It is most convenient to keep bottle babies in a cat carrier or box in a safe, warm, secure place. Make a nest for them using soft, warm blankets. Kittens cannot control their body temperature for the first four weeks of life, so orphans must be kept in a warm environment. Place a heating pad on LOW covered by a towel and then a blanket in the bottom of the carrier. Be certain there is a portion of the carrier where baby can move off the heating pad if it becomes too warm.
Change bedding often to keep environment clean. Be sure to remove wet and/or soiled bedding as soon as possible.
If you are fostering a single baby, place a stuffed animal in the carrier so it has something to snuggle up against.
The temperature in the nest should be as follows:
1 week old, 85 degrees
2 – 3 weeks old, 80 degrees
4 – 5 weeks old, 75 degrees
It is not a bad idea to buy a thermometer and place it inside the nest to monitor the temperature.
Avoid sudden changes in temperature and keep disturbances to a minimum. Although kittens will need to be socialized, they also need lots of sleep, especially for the first three weeks.
Feeding and warmth are the two most important things these babies need to stay alive. Make sure your “nest” is warm!
One-week-old kittens will need to be fed approximately every two to three hours (throughout the night).
Feed only a kitten milk replacer, (KMR, Nurturall) found at veterinarian offices or pet stores. Never feed cows milk. The powdered form is less expensive and easier to store. Follow mixing instructions on the container. The formula is given at body temperature, (never cold) through a nursing bottle, also available where you buy formula. Make up only enough formula to last 24 hours. Refrigerate unused portions and warm before feeding.
For weeks two, three, and four, the kittens may be fed every 4-6 hours during the day, slowly increasing the time between feedings at night.
The formula should be warmed to body temperature before feeding. This may be done by placing the nursing bottle in a mug of hot water. Be sure to test the temperature by dispensing a few drops on your wrist. If warming in a microwave, be sure to shake/mix the formula thoroughly as microwaves tend to heat unevenly. One portion may become too hot and cause burns. NEVER feed cold formula. Always refrigerate unused formula, including the dry powder.
The nipple of the bottle may need to be enlarged. Use a small pair of scissors to snip a small portion off at the end of the nipple. Milk should ooze from the nipple. Never squeeze the bottle while it is in the kitten’s mouth. It can go down into their lungs and cause pneumonia. Squeeze out a drop just before placing it in the kitten’s mouth. To feed, do not hold the kitten as you would a human baby. It is best to feed with the kitten on his tummy as opposed to on his back with his head elevated. The kitten should naturally suckle. After feeding, the abdomen should be enlarged, but not over-distended. It is better to under feed the first few days.
It is very easy to over feed kittens, but this often produces diarrhea. It is far better to err on the side of underfeeding rather than overfeeding. Follow this chart for appropriate amounts:
Age Weight No. of Feedings Amount to Feed
1 week 4 ounces 6 32 cc of KMr per day
2 weeks 7 ounces 4 56 cc of KMR per day
3 weeks 10 ounces 4 80 cc of KMR per day
4 weeks 13 ounces 4 104 cc of KMR per day
For the first three days of formula feeding, give the kittens less than the required amount indicated above. Slowly increase the amount until by the end of the third day the kittens are receiving the calculated amount. All feeding equipment must be kept scrupulously clean.
If kittens develop diarrhea, dilute the formula in half with Pedialyte (one part formula to one part Pedialyte). Gradually increase the amount of formula as the feces improve. Normal stool is yellow-brown and pasty. Please call your veterinarian for assistance at the first sign of diarrhea. KITTENS WITH DIARRHEA CAN DIE.
If you have a scale available, keep a daily log of kitten’s weight.
Remember, nothing is written in stone. Your kitten may have a voracious appetite or a very small one. When fed adequately, a kitten’s stomach will feel full, not tense or distended. A steady weight gain of 10 grams or 1/3 ounce per day and a normal stool are indications you are feeding the correct amount. Unchecked overfeeding leads to a depletion of digestive enzymes. Eventually, when there is no digestion of the formula, you will see a stool that looks like curdled milk. At this point stop all formula and give only Pedialyte until the kitten has a normal stool.
Kittens that are taken from Mom, for whatever reason, at the age of about 1 or 2 weeks may have a little bit of trouble adjusting to the bottle. This is simply a matter of persistence. You must keep offering the bottle and they will learn that this is where food comes from.
Feeding and warmth are the two most important things these babies need. If you must err in feeding, let it be on the side of underfeeding. If you have fed the kitten and helped it to eliminate and it is still crying, he either has colic (from over feeding) or it is cold.
The kitten’s natural mother takes care of both ends of her baby. By licking the kitten’s abdomen, she stimulates the bowels and bladder and tidies up the resulting waste. A surrogate cat mom should gently rub the kitten’s abdomen and bottom with a cotton ball or washcloth moistened with warm water. This stimulates the discharge of waste and keeps babies clean. Continue until they stop. They cannot eliminate without help until they are three to four weeks old.
Without mother’s tongue to wash them down, daily cleaning from you is essential. With a warm washcloth, wipe them down after every feeding. Use short strokes as the mother would use with her tongue. This cleans their fur, teaches them to clean their fur, and gives them a feeling of attention and well being.
After the umbilical cord falls off, watch the area carefully. It doesn’t hurt to give it a few wipes with Hydrogen Peroxide.
When raising more than one baby, you will find that at about 2 to 3 weeks of age, they will start rooting around in their nest looking for something to nurse on. Invariably they find each other and start sucking on that which most resembles a nipple – their sibling’s genitals. Besides being a nasty habit, they can get sick from ingesting urine. After stimulating them, spray their little bottoms with Bitter Apple. This is a foul tasting, but harmless spray which can be purchased at any pet store. If this doesn’t do the trick, separate them. Do NOT allow them to nurse on one another.
Kitten stools are a great source of information. Watch carefully for any changes as kittens often do not “act sick” until they are extremely ill. Loose or watery stools give you clues to illness. Prompt medical treatment may prevent serious illness.
Get to know each individual kitten so you will know when something may be wrong.
At about four weeks of age kittens will start chewing on the nipple and showing a need for more substantial food. Continue to bottle feed, but offer less than their full amount. Make up a mixture of softened Purina Kitten Chow and formula as their first solid meal. Make the Purina dry kibble “soft” by adding hot or warm water to it and allow it to sit for 10 minutes to absorb the moisture. Then using a fork, mix it up adding a sprinkling of kitten milk replacer to create a soupy mixture or gruel. The food should be the consistency of chunky soup. Place kitties in front of the food bowl. If they don’t lick on their own, place a bit of food on the tip of your finger and offer it to them. If they still don’t lick, open their mouth and place the food from your finger on the roof of their mouth. This will give them a taste of the food. Now offer them food from your finger again and eventually lead them with your finger closer and closer to the bowl. Some kittens take to it right away. Some take longer and enjoy the coddling. When they’re ready, they’ll lap it up. Keep trying until they get it down. Over several days decrease the amount of formula added until they are eating the softened food straight. During this time add a dish of dry food and water and have it available at all times.
Kittens five to six weeks old need four small meals a day with the last meal just before bedtime. Kittens six to eight weeks old need four meals a day (about one -two tablespoons of softened food per kitten for each meal) plus free choice dry kibble.
Observe kittens when they are eating to be sure each kitten gets enough food.
At about four weeks, it is time to introduce them to a litter box. For small kittens, a regular litter box is too tall – they can’t get in or out. Instead, use a flat container with small lip around edge. Plastic Frisbees or dishes for under potted plants work well. Use a container that is large enough for the number of kittens you have. Once they are old enough, you may change to a regular litter box.
Use regular, clay litter, NOT clumping litter. Clumping litter is hazardous to kittens as it will cause intestinal blockages if swallowed. It will also get in their eyes and plug up their nose! (See Kitten Hazards information)
Simply place them in the box after eating and let them go for it. They are naturally inclined to use this and once they start, that is one less thing you have to do for them.
Be sure to clean all litter boxes and containers before using them. Use a mild bleach mixture (about 10% bleach, 90% water) to sterilize.
