Do you have a newborn kitten that you're trying to rescue? Maybe more than one? Worried on how to take care of these tiny creatures?
You should be.
Hand rearing kittens is time consuming and demanding.
But we're here to help. In this article, we'll walk you through the basics of hand rearing newborn kittens and also offer more links where you can learn even more.
Most importantly - check out our Pregnant Cat & Kittens forum where experienced rescuers can offer you support and advice.
Why hand rearing kittens is so hard
Newborn kittens are tiny helpless creatures. They are blind and totally dependent on their mother's care.
Sometimes, people are given the task of replacing that maternal care. This may happen when the queen that gave birth in your house rejects the kittens or if you come across an abandoned newborn kitten. Either way the task of being a mother cat substitute can be daunting. The kittens need constant care and demand a lot of your time and energy.
If possible, it is best to find a surrogate feline mother. You can check with local rescue organization and vets to see of they know of a lactating mother cat that may take the kittens. Only if this is not achievable, you should try taking on the challenge of hand rearing kittens.
Read more about making the right decision here: I Found Abandoned Kittens What Should I Do.
General Care For Newborn Kittens
It is best to contact your veterinarian and inform him or her about the infants. Let your vet know of anything to do with the kittens that you find disturbing. The kittens are very delicate creatures - in case of medical problem their condition may deteriorate within hours. It's best to ask for advice early on rather than risk complications.
The most important things about raising kittens are keeping them warm and giving the right amounts of quality nutrition. Keep track of the kittens' development by weighing them daily during the first week and every 2-3 days during the next few days. Write down the results in a special diary so that you and your vet can check the kittens' progress.
Read more about Weighing Newborn Kittens And How This Could Save Their Lives.
The Kittens' EnvironmentIf you have to take care of several newborn kittens, it is better to prepare a homemade incubator or "nest". In their book Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook, Carlson and Griffin recommend dividing a cardboard box into compartments. This should be done because very young kittens have a very strong urge to suckle - if they can't find a mother's nipples, they may start to suckle parts of each other's body. The kittens should remain in separate compartments until they are three weeks old.
The room in which the kittens are kept should be kept warm at all times. Keeping a thermometer by the incubator will help you determine the exact room temperature. During the first two weeks, the room temperature should be approximately 85°F. It is best to keep the room slightly warmer at 90°F during the first week of the kittens' life and gradually decrease it to 80°F within the next two weeks. From the fifth week onwards, you should maintain the room temperature at 75°F.
The kittens are sensitive to disease and infections. This is particularly true for kittens that did not get any milk from their mother. During the first few days after the birth, the mother cat secrets special condense milk called colostrum. The colostrum contains vital antibodies that provide the kitten with passive immunity to many kinds of disease. Without the colostrum, kittens are more susceptible to disease. It is important to keep small kittens isolated from other cats and even from people. Before handling the kittens, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly.
Read more about: Fading Kitten Syndrome 11 Things You Need To Know
Feeding the KittensRaising small kittens by hand means that you have to feed them by hand. The best way to feed the kittens is by using a feeding bottle specially designed for kittens. You can find these bottles at most pet stores or order online.
If the kitten is too weak to suckle from the bottle, it may need to be fed by using a tube. Tube feeding is a delicate procedure - if done in a wrong way, it can harm the kitten and even cause death. If you have no experience feeding kittens by tube, it is best to ask your vet for a detailed explanation and a demonstration.
You must never feed kittens with cow milk. Kittens need cat milk or a special cat milk formula intended for raising orphan kittens. You can get kitten milk formula at most pet stores, in liquid form (ready-to-serve) or as a powder mix.
Note: Cat Sip Real Milk and other types of "cat milk" are not what you need! They are a treat and not formulated to provide any cat with a complete and balanced diet, least of all small kittens. Only use a kitten milk-replacer such as KMR, included in the Petag Newborn Kitten Care Pack.
Come kitten season it's wise to have an emergency kit at home. Complete kit contains everything you'll need to nurse an orphaned or abandoned kitten, including KMR Kitten Milk Replacer.
Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!