When Can Kittens Eat Dry Food?

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kitten eats food from a bowl

You want to do the absolute best you can to look after your kitten. This includes giving them the best diet available. When you go to the store there’s a whole aisle full of different types of cat food, and new pet owners sometimes have no idea where to start. Fear not, this handy guide explains everything you need to know about feeding your kitten.

Quick Overview

01

Kittens need a specific balance of nutrients that is only available from kitten food.

02

Kittens are able to eat dry food from a relatively young age, between 5 and 8 weeks.

03

You can transition your kitten from wet to dry food by following a few simple steps.

Kitten Food For Thought

kitten eating

Kittens are not considered to be fully grown adults until they are 12 months old.

Caring for a new kitten is a rewarding job, however, it is not without its challenges. Kittens have vastly different nutritional needs compared to adult cats. So it makes perfect sense that the protein, carbohydrate, and fat ratio of kitten food is very different from that of adult cat food. Feeding kittens incorrectly can have a hugely detrimental effect on their development and growth.

If you look closely next time you are in the store, you will notice there are different pet foods for each of the cat’s life stages. Cats do most of their growing in the first year, and growth takes up a lot of energy. Cats are considered kittens for the first year of their life, so you need to feed special kitten food for the duration of this time until they are at least 12 months of age.

The only exception to this rule is Maine Coon cats. This larger breed doesn’t usually reach skeletal maturity until 18 to 24 months so they need to eat a kitten diet until this time to support their growth.

Kittens can double or triple their size in the first couple of months of their life so they need a good reliable source of energy to fuel this growth. Kittens also spend a lot of their time bounding around so they need extra energy for this too. Adult cats need some fat, but not nearly as much as kittens. Kittens also need a higher quantity of fatty acids to support their growth.

Cats are what we call obligate carnivores. This means that they need meat to survive. Kittens need some vital amino acids important for development that they can only get from a good quality diet. These are:

  • Lysine
  • Arginine
  • Methionine

Also Read: The Complete Feeding Guide From Kittens To Seniors

Do Kittens Need Wet Or Dry Food?

wet and dry cat food

Cats develop texture preferences early in life, so it can be beneficial to feed kittens both wet and dry food so they will eat either in adulthood.

It is safe to feed either wet or dry food to your kitten. There are many different brands of food catering for kittens and the majority of them all have wet and dry versions. There are also some pros and cons to each and some important things to consider.

Very young kittens do need at least some wet food as they are unable to chew dry food very well when their teeth are immature. If newly weaned kittens do not have access to softer food, they are unlikely to get the right amount of nutrients to allow them to develop.

If you are feeding wet food, you need to offer it more frequently, at least four times per day. This is to ensure your cat is eating enough calories. If you feed dry food and you leave it out for them, they can graze as often as they like, but it is still important to monitor how much they are eating.

Make sure other cats in the household aren’t stealing your kitten’s food—kitten formulas tend to be tastier than adult formulas, so older cats might be tempted to eat it themselves.

Also Read: Best Wet Food For Kittens

Is It Acceptable For Kittens To Only Eat Dry Food?

kitten eating food from the bowl

Kittens can eat dry food, wet food, or both as long as the food is formulated for kittens.

Once your kitten can chew and crunch dry kibble adequately, it is absolutely fine for them to be fed solely dry cat food provided the food you are giving them is specifically a kitten diet. It is not feasible to feed newborn kittens dry food; if they are unable to have access to their mother’s milk they need milk replacer formula until they are 4 weeks of age. Dry food is OK for a more mature, old kitten. The most important thing is not whether the food is wet or dry, but to ensure the food is of high quality.

Also Read: 6 Delicious Homemade Cat Food Recipes (Vet Approved)

When Can Kittens Eat Dry Food?

white kitten licks after eating

Around 4 weeks of age, kittens start off with wet food mixed with water or kitten formula; they can start eating dry food around 5 to 6 weeks of age.

