Not all kittens are lucky enough to have a mother that cares for them and feeds them on a regular basis. Some can be abandoned while others can be left without their mothers due to accidents and other tragedies.
If you find yourself in the position to take care of an orphaned kitten, you might feel a little baffled as to what you are supposed to do. In this article, we’ll look at the dietary needs of very young cats and how you can ensure a feeding schedule that can eventually help the kitten grow into a happy and healthy adult.
Kittens have different nutritional needs
Before we move on to showcasing the actual feeding schedule, we would like to underline that kittens’ nutritional requirements differ greatly from those of adult cats. A kitten’s weight can double or triple during the first couple of weeks of her life, which obviously doesn’t happen with adult cats.
To support this type of growth, the kitten has to be fed as often as possible and should get enough calories. Most kittens eat around three to four times a day, but that can actually mean five or six if they have access to their mom’s mammary gland and can have a snack of milk whenever they feel like it.
Furthermore, kittens need more fat, vitamins, and fatty acids compared to adult cats, which is also one of the reasons why there is such a thing called kitten food. They also need plenty of minerals, amino acids, as well as protein — the latter is important as they should get around 30% of their daily energy level from protein.
Feeding a young cat kitten food needs to be done until he or she gets to be 1 year of age or even more.
Kitten feeding schedule
Hand feeding can be done with the help of a needleless syringe and a cat milk replacer. There are lots of brands that now manufacture these types of milk replacers, with KMR being one of the most popular and nutritious ones out there. Your vet can also give you some suggestions in terms of the products that you can try.
Here is an idea of what the ideal kitten feeding schedule should look like.
1-week old kittens
During the first week of her life, a kitten depends on her mother completely. The eyes and ears of kittens are sealed shut, and they use pheromones to find their mother in their living environment.
The majority of kittens do quite well without any kind of human intervention, but if a kitten is orphaned, she needs to be bottle-fed. Kittens that are bottle-fed should be given around 15 ml of special kitten milk every 2 to 3 hours.
At birth, a kitten weighs somewhere around 3 to 3.7 ounces, but at the end of the first week, she should weigh at least 4 ounces. Weight gain needs to be monitored with a gram scale as putting on weight is mandatory for the kitten to survive.
2-week old kittens
2-week-old kittens have to be bottle-fed formula every 3 hours, so around eight times per day. The amount is slightly increased, with most kittens needing around 20-25 ml of milk instead of the 15 that they were fed in the first week of their life.
3 to 4-week old kittens
By the time they reach the age of 3 weeks, kittens are usually capable of supporting their weight and standing up. Around this time, they can start playing with their brothers and sisters. A three-week-old kitten has to be fed every 3.5 to 4 hours, and the amount of formula needs to be increased, as well. Most will need around 50 to 70 ml of cat milk per day, 6 times every day.
1-month old kittens
By the time a kitten gets to the age of 1 month, she will have to weigh around 14 to 16 ounces. Now is the time to start feeding her other types of liquid food, not just the cat formula. Some kittens are a little precocious and will manifest an interest in regular cat food, but it’s a good idea to give them some gruel or pate if they don’t seem to be that interested in anything other than milk.
Try to use a saucer rather than feeding the kitten using a syringe for nursing. Most kittens are weaned if you mix canned cat food with their milk gradually.
From 4 to 8 weeks
Around week 4 or 5, the kitten should be nursed just 3 to 4 times a day, and in the rest of the time, she should have access to gruel or wet kitten food. The gruel has to become less and less watery so that the kitten gets used to young adult cat food.
Between weeks 6 and 8, nursing should be limited as much as possible. You can start introducing dry food into your kitten’s diet if you notice that she has an insatiable appetite. This will also save you some trouble as you aren’t going to have to focus on the feeding schedule as much.
At the end of the two months, a kitten should be fed a mix of normal kitten food and formula, and once she reaches the age of 9 weeks, she should be fed solely standard kitten food, whether wet or dry.
After all this scheduled feeding, you will probably feel exhausted and will rejoice when the kitten is able to feed on her own. But although it’s perfectly fine for young kittens to free feed, this isn’t the best choice for adult cats. Try to limit the amount of food to which the kitten has access. Otherwise, she might end up being overweight or even obese.
Some kittens are extremely voracious, especially if they lacked the right amount of nutrients for some time in their life. For example, if you find a stray kitten that you estimate to be around 1 month of age, you will notice that she’ll want to eat dry food, wet food, formula, and pretty much anything else, especially if she had to be hungry for a day or more.
Kittens that are likely to become obese because of their appetite have to be fed the recommended amounts that are on the labels of the kitten food brand that you have opted for.
Foods to avoid giving a kitten
Because they risk being contaminated with a variety of bacteria that can cause serious gastrointestinal problems in kittens, it is not recommended to give your cat raw meat or liver, raw eggs, raw fish, or any cow milk. The latter can cause diarrhea in kittens, especially weaning ones, as they begin to lose the enzyme that allows them to properly break down milk (even their mother’s).
Needless to say, kittens shouldn’t eat chocolate, garlic, onions, raisins, grapes, or coffee, as all of these are toxic to cats, young or old.