Congrats, you're a new kitten owner! Raising a kitten is fun and adorable. It's also pretty easy, but there are some particulars you need to know going in, especially when it comes to feeding. Kittens are very hungry, and there are some special steps you need to take! Here's everything you need to know about feeding your kitten.
When, what, and how to feed kittens
Your kitten's dietary needs depend on its age. Most adoptable kittens will be at least 8 weeks old. Our guide starts at 4 weeks old, for those who may have rescued very young kittens, but keep in mind that a cat that young should ideally still be feeding from its mother. If you've rescued kittens younger than 4 weeks old, Best Friends Animal Society has feeding tips covered.
Before 4 weeks old, kittens should be bottle-fed kitten formula. They should eat 13–17 cc per feeding, and at 3-4 weeks old should feed every four hours (that's about six times a day).
At 4 weeks old, start introducing your kitten to "gruel." Gruel is a mixture of kitten formula and wet kitten food. (Best Friends Animal Society also has a handy recipe for kitten gruel.) According to Best Friends, a 4-week old kitten should have one-half can of gruel in a dish left out at all times. This is the only time your kitten will come close to "free feeding" — other than leaving the gruel out, you should never free feed a kitten. In addition, your kitten needs 13–17 cc of formula every eight hours (three times a day). Try to encourage the kitten to eat gruel during feeding time — your goal is just to introduce the gruel so the kitten begins to like it.
After 5 weeks old, kittens can be weaned off gruel and onto solid food. Hooray! Keep their feeding schedule the same, but let your kitten have access at all times to a dish with one-half can of dry kitten food, plus a small amount of wet kitten food. Ask your vet what brands they recommend for your kittens.
At 8-12 weeks old, kittens should be fed wet kitten food four times a day. Kittens at this age need a ton of calories: three times as many as adult cats need! They should eat roughly one can of kitten food per day (divided among four meals). Don't worry, it's hard to forget to feed your kitten at this age: Most will loudly let you know when they're hungry.
At 3 months old, you can start to feed your kitten three regular meals each day. They may still eat about one can of food per day, or slightly less. To figure out the exact amount to feed them, you can ask your vet or the shelter you adopted them from. You can also consult the feeding instructions printed on your kitten's food. As a general rule, kittens this age should be fed until they are full, as they still need lots of calories to grow! If they still demand four meals a day, that's totally fine. They also should still be on kitten food (for both wet and dry) at this age.
At 4-6 months old, keep their three-meals-a-day feeding schedule the same, but begin to notice how much your kitty is eating, and adjust accordingly. You might see their previously voracious hunger levels go down to more manageable hunger levels around this age.
At 12 months old, you can switch your cat from kitten food to adult cat food. Your kitty is fully grown or near it, and no longer needs the high levels of fat and protein in kitten food. Depending on your cat's hunger levels, you can probably feed them two meals a day now, instead of the previous three. Be sure to feed them their two meals at the same time every day.
Your kitten should have access to fresh water at all times. If they're young enough to be formula feeding, they'll get much of their hydration from their formula. If they're old enough to be on gruel or solid food, make sure they always have access to a dish of water. Tap water or filtered water are both fine. Water should be cold or room temperature.
What not to feed kittens
People food: As tempting as it is, kittens should never have human food. They need specific nutrients to grow, and their kitten food provides that. "People food" can upset their stomachs, and it's not worth the risk!
Adult cat food: As previously mentioned, cats need the high volume of protein and fat that kitten food provides. Don't switch it out for adult cat food until they're old enough.
Dog food: Dogs and cats have vastly different nutritional needs, and dog food cannot be substituted for cat food (or vice versa).
This may seem like a lot of information, but don't panic! It will quickly become routine, and should you ever forget, your kitten will loudly remind you. Have fun with your new pet!
UP TO 4 WEEKS: 13–17 cc of kitten formula every four hours
5 WEEKS: 13–17 cc of formula every eight hours, plus access to half-can of kitten gruel
8-12 WEEKS: 1/4 can of wet kitten food four times a day
3 MONTHS: 1/4 can of wet kitten food 3-4 times a day
4-6 MONTHS: ~1/4 can of wet kitten food three times a day. Supplement with dry food if desired.
12 MONTHS: ~1/4 can of wet adult cat food twice a day. Supplement with dry food if desired.