To wean or not to wean—what to feed a kitten at 3 weeks old
Hand-rearing a motherless kitten is like caring for a fragile human newborn. It’s a full-time commitment requiring caution at every step, especially while determining what they can and cannot eat. Many new kitty caretakers are confused about what to feed a kitten at three weeks old, mainly because the information on the Internet is unreliable. Various sources offer conflicting advice. Stick to kitten formula, make a gruel, or introduce solids—how can you discern what's good for your baby cat?
Caring for an abandoned or orphaned kitten may seem like a complicated task, but things get easier once you get the hang of feline nutrition and development stages. You should customise your kitten’s feeding regime based on how much they’ve grown physically, which usually depends on their breed and health status. Untamed will teach you to:
- Recognise your kitten’s nutritional needs (at every development stage)
- Evaluate all widely accepted feeding patterns and execute them in a safe manner
3-week-old kitten feeding regime—start with checking their growth
A kitten’s third week is usually when their physical features get defined. The table below outlines the standard development markers for three-week-old kittens:
A kitten’s gender should be determinable at week three:
Besides these physical milestones, kittens also start experiencing mental and spatial awareness at week three, including:
- Responding to sounds
- Pooing voluntarily
- Beginning mobility training (attempting to stand, walking with wobbly steps, etc.)
If your kitty shows signs of normal development (more importantly, gets their teeth and maintains a healthy weight), you can initiate the weaning-off process at week three. In case their growth isn’t up to the mark, you should hold it off for a while—say another week or two.
How to take care of a 3-week-old kitten if they’re not growing properly?
Rescue kittens tend to be underweight or experience stunted growth, as they’re not being nursed on their mother’s milk and consequently often have nutritional deficiencies. A cat’s milk contains essential nutrients—like taurine, glutamic acid, leucine acid, aspartic acid, calcium, iron, and crucial vitamins—in ratios suitable for kittens. In the queen’s absence, milk replacement formula is the first choice for baby cats. While kitten formula is tailored to meet the basic needs of younglings, it may still be insufficient at times.
If your three-week-old motherless kitty is showing signs of malnutrition, try the following:
- Increase the feeding frequency—Your kitten may be weak because they need more food, but that doesn’t mean you should overfeed them in one meal. Since their tiny stomach can only handle a wee quantity of milk at a time, feed them more often to ensure they get enough
- Talk to a vet—If you think the formula isn’t helping your kitten, get a vet’s opinion. They may suggest you change brands or use a kitten incubator, especially if the kitty’s health isn’t stable
- Use a feeding syringe—Certain breeds, like Persians and Siamese, suffer from poor growth because they have trouble latching on to bottles. In such cases, replace the bottle with a feeding syringe so the milk can drip into their mouth
- Look for a lactating queen—Kittens are best off nursing, not only because of the nutritional factor but also because queens share their body heat to prevent hypothermia, which can be fatal for kittens. You can get the word out at local shelters and clinics to check if a lactating cat is available for your kitty
The key hack to feeding kitten formula—Is your kitten in the correct position when you nurse them?
Feeding a 3-week-old kitten formula—here’s what you should know
Here are some practical tips to help you feed formula to underdeveloped or toothless three-week-old kittens:
- Keep the kitten warm—Staying warm is crucial for baby cats as it helps them digest milk and absorb nutrients better. The formula should be lukewarm, about 35–38 degrees Celsius
- Pay attention to their feeding position—For optimised digestion, position the kitten flat on their belly and lean them forward during feeding, mimicking their nursing position. Don’t recline them on their back, as it could trigger reactive pneumonia
- Use reasonable serving sizes—Feed kittens about two tablespoons of formula for every 110 grams of their body weight (in 24 hours). Big breeds like Maine Coons and Ragdolls need larger servings than an average-sized British Shorthair or Bengal cat
- Don’t change formulas often—Many kittens cannot handle frequent formula changes, and their digestive system may react adversely if they’re unable to adapt to a new one
Many cat parents make the rookie mistake of ditching formula and offering regular milk to kittens. That’s a wrong move as the ratio of lactose, fat, and other nutrients in cow’s milk is incompatible with the feline digestive system. Many kittens suffer from gastrointestinal upsets after drinking milk, which affects their health and growth.
What to feed a 3-week-old kitten ready for solids
Gruel is essentially kitten formula mixed with any type of cat food. It helps kittens transition to solids, especially if they are fussy about the switch. The mixture has a mushy consistency so teething kittens can swallow it easily. Nutritionists recommend using a quality high-protein wet food for gruel as it is closer to the natural feline diet than dry food.