It is very important to clean the litter box daily or more often if required. Cats and kittens are reluctant to use dirty litter boxes.
Socializing a kitten is a very important part of fostering. Well-socialized kittens make much better companions.
Newborn to four week old kittens should be handled daily by the foster parent, but only for a short period of time. Kittens this age tire very easily and need their rest. From five weeks of age and on, it is better to have multiple people handle the kittens. Old, young, male, female, expose them to everything!
Never use your hands as play toys and discourage kittens from biting and scratching. If they become rough, stop playing immediately and ignore them for a few minutes. If they are playing inappropriately, redirect their play to toys. NEVER hit or spank a kitten. This just teaches them to fear human hands. ALWAYS supervise closely when kittens are handled by children.
Play with your kittens. Use kitty teasers and dangle toys. Also, keep toys in the cage or room so kittens will be able to play when you are busy. It is a good idea to offer them a scratching post at this early age as well.
Give your kittens as much attention as possible. Kittens who are caged too long or not handled regularly can develop psychological problems. Severe loneliness can develop if you do not have consistent quality time with your fosters. However, with love, affection and a keen eye, you should be able to avoid this problem.
We hope your foster kittens do not become sick, but if they do, IMMEDIATELY call your veterinarian.
Symptoms of a sick kitten include:
refusing to eat
bleeding of any kind (nose, urine, stool, etc.)
changes in eating or drinking behavior
rectal temperature below 99.5 or above 102
eye or nasal discharge
hairless or crusty patches of skin that normally have hair
Kidney function in newborns is 25% of what it will be later. Because immature kidneys are unable to concentrate the urine, kittens must excrete large amounts of dilute urine. When kittens stop nursing, they dehydrate quickly, therefore, please consider this very valid point if your kitten loses weight, becomes chilled or otherwise fails to thrive. You can look in the kitten’s mouth for a lack of moisture, a very pink tongue or mucus membranes. You can pick up the skin at the back of it’s neck. If it doesn’t bounce right back, this is a sign of dehydration. Watch the urine. If it is not clear, but a distinct yellow, this too is a sign of dehydration.
Dehydration from diarrhea can kill kittens. It is important to hydrate them immediately.
If kittens become sick, be sure to clean bowls, litter box, toys and bedding with a mild bleach solution (10% bleach to 90% water) to kill any bacteria that are lurking.
FLEAS are tiny insects that love to feed on kittens. Although each flea only consumes a small drop of blood, fleas commonly attack in large numbers and an infestation can literally drain blood from a kitten’s body producing anemia and death.
It is essential to remove fleas from kittens and bedding. Change bedding frequently and flea comb kittens daily. Bottle babies can NOT have flea shampoo. They are way too young. Older kittens may have Advantage flea prevention applied. Contact your veterinarian if your kittens are covered with fleas.
Newborn kittens are completely dependent on their mother. Their eyes and ears are closed so they can neither see nor hear. Their eyes open by 10 – 12 days, but their vision is not normal until they are three to four weeks old. The ears open sometime between day 6 and 17, at which time they can hear.
Kittens begin crawling by 7 to 14 days and start to play with one another when they are two weeks old. At three weeks, kittens are much more mobile and begin stalking each other. Teething begins at this age. Kittens now should be handled 40 minutes every day to help socialize them.
At four weeks of age, kittens start eating solid food and can be trained to use a litter box. They start wrestling with one another at this age.
At five weeks of age, kittens are learning how to hunt by pouncing on toys and each other. At five to six weeks, adult eye color begins to appear. When kittens weigh two pounds, they can be spayed or neutered.
Kittens do die. For no reason sometimes other than it is their time and there is nothing we can do about it. Once they start to fade, they can go very quickly. As soon as you see anything that is amiss, call your veterinarian immediately. We are fighting the odds when we take these babies in. They can be born with congenital defects, may have had inadequate nutrition during pregnancy, from infectious diseases or may have been exposed too long to the elements. Many things can happen. This is an upsetting experience for everyone involved, especially when we have worked so hard to save their lives. Know that without your help they would never have even had a chance.