How to feed kittens (tips + feeding chart)

October 24, 2023 - 5 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Dr. Kirsten Ronngren on October 23, 2023 . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

kitten sleeping

There's nothing quite like the joy of adopting a new kitten.

But with great cuteness comes great responsibility—specifically, figuring out the basics of kitten nutrition and how to feed your kitten properly.

Don't stress! We'll walk you through every stage, ensuring your kitten grows up to be a healthy, thriving adult cat. Let's get started.

How long kittens nurse (and why mom's milk matters)

A mother cat's milk is essentially a feline superfood chock-full of essential proteins, fats, and micronutrients. Kittens generally nurse from their mothers for up to 6–8 weeks, sometimes longer (more on that in the next section).

Grey mother cat nursing her babies kittens, close up

But if you've adopted an orphaned kitten, bottle-feeding with a high-quality kitten milk replacement formula is your next best option. For information on the schedule, amount to feed, and how to keep track of appropriate weight gain for neonatal kittens, it’s best to seek the recommendations of a veterinarian. Doing this correctly can be challenging!

When do kittens start eating food and drinking water?

Many experts recommend initiating the weaning process and adding solid foods to your kitten's diet when they are around 4-6 weeks old.

If your kittens are still with mom, let mom lead the weaning process, as early separation from mom has been linked to increased aggression and other undesirable behaviors in kittens.

Tips for feeding your kitten solid foods

Adorable ragdoll kitty standing with tail up and opened mouth close to metal bowl with feed and looking at it on white background. Cute purebred kitten going to eat

The process of moving your kitten on to solid foods should be gradual. Fresh water should also become a staple in your kitten's diet, so keep that water bowl filled.

Here's your step-by-step kitten feeding guide to start your kitten on solid foods when they're ready!

Step 1: Choose the right kitten food

Always opt for high-quality, kitten-specific food that is rich in protein and other essential nutrients.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has a helpful article on selecting the right pet food, but they don't endorse specific brands, so ask your vet for their recommendation.

Whatever brand you opt for, try to stick with it; sudden changes can put your kitten's tummy on a roller coaster. If you do need to change for some reason, transition slowly over the course of 7–14 days.

Step 2: Mix it up

Initially, make gruel by mixing wet kitten food with kitten milk replacement. Avoid using cow's milk (or others), as it can cause vomiting or diarrhea.

A small gray kitten without a breed sits on the floor near a metal cup with milk

Step 3: The first tastes of kitten food

Place a small amount of the gruel on a flat dish. You can encourage your kitten to taste it by gently placing some on your fingertip and allowing them to investigate this new fun smell.

Step 4: Monitor and adjust

Over the next few weeks, slowly reduce the amount of milk replacement in the mix while also reducing the meal's liquidity. Keep an eye on how your kitten responds to these changes, making sure there are no signs of digestive issues like diarrhea.

Step 5: Introduce dry food (if you'd like)

Once your kitten is comfortably eating wet food, you can start introducing dry food by mixing it with wet food. Ensure the dry food is also kitten-specific, and soften it with a little water if needed.

Beautiful little kitten licking milk from a bowl placed on the living room floor next to a window

By the way, when it comes to the dry vs. wet food debate, there's no one-size-fits-all answer for kittens. Wet food is moisture-rich, which is a win for feline hydration, and it's also kinder on those tiny kitten teeth. On the flip side, dry food takes the cake for convenience. It has a longer shelf life when left out and tends to be less messy. It may also be more cost-effective for pet parents, and it is often more calorie dense per volume than wet food.

A blend of both wet and dry food can sometimes offer the best of both worlds for your kitten. Just be mindful of portion sizes to make sure you're not going overboard on calories. Always consult your vet for personalized feeding advice tailored to your kitten's needs.

Step 6: Consult your vet

Throughout this process, stay in touch with your veterinarian. They can provide guidance tailored to your kitten’s specific needs and address any concerns you may have.

How much to feed a kitten: a guide to portion control

The portion sizes should be tailored to your kitten's age and weight.

Kittens benefit from multiple small meals throughout the day (4-6), and this can be adjusted as your kitten ages. Cats tend to graze, so a ‘little but often' approach tends to be recommended.

Kitten's age What to feed your kitten How much to feed your kitten How often to feed your kitten
Up to 6 weeks Mothers milk or bottled milk replacer Depends on age and weight Depends on age and weight
6-12 weeks High-quality, kitten-specific food (wet or moistened dry) Based on kitten's weight: refer to the back of kitten food for direction 3-4 times per day
3-6 months High-quality, kitten-specific food (wet or dry) Based on kitten's weight: refer to the back of kitten food for direction 3-4 times per day
6 months-1 year High-quality, kitten-specific food (wet or dry) Based on kitten's weight: refer to the back of kitten food for direction 3-4 times per day

*These are general guidelines, and actual portion sizes matter. Reach out to your vet for a specific plan for your kitten.

It can be difficult for some owners who work away from home to give a cat five meals, but you can consider options such as spreading food around the house in separate bowls, using timed feeders, using puzzle feeders, or scatter feeding.

If, at any point, your kitten stops eating, reach out to your vet immediately.

When do kittens switch to adult food?

The process of transitioning from kitten food to adult cat food usually begins around the first birthday but may extend up to 18 months for larger breeds like Maine Coons.

Before making the switch, consult your vet, especially if your kitten has specific dietary needs. Gradually introduce adult food into their diet, and closely monitor their weight and behavior during the transition.

Beyond the food bowl

Feeding your kitten the right diet is crucial, but it's just one piece of the kitten care puzzle. Regular vet check-ups, vaccinations, and parasite treatments should be on your radar.

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The non-insurance ManyPets Wellness Plan can help reimburse you for the cost of routine and preventative care, including routine vet visits and certain over-the-counter products.

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Oh, and a good kitten insurance policy helps you cover the costs of accidents, illnesses, and emergency care, giving you peace of mind when your fur baby needs medical attention. Our coverage options at ManyPets are flexible, so you can choose the best plan for your budget and your kitten's specific needs.

Not all kitten care involves unexpected trips to the vet. Our non-insurance Wellness Plan is designed to cover these preventive healthcare needs, making it easy to keep your kitten healthy without breaking the bank.

Here’s to the meow-mentous journey of your kitten growing up to be a fabulous cat-dult!


Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.