kitten is a newborn kitten without a mother. A kitten may become an orphan
because of death or serious illness of the mother, or the inability of the
mother to produce sufficient quality or quantity of milk. Proper care for
the orphan is vital to maintaining health and helping the kitten to
develop and mature. While raising an orphan, care must be taken to insure
proper nutrition, cleanliness, environment, as well as both mental and
efforts, the typical mortality rate of kittens, including those that are
not orphaned, ranges from 10 to 30 percent. Deaths may occur at any time
from birth to weaning and may be due to pneumonia, hypothermia (low body
temperature), dehydration, infectious disease, hypoglycemia (low blood
sugar), birth defects, parasites or trauma associated with birth.
The most common signs of illness in the newborn are continuous
crying, decreased activity and failure to gain weight.
all newborns should be examined for birth defects such as cranial (skull)
deformities, cleft palate or heart murmurs.
For the first
2 weeks of life, the normal heart rate of a kitten is above 200 beats per
minute and the respiratory rate is 15 to 35 breaths per minute.
Body temperature ranges from 96 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit for the
first week of life. By 7 days, the body temperature rises to 100 degrees.
Newborn kittens typically weigh around 100 grams and are expected
to gain about 10 grams per day. At
6 weeks of age, kittens should weigh around 500 grams (a little more than
depend on their caretakers to provide appropriate quality and quantity of
food, in the form of kitten milk replacer.
Feline milk replacer is composed of water, fats, sugars, minerals
and proteins similar to feline milk. Cow’s milk is not an appropriate
substitute for kitten milk replacer.
replacer should be warmed to 100 degrees Fahrenheit before feeding.
If mixing powdered milk replacer, mix only 48 hours worth of milk
at a time. The amount to give at each feeding will depend on the weight of
the kitten and the number of feedings per day.
Follow the label directions on the milk replacer container.
can be fed by stomach tube or by nursing bottle.
The stomach tube is quicker but may not be the best option for the
developing kitten’s mental and emotional health.
Eyedroppers should not be used since it is very difficult to
provide sufficient nutrition to the kitten using this method.
Nursing bottles are commonly used but the appropriate size bottle
and nipple is necessary. Nipples that are too small can be swallowed and
nipples that are too large make it very difficult for the kitten to nurse.
In addition to an appropriate sized nipple, the opening in the
nipple must also be appropriate. A
hole too small restricts milk flow and does not allow the kitten to ingest
sufficient calories. A hole
too large can result in excessive milk exiting the nipple, which may
result in aspiration. Bottle feeding should only be performed in kittens with a
swallowing reflex. This
reflex appears in cats at around ten days of age.
is often performed in kittens under 10 days of age since kittens this
young often do not have a well developed gag/swallow reflex.
With experience, tube feeding can be fast and easy.
Typically, a 5 French red rubber catheter is used for kittens
weighing less than 300 grams and an 8 French red rubber catheter is used
for kittens weighing over 300 grams. The tube should be measured from the
tip of the mouth to the last rib and marked.
As the kitten grows, the tube will need to be re-measured and
remarked periodically. Moisten the tube and insert into the esophagus.
The tube should be inserted to the level of the pre-measurement.
A syringe filled with kitten milk replacement is attached and given
slowly over 2 minutes. If
resistance occurs, stop feeding and remove the tube.
feeding, the kitten should be burped to remove any swallowed air from the
stomach. Until 3 weeks of
age, kittens need to be stimulated to urinate and defecate after each
feeding. Use a warm moist cotton ball or tissue and rub it gently on the
genital area. Urine and feces should soon be eliminated.
kittens should be fed 6 to 8 times a day. Gradually reduce the frequency
to 3 to 4 times per day by the time the kitten is 2 to 3 weeks of age.
By 3 weeks of
age, kittens can be offered solid foods. This should be introduced as a
thin gruel made of kitten food mixed with kitten formula. Continue to feed
the kittens formula with a bottle during the initial stages of weaning.
Over the course of the next 2 weeks, gradually thicken the gruel. By the
time the kitten is 6 to 8 weeks of age, the food should be near solid
consistency. Always have
fresh clean water available.
dehydrate quickly and rapidly become hypothermic (low body temperature)
and hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) when ill. Hypothermic should be warmed
slowly to 97 to 98 degrees over 1 to 3 hours using heating pads, heating
lights or warmer bottles.
kitten’s environment must be kept as clean as possible.
The kitten should also not be exposed to other animals or multiple
people until about 4 to 6 weeks of age to reduce the risk of exposure to
infectious diseases. Carefully wash your hands after each handling and
clean all equipment after each use.
living area must be kept warm and draft-free. Use heat lamps, light bulbs
or a heating pad covered in towels to provide heat. It is crucial not to
overheat the orphan kitten. The temperature should be 85 to 90 degrees
Fahrenheit during the first week of life and about 80 degrees for the next
3 to 4 weeks. Kittens can do well at a room temperature around 70 degrees
once they are 6 weeks of age. Place a thermometer near the kittens to
monitor the environmental temperature. In addition to maintaining adequate
temperature, the humidity must also be monitored. Try to maintain a
humidity level of 55 to 65 percent in the immediate vicinity of the
To keep the
environment clean, use newspapers to line the floor and sides of the nest
box. These can be changed quickly and easily when soiled. As the kittens
mature, the newspapers should be replaced with cloth bedding to allow the
kitten the ability to move around without slipping.
Change and wash the bedding on a regular basis.
kittens only 6 to 8 times per day, which includes feeding times.
Excessive handling will interrupt their sleep patterns and can
predispose the kitten to illness. Do
not allow young children to handle the kittens until around 6 to 8 weeks
In the past,
it was thought that kittens had to ingest colostrum (antibody-rich milk
from the mother cat) within the first 24 hours of life so that they could
become protected against infectious disease. Recently, it has been shown
that kittens do not require actual colostrum. A kitten only needs to
ingest feline milk within the first day of life. This means that a kitten
can be placed with a foster mother and still acquire enough antibodies.
But kittens that do not receive colostrum or milk from a lactating mother
in the first day of life should receive serum as an alternate source of
antibodies. The serum can be
obtained from any normal cat and can be injected under the skin at a dose
of 1 milliliter per pound. This
generally gives the kittens some protection for about 6 weeks.
At 2 weeks of
age, the kitten may be dewormed. This dose should then be repeated in 2
receiving serum, orphaned kittens should initially be vaccinated at 4 to 6
weeks of age, as opposed to non-orphaned kittens, who begin their vaccine
series at 8 weeks of age.
A log should
be maintained for each newborn kitten. This log should include the daily
weight, amount of formula ingested, urination and defecation as well as
deworming information and vaccination. Each day, kittens spend their time
sleeping and eating. Interrupting this sleep cycle or depriving the kitten
of sleep can be detrimental to its health. Therefore, make a schedule for
the kitten and stick to it. There
should be sufficient intervals between feeding and sleeping to allow the
kitten a chance for uninterrupted quiet time.
should be gently handled 6 to 8 times a day to mimic the stimulation they
would have received from their siblings or mother. Prior to each feeding,
spend some time handling the kitten.
Twice a week, bathe the kitten with a damp cloth.
After each feeding, the genital area should be stimulated with a
warm, damp tissue or cotton ball. This should be done for the first 2
weeks of life. Periodically,
take and record the kitten’s temperature.
Until 3 weeks of age, take and record the kittens weight at least
once a day.
Specialists carries kitten milk replacer and nursing bottles for people
who are faced with the task of raising an orphaned kitten.
Please don’t hesitate to call us with any problems or questions.