Like all animals, kittens grow a great deal in the first year of their lives. The amount of this growth depends mainly on the quality and quantity of food that the kitten consumes during this period. By giving your kittens the optimal quality and quantity of food, you can ensure that they grow into healthy, happy adults with robust skeletons and bodies.
The first week of life
At birth, the average kitten will weigh 3-4 ounces, and at this stage, its eyes and ears are closed, so it depends entirely on its mother for food and warmth. The mother will feed the kittens, wash them and provide body heat. So, generally, kittens do not need any form of human intervention at this stage.
If the mother is unable or unwilling to care for the kitten at this stage, you will need to take over this job. Along with a bottle, your scale will be one of your best friends! Under normal circumstances, kittens will feed every 2-3 hours for around 45 minutes at a time.
To replace this feeding schedule with a bottle, feed around a tablespoon or 15ml of kitten formula at each feeding. This can be very time-consuming, so it may be preferable to try to find a surrogate mother cat for the kitten. By the end of the first week, the kitten should have gained around an ounce in weight.
Weeks 2 and 3
At this stage, the kitten will still be feeding every 2-3 hours and should be consuming at least a tablespoon of formula at each meal. By the end of Week 3, it should weigh in the region of 10 ounces, be able to stand on its feet and interact with its litter-mates.
Weeks 4 and 5
During this period, the kitten should increase the amount of food that it consumes at each meal and should be offered food from a saucer to acclimatize it to eating from a bowl rather than through nursing all the time.
When nursing, it should be eating at least three tablespoons of formula. Also, start offering a thin soup made of canned kitten food diluted with water. The dilution rate can gradually be decreased by the end of Week 5 to the point where the soup takes on more of a gravy-like consistency.
By the end of Week 5, the kitten should weigh in at around 14-16 ounces. Be prepared for lots of cleaning up, as the kittens will frequently walk through their food as you attempt to start weaning them off the bottle or their mother’s nursing.
At this stage, the soup prepared for the kitten should be offered four times a day so that it is nursing less often. You can also introduce the kitten to dry food, make sure there is plenty of fresh water to drink as well.
By the end of this week, decrease the number of meals offered to three a day. At this stage, it is essential to ensure that all the kittens (if you have more than one) have equal opportunity to eat. Otherwise, you run the risk of the cats becoming aggressive over the food.
Weeks 7 and 8
By now, all the kittens should be eating three times a day and consuming commercial kitten food. They should be nursing very little and separating the mother from her kittens is a good idea to save her from their ongoing attempts to nurse. The kittens should weigh around 32 ounces at this time.
Over 8 weeks
By now, eating solid food should present no problems and the kittens should be eating both dry and wet kitten food twice a day. From 8-10 weeks, you should be preparing the kitten to leave its mother for a new home and also ensuring that they receive their first vaccinations.