Premature Kittens

Discovering an orphaned or abandoned kitten, and deciding to hand-raise the little one can be a rewarding, yet daunting undertaking. Finding out that the kitten may be premature can leave you feeling even more anxious and wondering whether you'll be able to care for this tiny, fragile being.

How can I tell if a kitten is premature?

There are several things to look for if you suspect a kitten is premature:

Note: We may get commissions for purchases made through links on this page.

  • Very low weight. A full-term newborn kitten weighs 3.3-3.7 ounces (91-105 grams). Anything lower than approximately 3.1 ounces (87 grams) is considered a low birth weight in kittens. Live premature kittens can weigh as little as 2 ounces (57 grams), although these extremely tiny kittens do not often survive.
  • Very small body size.
  • Wrinkled skin.
  • Sparse or no fur on the chest, abdomen, legs, and sometimes over the whole body.
  • May not be able to hold their head up or crawl.

Can a premature kitten survive?

Yes, it is sometimes possible to successfully hand-raise a premature kitten. Having said that, looking after premature kittens is very time-consuming and can be heartbreaking at times. These little beings are at a disadvantage from the moment they are born. Premature kittens are a real challenge to take care of and often don’t survive, despite the best of care.

What is different about premature kittens?

These kittens are very fragile and prone to infection. They gain weight, grow and develop more slowly than full-term kittens and will take longer to reach milestones such as opening their eyes, sitting up, and walking. Premature kittens need to be kept warmer than full-term kittens.

Their internal organs are often underdeveloped, as they haven’t had a chance to finish forming in the safety of the mother cat's womb. This is especially significant in the digestive system, which means that premature kittens often have problems digesting their food and having bowel movements.

How do I care for a premature kitten?

As well as following the advice about caring for newborn kittens, there are several things you must do when caring for a premature kitten. Remember, for every day that a kitten is premature, is equivalent to one week in a premature human infant. For example, a kitten that is 10 days premature is equivalent to a human baby being born at 30 weeks—10 weeks premature.


Premature kittens need to be kept warmer than full-term kittens:

Birth to 3 weeks: 95 degrees (35C) 3-4 weeks: 85 degrees (30C) Over 4 weeks: 80 degrees (27C)

Because these kittens need to be kept very warm, it is important that they stay well hydrated. Give 1ml of boiled, cooled water after every feed using a syringe (without the needle), feeding slowly. Increase this to 1½ml at 10 days.


A premature kitten requires feeding as often as every 1-2 hours in his first week to ten days of life. This can be very tiring but it is the only way to ensure that the kitten receives the nutrition he needs. His formula needs to be diluted, as his immature digestive system cannot yet handle full-strength formula.

Make up the formula as directed and then add another ¼ of the amount of boiled, cooled water to dilute the formula. The kitten will take only 1-2ml per feed, as his stomach is very small. As he grows, he will take a little more formula at each feed.

Often, premature kittens are too weak to feed or haven’t learned how to swallow yet.


Premature kittens sometimes experience problems having bowel motions, as their bowels are often underdeveloped and uncoordinated. Just as with full-term kittens, premature kittens should have a bowel motion at least once every two days.

Sometimes, even a cotton ball can be too rough for the delicate skin around his bottom. Instead, get a small stream of warm water going at the sink, place his bottom in the stream, and using your other hand, stimulate him with the index finger. Make sure your nails are short.

Sometimes kittens will not produce a bowel motion if they feel that the cotton ball or tissue you are using is too harsh on their bottom. Your finger is the softest thing you can use to stimulate him. Dry him well and make sure he doesn’t become chilled.

If the kitten becomes restless and cranky or his abdomen looks distended or bloated, he may be constipated. Go to this link and follow the advice on what to do if your kitten is constipated.

You can also use a massage technique to try and get his bowels moving. After a feed, lay him on his back and gently massage his abdomen in small circles with your thumbs. Massage his tummy and sides, right up near his spine.

What you're doing is mimicking the peristaltic (wave-like) motion that the stomach and bowels use to move the food along. You need to do this for as long as he'll let you. Make sure you massage close to his anus with your thumbs so it begins to connect with the messages from the bowels.

