Bottle Feeding & Newborn Kitten Care

Here are some important tips to keep in mind if you end up having to care for a newborn kitten. Be aware that sometimes, no matter what you do, some newborn kittens do not survive and can fade very fast. You can only try to be the best surrogate guardian possible and hope for the best.

Ask for Help - Contact local no-kill shelters to ask if they have a nursing mother cat or experienced volunteers available to bottle-feed the kittens. Good mother cats will often "adopt" orphans in to their litter.

Keep them Warm - Kittens cannot control their body temperature and need to be kept warm. They can easily become chilled and actually die from being cold. Keep them warm from the moment you find them. If you have nothing else on hand, use your own body heat to warm up a cold kitten and rub gently to aide circulation.

At home, provide the kittens with a soft place to sleep like a box or pet carrier with a heating pad or other warming device. Keep heating pads set on "low" and completely cover it with a blanket or towel and make sure the kittens can move away from the heat if they get too warm. Change bedding daily or as needed when accidents occur.

Chilling can occur after a kitten becomes wet. Never submerge kittens in water. If you need to wash them, wash only certain parts or use a moist, warm wash cloth. Be sure to always fully dry them with a hair dryer (on low) and towel.

Food - Never feed kittens cow's milk - this causes diarrhea. Feed only kitten formula, such as KMR, which can be easily purchased at most pet supply stores. Use kitten bottles to feed, as they are designed specifically with a kitten in mind. If you have an option for nipples, the elongated nipples are easier to use. You will have to make your own holes in the nipple with a sterilized pin or razor. Be sure you do this correctly so that the kitten replacement milk drips out slowly when the bottle is turned upside down. Sterilize the bottles before using. Wash your hands before and after each feeding.

If you find yourself with a kitten and no store is open, this emergency kitten formula can be made at home. It should only be used in emergencies, and should not replace kitten formula.

  8 oz. can evaporated milk
  1 beaten egg yolk
  2 TB Karo syrup

  Mix all ingredients well and strain. Warm before serving. Keep refrigerated.

Feeding - Hold or place kittens on their stomachs and raise the bottle so less air gets in (do not feed kittens on their backs). Always warm the kitten formula and test it on your wrist to be sure it is warm but not hot. Remember, do not feed chilled kittens.

Feeding should occur every three to four hours for kittens one week or younger. You can reduce feeding to every four to six hours at two weeks and from then on, most kittens can be fed about two to three times daily. Kittens will usually stop nursing when full.

If you are having trouble getting a kitten to "latch" onto the bottle, try pulling on the nipple when they start to suck, this will encourage her to suck harder and latch on. You can also try moving the nipple back and forth in the kitten's mouth. If your kitten is too ill to suck on a bottle, you may have to use other methods such as a syringe.

Weaning occurs around four to five weeks of age. Mix formula with wet food so kittens can begin to lap it up. Then mix with dry food and begin providing water.

After feeding - As long as kittens are eating formula, you must burp them. Put them on your shoulder or on their stomachs and pat them gently until you feel them burp. Kitten formula is sticky, so be sure to clean kittens after feeding with a warm, damp washcloth. Often after burping, the kitten will eat more, so try to feed them again, remembering to burp them when done nursing for the second time.

Elimination - Kittens under four weeks must be stimulated in order to go to the bathroom after each feeding. Usually a mother cat would lick her kittens, but you can use a warm, moist cotton ball to gently rub the kittens anal area to stimulate urination and defecation. Completely solid feces usually will not form while kittens are drinking formula. Start litter training at four weeks. Use a small litter box with non-clumping litter. Place the kittens in the litter box and scratch their paw. They will figure it out, but remember, accidents do happen.

Health Concerns - Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) - Though this is common in kittens and you should not ignore it. If heavy yellow discharge develops or the kitten has trouble breathing or eating, see a veterinarian immediately. A mild URI can be cleared up by simply wiping away discharge with a warm, wet cloth and keeping kittens in a warm, moist environment.

Fleas - Fleas on a very small kitten can cause anemia. First, pick fleas off with a flea comb. For a bad infestation, you can bathe the kitten in warm water to get rid of fleas, since using topical flea treatment can make small kittens ill. Remember, never submerge kittens fully in water. If giving a bath be careful of chilling - dry kittens thoroughly with a warm towel or hair dryer on low, then place on a heating pad. No shampoos or topical treatment should be used in kittens six weeks or younger.

Parasites/Diarrhea - Any drastic change in stool consistency can mean trouble. Parasites can often cause diarrhea, strange looking stool, and dehydration. If you notice any unusual signs, your kittens should be seen by a veterinarian.