French author Francois de la Rochefoucauld said that “to eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”
Feeding a cat looks simple enough at first glance. You buy a bag of food with a picture of a cat on it, dump it in a bowl, and wait for your cat to eat when they’re hungry. It’s an approach that can work, but it doesn’t always bring out the best in your kitten or cat.
Feeding your cat intelligently involves a little more care.
In this cat feeding guide, you’ll learn how to nourish your cat from kittenhood through their senior years. You’ll find out how much to feed your cat at different life stages, how many meals they need per day, and which types of food are best.
We’ve broken down your cat’s dietary needs by age group, giving you a roadmap for good nutrition at every stage of life.
What’s in the Article:
Your Cat’s Dietary Needs Evolve Over Time
As your cat moves through kittenhood, early adulthood, and beyond, their nutritional needs will change. Meeting those requirements at every phase of life sets the stage for good health.
Your first stop when choosing the right food for your cat? The nutritional adequacy statement.
Usually located on the back of the bag or can, this statement indicates whether or not the food is nutritionally complete and balanced for its intended life stage. The label will read, for example, “…formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO cat food nutrient profiles for all life stages.”
Foods that aren’t nutritionally complete and balanced will usually be labeled “for supplemental feeding only.” These foods don’t contain the appropriate balance of macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and shouldn’t be your cat’s sole source of nutrition.
While you’re looking at the label, check out the feeding instructions, as well. For the average house cat, the appropriate feeding instructions are usually placed on the packaging of the cat food.
The nutritional guidelines on the package will point you in the right direction, though you might need to make some modifications to fit your cat’s exact needs.
Here’s a guide on how to feed your cat during the different phases of their life.
#1 Newborn Kitten, Age: 0 to 4 Weeks
During this stage, most kittens rely on their mother’s milk as their only source of nutrition. If their mother is present, you won’t need to feed kittens at all—they’ll know how to feed themselves! That said, if you’ve rescued an orphaned kitten, you’ll need to bottle feed.
Kittens require a kitten milk replacement formula, which replicates the nutrition found in mother cat’s milk. You can purchase kitten milk replacer from your veterinarian or from a pet-supply store. Do not feed a kitten cow’s milk—it doesn’t have the right nutritional balance to nourish a newborn kitten.
Kitten milk replacer might come as a powder, which is mixed with water according to the package directions, or as a ready-to-feed liquid formula. Ready-to-feed formula does not need to be mixed up, but it’s more expensive than powder formula.
Leftover reconstituted milk replacer can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours after which time it must be discarded. Once opened, ready-to-feed liquid formula can be stored in the fridge up to 72 hours, then must be discarded. Warm up cold formula that’s been in the refrigerator before feeding it to the kitten.
How Much Should You Feed Your Newborn Kitten?
If your kitten’s mother is available to nurse, the kitten will nurse freely. If you’re bottle-feeding, follow the instructions on your package of kitten milk replacer. Exact amounts might vary depending on the brand of milk replacer, but in most cases, you’ll feed about 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) of liquid kitten formula per 4 ounces of body weight daily.
For example, a 2-week-old kitten weighing 8 ounces would get about 4 tablespoons (60 milliliters) of liquid kitten formula daily divided into equal portions across several meals. This might look like 10 milliliters of milk replacer formula six times a day or 7.5 milliliters eight times a day.
How Often Should You Feed Your Newborn Kitten?
Newborn kittens that are nursing from their mother feed frequently, latching on to nurse once every one to two hours. However, when bottle feeding, the kittens are receiving a larger volume of formula, so they don’t need to eat this frequently. Feed kittens ages newborn to 4 weeks old every three to four hours, or six to eight times per day. Very young kittens (newborn to 1 week old) or those that seem weak can be fed every two hours.
Also Read: Best Wet Food For Kittens
#2 4- to 8-Week-Old Kitten
Kittens usually begin the weaning process around their fourth week. During this time, they’ll start gradually shifting from milk or formula onto a solid food diet, which delivers the protein, fatty acids, and nutrients that fuel their early development.
Also Read: The 8 Best Cat Bowls
From 4 to 5 weeks of age, bottle-fed kittens still need milk replacement formula, but you can also start slowly transitioning the kitten to a diet of watered-down kitten food. Start by replacing some of the kitten’s usual meals with a loose slurry of wet kitten food and kitten formula on a spoon. Next, gradually start feeding your kitten from a shallow saucer. Once the kitten is 5 to 6 weeks old and eating kitten food well, you can discontinue bottle feeding.
Kitten Lady has an excellent video on transitioning your kitten from kitten formula to solid food.
