Raising Orphaned Kittens

Here are some important tips to remember if you?re thinking about becoming a full-time caregiver for a newborn kitten.

By Jennifer Williams, Ph.D. | Posted: February 9, 2011, 3 a.m. EST

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Tiny kittens are adorable, but they’re helpless and need a full-time caregiver. If the mother cat or a foster cat isn’t available, that duty falls to generous humans. Raising orphaned kittens might sound like fun, but the reality includes feeding the kittens in the middle of the night, helping them urinate and defecate, and fending off sharp claws and teeth. Things to consider when raising orphans:

Veterinary Care
Orphans should see a vet right away to ensure that they’re warm enough and properly hydrated (dehydration and low temperature are deadly). Your veterinarian can also approximate the kittens’ age and recommend a feeding schedule.

Providing warmth
During the first week of life, kittens need to be kept at temperatures around 90 degrees and at around 80 degrees after that. Keep them warm with a water bottle full of warm (not boiling) water wrapped in a towel in the kitten’s crate. Make sure the kittens have enough room to crawl away from the bottle if they get overheated.

Orphans need eight CCs of formula per ounce of body weight daily. You can buy bottles and commercial kitten milk-replacer formulas at veterinarians’ offices, pet stores and many supermarkets.

Recommended feeding schedule:
1–2 weeks of age: every two hours
3–4 weeks of age: every 3–4 hours
5–6 weeks of age: every 4–6 hours

Hold the kitten with his stomach resting in your hand and the bottle at a 45-degree angle. At first, you may have to gently open his mouth and place the nipple inside, but after a few feedings, most kittens will start to look for the bottle. Let the kitten eat as long as he wants.

Offer the kittens soft food mixed with enough formula to make gruel when they’re 3 weeks old. When they’re eating well, decrease the amount of formula in the mix at each feeding. As they eat more kitten food, they’ll drink less from their bottle. At around 6 weeks of age, they should be eating solid kitten food and weaned from the bottle.

Urination and Defecation
Mother cats lick kittens’ genitals to stimulate them to urinate and defecate, and you can mimic this by rubbing their genitals with a rag or cotton ball moistened with warm water before and after they eat.

Litterbox Training
When the kittens are 3 to 4 weeks old, add a shallow litter box to their crate. After feeding the kitten, put him in the box and gently move his paw through the litter to simulate digging. If he doesn’t urinate or defecate after several minutes, then use a rag or cotton ball to help him.

Spend time talking to the orphans, as well as petting and holding them. Offer them toys to play with, but never use your hands or fingers as toys and don’t let them bite or swat at your fingers or hands. Between 3 and 6 weeks of age, introduce your kitten to other people, the animals in your home, grooming procedures, and being carried.



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Reader Comments

jan    mountain view, CA

2/23/2011 2:56:06 AM

good info, but we feed feral cats. All I could do was provide kitten food and the feral villa feeding station--they went under it .And I made sure there was bark chips so kittens wouldn't be in the rain water--a tough life..

Melanie    Ottawa, ON

2/20/2011 7:55:25 PM

Good article although you don't need to force the cat to scratch in the litter box. It is instinctual, so be patient. I just listen for the steady mews, and I know to pick them up (they are usually in a corner or along a wall) and put them in the box. I don't use clumping litter for the first couple of weeks, just in case it could cause a blockage (they do put their noses right in it, it sticks to their noses, then they eat it; or they taste it outright when trying to figure out what it is). Having done fostering for 6 years, I realize it is wiser to spend my time, energy and money helping trap, neuter and release community cats or helping a friend with the cost of spays/neuters. Food for a litter of kittens for 3 months is at least $250. I highly recommend pediatric (juvenile) spay and neuter when the kitten reaches 2 lbs (1 Kg), and multiply the cost by 3 to 7 kittens, and you realize that TNR prevents suffering, helping to alleviate the cat overpopulation crisis. There simply aren't enough homes for the cats being born. Low-cost spay/neuter programs are important to work for, too. On the topic of socialization, you can also get the kitten used to: bathing, having its paws touched/nails clipped, having its gums/teeth handled for brushing, combing/brushing, loud noises including tv, vacuum, hair dryer, dishwasher, clapping, whisteling and popcorn popper. Keep your kitten low to the ground at all times, especially when preparing formula. I lost one kitten ("Ginger Girl") due to neurologic complications following a fall off the sink counter. Please don't make that mistake! Also, be very careful when bottle feeding. Too much milk or a whole too large can flood the lungs (lost another kitten to that). Deworming every 2 weeks is also critically important, so keep in touch with the vet.

Patsy    Williams, NE

2/19/2011 11:56:07 AM

I have raised orphhaned kittens and I so appreciate the information in this article, I wish I had it when I started raising orphans of which I still have two that will be 11 years old this July. It is rewarding but, BE PREPARED, it is a full time comittment.

barbara    runnemede, NJ

2/18/2011 8:39:30 PM

i found out first hand how to raise an orphaned kitten, and although I didn't have a clue what I was doing, I followed my instincts and fell in love, and she was safe from that point on. It was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. She lived for fourteen years and we were inseperable...If you have the time to do this, and get an opportunity, do it - it will change you forever.

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