Bottle Feeding an Orphaned Kitten
Quick Facts About Kitten Care:
- Kittens need to eat every 2 hours the first week, and every 3 hours in the following 2 weeks.
- Kittens (and all young animals) need to drink from their mother at least for the first 24 to 48 hours in order to receive life saving colostrum.
- Kittens (and all young animals) need to be able to hear and feel its mother's heartbeat.
- Young kittens need to be stimulated in order to go to the bathroom.
- Kittens don't open their eyes until they are 9-14 days old.
- Kitten's ears don't unfold until they are 3 weeks old.
Motherly love is a very strong bond in domestic cats, so it is quite rare for a well kept momma cat to abandon its offspring. However, feral homeless cats have very tough lives. They struggle on the border of starvation, live in un-naturally dense groups and suffer from diseases that pampered house cats never face. Often, their first litter arrives when they are little more than kittens themselves. It is quite common for inexperience and the stresses of pregnancy to exhaust them to the point where they become ill and abandon their kittens.
How Old Do You Think This Kitten Is?
Kittens 1-14 days old haven't opened their eyes yet. (Note: never attempt to open a kitten's eyes manually!) Their ears are also folded over and closed.
Kittens 2-3 weeks old have their eyes open and they are able to move around shakily. By the time kittens are 3 weeks old, their ears have become erect and they can walk about well.
What Supplies Will I Need?
You will need to have a warm, snuggly nest box for the baby or babies. Since the infants will soil their container, look around for a small cardboard box that can readily be replaced when needed, to keep the baby in – a shoe box works well.
You will need a heating pad unless you live in the tropics. Your veterinarian has a heavy-duty model or you can try WalMart.
You also need kitten milk replacer (KMR or Nurturall-C and be sure it isn't lumpy or rancid-smelling when you open it). an aquarium thermometer and a pet nursing bottle(PetaAg). Pick up a small food scale so you can keep track of the kitten(s) growth and a notebook to record it in. Buy a few boxes of white, unscented Kleenex-type tissues and a few roles of paper towels.Never attempt to tube feed an infant kitten until you have been taught how by a veterinarian.
The Nest box
Mother cats always seek out small confined spaces in which to place their kittens. Your nest box does not need to be elaborate. It needs to be just big enough for the kitten(s) to turn around but not much bigger. Line it with crumpled Kleenex tissue.
Before you place kittens in the box, examine them closely for fleas. Pick those off with eyebrow tweezers and drop them into a jar of rubbing alcohol or vodka. Those little pests can quickly suck kittens dry of blood. If there were many fleas and the kittens gums are pale (anemic), a drop of pediatric vitamins with iron per day should be helpful.
Warmth is especially important the first 14 days of a kitten’s life because they have not yet developed the ability to control their body temperature.
During the first two weeks, kittens can not shiver when they are cold. They will rely on your heating pad for warmth. Keep the pad under one side of the box and set it only on its lowest setting. Wrap the pad with sufficient cloth towels so that the inside of the box stays at 90 degrees Fahrenheit but no higher. With only one side of the box heated, the kitten(s) will be able to crawl away from the heat source if it gets too warm. This is very important because more rescued kittens die from overheating than from chill.
Place the box in a draft free location. Be sure the sides of the box are at least six inches tall so the kitten can not fall out. Make sure that area is safe from your other pets and children. Children are fascinated with kittens and will love them to death. Besides, many of these kittens are a source of ringworm that spreads to children very easily. As the kitten matures, the temperature in the box can be gradually lowered. When the kitten reaches the end of its first month of life, it can tolerate room air at 70-75F.
Always slightly underfeed rather than over feed the kitten. It is always safer to give more frequent, smaller feedings than a few large ones.
Mix the milk formula just before you use it. Even the powder does not keep fresh nearly as long as advertised. A good kitten-nursing bottle holds 2-4 ounces of formula. They generally come without holes punched in the nipple. Use a flame-heated needle to melt two small holes in the cap. The holes should be only big enough so that a few drops of milk drip out when the bottle is pointed down and vigorously shaken. If too many holes are punched in the cap, the kittens will inhale the formula rather than swallow it.
