What to feed a baby kitten without mother

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.

What to Do (and NOT Do) If You Find a Newborn Kitten

This article is now outdated. An updated version of this information can be found at https://bideawee.org/programs/feral-cat-initiative/colony-care/kittens/

During kitten season, it’s not unusual to discover a nest of unattended kittens or a single kitten seemingly abandoned by his/her mother. (Photo by Ken Hanly)

by Valerie Sicignano, NYC Feral Cat Initiative

During high kitten season in the spring and summer, it’s not unusual to discover a nest of unattended kittens or a single kitten seemingly abandoned by the mother. You want to help, right? Before jumping to the rescue, consider these recommendations.

First: Wait & Watch

You might have come across the kittens while their mother is off searching for food, or is in the process of moving them to a different location. Try to determine if the mother is coming back for them, or if they are truly orphaned.

To do this, stand far away from the kittens — 35 feet or more. If you stand too close, the mom will not approach her kittens. You might need to go away completely before the mother cat will return to attend to the kittens. It might be several hours before the mother cat returns — until she no longer senses the presence of humans hovering near her litter.

If you need to leave before the mother cat comes back, carefully evaluate whether the kittens are in immediate danger: Is it raining or snowing? Are dogs or wild animals that might harm the kittens running loose in the neighborhood? Does the neighborhood have kids or adults who are likely to harm the kittens? Are the kittens located in an area with heavy foot or car traffic?

To help with your decision, it is important to know that it might take several hours for the mother cat to return, and healthy kittens can survive this period without food as long as they are warm. Neonatal kittens are much more at risk of hypothermia than they are of starvation. During spring and summer months, waiting a longer time to see if mom will come back is much safer than during frigid winter months.

The mother cat offers her kittens’ best chance for survival, so wait and watch as long as you can. The best food for the kittens is their mother’s milk. Remove the kittens only if they are in immediate, grave danger.

The mother cat offers her newborn kittens their best chance for survival, so wait and watch as long as you safely can for her to return before removing them.

If the mother cat returns…

If mom returns and the area is relatively safe, leave the kittens alone with mom until they are weaned. You can offer a shelter and regular food to mom, but keep the food and shelter at a distance from each other. Mom will find the food but will not accept your shelter if the food is nearby, because she will not want to attract other cats to food located near her nest.

Six weeks is the optimal age to take the kittens from the mother for socialization and adoption placement, and any time after eight weeks for Trap-Neuter-Return (spay/neuter, vaccination, eartip, and return to their colony). Female cats can become pregnant with a new litter even while they are still nursing, so don’t forget to get the mother cat spayed or you will have more kittens soon! Learn how to socialize kittens and how to successfully trap a mom and her kittens.

If the mother cat does not return…

If you discover that mom has been hit by a car, or if for any reason it appears that she is not coming back, then you should remove the kittens. This is crucial to the kittens’ survival. But you must be prepared to see this project through to weaning if you decide to intervene!

If you take the kittens in, it is unlikely that you will find an organization with available staff or volunteers to take on bottle-feeding on short notice. Some organizations do have experienced bottle-feeders, but prior logistical planning is necessary. Animal shelters and veterinarians generally do not take in newborn kittens, since they do not have the staff to feed and stimulate them for elimination around-the-clock.

You can contact the NYC Feral Cat Initiative at [email protected] or (212) 330-0033 x5 and we will attempt to find someone to bottle-feed the kittens, but this might take days or weeks, and we might not be successful in locating a feeder. If we do find someone to bottle-feed, you might still be responsible for taking the kittens back when they no longer require bottle-feeding. You also might be responsible for paying for veterinary visits, which might include emergency medical care, and will definitely include spay or neuter surgery, disease testing, and vaccinations. And finally, you might be responsible for adopting the kittens into permanent homes. The NYC Feral Cat Initiative can help you locate low-cost veterinary care, and might be able to help you find new homes for the kittens, but completing these tasks will be your responsibility.

Kitten Care & Bottle-Feeding

First Steps

  1. Prepare for bottle-feeding and proper care before you take the kittens off the street.
  2. If you feel you must take the kittens in, wrap the carrier or container you will transport them in in a towel for warmth, but make sure you leave air holes uncovered so the kittens won’t suffocate.
  3. Check to see if the kittens are warm. This is more important than feeding. Never feed a cold kitten! If the kittens are cold, you will need to warm them up slowly. You can tell a kitten is cold if the pads of his feet and/or ears feel cool or cold. Put your finger in the kitten’s mouth. If it feels cold, then the kitten’s temperature is too low. This is life-threatening and must be dealt with immediately. Warm up the kitten slowly over 20 minutes by wrapping him in a towel or baby blanket, holding him close to your body, and continually rubbing him with your warm hands.
  4. Determine the age of the kittens by comparing them to the photos and descriptions on the How Old Is That Kitten? Kitten Progression: At-a-Glance page on the Alley Cat Allies website, or the Boutique Kittens website (Note: we do not advocate breeding or buying kittens; these kitten development photos just happen to be particularly descriptive. ).

Newborn kittens need to be fed and stimulated for elimination every three hours around-the-clock. (Photo by Valerie Sicignano)

Feeding & Elimination

Neonatal kittens (under four weeks of age) cannot eat solid food (not canned, not dry) and cannot urinate or defecate on their own, so you must bottle-feed them around-the-clock and stimulate their genitals after every feeding so they can eliminate. For example, if you have kittens less than one week old, they will need to be fed and stimulated every three hours. That means you will be caring for them eight times a day — for example, at midnight, 3:00 a.m, 6:00 a.m, etc. If the kittens are unusually small or sickly, they might need to be fed every two hours.

Skipping feedings or overfeeding can cause diarrhea, which results in dehydration, a condition that can be fatal for small kittens (not to mention a hassle for you to clean up after). Diarrhea requires a visit to the veterinarian.

As the kittens age, the number of feedings they need per day goes down. You can start weaning at four weeks of age.

Milk Replacement Formulas

Powdered kitten milk replacement formula is better for kittens than the canned liquid formula. We recommend that you use only powdered kitten milk replacement formula from the start — or as soon as possible — to prevent diarrhea. Two major brands of formula are available: PetAg KMR® Powder and Farnam Pet Products Just Born® Highly Digestible Milk Replacer for Kittens. Both brands are available in both canned and powdered formulas. We highly recommend the powdered type to prevent diarrhea. It can be purchased at pet food stores, veterinarians’ offices, or online. Revival Animal Health offers the lowest prices we know of.

Make sure that the powdered formula you are using is fresh by opening the pop-top and smelling it. It should smell slightly sweet, like powdered milk. If it has a sharp smell like bad cooking oil, cheese, or chemicals, it is rancid, and dangerous to give to the kittens. Do not use any type of formula past the expiration date.

Once opened, kitten milk replacement formula (canned or powdered) must be refrigerated promptly and stored in the refrigerator. You cannot keep opened kitten milk replacement formula out of the refrigerator for very long before it spoils. Think of it as fresh milk.

Tip: Using unflavored Pedialyte electrolyte solution instead of water when mixing the powdered formula for the first 24 hours of feeding helps prevents diarrhea and eases the transition from mom’s milk to commercial kitten milk replacement formula.

Bottle-Feeding Guidance for Beginners

  • Visit the the NYC Feral Cat Initiative website for detailed information on bottle-feeding orphaned newborn kittens,
  • E-mail us at [email protected] and describe what instructions/information you need, or
  • Call us at (212) 330-0033 x5 and leave a voicemail with your name, address, and a description of what instructions/information you need.

About the Author
Valerie Sicignano is Community Relations Director for the New York City Feral Cat Initiative and has been working with feral cats in New York City since 1990. She holds a Certificate in Humane Education from the ASPCA, and her work with animals has been recognized by the Manhattan Pet Gazette’s “Animal Guardian Award” and In Defense of Animals’ “Companion Animal Guardian Award.”

How to feed a kitten without a mother - how to feed a kitten at 1 month without a mother


For newborn kittens, there is nothing better than mother's milk, which contains a complete set of nutrients, vitamins and trace elements, as well as antibodies that protect the animals' immature immunity. For the first few weeks, kittens eat only this milk, so it is extremely important not to wean them from their mother.

However, there are cases when natural feeding is impossible: for example, kittens are left without a cat, or she simply cannot physically feed all her offspring. Then the question arises of how to feed the kittens - it is impossible to get mother's milk without a cat. A replacement must be found immediately.

The main thing that any owner should remember is that kittens should never be fed cow's or goat's milk. The fact is that a kitten absorbs milk sugar - lactose - in a very limited amount, in cat's milk it is much less than in ruminant milk. But the density of proteins and fats in the milk of carnivores is several times higher.

Feeding kittens with regular milk results in slower physical development in animals. In addition, an abundance of lactose leads to diarrhea, and this, in turn, causes dehydration that is dangerous for the kitten.

That is why special milk substitutes are used for artificial feeding of newborn kittens. However, there are many nuances that should be taken into account when choosing a substitute. Here are three simple principles.

First, the milk replacer must contain enough fat. Cat's milk is almost three times fatter than cow's milk - it contains 8–8. 5% fat. It is these numbers that you should focus on when choosing a mixture.

