Animal Care

Kittens Nutrition

If you’re responsible for taking care of kittens in the first few months of their lives, you should be prepared to move them from a diet of milk to regular kitten food. Read on for tips for making the transition.

  • Newborn kittens receive complete nutrition from their mother’s milk for the first four weeks of life. Mom’s milk is perfect for their needs, so you don’t need to feed them anything else.
  • In the event that the mother cat is ill or doesn’t produce enough milk—or if the kittens are found as orphans—it may be necessary to feed the kittens a commercial milk replacer. If you find yourself in this situation, contact your veterinarian for product and feeding recommendations.
  • During the first weeks of life, a kitten’s body weight may double or even triple. This rapid growth will continue, albeit at a decreasing rate, until maturity. Large amounts of energy and nutrients are required in balanced quantities to support this spectacular growth.
  • Kittens need large amounts of energy—about two to three times that of an adult cat. Kittens also need about 30% of their total energy from protein. Make sure the food you offer is specifically formulated for kittens. Your pet will need to eat kitten-formula food until she reaches maturity, at about one year of age.
  • By the time kittens are five to six weeks old, they should be nibbling on a high-quality dry food consistently even though they’re still nursing. This process of gradually introducing kitten food is important in training cats to eat as they are weaned.
  • Most mother cats will suckle their kittens until about eight weeks of age. By this time, 80 to 90% of the kitten’s total nutrient intake should be from kitten food.
  • Kittens can be fed free-choice—which means food is available at all times, as much as the pet wants, whenever the pet wants. You can feed them dry kitten food or nutrient-dense kitten-formula canned food—however, the free-choice method is most appropriate when feeding dry food, which will not spoil if left out. If you have a dog in your home, make sure he can’t get to the kitten’s food (dogs just adore cat food!). Also, make sure fresh water is available at all times.
  • At first, curious kittens will probably want to play with their food rather than eat it, but the youngsters will soon catch on and realize they are supposed to eat the food, not just bat it around!
  • It’s fine to feed your kitten a few treats. However, treats should make up no more than 5% of your kitten’s daily nutrient intake, and the rest of his/her diet should come from a high-quality kitten food.

Weaning a Kitten

Weaning is the process of transitioning kittens from mother’s milk to solid food. During weaning, kittens gradually progress from dependence on a mother’s care to social independence. Ideally, weaning is handled entirely by the mother cat. However, if the kitten in your care has been separated from his mother or if you are fostering a litter or a pregnant cat about to give birth, seeing the young ones through a successful weaning process may be up to you.

When to Wean a Kitten

The weaning process normally begins when kittens are around four weeks old, and is usually completed when they reach eight to ten weeks. If you are in charge of weaning an orphaned kitten, please remember that weaning should not be attempted at too early of an age. Generally, when a kitten’s eyes are open and able to focus, and he is steady on his feet, the introduction of solid food can safely begin.

The process typically takes between four and six weeks, with most kittens completely weaned by the time they’re eight to 10 weeks old.

How to Start the Weaning Process

It’s important to remember that abrupt removal from the mother cat can have a negative effect on the kittens’ health and socialization skills—they learn to eat, use a litter box and play, among other things, by observing their mother. Whenever possible, kittens should remain with their mother during the weaning process, as she will inherently know what to do.

  • When the kittens reach four weeks old, you can place them in a separate area for a few hours at a time to reduce their dependency on mother’s milk and her overall presence.
  • Put them in their own special area with a litter box and food and water bowls.
  • As the kittens become more independent, they can spend more time away from their mother until they are completely weaned.

How to Wean a Kitten Off of Mother’s Milk or Bottle-Feeding

  • Serve kitten milk replacer in a shallow bowl. Do not use cow’s milk, as this will cause stomach upset and diarrhea in some kittens.
  • Dip your fingertip (or the syringe or bottle the kitten is used to nursing from) into the liquid, let the kitten lick it, then guide him by moving your finger down into the bowl.
  • Please do not push his nose into the bowl. He may inhale the liquid and develop pneumonia or other lung problems.
  • Once he becomes accustomed to lapping liquids, create a “gruel” mixing a high-quality dry or canned kitten food with kitten milk replacer until it is the consistency of oatmeal.
  • Though you should continue to bottle-feed while the kitten is learning to eat from the bowl, you can help with the gradual transition by always offering the bowl first, and then the bottle.

How to Introduce a Kitten to Solid Food

  • Make a gruel (described above).
  • As the kitten gets accustomed to eating, gradually decrease the amount of milk replacer you add, while slowly increasing the amount of kitten food.
  • By five to six weeks, he should be eating only lightly moistened food.
  • Now you can start to leave out small amounts of dry food and fresh water at all times.
  • By eight to 10 weeks, kittens should be accustomed to eating unmoistened kitten food.

Weaning an Orphaned Kitten

Generally, orphaned or hand-fed kittens can begin weaning slightly earlier, at about three weeks of age, but otherwise, the process is essentially the same.

  • Begin by offering milk replacer in a dish, teaching the kitten how to lap from the dish.
  • Gradually transition to a gruel (described above).
  • As the kitten slowly grows accustomed to eating, gradually reduce the amount of milk replacer you use.
  • By five to six weeks of age, he should be relying solely on kitten food for his nutrients.

Tips to Help the Weaning Process

Kittens may play with the gruel, batting it around and stepping into the bowl before they understand that it’s food. Have patience and don’t rush the process—they’ll catch on eventually. In the meantime, use a soft, moist cloth to wipe any formula off the animal’s face and feet after each feeding. Gently dry him with a towel and keep him in a warm area free of drafts until he’s completely dry.

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