What to Feed Kittens That Have Been Abandoned

If you ever stumble across kittens that are meowing for help and have no mom in sight, any cat lover’s first impulse will be to take over care for those kittens and provide for them until they’re able to fend and hunt on their own.

Before you step in, though, it’s important to monitor the kittens for several hours to see if the mother returns to her litter. Mothers will sometimes leave their kittens alone while they hunt for food, and well-intentioned humans can do a lot of damage by overreacting and moving or caring for the kittens before they fully understand the situation.

 

Small Bengal kitten eats meat pate. The baby has a funny face. Accustoming a kitten to adult food

Small Bengal kitten eats meat pate. The baby has a funny face. Accustoming a kitten to adult food

 

After a few hours without the mother, though, it’s much more likely that the kittens require rescue and intervention. For anyone who hasn’t dealt with young kittens in the past, the most urgent challenge may be figuring out how to properly feed those kittens. If you’re facing a similar situation, here’s the basic information you need to know before you get started.

What to Feed Kittens That Have Been Abandoned

If you don’t know the age of the kittens, you’re probably better off feeding the kittens only by bottle. Kittens must be bottle-fed for at least the first four weeks of life, but they may need to be bottle-fed for even longer, depending on their health, rather than introducing solid foods.

Can kittens drink milk? The answer is, unfortunately, no: kittens also require a specially formulated kitten milk replacement when being bottle-fed. Do not feed kittens cow’s milk or any other type of milk as a food replacement, as this can make your kittens very sick. You’ll have to purchase the kitten formula from a local vet or pet supplies store. Remember to warm up the bottle’s contents before feeding the kittens.

How Much to Feed a Kitten

A general rule of thumb for kittens is that they should eat about four ounces of milk for every pound of weight each day. A three-pound kitten, then, should be fed 12 ounces of milk over the course of a day. While the exact amount a kitten consumes per meal may vary, this general feeding target can help you apportion milk and keep kittens well-fed and growing through their early weeks and months of life.

The amount of milk to give kittens at each feeding depends on the number of feedings required each day.

How Often to Feed Kittens

A basic bottle baby kitten feeding schedule should look like this:

  • Up to one week old: Feedings every 2-3 hours (8-12 times per day);
  • Two weeks old: Feedings every 4-6 hours (4-6 times per day);
  • Three weeks old and up: Feedings every 6-8 hours (3-4 times per day);

Kittens should be gradually weaned off frequent feedings so that they eat fewer times per day and consume more per meal. If you’re unsure of the age of the kitten, pay attention to how much they eat at every feeding, and how frequently they are whining for formula, to get a better sense of how frequently they need to eat.

When to Stop Bottle-Feeding Kittens

Most kittens can be weaned off formula between four and six weeks of age. To wean your kittens, purchase wet cat food and mix it with water to make it soft and easy to consume. Make wet food available to kittens, but don’t stop feeding from the bottle until they take to the food—otherwise the kittens could begin to starve.

Once kittens show favor for the wet food, you can stop with bottle-feeding and switch over to a wet-food diet.

Best Kitten Wet Food Brands

The best wet food brand for your kitten is the one they will eat without experiencing any allergic or otherwise abnormal reactions. In general, popular brands of wet food for kittens include:

  • Fancy Feast
  • Blue Buffalo
  • Nutro
  • Royal Canin
  • Hill’s Science

If you aren’t sure what wet food to buy your kittens, or you’re worried that your kittens may be having adverse reactions to the food you’ve purchased, consult a local vet for recommendations on quality cat food that will suit the kittens’ needs.

When Can Kittens Eat Dry Food?

As a rule of thumb, kittens can start eating dry food around seven weeks of age. While it’s okay to introduce dry food gradually to make for an easier transition for the kittens, don’t be surprised if kittens show favor for wet food over dry kibble. Despite this preference, dry kibble is important to preserve the health of the kittens’ teeth and gums. Once you’re able to make this switch, you can continue with dry food indefinitely, if the kitten seems to be in normal health.

Rescuing kittens may be unnerving and high maintenance in the first few early weeks of life, but their dietary habits will mature quickly. If you’re ever in doubt about the dietary or other health needs of rescued kittens, consult a local vet’s office for assistance in giving them the care and nutrition they need to grow and thrive.