Just like human babies, kittens need to be fed different food and in different ways depending on their age. A 3-day-old kitten will not be able to eat wet cat food. Once you determine the kitten’s age, it’s time to fill that belly! Please note that the time frames are just a recommendation and kittens may transition sooner or later.

Bottle Babies (0-3 or 4 weeks)

When bottle feeding kittens, it is important to know how much to feed them and how often. The chart below is based on age: kitten weight and feeding chart
Step 1: Mix the formula
  • You can pre-mix enough Kitten Milk Replacement (KMR formula) to last for 24 hours of feeding; but it must be refrigerated at all times. Discard all mixed formula after 24 hours. Avoid reheating formula excessively because harmful bacteria can develop in it.
    • KMR powdered formula: Use 1 part formula to 2 parts water. A part is whatever you are using to measure with. For example, if you’re using a tablespoon for measuring, this would mean 1 tablespoon of powdered KMR and 2 tablespoons of water.
    • For the first couple feedings, dilute the formula (3 parts water to 1 part formula) to help reduce digestive upset.
  • The opened can of powdered formula should also be refrigerated.
Step 2: Prepare the bottle
  • Estimate required amount of formula in clean bottle
  • Place the bottle in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes.
  • Before feeding the kittens, always test the temperature of the formula by placing a few drops on your inner wrist to be sure the formula is not too hot. The formula should be slightly warmer than your body temperature.
  • Test the nipple. Formula should slowly drip from tip when bottle is upside down, and should not be streaming.

Step 3: Prepare the kitten

  • Ensure that the kitten is warm before offering food. Do not attempt to feed a kitten who feels cold to the touch; it can create serious health consequences.
    • A kitten’s ideal body temperature is 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit. To warm up a kitten, place him on a heating pad wrapped in 2-3 layers of towels. Turn the kittens from side to side every 5 minutes and massage them gently with hand-rubbing.
    • NEVER feed a kitten on his back. The kitten should be on his stomach in a position similar to how he would lay next to his mother to nurse. You may try holding the kitten upright swaddled in a warm towel or have the kitten lay on a towel in your lap. Being wrapped up makes kittens feel safer as they eat. Experiment with what position works best for you and the kitten.
        • If the kitten allows it, the front legs should be free to allow him to “knead” with his paws. This kneading activity is essential to the kitten’s muscle development & helps aid in digestion.
    • Turn the bottle upside down and allow a drop of formula to come out. Place the bottle nipple in the kitten’s mouth and gently move it back and forth, holding the bottle at a 45-degree angle to keep air from getting into the kitten’s stomach. This movement should encourage the kitten to start eating. ***Don’t squeeze the bottle, a kitten should suckle the formula out of the bottle on his own. If at first you don’t succeed, wait a few minutes and try again. Be patient; it may take a few tries. Usually the kitten will latch on and begin to suckle. If the bottle appears to be collapsing, gently remove the nipple from the kitten’s mouth and let more air return to the bottle.

small dark kitten being bottle fed

  • Allow the kitten to suckle at his own pace. If a kitten refuses to suckle, try stroking the kitten’s back or gently rubbing her on her forehead. This stroking is similar to momma cat’s cleaning and it may stimulate the kitten to nurse. If this doesn’t work, try rubbing some Karo Syrup on the kitten’s lips.
  • AN IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT ASPIRATION: if liquid bubbles out through the kitten’s nose or he starts coughing, he may have gotten formula in his lungs. Pat the kitten very gently on the back to elicit a cough or sneeze, or hold him in an inverted position, (tail over head), for a moment to remove the formula from his lungs.
  • If you are feeding multiple kittens, feed the first kitten until he stops nursing, then begin feeding the next kitten, and so on.
  • To determine if a kitten has eaten enough, use your best judgement. A well-fed kitten’s belly should be round, but not hard and distended. Smaller or weaker kittens may eat less per feeding and will need to be fed more often. You can also use the “Minimum Feeding Requirements for Kittens Based on Weight” chart and the chart above “Kitten Weight & Feeding Chart”
  • You can feed a 2nd round if you feel any of your kittens need to eat a little more. When a kitten stops nursing, he/she has had enough.
    • Remember – feeding smaller amounts more frequently is better for kittens, as it will help to keep them hydrated and prevent issues associated with overfeeding.
  • Be sure not to overfeed, as this could cause diarrhea.
  • Kittens need to be burped, just like human babies. Lay the kitten on his stomach, on your shoulder or in your lap, and very gently pat his back until you hear a little burp. You may need to burp a couple times per feeding.

It is normal for a bottle kitten to be “fussy” every now and then, and if it refuses to drink you may wait and try again at the next scheduled feeding. If a bottle kitten skips several meals, or has not eaten in 8 hours, something may be wrong. If the kitten(s) seem lethargic, follow the fading kitten protocol.

Gruel Babies (4 weeks – 6 weeks)

Kittens are ready to eat canned cat food beginning at 4 weeks, or when teeth emerge. Some kittens take to canned food quickly and hungrily, while others may cling to the bottle. There is no harm in continuing to bottle feed, but remember that kittens must be fully eating on their own by the time they are 8 weeks old. Older kittens who nurse must be supervised carefully for chewing the bottle. If chewing occurs, you must stop bottle feeding immediately, or else the kitten could swallow part or all of the rubber nipple and develop an obstruction. Gruel babies should be fed about every 4-6 hours and should also be provided fresh water at all times.

Step 1: Mix the gruel

  • Start with the following ingredients:
    • Wet food: Start with a couple of tablespoons
    • KMR Formula: 1 part formula, 2 parts water
  • Mix the wet food with the formula until it has a pudding-like consistency
    • Always start with a higher amount of KMR and less wet food. Gradually increase the wet food portion and decrease the KMR over the course of 2 weeks.
  • You must throw away any leftover food after the kittens have had their meal, if you leave the food out all day it will go bad and cause health issues for the kitten.

Step 2: Teaching kittens to eat

  • At first you may use the bottle with a larger nipple opening so the kitten can familiarize itself with the texture/taste before introducing to eating out of a bowl.
  • After a couple of days, start offering them gruel by placing a small amount on your finger and putting it on the kitten’s tongue or lips. You may alternatively use a small spoon or syringe.
  • Encourage the kitten to eat from the bowl as much as possible. It may take several days to a couple weeks for the kitten to decide that the gruel is edible.
  • Continue to supplement the kittens with a bottle every eight hours to ensure they are getting all needed nutrients.
  • Do not feed fish & seafood flavored food, as it is a harder protein to digest and may cause diarrhea.

Weaned Kittens

By six to seven weeks old, your kittens should be independent eaters. Dry food should be available at all times, but offer wet food 3x a day (morning, afternoon, and evening) to maximize growth.

Feeding a Family

If you are lucky and Momma Cat is still in the picture, she will handle feeding the babies! You don’t have to worry about feeding them until they wean, and then you can follow the step above. You will want to provide for Momma Cat though!
  • A minimum of two 5oz. cans of wet food per day is best:
    • Royal Canin Mother and Babycat wet food will supply all the nutrients Momma Cat needs to care for her babies.
    • If this is not an option, any wet cat food will work – POULTRY flavors are best.
  • If wet food is not an option, a high quality, grain free dry food/kibble can be provided. Please provide TWICE a day.
  • Fresh water should be provided at least twice per day, or as frequently as she empties the bowl.
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