How Much Should You Feed Your 4- 8-Week-Old Kitten?
At this stage, your kitten is growing rapidly and needs about three times as many calories per pound as an adult. Your kitten might need 60 calories per pound of body weight. As calorie contents vary among different foods, consult the package of the kitten food you’re feeding to determine how much to feed your kitten daily.
How Often Should You Feed Your 4- 8-Week-Old Kitten?
Compared to newborn kittens that eat every one to four hours, older kittens 4 to 8 weeks old usually eat every four to six hours. Frequent meals are still essential to accommodate your kitten’s small stomach and high energy demands.
#3 8- to 16-Week-Old Kitten
At this exciting stage of development, your kitten’s personality is developing and their predatory nature is becoming ever more apparent. By 8 to 10 weeks of age, a kitten is fully weaned and should be eating a meat-based kitten food that delivers plenty of protein, animal-derived fatty acids for brain and eye development, and the right levels of vitamins and minerals.
How Much Should You Feed Your 8- to 16-Week-Old Kitten?
During this phase, your kitten is developing rapidly and requires plenty of calories to support that growth. Growing kittens might need 250 to 280 calories per day, with larger breeds like Maine Coons and Ragdolls requiring as many as 360 calories daily. To ensure your kitten is getting enough food to meet their calorie requirements, check the label on the package of the kitten food to find out how much to feed your kitten daily.
How Often Should You Feed Your 8- to 16-Week-Old Kitten?
Three to four meals per day is ideal, but kittens older than 8 weeks can also free-feed on dry food. Be careful with free-feeding. While your kitten should be gaining weight at this stage, too much dry food can lead to excess weight gain.
#4 4- to 6-Month-Old Kitten
During this stage, your kitten will start to settle into their dietary routine. That’s why it’s vital to make sure you’re establishing good habits for adulthood. Feeding a varied diet can keep your kitten from becoming finicky and keep them mentally stimulated. Kittens who eat a dry diet at this stage will likely get hooked on the crunch and might not want to eat wet food later in life.
Wet or canned food is usually rich in species-appropriate animal-based protein, is lower in carbohydrates, and has a higher moisture content (70% to 80%) than that of dry food (6% to 10%).
How Much Should You Feed Your 4- to 6-Month-Old Kitten?
At this stage, kittens still need about twice as many calories per pound than adult cats. Refer to the feeding guidelines on your kitten’s food to determine how much to feed per pound of body weight.
Kittens in this age group need around 60 to 65 calories per pound of body weight per day. For example, a 5-pound kitten should consume about 325 calories per day.
How Often Should You Feed Your 4- to 6-Month-Old Kitten?
While a four-month-old kitten will need about three to four small meals per day, you can reduce daily feedings to two to three meals by the time your kitten is six months old. You can also give your kitten treats throughout the day, but calories from treats shouldn’t exceed 5% to 10% of total daily caloric intake.
#5 6 Months to 10-Year-Old Cats
Older kittens still need plenty of calories to fuel their growth, but their metabolism will start to gradually slow down and their nutritional needs will start to look more like those of an adult.
Around the time of your kitten’s first birthday, you can start the transition from kitten food to an adult diet. Note, however, that larger-breed cats might continue to grow until they’re 3 to 4 years old and might continue to eat a growth-oriented diet. Talk to your veterinarian for advice on when to switch your large-breed kitten to an adult diet.
How Much Should You Feed Your Adult Cat?
As your kitten’s metabolism starts to slow down and they reach adulthood, you might notice them start to put on excess weight. Obesity is a common issue among adult cats and, when not corrected early on, might lead to health complications later in life. Regular exercise and a well-controlled diet will help to prevent obesity and keep your cat in good shape.
Whether you feed your cat homemade cat food or the best commercial cat foods, it’s critical to feed the right amount per day. But there’s no single amount of food that every cat should eat each day. Calorie needs vary from cat to cat, with many factors coming into play.
When deciding how much to feed your cat, you’ll have to consider their breed, age, reproductive status, underlying health conditions, and more. In general, however, the recommended daily caloric intake is about 20 calories per pound of body weight. Your vet can advise you about how much to feed your cat to maintain an ideal weight.
Click here for a calculator that helps you identify how many calories your cat needs per day.
How Often Should You Feed Your Adult Cat?
After your cat reaches 6 months of age, you may feed two to three meals per day.
Also Read: Best Cat Food Guide
#6 Senior Years (11+ Years)
Compared to young and middle-aged adults, senior cats have unique nutritional needs. They often exhibit a reduced ability to metabolize protein and therefore tend to lose muscle mass.
Senior cats require more digestible protein to support lean muscle mass and stay healthy. Cats at this age might also develop arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, making omega-3 fatty acids a particularly beneficial addition to the senior cat’s diet.
Since older cats might have difficulty eating because of dental problems, wet or moist food is better for senior cats.
How Much Should You Feed Your Senior Cat?
Senior and elderly cats require more calories per pound of body weight. If your senior appears to be losing muscle mass, consider increasing their calorie intake to 30 to 40 calories per pound. The majority of those calories should come from animal-based protein, which helps to prevent sarcopenia (loss of muscle due to aging).
How Often Should You Feed Your Senior Cat?
Continue to feed your senior cat two to three meals per day.
Also Read: Best Cat Food For Senior Cats
Cat Feeding Chart
|Age||Approximate Weight||Amount to Feed||Schedule|
|0 to 1 week||50 to 150 grams (1.7 to 5.2 ounces)||2 to 6 ml kitten formula||Every 2 hours|
|1 to 2 weeks||150 to 250 grams (5.2 to 8.8 ounces)||6 to 10 ml kitten formula||Every 2 to 3 hours|
|2 to 3 weeks||250 to 350 grams (8.8 to 12.4 ounces)||10 to 14 ml kitten formula||Every 3 to 4 hours|
|3 to 4 weeks||350 to 450 grams (12.4 to 15.9 ounces)||14 to 18 ml kitten formula||Every 4 to 5 hours|
|4 to 5 weeks||450 to 550 grams (15.9 ounces to 1.1 pounds)||18 to 22 ml kitten formula Starting the weaning process; gradually switch to a mixture of kitten formula and wet kitten food||Every 5 to 6 hours|
|5 to 8 weeks||550 to 850 grams (1.1 to 1.5 pounds)||Weaning; offer an unlimited amount of wet kitten food||Every 6 hours|
|8 to 9 weeks||1.5 to 2.6 pounds||250 to 360 calories per day||Every 6 to 8 hours|
|9 to 10 weeks||1.6 to 2.9 pounds||250 to 360 calories per day||Every 6 to 8 hours|
|10 to 11 weeks||1.8 to 3.1 pounds||250 to 360 calories per day||Every 6 to 8 hours|
|11 to 12 weeks||2 to 3.3 pounds||250 to 360 calories per day||Every 6 to 8 hours|
|12 to 13 weeks||2.2 to 4 pounds||250 to 360 calories per day||Every 6 to 8 hours|
|13 to 14 weeks||3 to 4.5 pounds||250 to 360 calories per day||Every 6 to 8 hours|
|14 to 15 weeks||3.5 to 5 pounds||250 to 360 calories per day||Every 6 to 8 hours|
|15 to 16 weeks||4 to 5.5 pounds||250 to 360 calories per day||Every 6 to 8 hours|
|4 months||4 to 5.5 pounds||60 to 65 calories per pound of body weight per day||Every 8 hours|
|5 months||5.1 to 6 pounds||60 to 65 calories per pound of body weight per day||Every 8 hours|
|6 months||5.5 to 6.5 pounds||60 to 65 calories per pound of body weight per day||Every 8 to 12 hours|
|7 months||6 to 7 pounds||60 to 65 calories per pound of body weight per day||Every 8 to 12 hours|
|8 months||6.5 to 7.5 pounds||60 to 65 calories per pound of body weight per day||Every 8 to 12 hours|
|9 months||7 to 8 pounds||60 to 65 calories per pound of body weight per day||Every 8 to 12 hours|
|10 months||7.5 to 8.5 pounds||60 to 65 calories per pound of body weight per day||Every 8 to 12 hours|
|11 months||8 to 9 pounds||60 to 65 calories per pound of body weight per day||Every 8 to 12 hours|
|12 months to adulthood||8 to 9.5 pounds||20 to 33 calories per pound of body weight per day||Every 8 to 12 hours|
Your Cat Needs Water Too
In addition to the correct food regimen, it’s also important that a cat has access to clean water. Proper hydration helps to prevent constipation and reduces the risk of urinary system diseases like urinary tract infections and blockage.
Access to fresh water is essential, regardless of if your cat eats dry or wet food.
Consult With Your Veterinarian for More Advice
Even with the knowledge shared in this article, you should consult with your veterinarian for your cat’s individual dietary needs. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend the ideal diet and feeding regimen for your cat based on your cat’s age, lifestyle, dietary preferences, and overall health status.
Guide to Raising Unweaned & Underage Kittens, UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program. https://www.sheltermedicine.com/library/guidebooks/?r=guide-to-raising-unweaned-underage-kittens/caring-for-kittens-from-birth-to-eight-weeks