Greetings kitten lovers! Skye Blake here, reporting in about the best food for your kittens.
If you don’t know what nutrition kittens need, start by reading “Food for Kittens – Giving Them Good Nutrition“.
Then come back here to learn about the food that gives them the best nutrition.
- What’s the Best Food for Weaned Kittens?
- Reading the Labels
- How Much Food Do I Give My Kitten?
- How Often Do I Feed My Kitten?
- Feeding When Spayed/Neutered
- How to Tell If Your Kitten Is Healthy
- Kittens & Water
- Kittens & Milk
- What’s the Difference Between Kitten & Adult Cat Food?
- Is It Safe to Feed a Kitten Raw Cat Food?
- More About Cat Nutrition & Food
- Related Pages of Interest
- List of Sources
What’s the Best Food for Weaned Kittens?
Newborn kittens up to about four weeks old get all they need from mom, so the next question is “what’s the best food to give them when they’re weaned?”
Since kittens need significantly higher protein levels, more calories and higher amounts of nutrients like calcium and phosphorus than adult cats, they have to have complete and balanced diets specifically made for them.
They need those extra calories and proper proportions of nutrients for bone, organ, and systems development.
Discuss your kitten’s particular needs with your vet or board-certified vet nutritionist, especially if there are medical conditions involved.
Kitten food should always be high quality, easy to digest, and packed with calories, formulated specifically for growth and development of kittens.
Don’t feed them puppy, dog, or adult cat food… no people food either!
These will create nutritional imbalances, causing serious problems with proper growth and development.
Vets often recommend feeding both wet and dry food because this is a great way to get them used to a variety of textures.
This can be very helpful later in life if they need a specific medical diet.
Wet kitten food comes in different textures like chunks and flakes, while dry kibble is sized to fit little mouths and can be softened by adding water.
Reading the Labels
The label of any kitten food should clearly say it’s “complete and balanced”, along with a statement that the product meets or exceeds AAFCO and/or WSAVA recommendations.
Some labels say they’re for all life stages, including kittens, but these aren’t good for kittens unless there are feeding tests that support this claim.
It’s best to avoid these and look for foods made only for kittens that are complete and balanced.
You’ll most likely end up experimenting to see what your kitten will eat, just be sure it’s a complete and balanced formula.
Find things your kitten likes but don’t just cater to demands and end up with a picky eater.
A few examples of reputable cat food brands that meet AAFCO and WSAVA recommendations are…
- Royal Canin®
How Much Food Do I Give My Kitten?
Kittens usually eat every few hours and should be given as much as they’ll eat.
Check the packages of food for suggested amounts, which are usually calculated according to the ideal weight as an adult and the age of the kitten.
Keep in mind, though, that every kitten is individual and feeding directions on cat food products are guidelines, which you can adjust to your kitten’s specific needs.
Your vet can figure this out using metabolic formulas (number of calories required per day based on your kitten’s current weight).
Young kittens generally eat ¼ to ½ cup of food at a time, but this can vary by breed, since large breed kittens may need more.
Kittens should be hungry but not so much that they scarf down the whole thing in a few seconds.
Follow your vet’s guidance for making adjustments to the number of calories as they grow.
Fresh water should always be available either in bowls or fountains.
How Often Do I Feed My Kitten?
Young kittens need to eat frequently because they have tiny tummies.
You can leave dry food out all day (“free feed”) or divide the day’s food amounts into 3-4 small meals.
Free feeding helps kittens eat comfortably without eating too quickly, which can give them a distended stomach.
It can be helpful for those who are growing slowly or underweight and need extra calories.
Don’t leave wet food sitting out since it can spoil.
Give kittens as close to the amount they’ll eat as possible, so you’ll have less to clean up or throw away.
This will also help you save money by not giving too much wet food.
At 6 months old, you can start feeding twice a day, but some cats prefer to stay with 3-4 small meals.
The number of daily calories will need to be adjusted for your kitten’s changing needs.
Check with your vet with any questions about changing your kitten’s eating habits.
See “How to Feed a Cat” for more, especially if you have other cats or dogs who might eat your kitten’s food.
Feeding When Spayed/Neutered
Most kittens are spayed or neutered between the ages of 2-6 months (weight is a factor).
