When To Start Feeding Kittens Solid Food

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A side profile of a tabby kitten with its head facing the camera attentively with both eyes and ears

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For the best start in life, physically and mentally, kittens should stay with their mums until at least nine weeks of age. Normally, by the time you take your kitten home, they should already be fully weaned and eating solid food, whether that’s wet, dry, or ideally a combination of the two. However, if the mum and litter are yours, or the kittens have been orphaned, you may need to wean the kittens yourself. You can start to do this at around three to four weeks of age.

Working with mum and Mother Nature

If the kittens’ mum is on the scene, the weaning process usually starts quite naturally as the kittens start to move around more and explore their surroundings. They will, quite literally, stumble across mum’s food and start to explore the taste and feel of it. Ideally, the mother should already be eating kitten food because this is the best way to make sure she has the calories and nutrients she needs for lactation. Speak to your vet as early in her pregnancy as possible to find out about worming, nutrition, and when and how to switch mum from adult food to kitten food.

Mum may not be too keen on the kittens stealing her food and may even try to deter them herself. At three to four weeks of age, or when you see this process start, whichever is sooner, you can start to offer the kittens some kitten food of their own. You can add extra into the enclosure on shallow plates or saucers for easy access, or make a little area separate from the mum to give her a break too.

It’s very important that you give a complete and balanced kitten food (which would ideally be the same as the mother’s). You can feed wet, dry, or a combination of the two, but to start with, any kibble you are feeding should be moistened with a little warm water prior to feeding so it’s soft for the kittens’ young mouths.

Weaning needs to be a gradual process to avoid overwhelming the kittens’ gastrointestinal systems, so start by offering just a tiny amount several times a day. You can either put it on a saucer or offer it on your finger tip. Young kittens will always paddle around in food to start with because they won’t really know what it is. This is quite normal and will help them learn, so be patient and clean the plates often, and the kittens if you need to!

As the days go by, you can slowly increase the amount of solid food you give and gradually decrease the water added to the kibble until it is being offered dry. Once the kittens have got used to food, they should start favouring it and will become very enthusiastic eaters, using mum more for a top-up and for the comfort of suckling. When you’re happy the food is accepted and there are no tummy upsets, you can feed the kittens ad lib if you want to. This will mean they can eat multiple times a day, as and when they want to. If you can’t do this, they should be having, at the very least, four meals a day but ideally more.

Mum, just like us humans, will start to tell the kittens when she’s had enough of feeding them and her milk will start to dry up. Most kittens should be fully weaned onto solid food by six to eight weeks of age, and ready to go to their new homes from nine weeks.

How do you know if everything is OK?

Your kittens should be weighed every few days to start with. Your vet should be able to supply you with growth charts so that you can see if they are growing as expected. When well-nourished and content, kittens will sleep a lot of the time and have full, round bellies. If they are crying a lot, not sleeping, or looking thin, then something is wrong and a trip to the vet is in order.

If the kittens have been orphaned or there is a problem with the milk supply, ask your vet for an appropriate substitute milk formula and advice on how to give it. Do not give kittens cow’s milk; it isn’t nutritionally adequate for kittens and they won’t be able to digest it.

If you’re hand-rearing the kittens, follow the same weaning advice and gradually reduce the amount of kitten milk you’re offering between four and eight weeks of age as the solid food increases.

And finally…

Kittens should stay on kitten food until they are adults, usually between nine and twelve months of age. Kitten food is formulated to be calorie- and nutrient-dense in order to support their incredible growth. After neutering, some young cats may start to gain too much weight on kitten food and will benefit from a food formulated for exactly this scenario. Speak to your vet about when and how to switch them away from kitten food. Most importantly though, don’t forget to take time to fully enjoy watching the little rascals bloom into even naughtier, entertaining teenagers!

Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA