What to feed baby kittens without a 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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A newborn kitten without a mother: how to take care of it?

If a kitten is left without a mother, his survival depends entirely on how well you organize care for him. The ideal option is to find a surrogate mother cat for the baby, who can feed the kitten (or kittens, if several were born). But this is not always possible. Therefore, if you are forced to cope on your own, the most important task should be to provide kittens with food and warmth. Feeding a kitten without a cat is quite possible, however, you must understand that newborn kittens without a mother are very vulnerable, and you will need patience to care for them. Contents:

Features of care for kittens

Caring for newborn kittens without a mother is a laborious process. And if a month-old kitten without a mother is a pet that has already grown a little stronger and gained strength, then a week-old kitten without a mother is an absolutely defenseless creature. So, the kittens were left without a mother, what to do? We will answer the question of how to feed kittens left without a mother a little later, but now we will focus on care.

To learn how to care for a kitten without a mother, you need to imagine how important a cat is to your babies in the first weeks of their lives. The cat gives kittens not only food, but also protection, warmth, care and affection. The kitten was left without a mother, which means you will have to take over her functions.

First of all, take care of the physical comfort and health of the kittens. Do not let them get cold - if you understand that the kittens are cold (the pads of their paws are cold, the kittens meow plaintively), put a heating pad wrapped in a towel in the box or the kittens' house. Always wash your hands before feeding and handling kittens - their immune system is still very weak and kittens can get an infection. Motherless kittens are especially in need of warmth - make sure that their box or house is in a place protected from cold and drafts. Put towels on it to keep warm. If kittens live in your house without a mother, caring for them does not require separating the animals into different rooms. It is advisable to keep the kittens together, unless, of course, one of them is sick, in which case he should be quarantined.

Of course, if newborn kittens are left without a mother, the first 2 weeks of their life will be quite difficult for you. You will have to wash the kittens - wipe them with a warm, damp cloth (usually the mother cat licks them herself). In addition, you need to help them with urination and bowel movements. To do this, after eating, put the kitten on its back and start wiping its tummy and ass with a cotton pad - gradually the kitten will begin to urinate or defecate. Wiping the tummy, you will help him cope with these tasks, because he still does not know how to do it on his own.

Monitor kittens' weight by weighing them. If you have a kitten on nursing, 1 month has already passed without a mother, and you are weighing, you should see at least 250 g on the scales. The norm is from 250 to 500 g.

Have you taken the kittens to the vet? If you have already done this, then you know everything you need about vaccinations, tests and preventive examinations. If not, then show the kittens to the doctor, it will not be superfluous! The doctor will also tell you how to feed a monthly kitten without a mother and how to care for him in the future.

How to set up a place for babies

Newborn kittens require a "nest box" that can be made from a regular box or a hard-walled cat carrier. This box should be lined with warm and soft material, but not too fluffy, so that the crumbs do not "get stuck" in it.

The optimal temperature for kittens in the first week of life should be around 30 degrees. In the future, it can be lowered to 24 degrees. You can use a heating pad or heater to keep the box warm. But kittens should be able to crawl away from the heat source if they suddenly become hot. Therefore, you will need a fairly spacious box.

How to feed a kitten without a mother

The answer to the question of how to feed a kitten without a mother seems simple to many: give them regular cow's milk. But it is absolutely impossible to do this - the crumbs simply will not be able to assimilate this product. The best solution for feeding orphaned kittens is to use a commercial cat milk replacer. Such a mixture is recommended to be diluted according to the manufacturer's instructions, as a rule, heating up to 35-38 degrees. In this case, it is undesirable to use a microwave oven due to the possibility of severe overheating of part of the mixture.

How to feed a kitten for 2 weeks without a mother? A kitten left without a mother should be fed every 2-4 hours in the first week of his life, and then every 4-6 hours. The volume of the mixture for one feeding should correspond to the weight of the kitten. The maximum volume of the stomach in a kitten is 4-5 ml per 100 grams of live weight. To feed a kitten without a mother, you can also use small disposable syringes.

Orphaned kittens often have digestive upset in the form of diarrhea, which may be due to a reaction to a milk replacer. In such a situation, a more liquid mixture should be diluted and, of course, the babies should be shown to the veterinarian as soon as possible. It is possible that this milk replacer is simply not suitable for a kitten.

Healthy kittens eat well, sleep well and gain weight. The main criterion that everything is going well is regular weight gain.

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