Kittens are essentially baby carnivores with specialised needs. Kittens naturally wean off their mother’s milk at around 8-12 weeks of age. When young cats are old enough (around 8 weeks old) they start to eat food on their own whilst simultaneously decreasing the amount of milk they suckle from their mother.
Basic kitten feeding guide
The following information is general advice, but as each kitten is an individual, seek veterinary advice, particularly if your kitten has any special dietary needs or has a reaction to a standard diet.
The basis of your kitten’s diet should be a high quality balanced premium commercial kitten food that is appropriate for their life stage and health status. By reading the label, you can check that it complies with the Australian Standard for the Manufacturing and Marketing of Pet Food AS 5812:2017 . It is best to start feeding wet kitten food and introducing dry kitten food as your kitten grows. Provide some moist foods in the diet regularly e.g., wet can food. Never feed puppy or dog food to your kitten as it will be deficient in taurine, an essential protein that cats can only obtain through food.
Kittens should be offered food at least 4 times per day.
Take care not to overfeed or underfeed your kitten. Your vet will be able to weigh your kitten, assess your kitten’s body condition score and provide advice.
Please ensure clean fresh drinking water is available at all times but do not provide milk as this can cause gastrointestinal upsets.
Between four to six months of age, the permanent teeth appear and grow rapidly. Introducing kitten-specific chew toys and healthy chewable treats can alleviate “teething” issues – the global Veterinary Oral Health Council lists dental products that meet standards for safety and reducing plaque/tartar.
Bones and raw meat are not recommended as they can break teeth and cause constipation and internal blockages, raw bones also carry bacteria that can make both animals and humans ill.
If you do choose to offer bones to your kitten, these should always be raw and introduced gradually. The bone must be large enough so that the kitten cannot fit the whole bone in its mouth or swallow the bone whole; only some smaller bones are suitable for kittens such as raw chicken necks and wings. Never feed your kitten cooked bones as these can splinter, causing potentially fatal internal damage or intestinal obstruction. Always supervise your kitten when eating raw bones.
Fish, such as tinned sardines in springwater, tinned tuna and tinned salmon (take care with any fish bones) can be offered as a treat occasionally but please avoid feeding fish constantly because this is not a complete diet. Cooked meat such as boiled chicken may also be offered occasionally, but please ensure there are no cooked bones, onions/onion sauces, or other toxic substances present (see below).
As mentioned above, raw meat and bones carry bacteria that can make both animals and humans ill and so are not recommended. However, if you do decide to feed your kitten any raw meat or raw bones, it is recommended that you choose only human-grade raw meat and bones. Any raw food offered to kittens should always be fresh. Avoid feeding raw meat until the kitten is 20 weeks of age to help avoid certain nutritional deficiencies during growth.
You should avoid raw meat products marketed as pet food (pet meat/pet mince/pet rolls and bone products, sausages, sausage meat and cooked manufactured meats as they can contain sulphite preservatives. There have been many pet food safety incidents linked to sulphite preservative-induced thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency, which can be fatal. See this article for more information.
A small amount of finely-cut vegetable matter may also be offered. It is important to remember that cats are ‘obligate carnivores’, which means they require meat in their diet, so their nutritional needs cannot be met by a vegetarian (or vegan) diet. See this article for more information on cats’ special dietary needs.
Provide access to grass (avoid chemically treated grass and toxic plants). Kittens will occasionally eat grass, which may be a source of vegetable matter and micronutrients. Be aware that large amounts of certain types of ‘cat grass’ can cause high levels of vitamin D, which may lead to symptoms of poisoning such as vomiting, weakness, loss of appetite, increased drinking and urination, bloody faeces, weight loss, constipation, internal bleeding, seizures or abdominal pain.
Do not ever feed the following substances as they are toxic to kittens and cats (note this is not a complete list): alcohol, onions, onion powder, garlic, chocolate, coffee or caffeine products, mouldy or spoiled foods or compost, avocado, bread dough, yeast dough, grapes, raisins, sultanas (including in Christmas cakes etc), currants, nuts (including macadamia nuts), fruit stones or ‘pits’ (e.g. mango seeds, apricot stones, avocado stones), fruit seeds, corncobs, tomatoes, mushrooms, cooked bones, small pieces of raw bone, fatty trimmings/fatty foods, salt and roughly-cut vegetables.
Also ensure your kitten doesn’t have access to string wrappings around rolled roasts or absorbent pads found under meat when wrapped on trays.