Articles, Cats, kittens
Feeding kittens the right amount of food and nutrition from the moment they are born is essential to making sure they are fit and healthy, giving them the best start in life. If you have a new kitten or are thinking about adopting a young cat, it is very important to understand what you should feed them and when.
Feeding grown cats can seem a simpler task since most do well on a good dry food with a little wet food thrown in. Feeding kittens can be a bit more complex.
Feeding Kittens from Birth – 4 Weeks
Mum’s Milk: Hopefully a kitten is still with his mother during this time. But, even so, there can be problems. If the mother cat refuses to nurse, have the vet check her out. She could have mastitis or something making nursing painful.
Hand-Feeding: If the mother cat refuses to take care of her kittens, you’ll have to hand feed them with a bottle. Generally speaking, the longer a kitten is able to feed from their mother (and therefore get much needed colostrum), the easier it will be to raise a litter of healthy kittens.
Use an appropriate formula at the correct dilution to ensure kittens do not get diarrhoea or constipation. Biolac and Divetelact are the most commonly available formulas and are cost effective. Work out the amount required per day and divide it by the amount of feeds (e.g. 12-16 feeds per day over the first week) so you know how much is required per feed.
Feeding must be in small, regular amounts. Initially, every 1-2 hours (including overnight) is appropriate but this can be drawn out as the kittens get older and stronger. Excessive amounts fed infrequently can lead to diarrhoea. Do not force the formula down them, rather let the kitten suck it out, in order to help prevent aspiration pneumonia.
Once kittens start on solids, time between feeds will generally lengthen as solid food is more filling and requires a longer time to digest.
Feeding kittens from 4 – 8 weeks
Weaning: For hand-reared kittens, early weaning should be encouraged. This can be started from as early as 14-18 days old with a suitable early weaning formula (such as Royal Canin®). This should initially be done as a supplementation to formula feeding and gradually increased in frequency over the ensuing days to not stress the intestinal system of the kitten. Start with a reasonably thick mixture and place a small amount in the kittens’ mouth, allowing it to become familiar with the new taste and texture by gently masticating the jaw.
Feeding kittens from 2 months – 3 months
Cat Food: Kittens should be feeding solely on kitten food by 10 weeks at the latest.
Type of food: During this time, kittens develop their food preferences which will stay with them for life. Dry or canned cat food is up to you. Only in special circumstances decided by your vet should you give a kitten supplements.
Frequency: Kittens this age should be fed at least four times a day because their stomachs are too small to contain the necessary amount of food for nutritional needs when less often. Wet food should be refrigerated between feedings and then warmed up. Dry food can be left out for kittens to free-feed. Mix a little water in the dry food if your kitten isn’t drawn to it.
My kitten is not putting on weight
Kittens should be weighed daily (at the same time each day) and their weights recorded. This can easily be done on a graph and should show an exponential curve of growth.
Address the issue of weight loss immediately, whether by increasing the frequency or amount of feeding or by seeking veterinary attention. It is normal for kittens to drop below their initial birth weight in the first 24-48 hours but their weight should steadily increase after this time. As kittens gain weight, regularly reassess the amount of formula required each day.
Feeding kittens from 3 months – 6 months
Routine: Kittens start to really appreciate routine during this time. Make sure your kitten food is in a quiet, safe place and don’t move it around.
Type of Food: Check your kitten food label. It should have a guaranteed analysis of key ingredients including the minimum fat and protein and the maximum fibre and moisture. Cats and kittens can develop problems from too little protein in their diet. Keep your kitten’s diet constant – don’t switch foods unless necessary.
Frequency: Towards six months, you can begin feeding your kitten three times a day. It’s best to weigh your cat every week and adjust amounts accordingly.
Amount: 1/3 to 1 cup at each feeding.
Feeding kittens from 6 months to 1 year
Feeding cats: Though your kitten may continue to grow after a year, they’re generally considered cats by then.
Type of food: Your cat’s food should, again, contain adequate protein as it highly digestible to cats. Also, look for Taurine and Arginine – these are essential amino acids. Most vets recommend against a vegetarian diet as cats are strict carnivores. As a grown cat, he has several choices for food:
Dry food: There are many brands on the market. There are also special foods for specific problems such as hairballs and urinary tract infections.
Wet food: Some cat owners feel this is best because it is lower in carbs than dry food. They also feel cats have less of a chance of obesity with wet food. But it has been found there’s no real difference between a dry or wet food diets.
Raw diet: Proponents feel this best approximates a cat’s diet in the wild. You can either make your own or buy a raw food diet. The key is to make certain your cat gets all the required nutrients. Some people add priobiotics (which help maintain intestinal health) and supplements (check with your vet).
Frequency: Twice a day.
Amount: Feeding kittens to insure their growth into healthy cats is essential, so always check food labels for recommendations. Watch their weight (an overweight cat or kitten will have a hanging stomach, ribs you can’t feel and, perhaps, a double chin); watch their activity level; and watch their stools. By focusing on good nutrition from the start, you’ll most likely have a healthy and strong cat.
Other important points when feeding kittens
Heating is very important as kittens will become cold very quickly. Electric pad heaters may not be sufficient if they are the type that produces heat proportional to weight. Hot water bottles require constant refilling and can cause burns to the kittens if not sufficiently insulated. Newspaper makes the best bedding because it retains warmth and can be disposed of easily in the event it gets soiled. Blankets and towels do not retain heat as easily, require frequent laundering and can be a source of infection if left soiled for a period of time. It is also possible that kittens will become trapped in them.
The environment which the kittens are being kept should be kept as clean as possible. Obviously total sterility is impossible, but bedding should be changed at least daily, or more often if soiled. Use of disinfectants to clean the cage and equipment is important. Isolation from other cats is also important until the kittens have been vaccinated.
Kittens should be wormed for intestinal worms at 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 weeks of age (and then monthly until 6 months of age.) Their first vaccination can be given from 6 weeks of age.
Kittens that are reared on their own are likely to develop some strange behavioural problems if they do not have any feline contact within the key developmental period (4-12 weeks) so allowing supervised contact with older, vaccinated cats may be advised. This can also assist them to learn self grooming behaviours.
Further reading on feeding kittens:
RSPCA – What should I feed my kitten?
Wikipedia – Learn about kittens
Purina – What to feed kittens
Tags: bottle fed, bottle-feeding, cat food, cats, diet, dry food, feeding cats, feeding kittens, formula, hand-feeding, kitten food, kittens, milk, new kitten, nutrients, raw diet, solid food, wet food