Many cat parents prefer to kickstart the weaning process by introducing kittens to a few biscuits. While it’s an okay strategy, it’s not ideal to feed dry food to feeble three-week-old kittens as large-sized or oddly shaped kibbles can be a choking hazard. If you notice a biscuit is lodged in their throat, rush them to the nearest clinic.
Such pretty toys! Oh, you want me to eat them? Fine. I’ll tame my instincts and swallow them if you insist.
Remember that most vets do not recommend dry food to any cat because regular consumption may lead to:
- Irregular nutrition—Kittens need a diet high in animal protein for healthy growth and development of neural functions, but most dry food products contain less protein than necessary. Kitties facing a protein deficiency cough up hairballs frequently and have low energy levels, dry and brittle fur, poor appetite, and uncoordinated movements. Another issue is the high carb and fat content in dry food, which may lead to obesity and feline diabetes
- Wet food rejection—Dry food is heavily processed, which makes it addictive. Kittens may refuse to accept healthy wet food because they're used to kibble
- Dehydration—Dry food has only ten per cent moisture and doesn’t meet a kitten’s hydration needs. Dehydration in felines can lead to severe kidney, urinary, and bowel ailments, like:
To sum it up, dry food is suboptimal to wet food because it lacks animal protein. Kitties on a kibble diet tend to have poor eating habits. Some even develop eating disorders like overeating or not eating at all.
Wet food is the best weaning food for kittens due to its soft texture and high digestibility, but you need to be mindful of the ingredients that go in it. Steer clear of products that:
- Contain low-quality proteins—Quality wet food should have more than 50% whole meat and organ proteins. Some manufacturers use cheap substitutes, such as meat derivatives and vegetables, to meet the minimum protein requirements. These fillers are hard to digest and also make the food tasteless
- Are rich in fats—Kittens don’t need more than 20% fat in their diet, but some manufacturers add more to increase the palatability of products lacking real meat. Too much fat slows down digestion and could lead to heart diseases
- Go overboard with carbs—Carbohydrates like coarse grains (rice, corn, etc.) and starchy veggies are junk fillers used to increase the volume of cat food. Kittens can only digest a limited amount of carbs at a time. Excessive carbohydrates in their diet could cause stomach sensitivity and frequently trigger diarrhoea or indigestion. Indoor felines on high-carb diets can:
- Have artificial additives—Avoid wet food with harsh preservatives and chemical taste enhancers. These ingredients may cause diarrhoea in young kittens, which can be fatal due to their weight
I'm so done with milk and biscuits. Imma big boy, hooman. Where’s my meat?
Source: Archibald Marajas
How often do 3-week-old kittens eat?
Not all three-week-old kittens should eat the same amount of food. The feeding frequency is also individual. Refer to the table below to understand what would work for your kitten at three weeks:
Amount per feeding
Still on formula
Once every 3–5 hours
Once every 4–6 hours
Remember that this is a suggested feeding plan. You should analyse your kitten’s development to determine what’s adequate for them and reach out to a vet if you have any doubts.
My kitty missed the 3-week window for weaning. What to feed a 4–5-week-old kitten
Don’t worry if your kitten didn’t switch to solids at week three. If they are ready to be weaned during their fourth or fifth week, you can skip gruel and introduce them to wet or dry food. You can also mix wet and dry food in a blender to get a thick paste-like texture that’ll be easy to lick for first-timers.
Raising an abandoned or motherless kitten? Untamed can help them grow!
Taking care of an abandoned kitten can be nerve-racking for first-time cat parents, but Untamed is here to make the task easier for you! Our tailor-made wet food contains highly digestible human-grade whole meat gently steamed to preserve taste, aroma, and nutritional value. Weaning kittens will be a hassle-free job with our soft, flavoursome morsels that entice their senses and help them grow properly! We offer:
Weaning off is a cakewalk when you don’t tame your kitten’s instincts with tasteless, over-processed food. At Untamed, we’re all about authentic cat food.