If you are using canned product, dilute the first few feeding 50-50 with pedialyte. If you are using the powder, mix it half-strength with boiled water or pedialyte for the first few feeding and then gradually, over the next 24-36 hours, bring it up to full strength. Mix it really well so there are no lumps.
Let it cool until it is slightly above room temperature. Feed kitten while they are resting on their stomachs. Never feed them upright as you would a human infant. Wet the outside of the nipple with milk formula to give it flavor. Then, gently insert the nipple into the kitten’s mouth using a prying motion while you apply pressure to the sides of the bottle to release a drop or two of milk. From then on your kitten should suck on its own.
Some experienced kitten rearers add a bit of plain yogurt or Bene-Bac by Pet-Ag to the Formula. If you do so, add it after the formula cools.
We all have a tendency to over feed kittens. It is much safer to give them a little less than they desire, than all they want. Over-feeding can lead to pneumonia when milk is inhaled into the lungs rather than swallowed to the stomach, and it can cause bloat and diarrhea.
If milk bubbles out of the kittens nose it is flowing too rapidly from the bottle, you are holding the kitten wrong, or it is too weak to suckle normally. Most of the time, it is due to too large a hole(s) in the nipple or over-feeding. Microwave a bowl of water and set the bottle in it to heat the formula to 99-100 degrees Fahrenheit before use. Be sure to always check the formula's temperature by shaking a drop or two onto your wrist. Never put the bottle directly in the microwave to heat.
Some owners find it easier to feed newborn kittens from a one or three millilitre syringe or eye-dropper and switch to a bottle when the kitten is two weeks old. (Using the syringe, of course the needle needs to be removed first!)
During the first week, feed the kitten every two hours. During the next three weeks, feed them every three hours. When the kittens are four weeks old, they can be fed every six to twelve hours depending on how much solid food they are already eating.
Boil nursing bottles and syringes between every use. Kittens that did not nurse on the mother for their first 48 hours did not receive the first milk or colostrum. After that time window, they can not absorb it through their intestines even if you give it to them. These kittens are more susceptible to infections and diarrhea, so wash your hands well and beware of sour formula. That is why it is almost always safer to leave the kittens with the mother for at least a few days . If the kittens did not get their mom's antibodies through colostrums, your veterinarian can add antibiotic powder to their formula for a week or so.
When I lived in a part of the World where kitten milk replacement was unavailable, I feed a mixture of 1 cup of evaporated cows or goat milk, one tablespoon corn oil, three egg yolks and three drops of pediatric multivitamins.
For reasons that are unclear, evaporated milk seem to cause less diarrhea and bloat than fresh whole cows milk. Kittens have a limited ability to digest the lactose or milk sugar in cow’s and goat milk. You can help with this problem by adding lactase enzyme ("Lactaid" is one brand) to the formula
How Much Should I Feed?
Newborn kittens during their first week need to consume about 32 cc (or ml) of formula per day. That is based on an average kitten weighing 120 grams. Because normal kittens range in weight at birth from 85 to 120 grams, the amount of formula they should drink is going to vary.
That amount should be spread out into about ten feedings, spaced about every 2 and-a-half hours round the clock. If the kitten is weak or stressed, it is even more important to give it more frequent feeding throughout the day and night.
During their second week, an average kitten consumes about 55 cc per day of formula. You can already cut back on the number of feedings if the kitten is steadily gaining weight.
By week three, the kitten should be consuming about 80 cc of formula per day; by four weeks 100 cc/day, and by 5 weeks about 125cc/day. By four weeks , the amount of formula the kitten consumes per feeding should have risen so that you get by with 5-7 feedings per day.
Kittens that are hungry and need feeding will cry continuously, move their heads from side to side and suckle on each other or on objects in the nest box.
Burping The Kitten
After each feeding hold the kitten upright with its tummy against your shoulder and pat it gently until it burps, releasing trapped air. Nursing bottles that do not release enough milk lead to more air being trapped as the kitten nurses. If the kitten should bloat or become colicky add a few drops of infant anti colic drops (simethicone, Equate Infants’ Gas Relief, WalMart Stores Inc.) to the formula and experiment with a new nipple, another feeding technique or different brand of formula.
