My Kitten Won’t Eat: 3 Steps to Help Your Picky Kitten Get the Nutrition They Need

Kittens of all ages are susceptible to changes in appetite. Inappetance, or lack of hunger, is an immediate cause of concern for kitten rescuers, foster parents, and pet owners. A kitten who won’t eat could be ill, have a congenital abnormality, or simply be a picky eater. Learn how to determine the cause of the problem and how to help your kitten eat. 

Assess the Kitten to Learn Why They Won’t Eat

First, consider the kitten and their surroundings. Any one of the following factors, or a combination of multiple, could cause a kitten to not eat.

Assess the kitten’s age, health, and behavior

Begin by checking the kitten’s weight and assessing their overall development. This will help you gauge how old the kitten and allow you to take appropriate steps for their nutrition.

Refer to the chart below to determine your kitten’s age:


Most importantly, you need to determine whether or not the kitten has all of their teeth. If they don’t have all of their teeth yet, this means they aren’t ready to eat on their own. If you’ve tried to feed solid food to a kitten without molars with no success, please learn how to bottle feed, or find someone who will teach you how!

Start by watching this video:

Even if the kitten has all of their teeth and is at weaning age, don’t expect them to understand how to eat wet food right away. Be prepared to provide supplemental bottle feeding until the kitten is able to eat a full meal on their own. 

Offering the right food for the kitten’s age isn’t the only factor at play. You must also evaluate the kitten’s health and behavior to get more insight about why the kitten won’t eat. Consider the following:

  • Energy: Is the kitten lethargic and/or nonresponsive? Is the kitten bright, active, and responsive (BAR)? A lethargic kitten, while of course in need of food, is less likely to eat due to low energy and possible illness. 
  • Temperature: Never feed a cold kitten. If a kitten won’t eat, make sure they’re warm and comfortable. Use a kitten-safe heat source and make sure the room is around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Body systems: Rule out health concerns. A sick, uncomfortable kitten is less likely to eat a full meal. 
    • Mouth: Peek inside the kitten’s mouth to check for a cleft palate. Kittens with cleft palates are put in significant danger if they attempt to eat on their own, and this issue can cause difficulties with eating to begin with. 
    • Eyes/ears/nose: Are these areas clear, irritated, or having discharge? Irritation and discharge in these areas are signs of a possible upper respiratory infection (URI). If a URI is suspected, the kitten might have a low appetite due to not feeling well and an inability to smell the food. 
    • Abdomen: Evaluate the kitten’s stomach and notable digestion. Kitten’s stomachs should be warm, round, and slightly squishy. A hard, distended stomach may be a sign of internal parasites, illness, or a digestive issue. Have they used the litter box or been stimulated lately? Are their stools formed and brown, or are they loose and off-colored? 

Please note that this list is not exhaustive. If your kitten shows any signs of illness, take them to a vet immediately. 

Assess the Environment to Learn Why Your Kitten Won’t Eat

If your kitten is in good health, is BAR, and has access to age-appropriate food, it’s time to take a look at the kitten’s surroundings to see what could be keeping them from eating. Consider the following:

  • Dishes: Shallow, wide dishes are easier for young kittens to eat from as they learn to bite and chew. A deep, narrow dish might cause difficulty and whisker discomfort. Of course, always make sure the dishes are clean. If the kitten is still drinking from a bottle, consider the flow of the formula and the size of the nipple you’re using. The wrong size and a fast or slow flow may be causing the problem. 
  • Type of food: Some kittens develop preferences and become quite picky. Take a look at the flavors and ingredients you’re offering. With formula, many kittens are quick to realize that it’s not their mom’s milk. In time, they should adjust to the new flavor. 
  • Texture of food: There are many different types of kitten food – dry food, wet food, chunks, pate, shreds, and etcetera. It’s possible your kitten has already developed a preference. With bottle babies, make sure the formula is clump-free and has the correct amount of water. 
  • Temperature of food: Some kittens tolerate cold food, but in general, warm food enhances the smell and makes the food more palatable. Formula should be warm to the touch and should pass a wrist temperature test. 
  • Surroundings: Regardless of age, consider how comfortable, warm, and safe the kitten feels while eating. Are they on a soft blanket in a quiet room, or are they on a cold floor with other kittens pushing them away from the food bowl? If you have a picky, stressed, or sick kitten on your hands, make sure they are as cozy as possible. If they have a mom, make sure she and the other kittens aren’t pushing the kitten away while trying to nurse.

How to Help Your Kitten Eat

Now that you know the age of your kitten and have assessed the entire situation, it’s time to take action. Find your kitten’s age group below and use the strategies listed.

