Occasionally a cat may be unwilling or unable to take care of her puppies on her own, or you may find yourself caring for orphaned kittens. This is a project that requires a lot of careful attention and care to ensure the kittens grow up healthy and happy.
If you need to hand feed kittens, it is not recommended to use cow’s milk. Their mother’s milk is more concentrated and has twice the level of protein, almost double the calories and more than twice the calcium and phosphorous content. We recommend a commercial kitten formula, carefully following the manufacturer’s instructions.
On average, the following guidelines will help you decide how many calories a newborn kitten requires each day. A kitten may require one-quarter more or less than these guidelines, depending upon its individual needs.
- First Week: 60 to 70 calories per pound of body weight, per day
- Second Week: 70 to 80 calories per pound of body weight, per day
- Third Week: 80 to 90 calories per pound of body weight, per day
- Fourth Week: 90-plus calories per pound of body weight, per day
Remember that kittens grow very rapidly, so make sure you weigh them every day before you calculate how much to feed them.
Things to Keep in Mind
- You may need to start with slightly less formula at each feeding and gradually increase the amount as the kitten responds favorably to hand feeding.
- Steady weight gain and well-formed feces are the best evidence of satisfactory progress.
- If diarrhea develops, immediately reduce the kitten’s intake to half the amount previously fed, and then gradually increase it again to the recommended level.
- Diarrhea in newborns can be very dangerous, so consult a veterinarian for advice.
Proper Feeding Techniques
- Never prepare more formula than is required for any one day, because milk is a medium for bacterial growth.
- Maintain sanitary conditions at all times. Before feeding, warm the formula to about 100 degrees or near body temperature.
- Using a bottle and nipple, hold the bottle at an angle to prevent air bubbles.
- The hole in the nipple can be enlarged slightly with a hot needle to let the milk ooze out slowly when the bottle is inverted.
- The kitten should suck vigorously, but should not nurse too rapidly.
- Consult a veterinarian if the kittens are not nursing well.
- You may need to resort to tube feeding, which is best taught by a health professional.
Kitten Health & Hygiene
Newborn kittens must be stimulated to defecate and urinate after each feeding. Ordinarily the mother’s licking provides this stimulation, but orphaned kittens will need human intervention. Gently massage the kitten’s anal region with a cotton ball that has been dipped in warm water.
Gentle body massage is also beneficial for any hand-reared kittens. Massage stimulates the circulation and thoroughly awakens the kitten. Stroke the kitten’s sides and back with a soft cloth. The best time for a massage seems to be when the kittens are waking up, while you’re waiting for the formula to get warm.