How to feed a baby kitten that won t eat

Orphaned Kitten Care | PetMD

By D.L. Smith-Reed, DVM

Feeding a newborn orphaned kitten is a challenge but can be fun and rewarding. Here are some guidelines to follow when assisting orphaned kittens.

If you are sure the mother cat is unable to care for them, congratulations…you have a new and challenging responsibility!

We first need to determine how old they are before we try to start feeding them. Kittens’ eyes generally open between days 7 through 14. If the eyes are still closed, the kittens are quite young and you have a lot of work ahead of you. Fortunately, it is very rewarding work to see these little kitties grow and thrive.

Have your veterinarian check them over as soon as possible to determine their health status and age. Any noticeable health problems such as skin lesions, crusty eyelids, or presence of dehydration can be addressed by your veterinarian and appropriate treatment started.

It's unfortunate and sad that not all kittens and puppies receive the nurturing and security of a mother.

Home Care

If you are committed to helping the newborn kittens and become their surrogate mother, then you will need to provide a safe, warm home for them. You can use a box or small crate with plenty of dry, clean bedding. Make sure you change the bedding frequently so it doesn’t get too soiled.

Place the new "den" in a warm, quiet place free from drafts, but be careful not to overheat them either. Don’t put them next to a heating or air conditioning vent. Heating pads under a box can be helpful. The kittens should be in an environment that approaches 92 degrees; monitor the air temperature around the kittens frequently.

Once they become 2 weeks old, they will be better equipped to generate their own body heat and their surrounding air temperature becomes less critical.


For very young kittens, you will need to acquire kitten milk replacer and some feeding devices. Many veterinarians will use an ordinary eye dropper or a small syringe as a means of dispensing the milk replacer to the kitten.

Most pet stores or veterinary clinics have nursing bottles, too, but be alert to the fact that some kittens cannot suck the contents through the small nipple. You may need to actually squeeze the milk out for the kitten while having the nipple in the kitty's mouth. Warm it up a little, too, under the hot water faucet.

If it is after hours at your local animal hospital, your short-term solution will be to mix an egg yolk with a can of evaporated milk (make sure it is not the sweetened condensed milk). This is only a temporary "solution" and should only be used for a couple of feedings.

At the first few feedings, the kittens will probably only consume a few cc’s worth of milk. (There are 5 cc's in a teaspoon.) You will need to feed every couple of hours at first and gradually build up time between feedings as they begin to eat more at each meal. Start by offering a small amount. If the kitten won’t eat readily from the nipple and bottle, try an eyedropper or syringe and drip a little in the mouth, adding more at the kitten's pace. Make sure that the milk is just above room temperature; try not to microwave it since you can cause hot spots in the milk.

Follow instructions on the milk replacer for mixing and storage. Contact your veterinarian if the kitten does not eat for more than six hours, as hypoglycemia can occur quickly in young kittens who are not getting nutrition. Once they get the hang of it, the kittens should consume the milk replacer greedily. You can stop the feeding when the kitten begins to slow down the consumption or becomes disinterested.

When the orphaned kittens reach about 3 weeks of age, you can start providing watered-down meat-based kitten food for them to nibble on. Mix the wet food with water until it achieves a soupy consistency, and consider warming the mixture before serving. Make sure you keep a fresh supply and not too much at one time. It’s also important to monitor the kittens while they are eating, as they are unsteady and can fall head first into the food. Once they start eating food as it comes from the can, you can leave out dry kibble for them to munch on, too. A kibble with good protein and fat levels is recommended.

Keep in touch with your veterinarian if you notice any health problems or "poor doers.” A "poor doer" is a kitten or puppy that lags behind the other littermates in body size, alertness, or activity level. The earlier any problems are detected and addressed, the better the chance for recovery.



One other thing you will need to do, since mom isn’t there to clean up after the kittens, is to stimulate the kittens to eliminate waste during or after each feeding. You can accomplish this by using a warm, wet paper towel to gently massage the anal and urinary openings. Your kitten should immediately urinate and/or defecate. Afterward, gently pat the area dry to avoid irritation and infection.

As the kittens get older and more mobile and exploratory, you can provide a low-sided cardboard box with a small amount of litter for the kittens to get used to. It is generally instinct for them to scratch in something for their elimination habits. Once they start urinating and passing stool on their own (generally by 3 weeks of age), you will be able to give up that particular job of assisting them.