It is strongly recommended that all kittens receive their mother’s milk exclusively for the first 4 weeks of life. They receive colostrum from their mother, which helps to support their developing immune system. If they are an orphan or have been separated from their mother, you will have to bottle-feed them yourself.

It is recommended they are bottle-fed kitten formula milk. It is important to note that puppy or human formula is not acceptable to feed to a kitten. The dietary needs of different species vary greatly and your kitten will not receive adequate amounts of nutrients if fed the wrong formula.

During the weaning process, which usually lasts around four weeks, the kittens must stay with their mother. This is because they top up their feeds with their mother’s milk when they are learning to eat solid food. If they are without a mother or cannot feed from her, they will need to be topped up with formula on a regular schedule.

When they are 4 weeks old, you can start introducing small amounts of wet kitten food and a bowl of kitten milk or water for them to learn to drink. You can mix the kitten milk with the wet food to make a sort of gruel that is easy for them to swallow. Initially, they will probably just play with the food but eventually, they will learn that they can eat it.

It is important to offer them soft wet food as their first taste. Their little kitten teeth are just beginning to erupt at this stage so they won’t be able to chew hard food properly just yet. Another reason wet food is favorable at the start of the weaning journey is that it smells stronger than dry food. This means it attracts the kittens to it and entices them to taste it sooner than they would with dry food.

At around 5 to 6 weeks old, you can start adding some dry food to the wet food. You can also soak the dry food before offering it to make it softer and more palatable. Young cats around this age do usually take to dry food well.

When kittens reach 6 to 7 weeks of age, you can start reducing the amount of wet food you are offering and start giving them predominantly dry kitten kibble if you wish. They should be familiar with the food by now and be able to eat it with ease.

Kittens need access to food at all times so that they can graze to ensure they are getting the right amount of calories. This is called free feeding and cats much prefer this method. Fresh water or kitten milk should always be available, too.

By 7 to 8 weeks, or 2 months old, your kitten can eat mainly dry kitten food if you prefer. It might take a bit of trial and error to ensure they have food that suits them. For example, different kittens prefer different flavors, just like we humans do. Different types of dry food will have different textures.

Find something that suits your kitten and stick with it. It is important to monitor your kitten’s weight gain during this time to ensure they are being fed the correct amount of nutrients and are growing at an acceptable rate. Your veterinarian will weigh your kitten at each visit.

Also Read: How To Take Care Of A Kitten: The Complete Guide

Final Thoughts

Tabby Kitten eating from orange Bowl

Choosing the right diet for your kitten can be very daunting as there are so many different choices available. It Is perfectly acceptable to feed your kitten dry food but you can also feed wet food, or both if you like. As long as you chose a diet that provides your kitten with the right amount of fat, protein, and amino acids, your kitten will no doubt thrive and grow to be a happy, healthy adult cat.

Also Read: Can Kittens Eat Adult Cat Food? A Vet Explains

Frequently Asked Questions

At what age can a kitten eat dry food?

This does depend on the individual to a certain extent. Most kittens aged 5 to 8 weeks old will have developed teeth strong enough to crunch and chew dry kibble.

How do you introduce dry food to kittens?

If you are changing your kitten or older cat's food at all, it needs to be done gradually. Start by mixing a very small amount of dry food with their wet food or kitten milk. As your cat starts to show an interest in the food, very slowly increase the amount of dry food you offer each day until the dry kibble makes up the majority of the food.

You can then start reducing the amount of wet food you offer until eventually, your cat is having 100% dry food.

Do kittens need wet and dry food?

There are no strict rules about whether your kitten should be fed wet or dry food. They both have benefits and it does often come down to the personal preference of the cat and also what suits the household best.

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About Dr. Emma Chandley BVetMed PGCertSAS MRCVS

Emma graduated from the Royal Vet College in London in 2011. An expert in cat behavior and nutrition, she also has a keen interest in surgery. Emma went on to do a post-graduate certificate in small animal surgery and was then awarded advanced practitioner status in the same discipline.

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