Secondly, the substitute must not contain starch. The enzyme amylase, which breaks it down, begins to be produced in cats only as they grow older. So in the kitten's body, starchy milk will ferment, leading to diarrhea and dehydration.

Third, be sure to look for the “contains DHA” label on milk replacer packaging. The three mysterious letters are docosahexaenoic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid that is necessary for the proper development of the whole body of a kitten, and especially its nervous system.

Choosing the right milk replacer based on these principles is easy. There are adapted milk formulas on the market today to meet all the needs of a kitten, from birth to weaning, a great example is ROYAL CANIN® Babycat Milk.

But it is not enough to choose the right substitute, it is important to follow the technology of preparing milk formula and feeding the kitten. Here, too, several basic principles can be distinguished.

First: prepare the mixture with clean hands in a disinfected dish. The substitute is prepared immediately before feeding: do not prepare the mixture for the future, it will quickly deteriorate. The dry mix jar itself should also not be stored longer than a month after opening. Please read the additional conditions carefully, they are indicated on the package.

Second: always check the temperature of the finished solution. The dry mixture is poured with water heated to 50 degrees Celsius. The temperature of the finished product should be 36-38 degrees: you can check it by dropping a little mixture on your wrist. Do not feed formula that has cooled to room temperature. If you have multiple kittens, use a thermos to keep the mixture warm so you can take turns feeding them.

Third: feed the animal until it is full. If after several approaches the kitten resists the nipple, do not force feed it. Also remember that when feeding, the animal should lie on its stomach and in no case on its back, otherwise the mixture will enter the respiratory tract. After feeding, lightly massage the kitten's abdomen and perineum to encourage defecation and urination, as kittens do not have enough abdominal strength to relieve themselves. Requires stimulation with massage. Usually a cat does this stimulation by licking its kittens.

Fourth: feed the animal often. Kittens fed by a cat eat 15-20 times a day. But how to feed small kittens without a cat? On artificial feeding, 8 times is enough, that is, you need to give the animal food every three hours. As the kitten grows, the frequency of meals is reduced. Kittens at the age of three weeks can be fed once every six hours.

Some kittens that are initially weak or that are developmentally delayed may need to be tube fed. This procedure will require a visit to the veterinarian, who will show you how to properly insert the tube and talk about the basic principles of this type of feeding.

Artificial feeding loses to natural feeding, but allows the kitten to grow into a full-fledged adult cat. The main thing is to choose the right product and strictly follow the instructions.

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How to feed a kitten yourself? | Murkosha


So, you have found yourself in an extremely unexpected situation for yourself - you have become a foster parent for a nursing kitten (or even several kittens). How did it happen? Most likely, you accidentally found a box with abandoned tiny creatures in the entrance, park or somewhere else, and being an adequate person, you could not pass by and brought the kids to your home. Another scenario - you picked up a well-fed-looking cat, which unexpectedly turned out to be pregnant, gave birth to kittens and abandoned them (very irresponsibly). In general, you realized that at least in the next few weeks you will have to take responsibility for the survival of babies.

In the shelter "Murkosha" newborn kittens without a mother are not uncommon. And we are ready to share our experience.

So, first of all, don't panic! Yes, feeding kittens is a responsible and not the easiest thing (you already understand this if you have children). However, if you carefully follow all the recommendations of this article, you can successfully raise babies to a more or less independent age, and then remember the days of “motherhood” with pride and tenderness all your life. But where to start?..

Cat food up to 2 months

What to feed?

So, the most important and difficult thing is nutrition. From the first day of life up to several weeks, kittens should be fed EXCLUSIVELY with a special cat's milk replacer, which can be purchased at pet stores.

Tips for making your own mix can be found on the Internet, but we strongly discourage you from using these recipes. Young kittens have very sensitive digestion and improper nutrition can lead to their death. It is also categorically not recommended to feed kittens up to 2 months with cow or goat milk - it is too fatty and will cause diarrhea in babies.

How to mix?

The packaging of cat's milk replacer always contains detailed instructions for preparing the mixture.

Mixture temperature should be around 35-36 degrees. If you don't have a thermometer handy, just put the mixture on your wrist: it should be warm, but not hot.

Never give kittens formula that has stood for more than two hours. Always prepare formula just before feeding.

You can feed a kitten from a special bottle for newborn kittens (they are sold in pet stores). You can also feed babies with a pipette or a small syringe without a needle. It will be best if you have a full arsenal at hand.

Remember to sterilize all feeding equipment. Take an ordinary saucepan, fill it halfway with water, bring the water to a boil, remove the saucepan from the heat, put all the inventory into the water and cover the saucepan with a lid for 5-15 minutes. To protect babies from germs as much as possible, perform this procedure every day (preferably before each feeding).

