What To Feed a Nursing Cat : Top 5 Food Options

If you thought your cat was eating a lot during the last few weeks of her pregnancy, brace yourself. Now that she’s lactating, her calorie intake will increase even more. Depending on how many kittens she’s nursing, your new mom might need as much as four times the amount of food she ate before becoming pregnant.

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Newborn kittens do two things—nurse and sleep. They nurse every one to two hours, day and night. For the mother providing this nutrition, nursing is a physically and emotionally demanding time. She needs rich, high-calorie food to nourish both herself and the babies.

What to Feed a Nursing Cat

Nursing cats need up to four times as much food as they did before they became pregnant.

Her calorie needs are affected by various characteristics of the litter—how kittens are in the litter, how big they are, and how old they are. As the kittens grow and need more and more calories, your cat’s calorie requirements will also go up, peaking when the kittens are about 4 weeks old.

A 10-lb cat with 4 kittens needs about 600 calories a day. If she weighs 15 lbs, that number would increase to over 800 daily calories. A very large cat weighing 20 lbs might need over 1,000 calories per day.

Your cat will almost inevitably lose her kitten weight during this period, and that’s healthy. Bear in mind, however, that she shouldn’t lose weight too quickly or lose lean muscle mass. By feeding her enough fat, protein, and calories, you can ensure that she and the kittens stay healthy.

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Nursing cats need to eat regularly.

Because a lactating cat will want to eat throughout the day, it’s common to opt to free-feed her dry food. While dry cat food is calorie-dense and easy to feed, it’s not the ideal source of nutrition for your lactating cat. Dry food is typically lower in protein than wet food and it’s inherently water-depleted. While all cats require good hydration, lactating cats are particularly sensitive to water intake.

Nursing cats require plenty of water.

The nutritional composition of cat milk is approximately 10.8% fat, 10.6% protein, 3.7% sugar, and 1.0% ash. That means that it’s about 73.9% water.

Every time she feeds her kittens, your cat loses water. To compensate for this water loss, feed her a high-moisture diet and pair it with an ever-full bowl of fresh water.

Mama cats have an increased requirement for calcium and phosphorus to support the kittens’ bone development.

What you feed your mother cat will also feed the kittens. As kittens grow, they require elevated levels of key minerals and other nutrients to stay healthy.

Just like when she was pregnant, kitten food is the best source of calorie-dense, concentrated nutrition for your lactating queen.

If your cat ate kitten food while she was pregnant, there’s no reason to switch her to a new food now that she’s given birth and moved into the lactation phase. Continue feeding her the same kitten food, increasing portions and mealtimes to satisfy her increased calorie needs.

Why is kitten food such a good choice for nursing cats?

It’s very calorie-dense, so it satisfies her ferocious appetite without making her feel too full or forcing you to serve huge portions. It has enhanced levels of key nutrients, which both nourish your cat and helps to fortify her milk, nourishing the kittens.

Also remember that at around four to five weeks of age, her kittens will start to investigate their mom’s food bowl. Providing kitten food helps make weaning a smooth process.

Best Cat Food for Nursing Cats – Our Top 5 Picks

Nutro Kitten Soft Loaf Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Canned Cat Food Review

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

First 5 Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Pork Broth, Natural Flavors

This ultra-simple kitten food is primarily made from chicken and chicken liver. Both are highly-digestible sources of protein and other nutrients.

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There’s not much in this food that isn’t meat—aside from binders, this is a completely plant-free recipe. This type of lean nutrition delivers maximum benefit without taking up precious real estate in your cat’s abdomen.

It’s free of filler ingredients like grains, corn gluten meal, and soy. Additionally, it doesn’t contain any potentially irritating artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

Every 3oz can offers 94 calories, which is quite dense compared to other foods for adult cats.


  • A relatively high-calorie food
  • Meat-based with almost no plant ingredients
  • Free from artificial colors, flavors, and chemical preservatives
  • Less than 1% carbohydrates


  • Some cats dislike the soft loaf texture

Nature’s Variety Instinct Kitten Grain-Free Chicken Pate

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

First 5 Ingredients: Chicken, Beef Liver, Chicken Broth, Salmon (Source of DHA), Eggs

Like other Nature’s Variety Instinct foods, this recipe centers around wholesome animal ingredients like chicken, beef liver, salmon, and eggs. All of these have high bioavailability scores, meaning their benefits are readily received by the body.