Normal Weight Gain
Birth weights of kittens range from 85 to 120 grams. Their weight should double in their first 1 to 2 weeks. Kittens average about ten grams of additional body weight per day. Although this is a good average, they tend to grow in spurts. Seek a veterinarian’s advice if the kitten does not double its weight in 8 to 12 days.
Helping The Kitten Eliminate
Normal kitten stools are yellowish brown with a jam-like consistency. After every feeding, gently massage the anus and urinary orifice with a cotton ball or Kleenex moistened with warm water until they urinate and defecate. Be very gentle when you do this and don’t worry if no urine or stool is produced after every feeding. By the time the kitten is three weeks old it should be able to get by without your help.
Problems That Can Arise
Kittens that have been abandoned are often chilled, dehydrated and hypoglycemic (low blood sugar). If a kitten is cold and lethargic, giving it karo syrup is not a good idea. It needs an injection of glucose from your veterinarian.
Normal rectal temperature for a newborn kitten is 92-99 F. These little kittens can not regulate their body temperature well. That's why they need the heating pad or hot water bottle you provide. By their second week rectal temperature should be 97-100F. By their fourth week normal rectal temperature should be 100-102F (the same as adult cats). The first thing to do is to warm them up very slowly and carefully to ninety degrees.
If the kittens are still too weak to nurse, a veterinarian need to administer sterile subcutaneous solutions . A newborn kitten can receive approximately three milliliters (cc) of fluid subcutaneously.
Watery yellowish or greenish stools are sometimes caused by feeding too much or too quickly. If they occur, try diluting the formula 50-50 with Pedialyte until the stools return to normal consistency. You can also give the kitten 2-3 drops of Kaopectate just prior to each feeding (for a while, not indefinitely).
Overly hard stools that are clumped and cheese-like are sometimes due to feeding the formula too concentrated. When kittens strain to defecate and pass overly-hard stools, increase the frequency of feeding and dilute the formula. These impacted (bound up) kittens also have a bloated abdomen. You can give them a few drops of mineral oil or cat hairball paste to help them evacuate the stool and gently massage their tummies. If they still remain bound up, they may need a warm water enema; this is best done at a veterinary hospital. Never use phosphate enemas - such as Fleet, on a cat.
Dehydration is most common in newly acquired kittens that have not had access to milk for 24-48 hours. Dehydrated kittens are very weak and inactive. Their skin does not spring back when pinched but instead has a clay-like consistency. These kittens need to be seen by the veterinarian immediately!
It is a good idea to de-worm your kitten when it is six weeks of age (or earlier if your veterinarian suspects intestinal parasites). A soothing salve on their inflamed rear ends will help make them feel better. These kittens need a veterinarian's care.
If the kitten did not receive its mother's milk during its first 48 hours of life, it is much more susceptible to all infections and needs to be carefully isolated from other cats and kittens until it does receive its vaccinations. Remember, vaccinations take a week or two before they become effective.
Weaning - You Are Almost There!
Begin to offer your kitten solid foods when it is three and a half weeks old. By four and a half weeks, the kitten should be weaned. Purchase some cans of gourmet cat food in chicken and beef flavors and smear a bit on the cat’s pallet. It will soon get the idea.
Do not feed it fish flavored foods or it will become a fussy eater. Besides, there seems to be a connection between fish flavors and later thyroid problems.
This is the same time you should begin to offer the kitten formula in a bowl. The earlier a kitten eats on its own, the better. If you use strained meat baby foods be sure they contain no onion powder. I do not suggest you get your kitten hooked on human baby foods because they are way too low in calcium and vitamins. Kittens love them, but they will develop bowed legs and soft teeth. If you give them, be sure there is another adequate source of calcium and vitamin D in their diet.
Although many kittens will eat as early as four weeks, some may take an additional two or three weeks before they express interest in solid food. Slowly substitute moistened kitten chow for baby foods or canned cat food. As soon as kitten chow is offered, keep a dish of water available for the kitten. By the time the kitten is 10 weeks old it should be receiving some dry kitten chow. As a lifetime diet, there are pros and cons to dry and wet diets.
If you have any questions, just give us a call and we'll be happy to help you! Good luck and very best wishes!