At some point, you may be faced with the prospect of caring for an orphaned kitten. This may be a result of a queen (mother cat) having more kittens than she can care for, having passed away, rejecting the kittens or you may find a motherless kitten.
What should you do if you find an orphaned or feral kitten? First, get the kitten indoors to a warm, safe place.
Depending on the situation, you may have to warm up or cool down the kitten. Kittens are not great at regulating their body temperature so you must help with this.
Make sure the temperature is warm but not too hot as to burn the kitten. Kittens can't shiver for the first two weeks of their life, so it is hard to gauge if they are too cold. It is very important to keep your kitten warm and near you as much as possible. Holding the kitten close to your body will not only warm her, but she will also be comforted by your heartbeat.
If your kitten is overheated remove the kitten from the heat source and slowly decrease the temperature. Gently wipe the kitten's body with a cool, damp (but not wet) cloth.
What you will need:
Nipples/teats (in an emergency, a syringe with the needle removed can be used to give the kitten milk)
Bottle cleaning brush
Old clean towels
Giving the orphaned kitten milk:
Ideally, the best milk for a kitten is his own mother's milk. However, if the mother is unable to nurse the kitten a foster mother is the second best choice. If there is a foster mother available, her kittens should be no more than 14 days older than the orphaned kitten. A foster mother isn't always possible, so you will have to hand-raise the kitten using an artificial formula designed especially for use on kittens. This, along with bottles and droppers for feeding, can usually be found in the cat food aisle of most supermarkets or pet stores. If you can't find any, a veterinarian can usually provide you with a formula for kittens.
Wash your hands and sterilise all feeding equipment. Young kittens - especially orphaned ones who don't have the benefit of antibodies transferred from the mother's milk to the kitten - are particularly vulnerable to infection so care must be taken when preparing formula. Carefully follow directions on the box of formula or directions provided by your vet to determine the proper temperature and amount to feed your kitten. You will need to know your kitten’s approximate age and weight in order to give the right amount of formula. Giving too much or too little formula can kill the kitten. For this reason, it also very important that you make the right size hole in the nipple of the feeding bottle. If you can squeeze a small drop from the upturned bottle, you have made the right sized hole. Milk should be at body temperature (around 38C), check the milk isn't too hot or cold by squeezing a drop or two onto your wrist. Gently place the kitten on his stomach, open the mouth with a finger and slip the nipple in. To encourage suckling, gently stroke the kitten's throat in a downward motion. Hold the bottle at a 45% angle. Feeds should be every 2 - 3 hours, around the clock.
After feeding your kitten formula you may need to burp him. To do this, hold the kitten upright against your shoulder and gently pat him on the back.
Seek veterinary advice on how to properly and safely bottle feed a kitten.
When formula feeding, be careful to ensure the formula doesn't get inhaled by the kitten. Don't squeeze the bottle, this will force too much milk into the kitten's mouth, possibly causing choking or aspiration.
The kitten should have his belly facing down, feeding him on his back (as you would a human baby) poses the risk of the formula being inhaled, which can lead to a lung infection or drowning.
Do not re-use leftover milk.
Do not use cow's milk.
Emergency milk replacement:
If you don't have any milk on hand, you will need to make up some emergency milk. Below is one such recipe kindly supplied by a breeder:
- 1 can condensed milk
- 2 cans water
- 1 small container cream
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 Tbl spoons honey
Kittens dehydrate rapidly. Dehydration is very serious and can lead to death if left untreated. Signs of dehydration include sunken eyes, loss of skin elasticity, lethargy, dry gums. To check for dehydration at home, gently grasp the skin between the cat's shoulders and raise it. It should spring back immediately if this doesn't happen it may be a sign your kitten is dehydrated. If you suspect your kitten is dehydrated seek veterinary attention urgently.
Cardboard boxes are insulating and therefore a good place to make a bed for your kitten. Place a towel in the bottom of the box along with a hot water bottle or a heating pad. The heating pad/hot water bottle should only cover half the area, so if the kitten gets too hot, he can move away from the heat.
Ensure that the bedding doesn't have strings and threads which may entangle the kitten. Bedding will need to be changed regularly, to maintain proper hygiene. Ensure the box is in a quiet, draft-free spot. Kittens are unable to regulate their body temperature for the first week or two, so it is important the kitten has a source of warmth. Hot water bottles or heat lamps can be used to keep the kitten warm, but it is important to keep a regular check of the temperature to ensure it's not too hot or cold for the kitten. Newborns require a temperature of 89-93F (around 30C).
A young kitten cannot urinate or defecate on his own until he is around three weeks old. The mother cat licks the kitten's belly and bottom in order to stimulate elimination. You will have to provide this stimulation for your kitten by gently rubbing these areas with a warm, damp washcloth. It is usually recommended this be done both before and after the kitten has eaten.
The weaning process can begin around 4 weeks of age. Start out slowly by mixing baby food (check the ingredients to make sure the food contains no onion as this is toxic to cats) canned or dry cat food in with some kitten formula. Not all kittens will take to food immediately, so patience is important. Introduce a small amount initially. You can introduce solids either by placing a small amount of food on your finger or in a cat bowl. As the kitten eats more solid food, gradually decrease the amount of formula he has.
Kittens will begin to drink water from 5 - 6 weeks of age. Clean tap water should be provided in a sturdy bowl, this should be changed daily.
It is important to ensure the orphaned kitten is parasite free. Fleas and worms can cause anaemia, which can lead to death. Remove fleas using a flea comb. Seek veterinary advice on products which can be used on very young kittens to treat both fleas and intestinal worms.
It is important to keep a log of your kitten's weight to ensure it is gaining weight properly. Kittens should double their birth weight in the first 7 - 10 days. It is also encouraged to keep a log of when feeds were made, how much was given etc.
Love and Attention:
Your kitten will need plenty of love and attention. When he's not sleeping, ensure you give it lots of physical contact.
You can begin toilet training your kitten the same time you introduce solids. To do so, after the kitten's meal place him in the litter tray and gently scrape his front paw in the litter.
Kitten photo courtesy of William Johns.