Check with your vet about your kitten’s needs because hormonal changes can cause weight gain, so you may need to adjust the calories you give each day.
Young kittens rarely get overweight, but if you think yours is, have him examined by your vet.
You can do measured meals rather than free feeding, but only with your vet’s guidance.
Preventing obesity is better than dealing with it later.
See more about obesity at “Fat Cats – Unhealthy or Cute?“
How to Tell If Your Kitten Is Healthy
There are signs that tell you whether your kitten is healthy or struggling.
These are important to be aware of because when kittens go downhill they can quickly die.
Signs your kitten is in good health…
- Shiny full coat
- Healthy looking skin
- Lots of energy
- Good poop – brown and firm but not hard
- Appropriate weight for age
- Growing well
- Thin (according to breed)
- Normal belly size
If your kitten has any of these signs, especially if she’s under 8 weeks old, get her to the vet immediately.
This is especially true with low energy, diarrhea, vomiting and/or no appetite.
- Dull, thin coat
- Dry, flaky or dull skin
- Low energy – tired, lethargic, or just quiet
- Diarrhea or inability to poop
- Too thin, bony
- Potbelly (could be parasites)
- Lack of appetite
Kittens & Water
Newborn kittens don’t need extra water because they get everything they need from mom’s milk.
But mom needs easy access to fresh water daily.
Once you begin the weaning process, be sure shallow bowls of water are available for both mom and kittens.
Just put them where spills and upended bowls won’t be a problem.
Fountains can be a fun way for kittens to get water, since they can satisfy their curiosity and either drink or lick it off their paws.
Kittens & Milk
During the first month or so, kittens get their nutrition from mother’s milk or, if you’re hand feeding, from kitten formula.
As kittens grow and are weaned, their bodies lose the ability to process milk because the necessary enzymes decrease.
This can cause diarrhea if kittens then drink cow or other milk.
Discover more about cats, milk and water at “Can Cats Drink Milk?“
What’s the Difference Between Kitten & Adult Cat Food?
The main difference between kitten and adult cat food is the proportions of protein, fat, and other nutrients.
Kitten food has more calories and fat than adult food because kittens are growing very fast and need extra calories for all that energy.
Reputable pet food companies tailor their kitten food to the immature digestive ability, developing immune system, and baby teeth of kittens.
Is It Safe to Feed a Kitten Raw Cat Food?
There are people who claim raw food is best for kittens as well as adult cats, but so far, this claim has no scientific proof.
If you insist on creating a raw food diet for your kitten, talk to your vet and/or consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist for advice and to set up a proper diet for each stage of growth.
Don’t be surprised if they recommend not to do this, because if you do it wrong, your kitten will pay the price.
Vets have valid concerns about two problems with attempting to feed kittens raw food.
Risks of Bacteria & Parasites
One big problem is the real risk from bacteria and parasites found in raw foods, both to kittens and people.
You need to carefully consider how to handle this risk before deciding if this is worthwhile for you and your kitten.
Remember that kittens have immature immune, as well as other, systems, that might not be able to handle certain bacteria.
No matter what they eat, kittens need to be dewormed, especially if they go outside, so talk to your vet about it.
Difficulty In Creating a Complete & Balanced Diet
The other major problem is the difficulty and work involved in creating complete and balanced meals day in and day out over the months that kittens grow.
This is true for both raw feeding and cooked homemade meals.
Since kittens grow quickly, their nutritional needs change from week to week and month to month.
Unless you’re a vet or veterinary nutritionist, you won’t have the knowledge to create a consistently complete and balanced meals, with all necessary amounts of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
It’s unrealistic and unnecessary for the vast majority of people to try to feed kittens raw food.
The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University published an article about the dangers of doing it wrong.
“A Cautionary Tale of Nutrition” is well worth reading to get an understanding of how important it is to do raw diets properly or not at all.
And don’t feel guilty if you decide it’s not for you.
More About Cat Nutrition & Food
Now that you’ve learned a bit about feeding kittens, you might like to understand more about types of cat food and nutrition at these related pages…
Related Pages of Interest
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.
Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.
Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own. Sometimes they refer to primary sources.
