Daily Care for Orphaned Kittens
Please note that young kittens are extremely fragile, and some may die no matter how well you take care of them (sometimes 1 out of 4 in the first week alone). Remain attentive to your foster kittens and provide them with the best possible care; as difficult as it is to lose a foster pet, you should not blame yourself. In the unfortunate event that your foster kitten passes away, contact the volunteer director as soon as possible.
Daily Care for Newborns Using a Bottle (0-3 weeks old)
Young kittens need to be fed every 2-4 hours throughout the day and night. Sometimes bottle feeding can be challenging, and if your kitten will not take the milk replacer from the bottle you may wait until the next feeding to try again. However, if your kitten has not eaten in two consecutive feedings, please contact us right away.
Kitten Milk Replacer (KMR) formula will be provided for all kittens requiring bottle feeding. Please follow the directions provided with the KMR to mix the formula (one part formula to two parts water). For the first couple of
feedings, you may increase the amount of water slightly to dilute the formula and help reduce digestive upset.
Mixed formula that has not been warmed can be saved in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. The unmixed
powder formula should also be kept in the refrigerator after being opened and be kept for up to 3 months.
Prepare only the amount of formula your litter of kittens will need for each feeding. Kittens will usually need about 4mL per 100g of body weight per feeding, or about 30mL over a 24-hour period.
Formula should be warmed by placing the bottle of cold KMR upright in a mug of hot water. Check the temperature of the formula on the inside of your wrist before feeding each kitten. The temperature should be warm to the touch but not hot.
You should also test the nipple on your bottle and make sure the formula drips out slowly. It is very easy for kittens to aspirate (inhale fluids into the lungs). If formula comes out of the kitten’s nose, stop feeding immediately.
Do not feed any more until the kitten has completely cleared the fluid from its lungs, usually by sneezing. If crackling or popping is heard as the kitten breathes, or if you suspect your kitten may have aspirated formula, contact us immediately.
Kittens should be warm before feeding to digest food properly. Prepare kittens for feeding by placing them on their stomachs or wrapping them in a small towel like a taco if they are fussy. (See how-to resource at the end of this guide.)
If wrapped in a towel, make sure the kitten can still knead with her forelegs outside of the towel and that she is not on her back, which can cause aspiration. When placed on her stomach, make sure she is in an upright position with her head tilted slightly up and neck extended (as if she was nursing from
Support the lower body with the palm of your hand and hold the head steady with your thumb and forefinger. Never force milk down by squeezing the bottle since this can cause aspiration. Bottle feeding takes practice and patience to master.
Make sure you do not overfeed the kitten by checking her tummy for fullness while feeding. After bottle feeding, gently burp the kitten by placing by placing her on her stomach in the palm of one hand and patting her on the back a few times with the other hand.
This will allow any air ingested to be expelled, however, you won’t hear the kitten “burp”.
Clean out your bottle with soap and water between feedings.
After the kitten has finished feeding, you must now stimulate the kitten to urinate and defecate. Kittens should defecate at least once a day and should urinate every time.
If you are fostering orphaned kittens, or mom is unable to care for her babies, it is necessary to stimulate kittens less than 3 weeks of age to urinate and defecate. The voiding reflex is normally initiated by the mother licking the kitten’s ano-genital region.
The foster caregiver must therefore imitate this by gently massaging the kitten’s ano- genital area with a warm damp cloth or cotton ball. This should be done after each feeding, and each kitten should pass urine and have a bowel movement at least once a day.
Daily Care for Kittens Transitioning to Wet Food (3-5 weeks)
Transitioning kittens should be fed “gruel,” which is a pudding-like consistency mix of KMR or water and wet kitten food. They should be fed every
4-6 hours and supplemental bottle feeding may be necessary if they are not taking to the canned
food. You are welcome to experiment with different consistencies but the gruel should be gradually thickened to get them ready for solid food. Leftover gruel should be discarded immediately if not eaten. Canned food that has not been made into gruel yet can be covered and refrigerated for up to 48 hours.
Once kittens have teeth, they could start to chew the nipple on a bottle, which can be very dangerous due to small pieces being ingested. This must be monitored closely.
Fresh water should be provided at all times for transitioning kittens.
To encourage a kitten to eat the gruel, place a small amount on your finger and place it on the kitten’s tongue or lips. The goal is that she will eat on her own from a plate or bowl. This transition period can take days to weeks. A variety of wet kitten food is good to feed your kitten, but avoid fish & seafood flavors.
At this age, stimulating should no longer be necessary and she will begin urinating and defecating on her own. Continue until you notice urine and feces in the housing area.
Small litter boxes should be provided at this stage with non-clumping litter. Kittens will eventually learn how to use a litter box on their own but accidents are common for the first few weeks. If
they defecate outside, move the feces to the litter box. You can also place kittens inside their litter box after meals.
Daily Care for Kittens Eating on their Own (5-8+ weeks)
Kittens who are eating completely on their own will need to be fed wet food about three times throughout the day. They should always have dry food and water available.
Don’t forget to clean their litter box at least once day (and focus on and enjoy this socialization period!).
Feline Foster Care Content:
Overview: Is Fostering Right for You?
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