Getting a new kitten is one of the most exciting of times. Naturally, though, we have a lot of questions regarding their care – especially in regards to their feeding. For instance, how long can a kitten go between meals? I spent some time researching to find out exactly how often a kitten needs food, and all that an owner needs to take into consideration.
So, how long can kittens go without food? An average healthy kitten can generally survive up to 2 days without any food. Although, within a day without food, they will become malnourished, weak, and will likely require urgent veterinary care. Kittens have small stomachs and high energy needs, so need to be fed little and often.
It’s also essential that they are fed appropriate food in accordance with their size and age.
For instance, newborn kittens are entirely reliant on their mother’s milk in the early stages of life to get the early nutrition they need.
The responsibility soon passes onto the breeder at 4 weeks as they wean, and then again to you as an owner when the kitten reaches 8 weeks of age.
The nuances are important.
Kittens and cats need to be fed in accordance with their age, size, and life stage.
This includes the type of food itself, how much is served, and when.
Thus, as an owner, you’ll be continuously refining the diet of your kitten and cat as they age. It’s just one of those natural aspects of ownership.
Let us now take a closer look at how long a kitten can go without feeding at different ages.
We’ll also be looking at whether or not is normal for a kitten to overlook their food, and some practical strategies to get them eating.
Besides, it’s the nutrition that will help support their healthy growth and development.
So, if you have just taken on a cute little kitten, be sure to keep reading to get all the information you need regarding their feeding.
How Long Can A Kitten Go Without Feeding?
How long a kitten can go without feeding depends mostly on its age. Generally, the younger a kitten is, the more often they need to eat.
Equally, a younger kitten needs to be introduced to different foods at different stages of life.
Let us now take a closer look at the progression from birth all the way through to 8 weeks:
|Age||Type of Food||Feeding Frequency||Notes|
|1-3 Weeks||Mothers Milk||8x per day.||KMR (Kitten Milk Formula) can be fed if access to the kittens’ mothers’ milk is not possible.|
|3-4 Weeks||Mothers Milk +|
Introduction to solid foods via gruel*
|7x per day.||Solid foods should be soft and easy to digest. |
*Soaking food in kitten milk is a useful approach to make it into a soft gruel.
|4-5 Weeks||Mothers Milk and Gruel||6x per day.||Kittens can usually drink and eat gruel from a shallow dish for 4 weeks. Weaning should be done gradually|
|5-6 Weeks||Gruel||5x per day||Dry food should be made available at all times. |
Some kittens will continue weaning at this age.
|6-7 Weeks||Wet and Dry Food||4x per day|
|7-8 Weeks||Wet and Dry Food||3x per day||A kitten will eat up to 1 can per day.|
|8 Weeks +||Wet and Dry Food||2-3x per day|
The feeding guidelines set out above are merely a starting point and a source of references.
But as you can see, kittens need to eat little and often.
It’s important that you monitor your kitten’s development and responses to feeding, adjusting the serving sizes accordingly.
For instance, kittens should be full but never bloated.
One other thing to consider is that you will likely be taking your kitten home at 8 weeks of age.
It is therefore important that you discuss your kitten’s former diet, weaning status, and their progression at the time of adoption.
Be sure to ask them questions and ask for recommendations as to what brands of food to feed, at what intervals, and try to discover if there are any particular foods your cat enjoys/dislikes.
This will make the whole process much easier, trust me.
Nevertheless, you will most likely be looking to feed your kitten 2-3x per day, through a combination of wet and dry food.
Here are some other tips for feeding your kitten to take into account:
- Special kitten milk (KMR) is the only type of milk you should use to soften food and help to entice a kitten to eat. This is the most reputable brand to buy from Amazon. Dairy and other milk substitutes should not be fed.
- Kittens stomachs are small; reaching only the size of an acorn by the age of 6-7 weeks. They need feeding regularly and in small amounts at a time.
- You should look to reduce the feeding schedule so that they are eating around 2 meals per day by 6 months of age.
- Try not to make any sudden changes to the diet as this can cause stomach issues.
- Establishing a feeding schedule and set times is a good approach to take. It allows you to manage and control the diet more easily and ensure they are eating the amount they need; not too little or too much. Keep it consistent as much as you can.
- Wet food should not be left out longer than 30-60 minutes at most. Throw away any uneaten food and thoroughly clean and wash the bowl. Wet food should never be left out overnight. Although, dry food can.
- Whether or not you latter decide to leave food out for your adult cat at all times is a decision that you will need to eventually make. Although, having a feeding schedule from the age of a young kitten gives you the flexibility and the option.
What Should Kittens Eat?
At this stage, you may be wondering what specific foods a kitten should be eating.
Well, we have already established that kittens have different nutritional requirements to that of adult cats.
So, you’ll need to provide food that is specifically designed for young kittens.
Thankfully, pet food labels are required by law to clearly outline what life stage their food is intended for.
So, food will always be marketed as ‘kitten…’ or include it in the title somewhere.
When it comes to dry vs wet food, then your kitten can eat either.
There are also advantages and disadvantages to both.
Wet food is generally more appetizing to a kitten and helps to keep them hydrated – especially if they are not drinking much.