Health Care

Some things to monitor over the course of the next few weeks are appetite, activity level, and growth. You will need to call the veterinarian if a kitten won’t eat or stops eating. Bathroom habits should be predictable, and you should talk to your veterinarian if urinating or defecating changes, or if the kitten’s attitude or activity level also changes. Other health concerns include upper respiratory infections that create sneezing and eye and nose discharge.

Many times the eyes will get so much discharge, the eyelids will gum up and stick together. Wet a cotton ball with warm water and hold it on the eyes for a few seconds to moisten the discharge. Then, very gently wipe one to two times to remove the softened crust and open up the eyes until you can contact your veterinarian.

A number of different parasites are a concern and can weaken a young kitten. Your veterinarian should treat fleas, mites, lice, and intestinal parasites. Don’t use over-the-counter medications without consulting your veterinarian since very young kittens may not be able to tolerate some of these products.

Many types of problems can be determined at the time of the first visit. Your veterinarian may suggest that you drop off a stool sample at 4 weeks of age to check for intestinal parasites.


By 6 weeks of age, kittens should be well on their way to eating, drinking, and exploring on their own and be quite the entertainment focus. Have your veterinarian check them over, and discuss vaccination recommendations. Depending on the veterinarian, vaccinations will be started between 6 and 8 weeks of age. Also, viral testing will likely be run to rule out feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus.

Oh, and good luck giving them up to new owners. It will be very difficult to let these little orphan kittens go off to their new homes without you.

See Also

Image: Vladimer Shioshvilli / via Flickr

Kitten not eating: A vet's guide to causes and solutions

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Owners may understandably become concerned when their kitten is not eating. Even kittens who are fed the best kitten food can lose their appetite for a variety of reasons—but when is this something to worry about?

Causes of a kitten not eating can range from simple reasons like not liking their food or being stressed to medical conditions such as gastrointestinal parasites or an intestinal blockage. If your kitten has not eaten in 24 hours (or less than this in the case of a newborn kitten or a kitten under six weeks of age), or if they have other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or lethargy, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Your veterinarian can perform a full physical examination and conduct diagnostic tests if they suspect that there is an underlying medical issue that requires treatment. You should never attempt to give your kitten any medications, supplements, or home remedies without consulting your vet first.

Your veterinarian can also provide you with tips on how to get your kitten eating again as well as food recommendations. Monitoring your kitten’s eating habits closely can help you and your vet determine the reason they’ve lost their appetite so that a solution can be found.

Vet, Joanna Woodnutt takes a closer look at why a kitten may stop eating and what you can do at home to try and perk up their appetite.

Dr. Diana Hasler, MRCVS is a 2018 graduate of the University of Edinburgh Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. She has experience working as a small animal veterinarian in first opinion practice, where she has treated many dogs, cats, rabbits, and rodents. She has also recently branched out into the field of medical communications and does freelance work as a medical editor and writer.

Qualified veterinarian

Dr Joanna Woodnutt qualified as a veterinarian from the University of Nottingham where she then went on to practice companion animal medicine in the Midlands. She really took to the consulting side of things and helping clients with medical problems such as dermatology, behaviour and nutrition - anything that involved helping clients understand their pets better. 

Why would a kitten suddenly stop eating? 

There can be many reasons why a kitten would stop eating and it can be hard to distinguish one cause from another. Your kitten may have stopped eating due to: 

  • Dislike of the flavor or texture of the food 
  • Stress 
  • Nausea 
  • Parasites 
  • Gastrointestinal foreign body or obstruction
  • Upper respiratory infection  
  • Other illness making your kitten feel unwell 

This is why it is very important to monitor your kitten’s eating habits and take her to a veterinarian if those habits change suddenly. A sudden change in appetite can be a sign of an underlying illness that needs veterinary attention. 

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Newborn kittens: A vet’s guide to care

What to do if your kitten won’t eat 

If your kitten has suddenly stopped eating the first thing you can do is try to entice her to eat. Sometimes a kitten will stop eating simply because she dislikes the food or the environment she is being fed in, and making some adjustments can help get your kitten eating again. 

1. Try offering different foods

Try offering a mix of wet and dry food, including different flavors and textures – to see if this will entice your kitten to eat. Some cats love pate food, while others will only eat if their food has gravy!  You can also try warming the food up in the microwave, but be very careful not to make it too hot and always check it with your finger to ensure there aren’t any hot spots, which could burn your kitten’s mouth.

2. Feed your kitten in a quiet space

Consider feeding your kitten alone in a quiet room or leaving food out overnight. Some cats that are very nervous or shy may not eat with people or other animals around. You may find that once everyone is asleep and the house is quiet, she will venture out to eat by herself.

3. Ensure their food bowl is clean

Leftover food bits can quickly grow bacteria and mold, making for a very unappetizing meal!  Use a bowl that is wide and shallow so it will be easy for your kitten to access, and wash it with dish soap and warm water after each meal.

When to worry about a kitten not eating 

If your kitten hasn’t eaten in more than 24 hours, then it’s time for a visit to your veterinarian. This is especially important if your kitten has any other symptoms of illness, such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or abdominal pain. 

Very young kittens, such as those under 6 weeks of age, should see a veterinarian even sooner because they are at risk for hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, if they do not eat regularly.

Signs of hypoglycemia include loss of appetite, weakness, stumbling, falling over, disorientation, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and death. If you suspect your kitten may be hypoglycemic, rub some karo syrup, honey, or even maple syrup onto your kitten’s gums and take her to a veterinarian immediately.   

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Diagnosing your kitten

If your kitten has not been eating, your veterinarian will first perform a full physical examination, including listening to your kitten’s heart and lungs and palpating your kitten’s abdomen to feel for any abnormalities.  Your veterinarian will likely also want to perform some diagnostic tests such as blood work, radiographs (x-rays) of your kitten’s abdomen, or evaluation of a fecal sample to rule out parasites.  

This will help your veterinarian rule out common causes for your kitten to stop eating. If an underlying cause for your kitten’s loss of appetite is identified, your veterinarian will prescribe an appropriate treatment plan to help get your kitten back on track.

Sometimes, no underlying cause is identified to explain your kitten’s change in appetite. In this case, your veterinarian may prescribe medication to address the symptoms. This may include a medication to alleviate nausea, an appetite stimulant, an antacid, or even intravenous (IV) or subcutaneous (SQ) fluids to help keep your kitten hydrated.  Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely, and let your vet know if your kitten does not improve on the medications.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Treating your kitten at home

Although it may be tempting to try home remedies or over-the-counter medications for your kitten, this is not a good idea. Many of these “treatments” are unhelpful at best and toxic at worst. Your kitten is fragile and cannot tolerate new supplements at this time.  Many over-the-counter and other human medications are also toxic to cats and can be very dangerous to your kitten. In general, you should never use a home remedy or medication without first consulting your veterinarian. 

With your veterinarian’s help – and maybe a little trial and error – you’ll hopefully see your kitten back at the food dish in no time. Remember that too many diet changes can cause an upset stomach, so transition gradually if you decide to feed your kitten a new type of food.  Be sure to keep an eye on your kitten’s appetite, and see your veterinarian if any further episodes of not eating occur.  Most importantly, enjoy all the fun there is to be had during kittenhood! 

Keen to learn more about your little feline friend's food intake? Then be sure to check out our guide to ‘how much food should a kitten eat?’ for more information. 

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Dr. Elizabeth Racine is a small animal general practice veterinarian covering all things pet health and wellness.  Her special interests include veterinary behavior, nutrition, and internal medicine.  As a freelance writer, Dr. Racine has written content for major companies in the industry such as the American Kennel Club, Merck Animal Health, Bayer PetBasics, Elanco, and CareCredit.  In her free time, Dr. Racine enjoys playing trampoline dodgeball, hiking with her beagle Dasher, and spending time with her three mischievous cats.  Dr. Racine can be found at  and at  

How to feed a kitten | Pick a Friend Foundation

1. Gather the necessary supplies. To feed a newborn kitten, you will need some kind of specially designed device. If possible, use a bottle with a kitty teat set, such as Hartz. This bottle itself is small and made of transparent plastic with markings for more accurate measurement of liquids. The nipple is made of special rubber and has an appropriate comfortable shape to fit in the kitten's mouth. This allows him to suckle the bottle as if he were suckling his mother. nine0005

If you don't have a dedicated feeding device, then another alternative is a syringe that can be used to dribble milk into the kitten's mouth. However, the kitten does not have the ability to suck on a syringe, so try to find a suitable replacement as soon as possible.