Finally, take his little back legs and alternately straighten and bend each one in a cycling motion.

If the kitten still doesn’t have a bowel motion, he needs to see a vet. The vet can give the kitten an enema, which is often a successful way of relieving the blockage. Some kittens will need several enemas until their bowels start working properly. Never try to give the kitten an enema yourself.


Touch is an important factor in the development of all kittens and is especially important for premature kittens. Remain serene and calm around the kitten, as he will pick up on any anxiety you are feeling and it may translate into anxiety or illness in him.

He needs lots of physical contact with you, as gentle contact stimulates his mental and physical development and calms him. A great way to keep an eye on him, as well as comfort him, is to use the Pouch Potato described on this page. Add a sock heater and he has a warm, safe place to be where he can be close to you.

Written by Tania Waterhouse

Tania Waterhouse lives in Perth, Western Australia. She specializes in rescuing orphaned kittens.

Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

8 comments on “Premature Kittens

Danny May 21, 2021
My cat had 2 premature kittens which did not survive more then a day.. she then got a uterine infection and a week later gave birth to another premature kitten and then died at the vets table... I have been feeding the kitten from my other cat which has 5 six week old kittens. The premature one was constipated for almost 7 days until I started giving it 2 drops of coconut oil twice daily.. It has now began passing stool regularly (still emptying). My worry is that it has not grown at all since birth 17 days ago. No weight gain and no eye opening to date. Could this be normal for a premature?
    Naomi Britton February 3, 2022
    Was your pregnant cat fully vaccinated shortly before she went into premature labor. If so, your vet was negligent and did not read thee vaccine drug package insert re: do not mix vaccine with other products; do not vaccinate a pregnant cat. My pregnant cat died 3 days after vaccination, her 3 premature kittens died also. A close girlfriend lost her pregnant cat and kittens because of vaccinations also. TELL AS MANY FEMALE CAT OWNERS AS YOU CAN: DO NOT ALLOW VET TO VACCINATE YOUR PREGNANT CAT!
Nikki January 23, 2021
My cat recently gave birth to 3 premature kittens. Sadly, the mother abandons her kittens most of the time... This is my first time on taking care and hearing of premature kittens... I am still confused on what should I do.
chacha December 8, 2020
A outdoor cat someone left on my property was pregnant but did not show it she is a smallish cat herself she had 10 kittens all premature all but 2 died they were no bigger than a quarter with next to no fur to point no color could be seen she hid them and about 2 months later they where on my porch and were the size of 1-2 week kitten and they wobbled around it has been 4 months now and they look like 4-5 week old kittens and they are fighters the long haired one even tackled a adult and bit down on its air pipe and I had to get him off by showing him food I got him off and he still was trying to get him he is the #1 alpha the tiny guy has it so he and his meeker brother gets to eat there fill then the adults can eat and any adult even shows a little hostility towards his brother he plows right into them
Jeanine09 May 5, 2020
I have 3 kittens all siblings that were premature two look to be normal size but one is half their size should I be worried
    AbbysMom May 8, 2020
    Hi Jeanine! Your best bet would be to start a thread in our Pregnant Cats and kittens section of the forum. Good luck!
StefanZ February 2, 2017
Its good to have a rather high air humidity with the prematures.  As their lungs arent 100% developed.
StefanZ February 2, 2017
As a complement to heating pads, brooder heating IR lamps, the same as are used for warming up new hatched chickens, are very useful.  They can be used over the nest the usual way, as an alternative to heating pads.   Another nice usage is if you must supplement feed the tiny ones, they tend to get cold while you feed them.  Even if you hold them in your hands.   But if you can have this brooder above your feeding place, they wont never get chilled.  Our forumist TeamCarp33 whom got 10 prematures, did gave this tip.  :)   I suppose other tipes of IR-heating lamps can too be used in an emergency, till you get the correct gears.  Similiar IR lamps are used for people with rheumatical problems.  They are also used to warm up terraries.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *