How to Care for a Healthy Cat: FEEDING A KITTEN

The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care


In order to meet a kitten’s nutritional requirements for proper growth and development you not only have to provide all the nutrients necessary to maintain an adult cat, but also must provide about two to three times as many calories on a per-pound (per-kg) body-weight basis as for adults and about 50% more calories from protein as well. Frequent feedings will allow a kitten to meet the caloric requirement if the diet is energy dense (providing at least 4.5 calories for each gram dry matter). Protein requirements are most easily filled by selecting high-quality complete commercial rations containing 34% or more protein on a dry-weight basis.

It is very important to provide the proper protein content, as kittens will not automatically select a diet that provides optimum quantities of protein. High-quality protein foods can be used to supplement the basic diet.

Although modern commercial foods make it unnecessary to supplement a kitten’s diet for nutritional reasons, feeding tiny amounts of other foods as diet supplements to kittens is invaluable in avoiding the development of narrow food preferences later. Cats should eat a variety of novel foods after weaning but before six months of age, or they may never willingly eat new foods. Eggs, milk and milk products such as cottage cheese, sour cream, or yogurt are high-quality proteins that are useful as diet supplements for cats. Be sure, however, to avoid any milk product that causes diarrhea when fed. Small amounts of cooked fish, muscle meat, and beef liver [about 1 teaspoonful per pound body weight (about 3 g/kg) per week] are also good protein supplements that can be introduced.


Be sure to find out what your kitten has been eating before you bring him or her home. If your kitten has not already been started on a well- balanced diet with quality complete foods as a basis, continue his or her original diet for a day or two, then gradually introduce the new foods that are to comprise the diet. Start with a single food, increasing the quantities of the new food gradually and decreasing the original until the kitten is consuming the new diet well. Then introduce other new foods in small portions one at a time to avoid digestive upsets. Kittens older than six weeks have all the teeth necessary to eat dry as well as canned products, and special dry foods sized just for kittens are sold in grocery and pet stores.


It is physically impossible for a small kitten to consume enough food (even of the highest quality) at one sitting to meet his or her daily caloric requirement. The most convenient method to assure yourself that your kitten is consuming enough to meet his or her caloric needs is to allow self- feeding. In this method food is left out where the kitten has free access to it, and the food is changed as necessary to keep it fresh. Most kittens do not overeat with this system. It may help prevent boredom, and it is more typical of natural feeding patterns. Experiments have shown that when given free access to food, cats prefer to eat ten to eighteen small meals randomly spaced in a twenty-four-hour period. Self-feeding must be abandoned or the portions reduced if the cat tends to become too fat.

Scheduled feeding (feeding by hand) is the system whereby you provide your kitten with several meals daily. It usually results in a cat who is anxious and ready to eat at mealtimes, making it easy for you to determine when his or her appetite is not normal. It can, however, result in a cat who is too attuned to food with a tendency to gorge at mealtime and a tendency to fatness. If you choose the scheduled-feeding method, provide your kitten with four or five meals a day until twelve weeks of age, three meals a day until six months of age, then offer food twice a day. Be sure to offer food warmed at least to room temperature, since cats find warm foods more palatable than chilled ones.

A combination of self-and scheduled feeding may be used. Many people successfully leave out a variety of commercial complete foods for their cat’s free choice feeding and use supplementary foods as “treats” or
scheduled meals.


You can use the caloric table as a rough guide to estimating your kitten’s daily needs. Information on the cat food packages can also be used as feeding guides. But remember, each cat is an individual and as such has individualized caloric requirements that may vary as much as 20% more or less from the average. Your kitten’s (or adult cat’s) appearance can be used as a gauge of the adequacy of the diet fed. Look at and feel your kitten. A glossy coat, free of dandruff, a steady weight gain, and good health and activity are all signs that tend to indicate that an adequate diet is being fed. Poor growth, a poor coat, or frequent illness could mean that your kitten’s diet is inadequate.

If you are using scheduled feeding, each meal should comfortably fill the kitten. If his or her stomach is distended and taut following a meal, or if he or she vomits shortly after eating, too much may be being eaten at one time. More frequent, smaller meals may be necessary.

Any dietary problems with kittens not quickly resolved at home (within twenty-four to thirty-six hours) should be discussed with a veterinarian.

Because of their rapid growth, small size, and relatively high metabolic rate, what sometimes appears to be minor dietary problems can cause kittens to develop severe illnesses quickly.

0–1 190 (418)
1–5125 (275)
5–10100 (220)
10–2565 (143)
25–3050 (110)
Adult (female or neutered male) about 30–40 (65–85)*
Adult tomcat50 (110)
Adult pregnant50 (110)
Adult lactating125 (275)

For calorie content of various types of foods.

* Depends on body size, activity level, and individual