2. Sterilize the equipment. It is critical to maintain sterile equipment. A simple wash is not enough for this. Consider using a steam sterilizer (like for baby bottles) or immerse the equipment in a bowl of cold sterilizing liquid, such as Chicco. nine0005

Cold sterilization fluid can usually be found in pharmacies in the children's section. Follow the instructions on the packaging. If you decide to use such a liquid when sterilizing your kitten's feeding equipment, do not forget to rinse everything with boiled water afterwards so that there are no residues of the sterilizing agent on the inventory.

3. Prepare and heat the mixture. If you are using liquid formula, open the jar and measure out the required amount of mixture according to the instructions. When using a powder mixture, follow the instructions on the packaging regarding the required number of scoops per volume of water. Always follow the directions exactly, as a mixture that is too strong can lead to stomach upset, while a formula that is too dilute will not provide the kitten with the required amount of nutrients. nine0005

Always prepare a fresh batch of formula for every feeding. The mixture does not contain preservatives, and the immune system of a newborn kitten is still weak, so getting bacteria from the environment into the milk can be a disaster for his health.

Do not microwave; because of this, too hot and too cold areas can form in the mixture. Instead, simply place the mixture in a container and place it in hot water to heat up. nine0008
Make sure the milk is at the right temperature – neither too hot nor too cold. Ideally, the mixture should be at body temperature, so when you apply a couple of drops of it to the back of your hand, their temperature should seem to be about the temperature of your skin. If you use too hot mixture, you can burn the kitten's mouth.

4. Check your kitten's body temperature. When you are ready to feed your kitten, make sure it is warm. To some extent, a kitten's ability to digest food depends on its body temperature. If the kitten is cool, his digestion will slow down, and the mixture will linger in the stomach and ferment. Newborn kittens usually cling closely to their mother and therefore remain quite warm. For the first three weeks of their life, a temperature of about 35.6-37.8 degrees will be considered ideal. nine0005

Try to keep the kitten at this temperature by placing a heating pad under a well-insulated kitten nest. If you don't have a heating pad, use a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel to prevent the kitten from coming into direct contact with the hot water and getting burned. Refresh the hot water as needed to keep the kitten warm.

5. Feed the kitten. Sit in a comfortable chair with a folded towel on your lap. Place the kitten in the same way as it would be fed by its mother: lay it on its stomach with its paws down and with its head slightly raised. The first time you try to feed the kitten, squeeze a drop of the mixture onto the tip of the nipple or syringe. Bring it very close to the kitten's mouth. The kitten has a rather acute sense of smell and, most likely, having smelled milk, he will try to kiss the nipple or syringe. nine0005

When using the pacifier at this stage, you should help the kitten a little by inserting it into its open mouth. Natural instincts should take over and the kitten should start suckling.

When using the syringe, gently press the plunger to release a drop of milk into the kitten's mouth. Let the kitten swallow between drops. Never fill your mouth with milk completely, as the kitten can inhale the milk, it will enter the lungs and develop pneumonia, which is usually fatal for kittens. Just take your time and go slowly. nine0008

The position of the kitten is very important. Never feed it upside down in the same way as a human baby and be sure to check that the kitten is lying on its stomach during feeding. Make sure that his head is not up, as this can lead to inhalation of the mixture into the lungs, which is very dangerous and can lead to the death of the kitten.

6. Feed your kitten the correct amount of formula. Kitten formulas are usually accompanied by instructions on how much and how often to feed. Follow these instructions. The following are only generalized indications of the volume and frequency of feeding mixtures of kittens in the first weeks of their life. nine0005

At the age of 1-3 days, give 2.5 ml of cat's milk replacer every two hours.
At the age of 4-7 days, give 5 ml of the mixture and organize 10-12 feedings per day.
At the age of 6-10 days, give 5-7.5 ml of the mixture and organize 10 feedings per day.
At the age of 11-14 days, give 10-12.5 mixtures and feed the kittens every three hours.
At the age of 15-21 days, give 10 ml of the mixture 8 times a day. At the age of over 21 days, give 7.5-25 ml 3-4 times a day simultaneously with the introduction of solid food. nine0008

7. Pay attention to important signs while feeding your kitten.

When learning and practicing formula feeding a kitten, remember that improper feeding can lead to breathing problems. Make sure that milk does not flow out of his nose during feeding, and his stomach does not swell.
In terms of feeding volumes, if your kitten is greedy enough to continue sucking on the pacifier even after exceeding the recommended dose, examine his belly. If it swells up and becomes tight, stop feeding. This is a sign of a full stomach, it's just that the kitten hasn't realized it yet. Don't overfeed him. nine0008

If your kitten eats less than the recommended amount, don't panic. This may be his personality. If you're worried about your kitten being malnourished, instead of trying to force more formula into him at the risk of choking his lungs, stop, let the kitten rest, and try feeding the kitten again in about an hour.

