Everything You Need to Know About Bottle Feeding a Kitten

Michael Kearley, DVM
By Michael Kearley, DVM on Apr. 29, 2024
A pet parent feeds their kitten.

Thais Ceneviva/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

In This Article

When To Begin

Bottle feeding kittens can be quite challenging and taxing—both emotionally and physically—but if done properly, it can be a great source of enjoyment and strengthening of the human-animal bond.

Although not without risks, bottle feeding kittens does require certain precautions. By monitoring their eating and elimination habits and promptly addressing any health issues that arise, you can give your kitten their best chance at growing to be as healthy and happy as possible.

When To Begin

Usually reserved for orphan kittens, those unable to nurse, or those who don’t receive enough nutrition from their mothers, successful bottle feeding requires a knowledge of milk replacers, ensuring your kitten receives adequate calories for growth and development, and the ability to follow proper feeding procedures. 

What You’ll Need

When bottle feeding a kitten, preparation is key. An assembly line of the required supplies is needed, so the same procedure is followed each time to ensure that steps are not forgotten or performed out of order. 

Below is a list of recommended items:

  1. Gram scale or baby scale

  2. Commercial milk replacer (be sure to review the manufacturer’s guidelines for preparing, mixing, and storing) such as KIR®.

    • Do not use cow’s milk, baby formula or homemade recipes—they can cause sickness and death. Keep your kitten on the same formula unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian.

  3. A notebook to track progress, including:

    • Kitten’s body weight

    • Quantity, duration, and frequency of feedings

    • Urination/defecation amounts and color

  4. 2-ounce bottle with nipples and bottle brush—Avoid nipples that are too large or long. The nipple (once inserted into the mouth) should ideally go about as far in as half of the tongue or less. 

    • The nipple hole should be sized (if needed) so that when it is held upside down, a single drop of milk falls out. If not, it may need to be slightly enlarged.

  5. Feeding chart—There are many different published charts, such as Maddie’s Kitten Bottle Feeding and Stomach Capacity Chart, listing the daily caloric intake needed. These charts often are based on recommended daily caloric requirements of kittens during the first four weeks of life. Be sure to speak with your veterinarian for your own kitten, as these charts are only guidelines. 

  6. Hand towels and disposable potty pads.


Be sure that all your supplies are cleaned and disinfected prior to feeding. Bottles and nipples should be washed thoroughly after every use with warm soapy water, boiled in water, then air-dried. A small bottle brush can be helpful to clean inside the nipple. 

Nipples and bottles should be inspected for brittleness and damage and disposed of if noted. Additionally, be sure to wash your hands and/or wear gloves prior to handling the kitten and supplies.

Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for preparation of the formula and prepare only a 24-hour supply at a time. Divide the amount into each feeding and refrigerate until use. 

Liquid or powdered milk replacer is acceptable, but be sure that when reconstituting the powder, it's mixed thoroughly, with no lumps visible.

The kitten should be weighed consistently the same time every day, twice daily for the first few weeks of life and then daily thereafter. It is recommended that the kitten be weighed before feeding, not afterward.  Most kittens weigh around 100 grams at birth and should gain 10 to 15 grams each day.

For the first time bottle feeding, you may need to feed a smaller amount than expected to allow the kitten time to adjust to the formula.  Be sure to reference your feeding chart for amounts. Most kittens won’t need to be fed every two hours, but it can serve as a starting point and will fluctuate based on the individual.  Weak, sick, and underweight kittens should usually be fed more frequently. It’s better to err on the smaller side and adjust gradually while monitoring growth.

Below is a guideline for feeding frequency:

Age of Kitten (Weeks)

Feedings Per Day










2 while weaning, but may need to increase if necessary

Warm the formula, but do so in a warm water bath. A microwave can create uneven spots of temperature.

Swirl the milk occasionally to ensure an even temperature, typically around 95 to 100 F, and do not shake. This creates excess bubbles, which can lead to discomfort.

Be mindful that kittens cannot thermoregulate, meaning they rely on external sources to provide warmth.

If kittens are cold, they will be less willing to eat and unable to properly digest their food. Be sure to provide a warm, non-drafty room for feeding, as well as a crate, carrier, or even a litter box lined with towels as a means of comfort and warmth. Be sure to check the heat source frequently.

How To Bottle Feed a Kitten

Kittens should be fed while they are on their stomach with the bottle inverted at approximately a 45-degree angle with the kitten’s head and neck extended, but not too far back.

This position mimics natural nursing behavior. A towel placed underneath the bottle can assist in achieving the desired angle. Check the nipple to make sure it is wholly intact, not brittle or missing pieces. 

Gently open her mouth with the tip of your finger and let a drop of milk replacer fall on the tongue, then insert the nipple gently. She should latch on quickly and begin to suckle. It can take several times, but if difficulty arises, speak with your veterinarian about other options such as syringe or tube feeding. Other medical conditions may need to be tested and treated for as well. 

When suckling, watch for swallowing. Go slow, at your kitten’s pace. She may occasionally stop and then continue again. When finished, check the nipple again for signs of wear or damage. 

When the flow rate is too rapid, problems such as aspiration pneumonia and even death can occur, so be sure not to squeeze the bottle while suckling!

Wrapping Up

At the conclusion of the feeding session, kittens should be content and quiet with a slightly distended belly. Kittens should then be gently rubbed or patted on their backs to help rid them of any excess air with a burp. 

Because kittens 3 to 4 weeks of age don’t have the ability to urinate and defecate themselves after each feeding session, gently rub the kitten’s anal and genital areas with a moist cloth or cotton ball. This act stimulates urination and defecation, much like the behavior exhibited by a mother cat grooming her kittens. 

This behavior can also aid in decreasing the discomfort associated with ingesting air during feeding, and can be done prior to a feeding session as well. 

The kitten’s face and fur may need to be gently cleaned and dried and then the kitten should be placed back with their mother, if present, or back safely in their resting area of a box, crate, or carrier until the next feeding. Most kittens less than 3 weeks of age spend most of their time sleeping. 

Any leftover milk that has been warmed or touched by the kitten should be discarded to prevent bacterial contamination. Otherwise, most formulas can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours, or per the manufacturer’s guidelines. 

Diarrhea and constipation are commonly seen problems associated with milk replacers. If noted, be sure to speak to your veterinarian, as either could lead to serious complications. 

If the kitten’s stool has a greenish to yellowish color, or she develops diarrhea, it may be due to overfeeding. Be sure to bring your logbook to the veterinarian with the type of formula fed, quantities and frequencies of feeding, and color and quantity of urine and stool produced. This will aid in the treatment and medical recommendations for your kitten. 

If you notice a decrease in your kitten’s weight or if the weight loss is more than 10% by the second day of bottle feeding, additional feedings be needed, and the kitten should be examined by a veterinarian because there could be other medical conditions present.

Kittens are usually weaned at 3 to 4 weeks of age, and bottle feeding becomes less frequent over time. Some behaviors show they are ready to be weaned, including aggressive bottle feeding, trying to chew on the nipple, or increased hunger. 


Little S. Playing Mum: Successful management of orphaned kittens. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2013;15:201–210.

Munnich A. Fading Kitten Syndrome: Factors predisposing to ‘faders’ and treatment options. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2022;24:243–256.


Michael Kearley, DVM


Michael Kearley, DVM


Dr. Michael Kearley graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. He graduated with a certificate in...

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