her B.S. in Zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). She has 15 years of clinical experience as a small animal veterinarian, treating dogs, cats, and occasional exotic patients. She now works as a freelance veterinary writer, creating educational content for veterinarians, veterinary team members, and dedicated pet owners. Dr. Barnette lives in southwest Florida with her husband and daughter (plus two cats, a dog, and a rescued dove!) and enjoys kayaking, biking, and hiking. Learn more about Dr. Barnette at www.linkedin.com/in/catherinebarnette.