Image (c) Untamed
Untamed is the best for your growing kitty because we:
- Don’t compromise on nutrition—We offer twice the protein than the industry average, helping your kitty gain that enviable muscle tone. Our recipes are free of cheap fillers like animal derivatives, vegetable proteins, grains, and sugar. Every bite of Untamed is real, nutrient-dense meat rich in growth and immunity boosters like taurine and vitamin E
- Use vet-formulated hypoallergenic formulas—You can be sure that our vet-formulated recipes have proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals rationed in correct amounts. We keep our dishes free of all known allergens by using natural ingredients. If you’re worried about triggering unknown food allergies while feeding an abandoned kitten, try our single-source protein Chocka Chicken and Tuck-in Tuna meals
- Can help expand their taste buds—Introducing kittens to different flavours keeps them flexible as they grow into adults. Besides chicken and tuna, we also offer meals with chicken liver, duck, ham, salmon, mackerel, sardine, and shrimp to impress the fussiest of eaters
Take our TRY NOW quiz to get the Untamed trial pack delivered to you at the best price!
Keep them forever Untamed—our food supports every life stage!
Untamed also works for adult and senior cats. Wild cats depend on the same raw food diet of rodents and birds throughout their life, and domesticated cats need a consistent diet rich in whole meat proteins. Here’s how our food supports them:
- Adulthood—Our protein-rich meals help adult cats stay in shape and keep common feline illnesses at bay. Since our dishes are sugar-free, they’re ideal for obese or diabetic cats
- Golden years—Cats tend to become frail and lose their appetite as they grow older, so they need high-quality food to stay energetic. Our whole-meat diet will give your senior furball enough energy and help them manage weight easily
When in doubt, go with our Tuck-in Tuna or Chocka Chicken meals in gravy and jelly—they are delicious and soothe sensitive tummies on bad days!
Image (c) Untamed
Here’s what satisfied cat parents said after switching their furry friends to Untamed:
The Untamed effect
Four months and up
Make your life easier with our free straight-to-the-doorstep deliveries!
We offer free home deliveries for all online orders of cat food—here’s how to get your first taster pack:
- Complete our TRY NOW quiz and tell us about your kitty
- Create a tailor-made meal plan
- Place your order
You will get your taster pack within a day. Your kitty can sample our meals over the week and give their verdict. If the meal boxes work out for your kitty, we’ll have a fresh batch of our cat food shipped to your doorstep every month. You can modify, skip, postpone, or cancel a delivery anytime!
Untamed is a Neutral Carbon Footprint company. We believe in ethical cat food production, our packaging is 100% recyclable, and the meat we use is acquired from cruelty-free and sustainable sources.
Untamed grows on kittens, and kittens grow on Untamed—it’s a win-win!
Image (c) Untamed
What to feed a stray baby kitten if you cannot tell their age
If you’re taking care of a stray kitten but cannot determine their age, you will have to rely on the development markers. If the kitten is weak and cannot stand on their own, give them formula milk. If they are more robust, have milk teeth, and can walk around, give them commercial cat food.
Stray kittens have usually wandered off from their mother and siblings. Contact a local shelter or a vet if you spot a lone stray kitten in distress but cannot care for them.
Orphan kitten feeding guide—here’s what to avoid
If you’re raising an orphaned kitten, don’t give them random treats as they can cause stomach upsets. Avoid B.A.R.F. snacks, like raw chicken, pork, or eggs, because pathogens in raw treats can be disastrous for your kitty. It’s also not good to give them cured meat like bacon because of high sodium levels.
It’s better not to share fruits and vegetables with kittens as they cannot digest cellulose. You can give them bite-sized pieces of sweet fruits like apples, bananas, and strawberries when they’re older than three months but as occasional treats only. Never feed them grapes, cherries, onions, nuts, or green tomatoes as they are toxic to felines.
If you are looking for safe homemade snacks, consider preparing a meat and fish soup or bone broth without seasoning. Older kitties can also enjoy other human foods, albeit in tiny portions—yoghurt, cheese, and ice cream.
Weaning woes? Check what’s up with your kitten—stress levels or anxiety?
Kitten care—weeks 3 to 5 and beyond
Weaning can take several weeks, especially if a kitten is physically or mentally stressed, which is often the case with orphans. Here are some tips to ease the process:
- Offer them fresh food and water as unpleasant odours can agitate kitties
- Make their sleeping space warm and safe
- Place their litter tray in a quiet and private area if they’re nervous every time they need to go
- Use bonding tactics like caressing, gentle grooming, and a comforting voice to calm them down
- Don’t bathe young kittens as it’s uncomfortable and triggers a fight-or-flight response—get a vet’s opinion if you feel your kitten needs a bath