How to feed a newborn baby cat
Caring for Newborn Kittens Without a Mother
During the late spring and early summer, animal hospitals, shelters and rescue organizations brace themselves for that legendary time of year – kitten season! Yes, that’s right. There is an actual time of year when an overwhelming number of sweet, baby cats are born into this world.
While the cute factor is high during this time, so is the stress of caring for these kittens, many of whom find themselves at DoveLewis or at a shelter without a mother. And looking after these orphaned, adorable creatures is hard work! Much like caring for newborn humans, newborn kittens need constant attention, feeding and help during the first stage of their life.
Ever wonder what it’s like to act as a surrogate mother for these tiny creatures? Dr. Erika Loftin, DoveLewis relief veterinarian, shares details on the ins and outs of kitten care.
What should you expect when caring for newborn kittens?
Caring for orphaned neonatal kittens takes round the clock effort, but it can be done if you are willing to put in the time and dedication. You have to be prepared to get up throughout the night for the feedings. It’s very much like caring for a human baby in that regard. However, they grow up much faster, so you are not doing it for months at a time. But it still takes a similar dedication. You definitely have sleepless nights and periods of worry. Are they getting enough to eat? Are they growing the way they are supposed to?
It can also be really sad sometimes, because they don’t all make it. Some studies say that the mortality rate for kittens can be up to 40 percent. But you definitely create a real bond caring for them through that period.
How often do you feed newborn kittens?
Neonatal kittens need to be fed on a regular basis day and night. For the first week of life, they need to be fed about every two to three hours. After that, you can usually stretch it out to every four hours.
These kittens should be bottle-fed using kitten milk replacer (or KMR), which comes in either liquid or powder form. It’s the equivalent to formula that you would use for a bottle-fed baby, except it’s formulated for cats. The formula, bottles and nipples are all available over the counter at most pet supply stores. You don’t need a prescription. The instructions will give you a guideline on how much to feed based on the weight of the cat.
When preparing the bottle, be cautious of milk flow. If you make the hole in the nipple too big, the kitten can actually aspirate, or drown. The bottles come with instructions on how to prep the nipple for milk flow. However, if you are struggling, I would advise you to seek help from your veterinarian. Never cut off the entire tip of the nipple, as this is often what causes cats to aspirate.
What about bathroom time?
Orphaned neonatal kittens need help urinating and defecating. Generally a mother cat would do that with her rough tongue. Without the mother available, use a warm, damp cotton ball or cloth and rub gently over their genitals and anal area. If they are well-hydrated, which is your goal, then you should stimulate them after every feeding and pee should come out. This stimulation usually needs to occur for the first three to four weeks of life. Be sure to clean and dry the area after they’ve done their business.
Do newborn kittens need special bedding?
You can use a simple box with soft blankets to contain the kitten. For warmth, I would suggest using a warm water bottle wrapped in a towel. Simply put it between two blankets that line the entire box. I would discourage people from using a heating pad, because it’s easier for the kitten to overheat that way.
What are some special handling techniques to keep them healthy and safe?
In the first four weeks of their life, minimize the number of people who handle the kitten. During that time, they have not yet built up their immune systems, and they are prone to illnesses and infections. Be sure to wash your hands before and after each time you handle them.
Avoid allowing the kitten to interact with other animals – even other cats. You never know how another animal will treat a small kitten, and neonatal cats are fragile in this stage of life.
If you have more than one kitten from the same litter, you can definitely keep them in the same box. They can help keep each other warm. If they are from different litters, you can still keep them in the same box, unless they are radically different ages or sizes. Also, don’t mix sick and healthy kittens.
When should I take kittens to the veterinarian?
Overall, it’s a good idea to keep in touch with your veterinarian during the first four weeks of the kitten’s life so they can help you monitor their progress and answer any questions that may arise. Your veterinarian will most likely see them once, but they may request more check-ups depending on the progress you report along the way.
Newborn Kittens: Care, Feeding, and More
Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors
Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on February 16, 2021
In this Article
- How Do I Feed a Newborn Kitten?
- What Do Kittens Eat Besides Milk?
- How Often Should a Kitten Eat?
- How Do I Keep a Newborn Kitten Warm?
- How Much Should a Newborn Kitten Weigh?
- Can I Hold the Kitten?
- How to Teach Your Kitten to Go to the Bathroom
How Do I Feed a Newborn Kitten?
Kittens under 4 weeks of age cannot eat solid food, whether it’s dry or canned. They can drink their mother’s milk to get the nutrients they need. The kitten will rely on you to survive if their mother isn’t around.
You can feed your newborn kitten a nutritional substitute that’s called kitten milk replacer. It’s essential that you avoid feeding a kitten the same milk that humans consume. Typical cow’s milk can make cats very sick. If you’re unsure of which kitten milk replacer to choose, talk to a veterinarian. They can help you select the right one.
For many dry milk replacers, refrigeration is not always required. But if extra milk is prepared, it should be stored in the fridge. To feed your kitten, follow these steps:
Prepare the formula. Warm the kitten formula to slightly above room temperature. Test the temperature of the formula right before you feed your kitten. Do this by placing a few drops of the formula on your wrist to ensure it’s not too hot.
Keep things clean. Before and after each feeding, you should wash your hands and the bottle that you used to feed your kitten. It’s also recommended that you use a “kitten gown.” This could be a robe or a shirt that you only wear when you’re handling or feeding your kitten. Using a kitten gown helps reduce the possibility of spreading germs.
Feed them gently. Handle your kitten with care. The kitten should be on their stomach lying next to you. This would be the same way they would nurse from their mom. Try holding your kitten in a warm towel while they sit on your lap. Find a position that feels comfortable for both of you.
Let them take the lead. Hold the bottle of formula to your kitten's mouth. Let the kitten suckle at their own pace. If the kitten doesn’t eat right away, gently stroke their forehead. The stroking stimulates how their mother would clean them and it encourages the kitten to eat.
Kittens need to eat every 3 hours, no matter what time it is. Many people set an alarm so that they don’t miss a feeding. This is especially helpful overnight. It’s important that you feed your kitten regularly. Skipping feedings or overfeeding can cause your kitten to have diarrhea or develop severe dehydration.
Burp them. Kittens need to be burped the same that way babies do after feeding. Lay your kitten down on their stomach and gently pat their back until you hear a little burp. You may need to do this a few times throughout each feeding.
If for any reason you can’t get your kitten to eat, contact your veterinarian immediately.
What Do Kittens Eat Besides Milk?
Once your kitten is about 3.5 to 4 weeks old, you can start weaning them off of the bottle. This is a gradual process that takes time and practice. The process usually looks something like this:
- Begin by offering your kitten formula on a spoon.
- Later, start offering your kitten formula in a saucer.
- Gradually add canned food to the kitten formula in the saucer.
- Increase the canned food in the saucer, adding less and less kitten formula.
If your kitten doesn’t take to the spoon or the saucer right away, you can continue to offer the bottle.
As you progress through the weaning process, monitor your kitten and their stool to ensure that they digest everything well. If your kitten is doing well and isn’t experiencing digestive issues (like loose stool or diarrhea), then you can gradually introduce more and more food.
At this stage, it’s also important to offer your kitten a bowl of fresh water to make sure that they’re staying hydrated.
How Often Should a Kitten Eat?
The frequency that your kitten eats normally depends on how old they are:
- Up to 1 week old: every 2-3 hours
- 2 weeks old: every 3-4 hours
- 3 weeks old: every 4-6 hours.
- 6 weeks old: three or more feedings of canned food spaced out evenly throughout the day
- 12 weeks old: three feedings of canned food spaced out evenly throughout the day
If you have questions or need additional guidance about how often or what kind of food to give to your kitten, contact your veterinarian for help.
How Do I Keep a Newborn Kitten Warm?
Kittens should be kept in a cat carrier wrapped in a few layers of towels. Using a heating pad or heat disc (often the safer option) for pets alongside a soft fleece blanket can also help keep them warm. Ensure that the carrier is large enough for your kitten to move away from the heater when they want to.
It is very important to keep your cat carrier in a safe, warm room away from other pets. It’s helpful to go and check on your kitten throughout the day. If your kitten feels cold, you need to warm them up as soon as possible.
How Much Should a Newborn Kitten Weigh?
Newborn kittens usually weigh about 3.5 ounces, depending on their breed and the litter’s size. A healthy kitten should gain at least 10 grams per day. If you don’t see growth in their body size, this is often a sign of illness.
It’s essential to track and write down your kitten’s weight and how much they're eating every day. You can use a gram scale for accuracy in weighing animals this small. If your kitten isn’t eating or growing as expected, contact your veterinarian right away.
Can I Hold the Kitten?
Vets recommend not touching kittens unless you have to while their eyes are still closed. You can check on them to make sure they’re healthy and gaining weight, but try to limit direct physical contact.
The kitten’s mother will also let you know how comfortable she is with you handling her babies. It’s important to take it slow, especially at first. If the mother cat seems anxious or stressed, give her and her babies some space.
How to Teach Your Kitten to Go to the Bathroom
Young kittens can't go to the bathroom by themselves. Usually, a mother cat will clean her kittens to stimulate urination and a bowel movement. If the mother isn't present, the kitten will rely on you.
To help your kitten go to the bathroom, use a clean, warm, wet cotton ball and gently rub your kitten's belly and genital and anal area. Your kitten should go to the bathroom in less than a minute. After your kitten is done, clean them carefully with a soft wet cloth.
Once your kitten is 3 to 4 weeks old, you can introduce them to their litter box. Add a cotton ball to the process in a similar way that you used one on them when they were younger. This will help them to understand what to do.
Gently place your kitten in their litter box and let them get used to it. Keep practicing with them. Ensure that their bathroom is in a safe area away from other people and pets so that they feel comfortable.
Healthy Cats Guide
- Diet & Nutrition
- Cat Behavior
- Kitten Care
- Preventive Care
- Common Conditions
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The position of the kitten is very important. Never feed it upside down like a human baby and make sure 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.
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.
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.
If your kitten eats less than the recommended amount, don't panic. This may be his personality. If you're worried about the kitten being malnourished, instead of trying to force more formula into it and risk choking on its 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.
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.
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.
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.
How to properly feed a newborn kitten| Hill's
Cats have a strong maternal instinct, but sometimes your furry pet doesn't want to feed her offspring or can't do it due to objective reasons. If you don't manage to give the kittens to another lactating cat, you will have to try on the role of a mother and feed them yourself. How to do it right?
How to feed a kitten
First of all, you need to buy a special mixture for feeding newborn kittens in a pet store. The composition of such mixtures is almost identical to mother cat's milk, rich in amino acids and does not cause digestive problems in kittens.
Do not feed kittens with cow's milk - it is very different in composition from cat's milk and can lead not only to diarrhea, but also to more serious health problems.
How to choose a syringe
You can purchase a special feeding syringe from a veterinary pharmacy. If you didn’t manage to buy such a syringe, you can use an ordinary plastic syringe with a rubber nozzle, after removing the needle from it.
Be sure to practice squeezing the mixture out of the syringe. Feed should come in small drops so that the kitten does not choke.
How to properly feed a kitten
When feeding a kitten with a syringe, follow the following steps:
before feeding, the kitten's tummy should be massaged a little to stimulate digestion;
hold the kitten upright while feeding and squeeze the mixture from the syringe drop by drop onto the kitten's lower lip to allow the kitten to swallow the food;
after feeding, the newborn kitten should again massage the tummy to stimulate defecation (after about a week he will be able to do this without additional help).
Feed quantity and mixture temperature
How much food does a newborn kitten need? Adhere to the following approximate calculation:
in the first 5 days the kitten needs 30 ml of a special mixture per day, kittens should be fed every 2-3 hours;
from 6 to 14 days the amount of the mixture should be increased to 40 ml per day, the number of feedings is reduced to 8 times a day;
From day 15 to day 25, the amount of the mixture should reach 50 ml per day, kittens can already be fed only during the day, but at least 6 times.
The mixture must be fresh. Do not store the prepared mixture in the refrigerator for more than 6 hours.
Newborn kitten formula should be 36-38°C. The mixture should not be too hot or too cold. Before feeding, check the temperature of the formula by dropping it on your wrist.
Is the kitten full?
Finding out that the kitten has already eaten is very simple - little kittens fall asleep almost immediately after eating. If the kitten does not have enough food offered to him, he will continue to squeak, push and look for a pacifier.
Do not overfeed your pet. Newborn kittens do not yet have a developed digestive system, and too much food can disrupt the intestines, causing constipation or diarrhea.
Introduction of solid foods
From the age of about 3-4 weeks, the kitten can be introduced to solid food little by little. Portions of complementary foods should be small, about the size of a pea. In no case do not offer the kitten raw meat or fish - they may contain parasites.