Wash hands with soap and water before each feeding.

From about 4 weeks old, the kitten can lap from the bowl on its own.

How to hold a kitten while feeding?

The kitten should lie horizontally on its tummy with its head slightly raised. If the kitten does not start eating on its own, stroke it on the back or forehead. If you are syringe feeding your baby, be careful that the baby does not choke.

How often should a kitten be fed?

A nursing kitten, like a baby, needs to be fed very often:

  • up to 2 weeks - every 2-3 hours
  • 3-4 weeks - every 3-4 hours
  • from 4 weeks - every 6 hours

Please note that kittens should be fed at these intervals at night too! In no case do not leave babies without nightly feedings, because in this case they will weaken and begin to lose weight. Of course, it is not easy to follow a strict feeding regimen, especially when you have to get up at least 2-3 times at night, but after all, kittens have no one but you, and it is only in your power to keep them alive.

How much should a kitten eat?

It all depends on the size and age of the baby (nourishment per day):

  • 1 week - 30 ml per 100 g of kitten weight
  • 2 weeks - 35 ml per 100 g of kitten weight
  • 3 weeks - 40 ml per 100 g of kitten weight
  • 4 weeks and older: 48-53 ml per 100 g of kitten weight

If the kitten is full, he can turn away from the nipple and sleep peacefully, and if the kitten is still hungry, he will look for the nipple and squeak. Employees of the shelter "Murkosha" recommend determining the satiety of a kitten primarily by its behavior (by the way, a complete refusal of food is a serious reason for concern and contacting a veterinarian).

What should be done immediately after feeding?

After feeding, lay the kitten on its back and gently massage the tummy for a few minutes so that the baby can burp.

At what age can a kitten feed on its own?

A kitten older than one month can already lap the mixture on its own, it no longer needs a pacifier. Also, from this age, you can gradually introduce meat baby food in the form of canned food (sold in ordinary supermarkets): for example, "Agusha" or "Tyoma". At first, alternate meat and liquid food, gradually the kitten will get used to solid food. By 7-8 weeks, the kitten can already eat special food for kittens (sold in regular supermarkets and pet stores).

Read about proper nutrition for grown-up kittens and cats here: "Proper nutrition for cats"

How to potty train a kitten?

Very young kittens cannot go to the toilet on their own, so they need your help. After eating, massage the lower part of the tummy to the baby: make gentle circular motions in a clockwise direction. Also soak a cotton pad in warm water and massage the kitten's bottom so that he can go to the toilet.

How to wash a kitten?

Washing the kitten is another function of the mother cat that you need to take over. Naturally, babies still do not know how to lick themselves, so their hygiene must be monitored: moisten a cotton pad in boiled warm water and gently wash the kitten after eating, as well as after using the toilet. Be sure to “wash” the entire baby about once a day.

Read about the hygiene of a grown kitten here: "Do I need to wash my cat?"

How to arrange a place to sleep and play?

Naturally, the kittens need to prepare a separate place so that they do not crawl around the house and endanger themselves. Find a large box or buy a plastic terrarium from a pet store, put a heating pad or a bottle of warm water on one side, cover the entire area of ​​the box with blankets or terry towels - a thick layer. Lay out a layer of diapers on top - this is what you will change (washing or throwing away) every day. Be sure to maintain a high temperature in the room where the kittens are, and do not neglect heating pads. At the place where newborn kittens stay, the air temperature should be at least 30 degrees, from about the second week it can be gradually reduced to the usual room temperature. Make sure that the kitten in the playpen is always warm, dry and clean.

From about 4 weeks old kittens become very active. Be careful if the walls of the box are not too high, the kids can try to get out of it.

What else?

And finally, perhaps the most obvious one. Try to pay attention to babies not only during feeding. Hold them in your arms, stroke them, spend more time with them - especially if there is only one kitten. After all, you are a mother! Like human children, kittens need warmth and affection, and they are so lacking when there is no mother cat around. Gradually, the kittens will grow up and it will be possible to play with them - again, this is especially important if the kitten is alone.

Be careful with your foster children, watch their behavior. If you notice that the kids are behaving strangely, become lethargic, eat poorly, lose weight, and so on, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Learn more about signs of an unhealthy cat: "Signs of an Unhealthy Cat"

So, is that all?

In general, yes. As you already understood, the task before you is not an easy one; over the next few weeks, you need to mobilize all your forces, temporarily change your priorities, and also show maximum responsibility and care. And while this all sounds a little scary, don't be afraid. The joy that you will feel when looking at healthy babies who have grown up will be worth the effort. And kittens will be grateful to you all their lives. Employees of the "Murkosha" shelter have raised more than one or two generations of babies and are completely convinced that everyone can take care of babies.

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