To develop adequately, during his first year of life, a cat should go from drinking maternal milk or formula to eating commercial food made specifically for kittens, before finally settling into an adult diet. Depending on how old your kitten is when you adopt him, you may need to assist with the transitions.
The First Four Weeks
During the first month or so of life, kittens can rely exclusively on maternal milk to fulfill their nutritional needs, provided the mother is available to nurse. If you are raising orphans or the mother is not producing enough milk for her litter, you will need to bottle-feed the kittens a milk replacement formula.
Kittens should not consume cow's milk, which can cause diarrhea in cats of any age.
When they are about 4 weeks old, you can begin transitioning the kittens to solid food. The process, known as weaning, involves two stages:
- The first phase involves offering the kittens milk replacement formula
in a bowl. Kittens can continue to nurse early on, but
should be increasingly encouraged to drink from the bowl.
- Once the kittens are comfortable lapping liquid from a bowl -- at around 5 to 6 weeks of age -- introduce solid food by mixing milk replacement formula with wet or dry kitten food to create a oatmeal-like mush. During the next couple of weeks, gradually reduce the amount of formula you incorporate into the mixture. By the time they are 8 to 10 weeks old, kittens should be eating solid food without any formula added.
Kitten Food vs. Adult Cat Food
Because they grow quickly and are very active, kittens need more calories -- up to three times as many -- than adult cats. Once they are weaned, kittens need 30 percent of their energy to come from protein sources. Until cats are a year old, it is essential to feed them food formulated for kittens.
To be sure the food you select meets the nutritional needs of kittens, check the label for references to feeding trials run by the American Association of Feed Control Officials.
Kitten Feeding Schedule
Though it is typical for an adult cat to eat twice a day, kittens need to eat more frequently. You can opt to make food available at all times or schedule four feedings a day. If you choose the former method, dry food is most appropriate, as it can stay out for longer periods of time than wet food. Choose the latter method if the kittens are overweight or show a tendency for overeating. Moreover, cats of all ages should always have fresh water at their disposal.