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How often should I feed my kitten? A vet’s advice

A kitten enjoying the best kitten food
(Image credit: Getty)

'How often should I feed my kitten?' is a common question asked by many new cat owners. Although the answer might seem simple, it can vary depending on your cat’s age, growth rate, and even breed. Knowing how much and how often to feed a young kitten the best kitten food is key to ensuring they have a healthy start in life. Let’s explore normal kitten eating patterns in more detail.

Young kittens – up to four weeks

Newborn kittens will be getting all their nutrition from their mother’s milk. However, if you find yourself in the position of needing to hand-rear a kitten then you will need some special kitten formula milk – don’t be tempted to give them cow’s milk! 

At this age, your kitten will need to be bottle-fed every 2-3 hours. You’ll also need to ensure they are toileting by stimulating them with a wet cloth if the mother cat isn’t there to do it. If you find an abandoned kitten or if your cat neglects her kittens after giving birth, it would be a good idea to get them checked over by a vet. Raising kittens is hard work, and it’s best to seek professional advice.

Weaning kittens – 4-8 weeks

At four weeks, most kittens are willing to try a little solid food. Try to find them soft, pâte-like foods at first, and consider mixing them in with a little milk to encourage them. At first, a taste is all they need – most of their nutrition will be coming from milk. But over the next 2-4 weeks, they’ll make a gradual transition to eating only solids. 

At this age, it’s best to leave solid foods down for long periods in order to allow them to explore and get a taste for it. Don’t forget to refresh the bowl regularly to make sure it stays safe, as wet food goes off quickly. At four weeks, they’ll be drinking milk about four times a day, but this will decrease naturally as their solid food intake increases.

First days in a new home – 8-16 weeks of age

Many kittens go off to their new homes from eight weeks of age onwards. This can be an unsettling time for them, so one of the best ways to help them feel more secure is by providing a routine. This will help them know what to expect each day. Making sure your kitten has set meal times is a big part of this.

Your kitten will need around four feeds a day at this age, with their recommended daily ration split evenly between all four mealtimes. You should get in the habit of weighing and body condition scoring your kitten to make sure they’re getting enough food. You want them to grow and put on weight, but not to become obese Your vet will be able to advise you further on this. Something else to consider is what type of food to feed your kitten – you can choose either wet, dry, or a mixture of both. At this age your kitten won’t need milk, they will be getting all they need from their solid food. Water should always be provided though.

Whichever food you opt for, make sure that it is a diet specifically for kittens as this will be specially formulated to help with their growth and development. The packet guidelines will tell you how much to feed your kitten per 24-hour period (which can then be divided into his four daily meals). If you aren’t sure how much you should be feeding, then speak to your vet.

16 weeks to 6 months

Your kitten will likely be on three feeds a day at this age, dividing their recommended daily ration into three equal portions. They should still be on a kitten diet at this age, as they are growing rapidly. However, this is a common age for kittens to become overweight, so keep on checking in with your vet to make sure their growth is appropriate. Keep an eye on how many extra treats or titbits you are giving them, as this is also easy to overdo.

How often should I feed my kitten

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Six months to one year

Your kitten’s growth will have slowed and, although they are still growing and changing body shape, he will need far fewer calories. Whether they stay on kitten food or change to adult food varies depending on their breed and whether they’ve been neutered – your vet can help you decide. 

At this age, two feeds a day is fine, and this frequency of feeding will continue right through your cat’s adult life. Having said this, wild cats eat several smaller meals each day, so if your cat is more of a grazer then you can do this too. The most important thing is to make sure his recommended daily calories are split between the meals so that you know, no matter how often he eats the number of calories per 24 hours is still the same.

How much food should I feed my kitten?

As kittens age their calorie needs change, so it can be difficult to decide exactly how much to feed them. Rather than guessing, it’s worth calculating your kitten’s energy needs.

Young, unweaned kittens need 20-25kcal for every 100g of bodyweight (opens in new tab) each day. You can use the calorie content on your kitten milk replacer label to determine how much milk you should feed your kitten. Weighing your kitten regularly can help to ensure they’re taking enough milk to grow properly.

Once your kitten has fully weaned, usually around eight weeks, he’ll need to be taking in around 250-280 calories a day. However, this can vary between breeds and individuals, so you should take your vet’s advice into account. Start by feeding the amount of food recommended on the cat food label, then adjust as necessary to make sure your kitten gains weight at the right rate.

Once your kitten reaches six months of age or is neutered, you can start to reduce their daily calorie intake to their adult requirement. On average, this is 200kcal/day, but this depends on your cat’s weight. Your vet will be able to advise, or a calorie calculator (opens in new tab) can help you.

Best kitten treats - a kitten accepting a treat from a child

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How often should I feed my kitten wet food?

When kittens are very young and starting to wean at around four weeks of age, soft food should be available most of the time. This is so that they can explore and try little bits, as and when they like. As your kitten gets older you might decide to keep him on wet food, or change to only dry food, it’s up to you. 

But regardless of whether you are feeding wet or dry, the recommended frequency of feeding is the same. Kittens aged 8-16 weeks will be on four meals a day, at 16 weeks to six months they will be eating three times a day and by six months of age onwards they should be on two meals per day.

How often should I feed my kitten milk?

It depends on their age as to how much milk your kitten needs. As discussed earlier (in the different age sections), newborn kittens will be getting all their nutrition from milk and will need to feed every 2-3 hours. This lessens as they get older and by the time they are fully weaned they shouldn’t require any milk at all. From the age of eight weeks old your kitten should only drink water.

Don’t be tempted to give cow’s milk to your kitten, even as a treat, as it could cause tummy upset.

How should I feed my kitten to avoid obesity?

Obesity is one of the biggest animal welfare concerns for vets today, and it’s estimated to affect over half of all cats. Once cats become obese, slimming them down is much harder – so preventing unhealthy weight gain, right from kittenhood, is the best bet.

Calculating the required daily allowance for a growing kitten is difficult, and feeding too little is just as dangerous as feeding too much. It’s best to talk to your veterinarian to find out how many calories your kitten needs each day, and calculate their feeding allowance, in grams, from there. 

Your vet can also recommend regular weigh-ins and check your kitten’s growth against a chart to make sure they aren’t gaining more weight than is healthy for their age. For more info, read our guide to weight loss for cats.

How often should I feed my kitten: Conclusion

The main thing that influences how often you should feed your kitten is his age. But size and breed can come into it too. Large breeds will have the stomach capacity to have fewer meals far younger than small breeds such as Siamese cats. 

Don’t forget that all cats are individuals. If your cat appears to be losing weight, is pestering for food, or is otherwise not coping with the number of meals they get, it might be worth discussing their symptoms with a vet and seeing whether more frequent meals would help.

After graduating as a veterinarian from the University of Nottingham, Dr Joanna Woodnutt went on to practice companion animal medicine in the Midlands. She quickly developed a love of consulting and helping clients with medical problems such as dermatology, behaviour and nutrition - anything that involved helping clients understand their pets better. Jo started writing about pet health in 2017, realising that it meant she could help even more pet parents. Since then, she has written for countless online and print publications and is a regular contributor for Edition Dog Magazine. Jo now lives in the Channel Islands with her husband Ian and terrier Pixie, and they are expecting their first child very soon.