It doesn’t contain any starchy fillers, grains, or other high-bulk, low-nutrition ingredients.

If you’re worried about potential inflammatory agents, you’ll appreciate that this food is free from artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

Each 3 oz can offers 103 calories, so you can easily give your lactating cat six or more cans a day.


  • Rich in highly-digestible animal protein
  • Concentrated nutrition
  • Formulated for growth and reproduction


  • Relatively expensive

Wellness CORE Kitten Turkey & Chicken Liver Recipe Classic Pate Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

First 5 Ingredients: Turkey, Chicken Liver, Turkey Broth, Chicken, Chicken Meal

This grain-free kitten food from Wellness CORE is packed with nutrient-dense, high-calorie ingredients that nourish both your lactating cat and her kittens.

One interesting inclusion in the recipe is chicken meal. Usually reserved for dry foods, dehydrated chicken meal is a concentrated source of animal protein.

That said, this food isn’t flawless. In addition to concentrated animal protein, the food contains a couple of unnecessary plant ingredients, including cranberries and ground flaxseed.

Each 3 oz can offers 108 calories.


  • A protein-packed, highly-digestible food
  • Meat-based
  • Calorie-dense


  • Expensive

Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Healthy Kitten Pate Recipe Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

First 5 Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Natural Flavor, Dried Egg Product

Like other kitten foods, this canned food emphasizes highly-digestible animal ingredients, including deboned chicken, chicken liver, and dried egg product. Although fresh eggs—not dehydrated egg product—are a preferable form of the ingredient, eggs are one of the most biologically available forms of protein on the planet.

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On the negative side, the food contains small amounts of alfalfa meal and ground flaxseed, neither of which are necessary inclusions in cat food.

The food is free from artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives that might irritate your cat and her babies.

Each 2.75 oz can contains 73 calories, placing it neck-to-neck with other kitten formulas.


  • Made primarily from nourishing sources of animal protein
  • Relatively calorie-dense
  • Highly-digestible


  • Contains some plant ingredients

Fancy Feast Kitten Tender Turkey Feast Canned Cat Food Review

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

First 5 Ingredients: Turkey, Liver, Meat By-Products, Poultry Broth, Milk

Don’t fall for the idea that only expensive food is good enough for your cat and her kittens.

This kitten formula from Fancy Feast is grain-free, emphasizes digestible animal protein, and by almost all accounts, it tastes great.

The recipe includes both named meats and vaguely-labeled ones. You’ll notice that the ingredient list features turkey, meat by-products, and something called “fish”. This mix of named and vague meat inclusions indicates unreliable digestibility and quality control.

The food is free from grains, corn, soy, wheat, and other fillers. However, it does have a few problematic qualities. It contains both natural and artificial flavors, the latter of which might irritate some cats.

Milk is another ingredient that might concern some guardians. While nursing kittens can digest lactose, most adult cats are lactose-intolerant, so it’s important to monitor your mother cat for any signs of GI upset while eating this food.

The food is relatively high-calorie with 95 calories in each 3 oz can.


  • Relatively calorie-dense
  • Delicious flavor
  • Emphasizes animal ingredients
  • An affordable choice


  • Contains milk
  • Made with artificial colors and flavors

Additional Considerations

If the kittens don’t seem to be getting enough nourishment, you can supplement their diet with a kitten milk replacer.

If the kittens are unusually skinny, vocal, or both, you might need to give them a nutritional boost by giving them kitten milk replacer. Make sure that you use a formula made for kittens. Baby formula and other types of milk lack the full nutrient profile your kitten needs.

When can your mother cat switch back to an adult diet?

She’ll need to continue eating kitten food until the kittens have been fully weaned at around 8-10 weeks of age. By this time, her appetite should have returned to normal and she can start eating her normal, smaller portions.

Click here to read our guide to weaning kittens.

Mallory Crusta

Mallory Crusta offers simple, honest knowledge about natural cat care and products that work so that you can spend less time researching natural cat care and more time having fun with your cat. She blogs about it at WildernessCat.com.

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