If it's time to transition your kitten from nursing to kitten food, check out these seven helpful tips that cover the entire process.
Kittens are adorable, but they can also be a handful. They quickly hide, chase after a piece of fuzz, and answer nature’s call without giving the slightest warning. In fact, if there’s a kitten in your home, she’s probably far too busy playing with your shoelace to notice the way you care for her health, safety, and happiness. Nutrition is an important part of that care, which is why we’ve put together these helpful tips on feeding a kitten.
First, a quick note about newborn kittens: Newborns get all of their nutrition from nursing or, if separated from their mother, from a kitten milk replacer. They may require other special care as well. "Caring for Newborn Kittens" is a good place to start, but your veterinarian can provide the best information about how to care for kittens this young.
Tips for Transitioning Kittens from Nursing to Kitten Food
- Don’t immediately switch from a liquid diet to a solid diet. Once your kitten is three to four weeks old, try setting out moistened kitten food for her to nibble. The prep is easy: Just combine one part warm (not hot) water and three parts dry or canned kitten food. It should look like oatmeal. Over the next week or two, gradually decrease the amount of water and increase the amount of food each day to help with the transition to dry food.
- Find a food that’s 100% complete and balanced for kittens. Kittens need special nutrition and lots of it. They’re constantly growing and playing, which means they require two to three times more protein, fat, and other nutrients compared to adult cats. Check the bag to make sure you’re giving your kitten a food that provides 100% complete and balanced nutrition for kittens. If you have any questions, ask your veterinarian.
- Give your kitten a chance to get used to the food. At first, she may play with it or even step in the food dish. If so, remember: 1) she’s a kitten, so everything is a toy, and 2) her concept of food is still very fluid at this point. (See what we did there?) At any rate, be patient, keep a moist cloth handy to clean up, and make sure your kitten stays warm and dry.
- Keep an eye on the food dish. Switch out the food multiple times per day when serving wet food or moistened dry food. Even kittens with huge appetites turn their little noses up at food left out for more than a few hours. Frequent switch-outs also lower the risk of contamination.
- The water bowl is just as important. Water isn’t food, but it’s a crucial part of feeding a kitten. Your kitten’s body mass is 70 to 80 percent water. The water in wet food and moistened dry food helps keep her hydrated, but there’s no substitute for access to plenty of clean water at all times, refilled at least once a day.
- Feed undiluted wet or dry kitten food from 7 weeks old through your kitten’s first year. Once your kitten reaches eight or nine months, she’ll begin to look like a full-grown adult cat. Do not be deceived. Kittens continue to develop throughout their first year, so it's important to continue feeding kitten food for a full 12 months before graduating to adult cat food.
- Look out for signs of illness, including loss of appetite. Healthy kittens love to eat, so if you notice your kitten acting unresponsive and/or showing no interest in her food, call your veterinarian right away. The first several weeks of a kitten’s life can test her immune system, and there is a higher risk of illness. Be sure to let your veterinarian know if your kitten doesn't seem well, especially if she suddenly stops eating.
With these tips on feeding a kitten, you can help your little bundle of joy get all of the nutrition she needs to play and thrive. Just one last tip: Try to enjoy every last adorable moment while it lasts. Before you know it, your kitten will be an amazing cat.
After a full year, it’s time for your kitten to transition again – this time to an adult cat food. Learn how to make it happen.
Want to learn more about our fascinating feline friends and how to care for them? Check out Cat Chow’s Catipedia website!
- Rainbolt D. Kittens 101, “Hunters by Nature.” 2015 Annual, Vol. 18: 70–3.
- Shojai A. The Purina Encyclopedia of Cat Care. 1998: 123–4.
- Vigil L. Nestlé Purina PetCare Senior Nutritionist (Cat Portfolio). Interviewed Oct 2014.