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When can kittens eat dry food? A vet's guide to weaning kittens

When can kittens eat dry food? A vet's guide to weaning kittens
(Image credit: Getty Images)

“When can kittens eat dry food?” will be one of the many questions swirling around your head if you are weaning kittens, especially for the first time.

Having kittens in your home is such an exciting time! Watching the bundles of fluff develop and grow is quite an experience. However, rearing kittens is also a big responsibility and it’s important that you are fully informed at each step. 

Weaning too soon, or with an inappropriate diet, can be very harmful to a kitten’s health and development. Let’s explore all your questions in our vet’s guide, from choosing the best kitten food for your young feline to how often to feed your kitten.

When do kittens start eating food and drinking water?

Their Mother’s milk should be a kitten’s only source of nutrition from birth until 4 weeks of age. It’s important that all kittens suckle within 2 hours of birth, as this is when they receive vital colostrum, the first milk produced by mom. Colostrum provides essential nutrients as well as antibodies, which protect the kitten against diseases until they are able to produce their own. 

If a kitten is orphaned or cannot be with their mom, and no foster mom is available, then kitten formula is the next best thing. It’s important to note that kittens should never be given human or puppy formula. This won’t contain the right nutrition for them and can even be harmful. Only kitten formula is suitable.

Kittens can start eating food and drinking water from around 4 weeks of age. Some kittens may be ready after 3 weeks, but a kitten should never start weaning before 3 weeks of age. 

Tell-tale signs that a kitten is ready to start weaning include trying to steal some of mom’s food, or biting and chewing on the teat in bottle-fed kittens. The weaning process takes around 2-4 weeks, with the majority of kittens only eating solid food at 8 weeks of age.

best kitten food

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When can kittens eat dry food?

Kittens can eat dry food from 4 weeks old, but it’s sensible to wait until they are 5-6 weeks old to start offering kibble.

The guide below will help you know what to feed your kitten at each stage of the weaning process. 

What to feed kittens to wean them

You can start with wet or dry complete kitten food soaked in water or kitten milk. Starting with wet food is a good idea, as kittens will find this easier to eat and it tends to have a stronger smell, which will entice the kittens. 

Kittens must have free access to fresh water at all times during weaning. They will need to stay with mom until they are 8 weeks old, so they can supplement feed from her while they get used to eating solid food. Staying with mom during this time is also crucial for their socialization. If they are bottle-fed, you will need to continue with some bottles until they are taking in enough nutrients from the solid food. 

How often should I feed my kitten

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How to wean kittens 

Here are our top tips for successfully weaning kittens: 

  • First, be patient. Weaning takes 2-4 weeks and there will be a LOT of mess in the early stages!  
  • Once your kittens reach 4 weeks old, you can start to introduce some solid food. It’s a good idea to start with wet kitten food, mixed with a little warm water or kitten milk.  
  • You can offer dry food soaked in warm water or kitten milk from 4 weeks if you choose to. Or, you can add it in starting at 5-6 weeks. 
  • You can offer a little food on the tip of your finger or a baby spoon, to tempt the kitten to try it. You should never smear it on their face or force their head into the bowl. They will try it when they are ready. 
  • Start by offering the food on a flat dish or plate, so there is no lip or rim in the kitten’s way. Be prepared to change the food regularly though, as the kittens will likely walk in it too! 
  • Over the next 2-4 weeks you can gradually decrease the amount of water or kitten milk you are adding until they are only eating the solid food. 
  • Ensure fresh drinking water is easily available at all times. 

It’s important that you take your time and don’t try to rush weaning, as this will only cause stress to both the kittens and the mom.

How often to feed your kitten

Wondering how often to feed your kitten? Kittens need to eat little and often, so offer at least 4 small meals a day initially. It is very rare for kittens to over-eat, so they can also be fed ad-lib, as long as you change the food regularly to keep it fresh.

You should monitor your kitten’s weight daily, to be sure they are getting adequate nutrition. Kittens should gain at least 10grams per day, on average. If your kitten’s weight gain is less than this or is dropping, contact your vet for advice. Similarly, if their belly looks tucked in, they are crying excessively, or seem cold or weak, you should call your vet straight away.

What's the best type of food for kittens? 

Kittens must be weaned on good quality, nutritionally complete kitten food. Kittens have specific calorie, protein, and calcium requirements for healthy growth. They also need adequate vitamins and minerals. 

Look for a manufacturer who employs board-certified veterinary nutritionists, or someone with a Ph.D. in animal nutrition, to work on their formula. Consider looking for a brand that is part of the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA). To be a member, the manufacturers have to meet higher quality standards than the legal minimum. 

You can find out more in our vet's guide to which kind of kitten food is best for your young cat.  

Conclusion

Weaning kittens is such an exciting time, but can also be a challenging one! Successful weaning takes patience, love, and a lot of mess! Now you know how to get started on weaning your kittens. Remember, if you aren’t sure, or have any concerns, then contact your vet for advice.

Sarah-Jane Molier graduated in 2009 and has been enjoying life as a vet ever since. She currently works as Head Veterinarian in a small animal practice. Sarah-Jane particular enjoys internal medicine, alongside her managerial role. When not working in practice Sarah-Jane enjoys sharing her knowledge and helping pet parents by writing on a wide variety of animal health and medicine topics. In her spare time Sarah-Jane loves walking Nero (her rescue dog), gardening with her two young children and reading.