How to help a bottle baby kitten eat

Kittens 0-5 weeks old are considered bottle baby kittens, meaning that they are entirely dependent on kitten formula as their source of nutrition. If they have a mom, they should nurse from her during this time frame. Kittens this age have no teeth or very few teeth, meaning that their bodies are not able to digest meat. 

Strategies for feeding tricky bottle baby kittens:

  • Use a Snuggle Kitty or Calmeroos Kitty with a battery-powered heartbeat. The kitten’s rooting and suckling reflexes can get stronger if they feel like they are with their mom.
  • Feed the kitten in their warm space, such as their incubator or on top of their heat source.
  • If they have a mom, try giving the mom and kitten time alone just the two of them to see if she will let the kitten eat uninterrupted. If not, it’s time to intervene with bottle-feeding.
  • Wrap the kitten loosely in a blanket to calm them.
  • Using a nipple and a slip-tip syringe, feed formula one small drop at a time, and ensure the kitten swallows each drop. Either they will eventually latch, or they will tolerate the feeding so they have a little food in their system.
  • Use a Miracle Nipple Mini if they’re having trouble latching. This is especially helpful for young kittens to latch onto.
  • Cover the kitten’s body and face (except for their mouth and nose) with a blanket. It mimics the feeling of being pressed against their mom and next to other kittens. This may encourage them to root around and latch on the bottle.
  • Groom the kitten with a toothbrush before feeding. This simulates the feeling of their mother’s tongue as she would groom them.
  • Stimulate them to go potty both before and after feeding to make sure they have room in their tiny systems to drink more.
  • Try feeding the kitten next to one of their siblings. Some kittens have the instinct to latch more readily when they feel they are competing for a nipple.
  • Offer the bottle as soon as you gently wake them. Right after waking, their latching reflex is strongest and they have the instinct to root around.
  • Encircle the kitten’s face and apply very light pressure with your non-dominant hand, and insert the bottle into their mouths with your dominant hand. The kitten may close their eyes and begin to sniff in search of milk. This hold makes them feel like they are in a dark, safe space.

How to help a weaning kitten eat

Between 5 and 8 weeks old, kittens rely less on milk and begin to explore meat. This is because they finally have all of their kitten teeth, including molars, that allow them to bite and chew food on their own. At this age, their bodies are finally ready to digest kitten food, and they are usually fully weaned by 6 weeks of age. 

Strategies for feeding tricky weaning kittens:

  • Use a baby spoon or your hand to offer wet kitten food to their mouth. Most kittens don’t immediately know what to do when a bowl of food is in front of them.
  • Put a small amount of wet food onto their muzzle near their mouth or at the very tip of their nose (not covering of course), and they’ll usually lick it off. If you have food right in front of their face once they lick it off, they may begin to eat.
  • Mix one part kitten formula and one part kitten food. This is called slurry, and most kittens are highly motivated to eat this. It also helps their digestive systems transition from milk to meat.
  • Offer the food in a wide, shallow dish.
  • Make sure the food is fresh, at room temperature, or slightly warmed.
  • Use smooth textured kitten food, like pate, as they learn how to coordinate biting and chewing motions.
  • Offer wet food often to increase exposure and give them more opportunities to learn.
  • Use a slip-tip syringe to draw up slurry or slightly watered-down wet food. Again, offer this one drop at a time.
  • Always provide supplemental bottle feedings until the kitten is eating a full meal on their own.

How to help kittens eat when they are 2 months and older

Kittens this age should have all of their kitten teeth and should weigh at least two pounds. They should be fully weaned at this age. By four months of age, they will start to get their adult teeth.

Strategies for feeding older kittens:

  • Try hand-feeding and spoon-feeding.
  • Try syringe feeding.
  • Warm the food or mix it with a bit of warm water.
  • Offer a kitten-style buffet of different brands, flavors, and textures.
  • Use a topper to entice them to continue eating.
    • Baby food (no garlic or onion)
    • Canned tuna or chicken (no salt added)
    • Churu treats
    • Dry food
  • Reduce visual and auditory distractions.
  • Make sure the kitten is not competing with others for food during mealtimes.
  • Put a small amount of wet food onto their muzzle.
  • Get them to play hard before you offer food to see if all the energy they burn will help them recognize they need to refuel.
  • Place their food away from their water and away from their litter box.

You Can Help Your Kitten Eat

Now you can confidently assess kittens’ ages and determine potential reasons why kittens won’t eat. As always, seek the professional opinion of a trusted veterinarian when medical or behavioral concerns arise.

If you’ve found a kitten and aren’t sure what to do, browse our fostering resources and fill out an inquiry so we can guide you through your options.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Any purchases made through these links may help me earn a small commission.

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