When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
“5 Tips On Proper Nutrition For Your Pregnant Cat” by Lisa Selvaggio, PetGuide, August 14, 2014
77 Things to Know Before Getting a Cat by Susan M. Ewing, Fox Chapel Publishers, Ltd., 2018, pp. 79-95
A-Z of Cat Diseases & Health Problems by Bradley Viner, Bvet Med MRCVS, Howell Book House, a Simon & Schuster/Macmillan™ Company, New York, NY, 1998, pp. 53-57, 61, 72, 74, 103-4, 110-11, 214-18
The American Animal Hospital Association Encyclopedia of Cat Health and Care, Executive Committee with Les Sussman, Alan Dubowy, DVM, The Philip Lief Group, Inc., Hearst Books, NY, 1994, 35, 62-66, 144, 149, 165-69, 180, 223-4, 238
Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook by Delbert G. Carlson, DVM & James M. Giffin, MD, Howell Book House, New York, NY, 1995, pp. 345-354, 386-7
“A Cautionary Tale of Nutrition“, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine (tufts.edu), August 30, 2022
“Complete Guide to Feeding Kittens” by Amanda Simonson, DVM, PetMD, February 11, 2021
The Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies by the editors of Prevention Pets™ Books, Rodale Press, Inc., Emmaus, PA, 1996, pp. 181-184, 192-194
Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Secrets to the Natural Health of Dogs & Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, and Susan Hubble Pitcairn, Rodale, New York, NY, 2005, pp. 3-118
“Feeding a Kitten: Kitten Food Types and Schedule“, webmd.com, 2009
“Feeding the Pregnant Cat” by Krista Williams, BSc, DVM; Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM, VCA Animal Hospitals
“Feeding Your Cat“, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, July 2017
“Feeding Your Cat: Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition” by Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, CatInfo.org, Updated Nov 2016
Feline Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians by Bonnie V. Beaver, DVM, MS, Dept. of Small Animal Medicine & Surgery, College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University, W.B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia, PA, 1992, p. 103, 109, 171-186, 189-191
The Holistic Cat: A Complete Guide to Natural Health Care by Holly Mash, The Crowood Press Ltd., Ramsey, Marlborough, Wiltshire, England, 2014, pp. 60-61, 78-81, 99-115
“Homemade Kitten Milk Formula Recipes And How to Bottle Feed a Newborn Kitten” by Franny Syufy, Reviewed by Petal Smart, VMD, thesprucepets.com, updated on February 7, 1922
“How Does Too Much or Too Little Vitamin D Affect Cats? (Vet-Approved)” by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, petful.com, January 15, 2019
“How To Start Your Kitten On A Raw Diet – The Ultimate Guide” by Paws of Prey, YouTube, March 16, 2021
“Key nutrients for kittens“, Royal Canin
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Cats by Angela Rixon, Quarto Publishing, 2020 Edition published by Chartwell Books, New York, NY
The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health, Home Edition, Cynthia M. Kahn, BA, MA, Editor, Scott Line, DVM, PhD, Dipl ACVB, Associate Editor, with Editorial Board, Merck & Co., Inc., Whitehouse Station, NJ, 2007, pp. 337, 440, 453, 493, 1058, 1194, 1246
Natural Cat Care by Celeste Yarnall, Ph.D., Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc. & Castle Books, Division of Book Sales Inc., Edison, NJ, 2000, pp. 47-102
Natural Health Care for Your Cat by Dr. Rudolf Deiser, Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., Hauppauge, NY, 1997, pp. 12-15, 106-7
“Nutrition Basics for Your Kitten: What You Should Know” Vetstreet, January 27, 2015
“Nutritional Deficiencies in Cats” – Tufts Catnip, Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, October 19, 2015
“Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats” by National Research Council (Author), Division on Earth and Life Studies (Author), & 3 more
“Nutrition & Nutritional Disorders” – Veterinary Pediatrics: Dogs and Cats from Birth to Six Months by Johnny D. Hoskins, DVM, PhD, Professor, Veterinary Clinical Medicine, Louisiana State University, School of Veterinary Medicine, W.B. Saunders Company, a Division of Harcourt Brace & Company, Philadelphia, PA, 1995, 2nd edition, pp. 511-524
“Pet Food Decisions: How Do You Pick Your Pet’s Food?” by Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (Nutrition), Clinical Nutrition Service, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, Petfoodology, Dec 16, 2019
Updated January 13, 2023