When a kitten is scared, they’re in survival mode and aren’t interested in eating. But you obviously need them to eat.
If you’re dealing with a newborn kitten, they shouldn’t go more than a few hours without drinking their mother’s milk or a kitten milk replacer.
If your kitten is several weeks old, they shouldn’t go more than a couple of days without eating.
Contact a veterinarian if your kitten has gotten close to these time frames.
When a scared kitten isn’t eating, it’s not the time to work on trust-building techniques. Making them feel safe enough to eat is top priority. These 8 tips will help.
#1 Make sure the kitten is in a safe room
The first step to getting a scared kitten to eat is making sure their environment makes them feel safe.
Anytime you bring a kitten or cat home, you should set up a safe room and introduce your new cat to that first.
A safe room should be small, quiet, uncluttered, and have food, water, a litter box, bedding, toys that are safe for a kitten to play with when unsupervised (no wands), and any other items they may appreciate, such as a box to hide in or a stuffed toy to cuddle with.
A kitten has a lot to take in when they’re first adopted. They’ve been taken away from everything they know and put in a new environment with new smells and new people.
Reduce their unknowns and set them up in a small room that has minimal objects, sounds, and smells.
This gives your kitten the best chance of acclimatizing to your home and you, quickly.
When your kitten is on high alert because of all the new things they need to take in, they won’t be interested in eating.
#2 Offer wet food
Not only does wet food have a stronger smell that will attract your kitten to it, it’s also preferred for a kitten’s diet.
Look for canned wet food made specifically for kittens.
A kitten shouldn’t eat dry food until they’re around six weeks old.
However, even when your cat is considered an adult, a wet food diet is typically better for them. The water in wet food helps keep your cat hydrated and it’s also easier to find grain-free wet food, which has many benefits for your cat.
#3 Make sure the food is fresh
Wet food dries out after a few hours. So don’t expect your kitten to be interested in a bowl of wet food that’s been sitting for several hours.
Put a little food in the dish at a time so you don’t waste a whole can if they don’t eat it. And replace uneaten cat food every few hours.
#4 Try warming their food
Be very careful when heating cat food, it only requires a few seconds in the microwave and then a stir. You must test the temperature with your finger to make sure it’s not too hot for your kitten.
In the wild, cats will catch mice or birds for meals. When they eat their prey it’s still slightly warm. So room temperature or slightly warm food is more appealing to your cat than food right out of the fridge.
The smell of warm cat food may get your kitten’s attention and stimulate their appetite.
#5 Try different foods
Cats are finicky creatures. Although you may think a hungry cat will take what it can get, that’s not always true.
Head to the pet store and grab a variety of canned wet food for kittens. Just get one of each kind until you find one your kitten likes.
We went through 4 or 5 different types of wet kitten food until we found one our two kittens would consistently eat.
If we set out the wrong kind, they would just smell it and walk away, even though we knew they were hungry.
#6 Offer a treat
Treats are often high in calories, so you want to be careful of how many you feed a kitten. However, a treat may be just what your kitten needs to start eating.
I find these creamy Churu treats are always a hit. And they’re grain-free.
You can squeeze a little out of the tube to see if your kitten will eat it.
If they do, try squeezing the rest on top of some wet food.
Once they get going on the Churu treat, they may realize how hungry they are and keep eating the wet food.
#7 Place food in a safe spot
In the wild, cats are more vulnerable when they eat. The scent of their freshly caught prey can attract predators.
Although your kitten is safe in your home, they still have those animal instincts to keep their guard up when eating.
If their food dish is in the middle of a room or a spot where they feel as though they could be “attacked” from behind, they may be timid to eat.
Try placing their food dish a few feet out from a corner of a room.
This allows them to sit in the corner, so their back is protected, and look out into the room as they eat, to keep an eye on any dangers entering the room.
If your kitten is scared and hiding, place the food dish in their hiding spot.
You may want them to come out to eat but they feel safe where they are. So it’s best to let them eat there if they want to.
#8 Leave the kitten be
Give your kitten space to eat. If they’re scared and hiding, survival is above eating right now. Although you know they’ll be safe if they come out to eat, they know that.
And as long as you’re next to their food dish, they won’t eat.
Set the food dish close to where they’re hiding and leave the room for an hour or two. Quietly check back in periodically to see if they’ve eaten.
It’s important not to make any sudden movements or try to grab them when they’re eating.
You need to build trust with them and show them it’s safe to come out and eat. Make them feel as comfortable as possible while they’re eating.
Contact a veterinarian
If you’re dealing with a newborn kitten, contact a vet within the first couple hours of them not drinking their mom’s milk or kitten milk replacer.
If you’re dealing with a kitten that has been weaned off milk and is eating solid food, contact a veterinarian if they haven’t eaten in a couple of days.
They may be able to offer additional advice and let you know when they need to come in if they go any longer without eating.
I hope these tips help you get your scared kitten to eat!
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