Just like human babies, kittens do a lot of growing in the first year of their lives. The kind of food and how much a kitten consumes directly affects their growth rate and development. By making sure a kitten is on a proper feeding schedule, you'll be able to monitor your kitten's growth and ensure they are receiving appropriate nutrition.
Week One Feeding Schedule
A kitten typically weighs about 3 to 3.7 oz. at birth but will gain weight rapidly from nursing. For the first several weeks of life, a newborn kitten will depend entirely on its mother to provide it with food. Its eyes and ears are sealed shut when it's born, so it will rely on the pheromones its mother gives off to find milk and warmth. Most kittens do just fine without human intervention, but if a kitten needs to be bottle-fed, either because the mother cat is absent, ill, or rejects the kitten, you'll want to weigh the kitten regularly to make sure its weight reflects a healthy and normal growth rate of a kitten.
A kitten will nurse for about 45 minutes at a time every 2 to 3 hours for the first week of life. The rest of the time will be spent sleeping. Kittens that are bottle-fed should consume about a tablespoon, or 15 ml, of special kitten formula at each feeding. This is very time consuming for someone who is bottle-feeding a newborn kitten, so if at all possible, you will want to try to keep the kitten with its mother or a surrogate lactating cat who can nurse it.
By the end of the first week, the ear canals of a kitten will have opened and, if it is eating appropriately, it should weigh about 4 oz. Weight gain should be monitored with the use of a gram scale, such as the kind that is used for weighing food in the kitchen.
Weeks Two and Three Feeding Schedules
A 2 to 3-week old kitten will still need to be fed every 2-3 hours and it should consume at least 1/2 tablespoon of formula or milk during each meal. If a kitten is nursing from its mother, you'll have to depend on how much the kitten weighs to know whether or not it is consuming enough food. Between days 8 through 18, its weight should increase to about 10 oz. and it will begin to crawl around shortly after its eyes open.
By the end of week 3, a kitten will be able to stand up and will have begun to interact with its littermates. Playing, ear-biting, wrestling, and exploring behaviors will begin and are important parts of socialization.
Weeks Four and Five Feeding Schedules
During weeks 4 and 5, a kitten will slowly increase how much food it consumes in a meal. Feedings will occur less frequently and a bowl of formula or other liquid kitten food should be made available for a kitten to start drinking from. By the end of week 5, a kitten should only be nursing three times a day but at each meal it should be consuming about 3 tablespoons of milk or formula.
A kitten should weigh about 14 to 16 oz. by the time it is 4 to 5 weeks of age if it is eating enough food. Towards the end of week five, you should be offering the kitten more food from a saucer than it is consuming from nursing. The food should graduate from being a liquid to eventually more of a gruel by using less and less water with canned kitten food over the course of a couple of weeks. This will be a messy stage of a kitten's life since it usually ends up walking in the food, but it is a necessary step to begin weaning it off of its mother's milk.
Week Six Feeding Schedule
By six weeks of age, a kitten should be eating the gruel four times a day and nursing less. The gruel should become less and less watery and dry kitten food should be introduced, along with a bowl of water.
At the end of week six, decrease meal times to only three times a day. If you have multiple kittens, be sure to provide a few bowls of canned and dry kitten food so the kittens do not become food aggressive.
Weeks Seven and Eight Feeding Schedules
Limited nursing sessions should still be allowed until the kittens are two months old, assuming they are all eating the kitten food that is offered to them three times a day. The mother cat may need to be separated from kittens that are relentlessly trying to nurse more than they should, but by the end of week eight, a kitten should weigh about two pounds from the combination of limited nursing and eating regular kitten food.
Feeding a Kitten Over 8 Weeks of Age
Once a kitten has surpassed eight weeks of age, they should be fed twice a day with normal kitten food. Solid food should not be an issue for kittens of this age but they may still try to nurse on occasion. Between eight and ten weeks of age, a kitten should be fully weaned and preparing to leave its mother if you plan to find the kitten a new home. The first vaccinations are typically administered at about eight weeks of age, so when the kittens have a vet visit, you can be sure they have been growing appropriately.