Dry food however lasts much longer when put down and is much more practical and convenient for you as an owner.
However, dry food is usually higher in carbohydrates than wet food, so it is more likely to cause weight gain if overfed out of the two.
Always remember, that the nutrition demands of your kitten and later cat, are primarily driven by:
- Age and life stage,
- Size and weight,
- Health status
- Amount of exercise,
- Neutering status
Is It Normal For My New Kitten To Not Eat
It is fairly normal for a kitten not to eat. This is especially true if something has changed; whether you have recently got them, or you are transitioning their food.
The following are common reasons why a kitten may stop eating:
- Lack of routine: to ensure they are sufficiently hungry and able to digest and assimilate their previous meal,
- Not used to the food; a kitten should be slowly transitioned over to a new food. If it is suddenly changed it will likely stress your kitten and cause a dip in appetite,
- Something off-putting in the environment; kittens/cats can be particular of where they eat. Make sure they can eat in a quiet, calm and pleasant area of your home. Ensure their food is not placed next to the litter box!
- They are being overfed; ensure your kitten is being given appropriate and small serving sizes. Be careful of treats.
- Your kitten is stressed; which can occur due to a variety of factors. Being chased by a dog, traveling in the car, new sights/smells, a visit to the vet etc.
- Suffering from an illness/injury; is usually accompanied by other behaviors but a low appetite is likely to persist beyond 1-2 meals.
- Dirty food bowl; kittens/cats are very clean animals and they like to eat from clean bowls. Any remnants from a previous meal can be another to put them off.
- Type of bowl; food bowls need to be wide and shallow because kittens do not generally like their whiskers touching the sides of the bowl – it puts them off!
Either way, it’s important that you try to identify the cause as soon as you can.
Generally, the younger the kitten is the more important it that you get them back eating.
Speaking with your breeder comes recommended, but if you are concerned or worried that something is not quite right – be sure to contact your vet.
What Happens If A Kitten Doesn’t Eat?
What happens to a kitten that does not eat depends entirely on how long they go without food and if they are consuming any water during this time.
It also depends on their age and size.
Nevertheless, a kitten that does not eat runs the risk of becoming quickly malnourished and dehydrated.
This can soon lead to lethargy and other negative outcomes related to insufficient energy intake.
It can happen in just a few hours.
From there, things can get a lot worse for your kitten.
Unfortunately, cats can experience organ failure very quickly if they are not sufficiently fed.
Unlike us humans and other animals, they do not possess livers that can support their bodies without food.
In other words, they are unable to leverage their body’s energy stores very well.
In older cats, they are only able to survive between 4-12 days without eating.
For a kitten, this can be in as little as 2 days, as they have a higher metabolism and high energy needs.
Either way, the process is the same and it is mostly caused by organ failure.
Starting with the digestive system, moving onto the brain, and then the kidneys and heart.
In the long term, Hepatic lipidosis is perhaps the main condition to be aware of.
It is primarily driven by prolonged starvation or other dietary insufficiencies over time.
While this may all sound very alarming, if your kitten is to miss 1-2 meals its not usually a cause for concern.
That being said, it’s very important you monitor your kitten’s food intake.
If you suspect anything is not quite right with your kitten, or they go upward of 4 hours without eating, it is best advised to contact a vet.
At the minimum, they will be able to examine your kitten and provide you with peace of mind.
Lastly, also consider that if your kitten does not generally eat enough, they will be forgoing important nutrition to fuel their growth and development.
How Can I Get A Kitten To Eat
For a kitten that is not eating, there are actually a few useful strategies that you can try to stimulate their appetite.
The most recommended ones include:
- Consider a different brand of food.
- Try food that has different flavours and/or textures,
- Ensure you have a shallow and wide food bowl. Glass bowls tend to work best,
- Ensure the bowl is thoroughly cleaned prior to serving any food,
- Consider moving the food bowl to a different area of your home, especially somewhere quiet and peaceful.
- Consider warming the food to room temperature. It should not be hot but not cold either.
- Offer a mixture of wet and dry food, with wet food being preferable at this time.
- Make sure any wet food is changed or taken away after 30-60 minutes and replaced fresh.
- Leave some dry food out that your kitten can eat as and when they feel like it.
- Consider getting some KMR (Kitten Milk Formula) and try mixing this into dry food,
- Establish a feeding schedule and feed at set times,
- You may want to contact your vet for some additional advice.
Kittens need to eat little and often.
They have high energy needs and their bodies cannot support them for long without regular and routine access to food and water.
The younger the kitten, the more they need to be fed. Although, the more ‘liquid-based the diet is too.
Perhaps one of the most important things to remember and consider is that a kitten’s and cat’s diet changes.
You’ll be frequently adapting what food, how much and when you feed them.
A kitten and cat’s nutrition is reliant on so many different factors that it does take a bit of research, planning, and preparation in advance.
For a kitten, never let them go without food for longer than 12 hours.
If you are trying your best, along with different techniques to stimulate appetite, but they are still not eating – then contacting a vet at the earliest opportunity comes strongly advised.
At the very minimum, they will be able to prevent dehydration through fluids.
But they will be able to ensure your kitten’s nutritional needs are met, even if unconventional methods are required.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.