During the first few weeks of life, a kitten's primary concerns are feeding, keeping warm, developing social skills and learning how to excrete on his own. In most cases, humans will simply watch the mother cat perform her duties. However, if the kitten in your care has been separated from his mother or if the mother cat has rejected her young or cannot produce enough milk, caring for him is up to you.
How Do I Feed a Newborn Kitten?
A mother cat's milk provides everything a kitten needs during the first four weeks of life. If you have newborn kittens who've been separated from their mother, consult with a veterinarian, shelter or experienced foster care giver who can help you find a new mother cat with a small litter—she may be able to nurse the orphaned babies. If you cannot find a foster mother, please consult with your veterinarian about the proper way to bottle-feed with a commercial milk replacer. Please do not offer regular cow's milk to cats of any age. It is not easily digestible and can cause diarrhea.
What Do Kittens Eat Besides Milk?
When the orphaned kittens are three to four weeks old, begin to offer milk replacer in a shallow bowl, then introduce a moist, easily chewable diet. You can make gruel from warmed milk replacer and a high-quality dry or canned kitten food. Serve it in a shallow bowl and feed the kittens several times each day. By five weeks old, they should be getting used to their new diet. By six to seven weeks old, they should be able to chew dry food and you'll no longer need to moisten it.
Kittens need large amounts of energy—about two to three times that of an adult cat. About 30 percent of their total energy should come from protein. Make sure the food you offer is specifically formulated for kittens.
How Often Should a Kitten Eat?
The following is a general eating schedule for newborns and young cats:
- Newborn kittens may nurse about every 1-2 hours.
- At about three to four weeks old, they can be offered milk replacer from a bowl and then small amounts of moistened kitten food four to six times a day.
- Kittens from six to 12 weeks old should be fed four times a day as you gradually decrease their access to milk replacer.
- Kittens from three to six months old should be fed three times a day.
How Do I Keep a Newborn Kitten Warm?
If the kitten in your care has been orphaned, it is essential that you keep the young one warm. A heating pad or a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel works well. The heat source should be positioned so that the kitten can move away from it at will. Please consult your veterinarian about ideal temperatures, and do take care to monitor the heating pad, if you are using one, to ensure it is functioning properly.
How Much Should a Newborn Kitten Weigh?
An average birth weight for kittens is about 3 1/2 ounces, depending on breed and litter size. During the first weeks of life, a kitten's body weight may double or even triple. Gaining 1/4 to half an ounce daily until they are weaned is considered healthy. Kittens who don't gain adequate weight during this early period may not survive.
Can I Hold the Kitten?
Kittens who are with their mother should not be over-handled, especially not during their first week of life—this may upset the mother. If the kitten in your care is younger than one week old, please consult your veterinarian. In order to properly socialize a young feline to humans, start to handle him from the second week on through the seventh week—this is considered an important time for socialization.
Please note, kittens are prone to injury if handled roughly—anyone who handles the little ones in your care will need to be very gentle. Young children in particular should be supervised.
How Do I Teach a Kitten to Go the Bathroom?
After feeding, a mother cat will groom her babies, paying special attention to the anal area. This stimulates excretion, which kittens can't do on their own until their second or third week. If your kitten is no longer with her mother, dip a soft washcloth or a piece of gauze in warm water and gently massage the anal and urinary regions. The warmth, texture and movement mimic a mother cat's tongue.
When the kittens are four weeks old, you can teach them to use a litter box by placing them in the box after their meals. Cutting one side down will make it easier for the kittens to go in and out.