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

How often should I feed my kitten
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’ve brought home a new bundle of fluff, all of the conflicting information on the internet probably has you asking 'how often should I feed my kitten?'. 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.

Young kittens – up to four weeks

If you have found an abandoned kitten or your female cat gave birth, you might find yourself hand-rearing newborn kittens. Up to the age of four weeks, kittens should only be eating milk. Cow’s milk won’t do though – a kitten milk formula is the best bet to ensure they thrive.

At this age, your kitten will need to be bottle-fed every 2-3 hours. You’ll also need to ensure they’re toileting by stimulating them with a wet cloth if the mother cat isn’t there to do it. 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

The first days in a new home can be a scary time for a kitten, and one of the best ways to comfort them is by providing a reliable routine. This helps them to make sense of their new environment, and knowing what to expect helps them to settle in.

At this age, your kitten will be eating just solids, so you don’t need to provide milk – although water should be left down at all times so they can have a drink. You’ll need to decide what to feed them – either wet, dry, or a mixture of both – and what brand and even flavor you’ll opt for. Don’t forget to make sure the food is labeled as kitten food or is suitable for growth. You’ll also need to work out how many calories they need each day (your vet can help with this) so that you’re feeding them the right amount.

Your kitten will need around four feeds a day at this age, with their daily calories split evenly between all four. You should also 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.

16 weeks to 6 months

Your kitten will likely be on three feeds a day at this age, although larger kittens may have a large enough stomach to cope with two. They should remain on a kitten diet suitable for growth, as they are still 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.

How often should I feed my kitten

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Six months to one year

Your kitten’s growth has slowed and, although still growing and changing body shape, he needs 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 that fits into your daily routine, you can do this too. The most important thing is to make sure his daily calories are split between the meals so that you know, no matter how many meals he has, he’s not getting too many calories.

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 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 8 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 6 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 can help you.

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.

Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS

Dr Joanna Woodnutt is an experienced vet with an interest in companion animals. She recently left full-time practice to work as a relief vet and write articles about pets.