8. Remain calm. It is very important not to lose patience and remain calm when you feed the kitten so that he is also calm. In addition, allow the kitten to eat as long as he needs to avoid overeating or digestive problems. nine0005

Stimulate burping by placing the kitten's back against your body and stroking its belly. When a cat cares for kittens, she licks them and thereby stimulates urination and defecation. Don't be surprised by any of the possible results - these are good signs!

9. Clean the kitten's bottom. The mother cat usually licks the kittens' bottoms and genitals immediately after feedings to stimulate urination and defecation. She also eats their excrement, which is a natural way to keep the nest clean, as a dirty nest can attract predators. In the absence of the mother, you need to intervene in this process. Take a damp cotton swab and wipe the kitten's anal area, imitating licking movements. As soon as the kitten goes to the toilet, wipe off the excrement with a cotton swab. Finish the procedure with an additional wipe of the kitten's buttocks with a clean cotton swab, and you will be free until the next feeding. nine0005

This is an important step in the successful feeding of a kitten. If the mother's stimulation of urination and defecation is not imitated, the kitten will not empty its bladder and bowels normally, which can cause it to become seriously ill.

10. Return the kitten to its warm nest or box to rest. Continue to follow a regular daily feeding schedule for the coming weeks until weaning and proper transition to solid foods. Additionally, consult your veterinarian regarding a suitable diet at the time of weaning. nine0005

Introduce solid foods in the form of soft canned food and solid kibble when the kitten is about four weeks old. Some kittens prefer to bottle feed for up to eight weeks, so the progress of the transition to solid food should be monitored by a professional veterinarian.

The kitten does not eat dry food - why the kitten does not eat dry food

Kittens imitate their mother's behavior. If the kitten is weaned too early, he does not have time to learn to perceive dry food as food. This is one of the possible reasons. nine0005

Transfer to prepared rations should be smooth and gradual. Recommendations depend on the age of the kitten.

- If the kitten is less than four weeks old, then it must be fed with mother's milk or its substitutes, for example, ROYAL CANIN ® Babycat Milk.

- From 4 weeks to 4 months, ROYAL CANIN ® Babycat is a wet mousse or dry diet that croquettes are easy to chew with baby teeth. You can soak this dry product to make it easier for the kitten to eat it. nine0005

- When the kitten has reached the age of 4 months, it is time to completely transfer it to solid food. Don't forget to include wet food in your diet. Suitable for your pet, for example:

1. regular dry food for kittens over 4 months old
2. if the pet is neutered or neutered, then the product for neutered kittens over 6 months old is recommended
3. wet spiders for kittens ROYAL CANIN® Kitten Instinctive. You can read about how to properly combine dry and wet food in the instructions on our website in the "Daily ration" section

The kitten may refuse food if it does not meet its physiological needs. For example, too large croquettes that are difficult to chew.

If you have tried everything and the kitten still refuses to eat, but is still active and doing well, there may be several explanations:

new environment. As a rule, it takes 7-10 days for a pet to get used to it. During this period, manifestations of stress can be observed: the kitten is shy, meows loudly and often, refuses food. Consider whether the animal’s acquaintance with a new place went smoothly? Have you taken any things from a breeder for a kitten that have retained their usual smell? Do you have other animals or a child that can be a source of stress for a kitten? You can reduce the level of stress in a pet with the help of special pheromones. nine0005

2. If the kitten does not eat only dry food, but eats other foods with pleasure, this is a sign of overfeeding. You should not go on about a kitten by offering him another food after he has refused dry food.

3. If you are determined to teach your kitten to eat a ready-made diet, be consistent in your actions. Do not give him anything but ready-made food. Start with a wet diet, then offer the kitten a dry food along with a wet one. If the pet refuses such food, do not insist, but do not offer him anything else. It is also important not to mix natural diets and commercially prepared feeds. nine0005

Let the kitten have the dry product freely available in a bowl. But do not pour all the food into it at once - it quickly oxidizes and loses its taste. A highly oxidized product can cause intestinal upset in a kitten.

Carefully monitor the general condition of the kitten. If you experience decreased activity, lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, or other warning signs, contact your veterinarian immediately.

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